by Louisa Swann.
Growing a book is like growing a garden – you work your soil, plant the seeds, and let them grow, hoping they’ll become the magnificent plant you picture in your mind. Sometimes the plants seem to take care of themselves and sometimes they need a little more help, but there’s one thing all garden plants have in common – they need tending in order to reach their full growth. As a gardener you want to do it all yourself – from laying out the plan to plucking the harvest – only to find yourself at the end of the summer wondering why things didn’t grow the way you’d planned?
The same thing often happens with a book. As a writer, editor, and gardener, I often find myself stuck in I Can Do It All mode. There is a huge intimacy involved in writing a book, an intimacy we, as writers, are often reluctant to share with the outside world. No one else understands our story the way we do. No one else has the same vision. So why take a chance and let an outsider mess with the vision we hold so close? Or maybe (and this one I am soooo guilty of) we’re kind of embarrassed to find out what someone else has to say about our writing, so we edit the best we can, often going over the same chapters, paragraphs, sentences, and words so many times the words themselves start to look kind of . . . str@nge. So we work on it some more, then finally decide the book is done, and somehow manage to get someone to read it, either by putting it online or giving it to a friend, and then are crushed when that same someone has the temerity to suggest we might want to have our book, our baby, “edited.” That person can’t possibly know what they’re talking about, right? Then someone else has the same suggestion and someone else after that and we decide that just to prove they don’t know what they’re talking about, we’ll go ahead and see what this editing thing is all about.
Gardeners and writers are both (generally) solitary souls. We work by ourselves in the garden and at home on our books precisely because we rather be digging in the dirt, either in reality or figuratively, than out in public conversing (aka asking for help!). And once we finally get “out there,” we often find ourselves confused. There are so many products on the shelves, ten different ways to zap bugs dead, five different hormones to help plants grow, but you need this other fish stuff and this stuff and that stuff . . . And editing? OMG! Do you want a line edit? A copyedit? Proofread? Or just a plain edit with no prefix or suffix?? And what is this “developmental editing” I’m hearing about?
Well, I am here to put an end to all the frustration! Gardeners – go talk to a plant doctor!! They can generally be found with their heads in the leaves at your local nursery. These particular folks love plants, they have their own gardens, and are generally master gardeners. Great people to talk to if you need to get your garden back on track. Some will even come out, take a look at what you’ve got growing, and make recommendations. Then put those recommendations into action and soon you’ll be picking yummy veggies and gorgeous flowers!
And for all those writers out there – there is hope! And you don’t have to talk to a doctor to get your answers! You do need to clarify the terms with the editor you hire (notice how I avoided the whomever/whoever conundrum!) to help you navigate the editorial waters, but here’s a quick map so you don’t get completely lost:
My story’s good or so I think,
before I set the words to ink,
I should make sure the end is tight and that the hall is dark at night;
in fiction do all things get worse,
and if my book is not in verse,
then why do all my words sound so rhymey and the cadence, oh so timey?
Is my logic laid out neat
or are my thoughts not quite complete?
Call the doctor, call the nurse, my structure’s broke or maybe worse!
If my story’s lost or upside down, a developmental editor should be found!
If the story holds and the logic’s sound,
then a closer look at what’s around
–are my paragraphs right? Do the sentences flow?
Is the pacing fast or way too slow?
Is my message clear?
Do I say too much?
Then a copy edit is the right touch!
And if someone finds my modifiers dangling
and my appositives are soul-entangling,
then bring in someone to look up close
and check those periods, commas, and quotes.
Line by line, they’ll check your prose,
both truth and fiction, with a grammar nose.
Spelling too, comes under the gun.
Line editors know this can be fun!
And finally when the end is near,
sharp eyes are needed to read the proof.
Someone with eyes to catch the glitches
and work their magic like editing witches!
To sum it up in a nutshell:
If you need help developing either your fiction or nonfiction, someone who’ll help you find and correct the holes in your plot line or the glitch in your line of logic, look for a developmental editor.
If you a) want someone to go over what you’ve written and make sure the book is consistent (i.e., making sure your characters don’t suddenly change eye color in the middle of your book); and b) makes sense (your story or information flows in a way that leads the reader, rather than dragging them), look for a copyeditor.
If you’re concerned about your grammar and spelling, a line editor is the one for you.
And if you’re certain everything is perfect, but just want to make sure you’ve dotted your t’s and crossed your i’s (or is it the other way around!), then get yourself a proofreader.
Whether you’re growing a garden or growing a book or both, you often need help to bring your end vision into reality. Don’t be shy about asking for that help. And remember – even editors need editors. Speaking of which . . .
Louisa Swann is a Lucky Bat Books Project Manager, an expert in publishing and a wiz at wrangling your book as it goes from manuscript pages to published print and ebook.