Friday, November 13, 2009

Guest Post: On Editing and Ways to Get Answers to Your Questions, Free! by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Today I have a wonderful guest post from author and freelance editor Carolyn Howard-Johnson! Leave a comment for a chance to win an ebook copy of The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success!


Every once in a while I like to remind writers about how much information can be had by subscribing to blog. Free information. Most have a place to subscribe so you automatically get a copy of the blog in your e-mail box. But more than that, most blogs are set up so that you can comment or ask questions.

Some, like my The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor. even prefer a question and answer format. I came up with the idea of doing a blog a la Ann Landers when I started getting so many letters from readers with grammar and formatting and editing questions.

I am often thought of as The Frugal Book Promoter because that is the name of the first book in my HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. But I consider editing the single most important aspect of promotion. After all, a well-edited query letter is the first thing most agents, editors, publishers and producers ever see from an editor.

Though there are times when an author absolutely must edit her own work, only a foolish writer trusts the editing of her book entirely to a publisher. So knowing how to edit is important. And that means a whole lot more than being good at grammar.

I get letters from people on the subject of editing, especially arguments about why they don't need to hire one. Here are my answers to a few of them:

I don't need to worry about an editor. My book will be traditionally published.

• You can't rely on the editor provided by your publisher—any publisher. I've seen even the biggest publisher let boo-boos in books slip through. And many small publishers hire inexperienced typo hunters, not real editors.

I'm hiring an experience editor. I'm letting her do the work. That's what I'm paying her for.

• You can't rely on even the best editor you hire. You need to be a partner with your editor. If you know little or nothing about the process, how can you know what to accept or what to reject? You need to know when you're sure you want to break a rule. You need to know when you want to consider what the agent is telling you, even if it goes against your pattern or makes you uncomfortable. "Partner" is the key word here. You want to be able to do that even if you're publishing with Harper's and your editor turns out to be a channeled Jacqueline Kennedy.

I'm just publishing POD for my family.

• No matter how you publish, you need an editor before you go to press. Regardless of how you are publishing or what you call the process. (By the way, many terms used for publishing these days have become almost unintelligible because so many are using them incorrectly. That adds confusion to an already confusing process! I guess that could be considered an editing problem of sorts.)

I know I should have an editor but I keep procrastinating...

The Frugal Editor gives you guidelines for the way to find a good editor. Those guidelines are there for people who have the best intentions and just don't get around to it. It's there for all of us who tend to put off this process. We tend to make a thousand excuses to ourselves for not doing it. Well, OK. I know I made excuse or at least one excuse. (-: My excuse was, I AM an editor! Ahem!

I've already been over this book 15 times. If there is an error in it, I'll eat my hat!

• One pair of eyes is never as good as two different pairs (or three or 10!) of eyes. Two pairs of eyes on people who got As in English or teach English are never as good as one pair of eyes on an editor with years of publishing experience.

I've had lots of people read my book to help clear it of errors. Even my husband who is an engineer and catches every misplace comma!

• People who are good grammarians or good typo hunters aren't necessarily good editors. A good editor will also spot errors in the way you've set up your table of contents, your index, how you spelled the kind of foreword used in a book's front matter. She'll even have ideas for you about the titles of your chapters.

I had my college English teacher check my book. If she can't do it, no one can.

• Good editors will be good grammarians, spellers and typo hunters but they bring a whole lot more to the table than those skills. Most teachers have had no publishing experience at all. Thus, they won't know much if anything about frontmatter, backmatter as an example. So start saving your pennies for a good editor and in the meantime, read up on the process for yourself.I

Some ask me why I am so passionate about this subject. "Editing really doesn't have anything to do with content," they say. Well, my passion comes from my experience with my first novel. When my new editor saw This Is the Place, she told me it was the "cleanest" copy she ever saw. OK. I'm an editor. But, I have to tell you. She missed much that I'd missed so that made two of us who had missed things that any good editor would surely have found! I'd love to go back, review that book myself and then have another editor look at it. Too late. It's in print.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal" Some of her other blogs are and


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Thank you for hosting me, Mayra. I know many of your visitors are writers, probably fans of your book on reviewing. As you know, in The Frugal Book Promoter ( ) I talk about reviewing as great for networking and marketing. Your book gives them every detail needed if they decide to go that routs.

Aren't we a great pair? (-:


Janet Ann Collins said...

I was an English major, but couldn't believe how many things the editor found wrong with my first book. And they were mostly thinks I knew I shouldn't have done.

The Old Silly said...

One simply cannot get too much advice from the always advice-worthy literary advisor of all advisors, HoJo! Just LOVED your witty and oh-so-true rebuttals to the naive statements. Well done. Also nicely laid out feature post, Mayra!

Marvin D Wilson

NancyCL said...

