Authors have one challenge most artists outside of writing do not have.
Most artists, such as painters, do not need to worry about developing skills in the logical, analytical, fact-based side of the brain. Instead these artists work almost exclusively out of the holistic, feelings based, emotional side of the brain where the imagination and creativity blossom.
Unfortunately, for authors, the craft of writing requires using both sides of the brain with an emphasis on the left side of the brain’s organized, analytical, fact-based logic where editing skills hide.
Writing the rough draft of a book length manuscript is the easy part of an author’s work and mostly this work takes place in the right side of the brain.
For editing and revisions, authors must switch gears to the left side of the brain where these skills work. If those skills have not been developed, the author—as an artist—is crippled.
However, there is an option. Authors may hire someone (more on this later with links, but I want to be clear—I am NOT an editor for hire. I am an author and I do most of my own editing) and pay for the left-brain labor of editing/revisions unless the author is economically deprived.
For example, economically deprived authors should know there are rules that govern where commas go. In fact, there are thirty-three pages in The Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference on how to properly use commas, and I use my copy of this 354 page book (designed for writers) often.
More examples: The dash [ — ] looks similar to the hyphen [ – ] but these two punctuation marks have different functions in a sentence, and the semi-colon has a different job than the colon (and I’m not talking about the colon that is the main part of the large intestine but the one that is a punctuation mark—they are both nouns and are spelled the same way).
Did you know there is a difference in meaning for on to and onto, and what does the dash [ — ] and the ellipses [ … ] have in common?
The odds are you do not know the answers to the previous question. Yet, the dash, if you have not heard, is “the most dramatic punctuation mark you can deploy within the interior of a sentence. Use it sparingly.” Source: The Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference
About this time, the author, as an artist, is complaining that he does not have time to mess with editing. Instead, she wants to write the next so-called great novel and has endless excuses why learning how to edit is not important when it comes to the creative process.
Writing, revising and editing are part and parcel of an author’s work, especially if she doesn’t have a contract with a traditional publisher that hires editors to do more than half the author’s job for him.
Moreover, the economically deprived author does not need editing skills equal to an anal-retentive grammarian with a photographic memory and instant recall that has memorized all 532 pages in the fourth course of Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition textbook.
Since the average American reads at fifth-grade level, authors should not worry about a few grumpy perfectionists.
As you will discover by the end of this series of posts, all an author has to do is to write a book that does not distract an avid reader with too many mistakes—let’s say no more than one error every 10,000 words or if we are generous, one error every 5,000 words. If mistakes appear on every page, that may signal the death of a writing career before it has a chance to begin.
Forget about the anal-retentive grammarian (ARG) with a photographic memory and instant recall that has memorized all 532 pages in the fourth course of Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition textbook.
This ARG perfectionist may write a cryptic, critical one-star review on Amazon blasting an author for having only a few mistakes in his novel, but that is not important as you will discover.
Instead, as independent, self published authors we must ignore the ARGs and focus on the avid reader who is often forgiving of the occasional bump/mistake. For these readers, the story—plot, characterization, theme, conflicts and power of writing—is more important.
However, if the avid reader is distracted by too many mistakes, do not expect this audience to be forgiving. In fact, do not expect an avid reader to finish the novel or recommend it to friends.
I’m a gambler and at this point I am betting that someone reading this post is thinking, “I don’t care. I’m an author. I don’t need to know those stupid things grammar books teach.”
However, if you want to be an author and write a book that the avid reader may buy, read and recommend, and you don’t know how to edit, you better be willing to pay someone that does.
What germinated the idea for this series of posts was a piece I read on a Blog called An American Editor.
Rich Adin, the editor, wrote The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly, and he said, “I recently reviewed the various groups I am a member of on LinkedIn and was astounded to find a U.S.-based editor soliciting editing work and offering to do that work for $1 per page in all genres. Some further searching led me to discover that this person was not alone in her/his pricing.”
If you seriously want to be an author, you may want to read what Rich has to say and all the comments to his post, because a cheap/low price for editing labor does not mean a quality job. There is truth to the old saying that you get what you pay for. In addition, you should not have to pay thousands of dollars to have your work edited but that also depends on the level of editing needed.
There are different levels of copyediting. Some work may need only a light touch while other manuscripts require heavy editing and the price is flexible. To learn more, I suggest you visit Editors Forum.org.
