Though the Agency doesn’t provide content editing services, sometimes an author will request feedback. Ideally, content issues should be dealt with before copyediting begins, but flexibility is often needed when working with authors who self-publish.
In this post, Embark copyeditor Jaime R. shares her recent experience of going above and beyond the call of duty for a fiction writer.
WHEN IT COMES TO EDITING FICTION, there are many aspects to consider. There are not only characters with their own flaws and personalities but also worlds vastly different from our own, characters story arcs as well as the overall story’s beginning, middle, and end. My most recent copyediting project allowed me to go further into content editing to help the author create the best reader experience possible.
THE EDIT LETTER
Carol Fisher Saller tells us her recipe for constructing a letter to the author, and in her view, there is no right way to compose an edit letter; each one is different. But writing a detailed edit letter for the first time allowed me to see for myself what type of information would be better served in an edit letter. Through a letter, the editor can explain issues more thoroughly than a simple copyediting query. Queries are meant for quick minor issues; the edit letter is where we delve into the nitty gritty. In this particular project, the edit letter separated the content issues from the copyediting of the manuscript itself.
READING GLASSES, NOT A MICROSCOPE
In this case, the letter was used to call the author’s attention to character flaws that needed to be addressed, complications of having two climaxes, and continuity issues that arose in multiple locations that could potentially lead to reader confusion. To do this, I had to read the piece through the lens of a regular reader, not the magnifying glass that an editor uses.
The letter not only enabled me to describe in detail how the issue impacted the story but also to supply suggestions for resolving these issues. Of course, the letter included page numbers where the author could easily locate these issues.
COPY V. CONTENT
How do we know the difference between copyediting issues and content issues? Copyediting is what we usually think of when we are correcting grammar, fixing wordy sentences, and cutting redundancies. The copyediting issues that arose in this project were as follows:
In this piece, there were many foreign words, not all of them translated and not all spelled correctly. Chicago’s method of italicization followed by the English translation in parentheses looked awkward. It seemed more appropriate that the author used her words to give a vivid description of what the word meant and guide the reader naturally to the translation within the prose.
Content editing is a little less straightforward, and it’s somewhat of a gray area for copyediting that can border on line editing. The content issues that were pointed out in the letter about this piece were those that would affect the reader experience:
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE!
The one thing that we always need to remember when writing our edit letters is to use tact. Don’t lose sight of the fact that this story took the author a lot of time to create, and while it’s easy for us to point out what needs to change, be mindful that the author might get overwhelmed by critiques.
My best friend is an author, and he struggles with the back and forth of feeling that he’s a great writer and then that he’s a terrible one. We can certainly help our authors feel better about their work if we mention things we find interesting or funny, for example. Copyediting.com’s Erin Brenner even discusses how some editors use emoticons to help put their authors at ease.
It certainly does not hurt to tell the author where they did a good job. And, sometimes we are so focused on our job that we forget to let the author know that we appreciate them for choosing us.
On this project, I'm happy to say that the client was the kind of enthusiastic author we all want to work with. She was completely open to any suggestions that I had for her and was excited to see what our combined efforts produced for her final piece.