This is an amazing book and should be in the hands of every writer! Having worked as a freelance editor myself, I can edit a manuscript, go over it again, and still find things that need changing...and this is after getting certified as an editor! Also, as an author, I know how hard it is to edit your own work, so this book will be totally valuable to authors.

Margot Finke said...

Great post and information (as usual) Mayra.

Carolyn, your book is a "must read" for all writers. Many thanks for your words of wisdom.

Margot Finke
Books for Kids + Manuscript Critiques.
Margot's Books for Kids + Writing News

ELiles said...

So true! Editing is definitely an art in itself and one that lends more credibility and strength to any type of writing.


Cheryl said...

Great post ladies. I noticed this comment that you replied to Carolyn, "I've had lots of people read my book to help clear it of errors. Even my husband who is an engineer and catches every misplace comma!" Someone just handed me an 800-page book that has been through 5 sets of hands plus the writer's. It will be interesting to see what I find, especially since I believe too many cooks can ruin the soup.

I'm also glad you addressed this, "I don't need to worry about an editor. My book will be traditionally published." I read a book not long ago from a famous author with a large publishing house and his character removed his belt in one chapter and left it in the room he was in, but then used the belt that he no longer had in the very next chapter. That's just one reason why you need a good editor, even if traditionally publishd.

Thanks for the informative post.


Anonymous said...

I've read & recommended "The Frugal Book Promoter." If this book is half as good, I'll be reading it, too.
J. Aday Kennedy
The Differently-Abled Children's Author

Cheryl said...

It looks like my post above could have used a good editor too. LOL! I'm still blaming the new keyboard.


Debra Eckerling said...

Great article, Carolyn! I so enjoy reading your advice! :) Thanks!

Mayra Calvani said...

Hi everybody! Thanks so much for stopping by!

Carolyn's articles are always so helpful for writers of all levels.

Karen and Robyn - Writing for Children said...

I have the Frugal Editor and use it all the time - a great book!

And, it's not that we all need a 2nd pair of eyes to go over our work, we need the eyes of a professional editor to look over our ms before submitting it. They find things others can easily miss.

Karen Cioffi

Martha said...

What great information. Now if I could only get a great editor for my blogs and posts. :-)
Martha Swirzinski

kathy stemke said...

Thanks for a very informative post ladies. You've convinced me! I guess I better start saving for that editor.

NancyCL said...

I love your comments and I don't think anyone is "editing" our posts least I hope not! When I worked for a publisher many years ago, I was taught that we're allowed no more than three mistakes, but editing myself, I find it's a tedious job, and little things like hunger, fatigue, or whatever can blow even a simple sentence, so any info to help with editing is a God send.

I too have noticed in MANY books several errors, but personally, I think we find these errors because we're so conscientious as writers and even editors that sometimes I know I find it hard to read a book for pleasure, especially when I find a lot of errors. It's sad sometimes that well-known authors are selling books with glaring mistakes, and I can name quite a few, whereas the "unknowns" strugged to cross every 't' and dot every 'i'. Just another case to show it's all business.
But again, I say, I'm all for any tool to help with our writing AND editing, and I for one would know I would love this book...

Maureen said...

OMG! I hve to get this book. No matter how hard I try and who tutors me I still have heaps of trouble with punctuation. Thank Good someone has published a sensible book on editing.

Maureen said...

Oops, I'm in such a state of excitement I've made typos in the previous comment. Sorry!

Kristi Bernard said...

This is great. I am a new writer and need all the help I can get. Thanks for sharing.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Wow! What a wonderful batch of affirmations. Martha, yes. The difficulty with quick posts like comments, blogs, etc.! How I understand. But that's one reason that in The Frugal Editor ( I suggest that writers be a little accepting of other writers' booboos! I mean, there is a difference between a finished book and a dashed-off note.

And even a finished book! Who in the world is perfect?

And thank you, NancyCL, for the strong recommendation of Frugal Editor. I know it has helped many. It makes me feel good.

Best to you all and thank you for coming by!


Margaret Fieland said...

I used to work as an IBm systems programmer, back in the days when a misplaced comma could mean the difference between deleting one item and deleting the whole shebang. I learned the hard way that the ONLY way I could declare my scripts clean (and they were generally pretty short) was if I could go through them twice without finding any errors. And that was very cut and dried --

Editing is HARD.

Thanks for the great post.

Katie Hines said...

Great article, Carolyn. I depend heavily up on my critique group to help spot errors. And there ALWAYS are errors, more than one or two, and sometimes I can't figure out why on earth I didn't spot them first. A second or third set of eyes is imperative.

Dallas said...

What a great article! I'm going to Twitter a link -- I think every writer should read this!

Helena Harper said...

What a wonderful article, Carolyn, and the question/answer format makes it really easy to read! Steve (Tremp) was saying the same thing about how important an editor is when you want to publish a book and that is something you absolutely have to save up for.