The Editors Forum says, “A freelance copyeditor corrects errors, queries the author about conflicting statements, requests advice when the means of resolving a problem is unclear, and prepares a style sheet.”
Writer’s Digest, a magazine established in 1920, says, “Smart full-time freelance writers and editors annually gross $35,000 and up—sometimes into the $150,000-200,000 range.”
For trade copy editing of books, Writer’s Digest says that the high hourly rate is $100 and the low is $16 with the average $46. If charging a page rate, the high is $20 a page and the low is $3.75 with $8 the average.
Remember—the editing rate is flexible but the final cost may be determined by the complexity of the editing.
However, if the author is a starving artist and cannot afford to pay a freelance editor, he may want to follow in Amanda Hocking’s footsteps but hear what she has to say first.
“Just the editing process alone has been a source of deep frustration, because although she has employed freelance editors and invited her readers to alert her to spelling and grammatical errors, she thinks her e-books are riddled with mistakes. ‘It drove me (Amanda Hocking) nuts, because I tried really hard to get things right and I just couldn’t. It’s exhausting, and hard to do. And it starts to wear on you emotionally. I know that sounds weird and whiny, but it’s true.’” Source: Ed Pilkington writing for The Guardian
If you are not a starving artist and have the money to pay for a freelance editor, you may want to contact Rich Adin, or check Writer’s Digest Magazine’s classified section under Editorial Services, or visit Proof Reading Pal.com.
Since I have not used a freelance editor yet, I cannot recommend one—caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.
The other choice is to edit your own work with some help from friends as I did. Although there are mistakes in my work, the novels are not riddled with them and the mistakes that remain do not drive me nuts as they did to Amanda Hocking.
However, I did not edit my work alone. I had some friends and tools to help.
All authors/writers come to the table with different editing skills and that includes me. There are two literacy levels: The first is comprehension to understand what one reads. The other literacy is grammar, mechanics and spelling—the editing literacy. You will understand why this makes a difference to authors later in this series of posts.
For example, although I read and comprehend at a college graduate level, my editing literacy is not as high.
The ideal audience for all authors is made up mostly of avid readers.
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy in the US (1992 – 2003) says 13% or 28 million adult Americans are proficient (can perform complex and challenging literacy activities) at the quantitative literacy level while 95 million are intermediate (can perform moderately challenging literacy activates), 63 million basic (can perform simple and everyday literacy activates) and 30 million are below basic (no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills).
My literacy level is proficient but not perfect when it comes to editing. In other words, I am not an ARG.
Of the 123 million adult Americans that read at basic or above, few are experts at editing but many read books. A high literacy level does not equal a high editing level. It just means you have a higher vocabulary and understand what you are reading at a higher level.
In fact, my experience as an English teacher taught me that of the 29 million adult Americans that are proficient, only 2.8 million belong to the top echelon of editing literacy—the rare anal-retentive grammarian (ARG) with a photographic memory and instant recall that has memorized all 532 pages in the fourth course of Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition textbook.
Therefore, to be criticized viciously by one of the few ARGs (less than one percent of the adult population) is meaningless. What an indie, self-published author must strive for is to write at an editing literacy level that is adequate for the other 121 million readers that will not recognize many of the mistakes that an ARG will criticize.
In fact, here is a profile of the reading audience authors should cultivate. Sixty-two million Americans are considered “avid” readers who are “disproportionately buying books.” Source: Bookweb.org
Therefore, among avid readers, ARGs may make up at most only 4.5% of that segment of the population. Of course, it is up to the author which audience he or she wants to impress:
A. sixty-two million (39 million are female) avid readers (subtract for ARGs)
B. the 2.8 million ARGs (being an ARG does not mean one is also an avid reader)
C. adult Americans that read below basic literacy level
For an example of one ARG, in 2008, after my work earned Editor’s and Publisher’s Choice with iUniverse, was reviewed by the Midwest Book Review and earned a 5 out of 5 for grammar from a Writer’s Digest judge, I submitted my novel to a UK review Blog that counted mistakes as part of the review. The reviewer would stop reading once she found about a dozen mistakes (of any kind) and then write a scathing review.
I mistakenly believed I had a chance to earn a positive review from this Blogger, so I submitted my work but she failed it. After my work failed, I discovered that every book, except one, reviewed on this site had failed and the one that had less than a dozen mistakes was criticized for its plot, characterization and theme.
Not one self-published indie author reviewed by this one UK Blogger received a glowing review. The ARG bias was obvious.
Since the publication of my first novel in December 2007, I have given this topic a lot of thought, and I have concluded that an author does not have to satisfy the ARGs.
What an author must do is meet the traditional industry standards for editing as it is obvious that my work did.
This means that there cannot be so many mistakes that it distracts the average “avid” reader.
It is obvious that an ARG has a much higher standard than the traditional publishing industry (newspapers, magazines and publishers) does. A biased ARG may scream bloody murder for editing perfection in his or her one-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, but he or she is not going to find that perfection easily even among traditionally published books.
However, every indie self-published author, no matter what his or her editing skill level, may find editing tools to improve the work before it appears in the market place—even without hiring a skilled freelance editor.
To not take advantage of those tools and avoid editing is a serious mistake.
Even though my editing process did not discover every mistake, my manuscripts were clean enough to be awarded the Editor’s Choice Award (4% of books published by iUniverse earned this award); the Publisher’s Choice Award (1%), and the highest score for grammar from two Writer’s Digest judges.
In addition, both of my first novels were reviewed by the Midwest Book Review that has a policy to reject books that do not measure up to industry standards.
Although my novels will not earn praise from most ARGs, editing the work myself, I saved thousands of dollars because I did not hire a freelance editor. In fact, if you read The Business of Editing: Killing Me Softly by Rich Adin, you would have discovered that hiring a freelance editor is not a guarantee that your work will be edited to the level of perfection demanded by most ARGs.
Instead, my first two novels were edited by me first, then by two English teachers followed by two authors that I worked with in a writing critique group (a total of five sets of eyes). Each of these individuals and the two editing programs I used found errors I missed with my flawed mortal eyes.
Remember, humans are not perfect, but most ARGs ignore this fact.
In addition, after all of that editing my novels went through, the work was still not ARG perfect because in 2011, a neighbor, who is not an ARG, read a copy of The Concubine Saga and found twelve mistakes in the 250,000 word manuscript. A few of those mistakes were an “I” that should have been a “me”; an “or” that should have been an “of”, and an “English” that should have said “England”.
However, to most devoted ARGs, errors of that sort are unacceptable and will claim the work is riddled with mistakes.
After final revisions to the plot, I edit the manuscript three times using only my eyes and brain, which are subject to imperfection since I have dyslexia. During this step in the editing process, I use Google as a fact and spell checker (for words I suspected might be spelled wrong). Google is the best spell checker I have used. To use Google, copy and paste the word from your manuscript into Google search. If wrong, Google will call up the correct spelling of the word almost every time. I also use Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips, on-line dictionaries, and an on-line Thesaurus.
You may also want to check out Dr. Grammar at the University of Northern Iowa.
My next step in the editing process uses Serenity Software’s Editing program (highly recommended but it will force you to work) that discovers many mistakes I missed with my eyes. Last, I edit with Microsoft Word’s spelling-grammar editor that may find something at this stage of the editing process but usually doesn’t. Only then do I enlist help from others to edit the manuscript. Even after all that, there will still be a few mistakes, which is why I’m planning to hire a freelance editor for a final edit of my next novel after I finish editing using the process I have described.
I also have a shelf full of resource books (I just counted fourteen) such as The Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference, and I use them all—some more than others.
As Amanda Hocking said, editing is “exhausting”. The reason is because most authors do not work exclusively out of the left side of the brain.
Indeed, most authors do not have the editing skills of the legendary editor Maxwell Perkins, who was the editor of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe.
Instead, most authors may have editing skills closer to that of Thomas Wolfe who wrote longhand without the use of punctuation in addition to other mistakes that his editor, Perkins, fixed as he edited Wolfe’s work.
If you are interested in Perkins’ life, I recommend Max Perkins Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg, who won the National Book Award for this work in 1978. I highly recommend the book and found it to be a fascinating biography of an amazing editor. I read it in the early 80s while working toward an MFA.
Today, without Max Perkins to edit his work, Thomas Wolfe (1900 – 1938), the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and the author of Look Homeward, Angel, may have become an indie, self-published author bashed and criticized by that elite one percent that makes up the ARGs.
Even though I taught seventh to tenth grade English in the public schools (1978 – 2005) and was the advisor/teacher of an internationally recognized, award-winning, high-school journalism program, I am not a perfectionist (an ARG) when it comes to editing. I do my best as an imperfect mortal with dyslexia.
My students did well (above average) on standardized tests. I taught the basic rules of punctuation, the differences between a simple, compound and complex sentence, and how to write a basic essay in addition to an introduction to the parts of speech. The textbook I used was Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition (I have two editions on my resource shelf) with almost 600 pages filled with the complexity of the English language.
The literacy level of my high school students—in the same class—ranged from second grade and up.
However, most of my time as a public school teacher was spent working out of the literature textbook focusing on theme, characterization, plot, conflict, etc. We also read and studied novels such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Shakespeare was also part of the curriculum, so there wasn’t a lot of time to focus on grammar and there was little time to correct thousands of student papers riddled with mistakes. As it was, my average work week as a teacher was 60 to 100 hours—twenty-five hours in class with students and the remaining hours planning lessons and correcting the deluge of student work. The focus of the public schools is reading literacy—not editing literacy and reaching grade-level reading literacy for more than half of the students is a challenge.
In addition, how many people have photographic memoires with instant recall as an ARG probably does? I don’t. Most of my students didn’t either. I do not expect that many of my students remember much of the grammar that I struggled to teach them. There is a lot of truth in “use it or lose it,” which I have never heard from politicians and critics where public education is often attacked for its alleged failings.
English is a complex language with many rules of grammar, mechanics and spelling with endless exceptions to those rules. In fact, in the back of Warriner’s, there is an eight-page section on words often confused such as principal and principle followed by 350 spelling demons such as hour which sounds the same as our and then there is teaching the difference between to, too and two; blew and blue, etc. (Note: I bought my copies of Warriner’s used through Amazon.)
I have no idea why so many people expect children and teenagers to remember everything they are taught—memory is complex and it is not perfect. In fact, what happens to most people during waking ours is stored in short-term memory and while one sleeps the brain sorts through the short-term memory and transfers memories that are considered important to long-term memory, and no one decides what is important. That is an automatic function of the brain while one sleeps. What isn’t saved to long-term memory is deleted. Scientific studies have also demonstrated that consuming too much sugar (think Coke) in the diet causes havoc to mood and short term memory. See: Foods that Cause Memory Loss
You may be interested in what the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington D.C. says about sugary soda consumption. “Americans consume gargantuan quantities of carbonated soft drinks and suffer untoward health consequences. Companies annually produce enough soda pop to provide 557 12-ounce cans—52.4 gallons—to every man, woman, and child.” … “The amounts of caffeine in one or two cans of caffeinated soft drink can affect performance and mood, increase anxiety in children, and behavioral effects in children remains unclear.”
Anyway, back on topic (sorry about that), in late 2007, when an iUniverse editor said the manuscript of my first novel My Splendid Concubine had too many mistakes to qualify for an Editor’s Choice and Publisher’s Choice Award, I was shocked.
What shocked me was the price to pay an iUniverse editor to edit the manuscript—three thousand dollars was too rich for my budget, so I developed the editing process that I have already described.
In conclusion, I feel that some advice for ARGs (anal-retentive grammarians) may be in order.
Instead of brutally criticizing indie/self-published authors for having mistakes in his or her published novel/book, take a page from a man considered the greatest editor in publishing history, Max Perkins, and offer constructive criticism and point out the number of mistakes with a few examples and where they appear.
Saying a manuscript is riddled with mistakes is not constructive, because one ARG’s definition of riddled with mistakes might mean a dozen in an entire book while to another ARG, riddled with mistakes means the despised bumps appear on every page.
Moreover, in English, there are mistakes most recognize and then there are mistakes only ARGs notice leaving almost 60 million avid readers scratching their heads thinking, “Big deal!”
In fact, the way the brain works while reading, when a word appears such as English and it should have been England, on the way from the eye to the brain, the word converts to what it was intended to be due to contextual clues and pattern recognition. When that happens, most readers are unaware of the mistake, which explains why five pairs of eyes missed a dozen mistakes in The Concubine Saga that the sixth pair of eyes caught, and she kindly made a list with page numbers—an example of constructive criticism. She was also the artist—Denise Killingsworth—that created the cover of that novel.
Note: My Blog posts do not go through the exhaustive editing process my novels do, and I’m sure you will find mistakes in my posts if that is what you are looking for. When I stumble on one after posting a piece, I edit and fix it. The editing process never seems to end. As Amanda Hocking said, “It’s exhausting, and hard to do,” and she has sold more than one million novels.
Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.
His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.
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