Tag Archive | books

What is an Editor?

Edited Version of First Book

Edited Version of First Book (Photo credit: TheCreativePenn)

Defining the job of editor is a tricky one, because it isn’t always what it seems to be. Most people consider the job of an editor to be correcting grammar and typing errors, and it can be just that; but there’s often much more to the job. To add to the confusion, there can be many names for the same thing, and the same name can refer to many things.

For instance, the person who corrects grammar and typing errors is a copy editor, a desk editor, or a proofreader, but this person will do much more than this. He will make sure that headings, sub-headings and sub-sub-headings follow a sensible and consistent pattern, and he will rationalise the crazy fonts that authors use and replace them with something that works, such as Times New Roman or Arial. He will ask the author to make captions to go with illustrations and so on. In fiction, he will make sure that something that the writer says on page 349, that connects with something that happened on page 21, makes sense. He needs to ensure that the time-line works, and that the names of the people don’t change half way through the book, and much more.

What we at Zambezi Publishing Ltd and Stellium Ltd call a “structural editor” may have different names in other publishing houses. This kind of editor has a great deal of input into the books. In non-fiction, he may change sections around, and he may go back to the author and ask for sections to be rewritten or for additions to make the topic clearer. Some sections may need to be enlarged while others need to be trimmed; the editor may be able to do it himself or he may go back to the author. Sometimes he has to ask the author to stick to the point.

edit on the go

edit on the go (Photo credit: fensterbme)

I remember commissioning an author to write a “how-to” book on a particular subject, but when the manuscript came in, it contained a long discourse on the life and times of the original inventors of the system, and it kept repeating the reader’s need to be “spiritual”. Needless to say, I tossed the MS back and asked the author to write a book that showed the reader how to use the system, which is the whole point of a “how-to” book. I remember thanking my lucky stars that this particular book wasn’t needed in a rush!

When I was a child, I didn’t have the kind of family that could help me with school work and I found most teachers unhelpful, so I usually resorted to trying to figure out what was wanted from the text books that we were given, and I discovered that this wasn’t always easy. Those experts who wrote on maths and science subjects were the worst offenders in the muddled writing stakes; they would explain how to do something, then go on to give the homework exercise, but… more often than not, the exercise would bear little or no resemblance to the example or the earlier explanation. It struck me even then, that the writer had left out segments of linking material, or he had simply moved on to something else – due to boredom or because he was writing the book too quickly and too carelessly. It’s all well and good for the mathematicians who write this stuff, because they know the subject backwards, but the poor souls like me had to guess at what was needed. This kind of lazy writing should have been picked up by the editor and sent back to the author to be put right, but editors can be in too much of a hurry to bother with this kind of thing, or they can be young people who are overawed by the letters after the author’s name.

Eventually, I grew up, got married and had children, and then I started the habit of attending evening classes to improve upon the sketchy education I had received as a child. One year, I decided to have a go at maths “O Level”. Blow me down if I didn’t encounter the same problem, with a course book that was as disorganised as the stuff I had struggled with at school. Once again, I was faced with examples that were all very fine and dandy, followed by exercises that bore little relation to the examples and were sometimes on completely different topics.

"Quarters of the news editor", one a...

“Quarters of the news editor”, one a group of four photos in brochure Seattle and the Orient (1900) collectively captioned “The Seattle Daily Times—Editorial Department.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many years later, I found myself editing a “how-to” book on one of the psychic sciences. The writer was a retired maths teacher, and sure enough, he jumped from one segment to the next without proper links. He also jumped from one topic to the next just as he fancied, without following a logical pattern. Fortunately, I knew the subject well myself, so I sent the MS back to him with suggestions about how to improve it, and that way we ended up with a book that made a difficult subject nice and clear to the reader.

I learned that many of those who are experts in their subjects (especially if the subjects are mathematical or scientific) don’t know how to write, and it’s a crying shame that kids still have to put up with it. We make every effort to make sure that nothing comes out of Zambezi that leaves the reader confused or lost.

When it comes to hiring an editor for yourself, how much should you pay for this service? This is very hard to say. A publisher who is pushing out one book after another will hire a freelance copy editor to sort out a complete book for £70, but what kind of job can an editor produce for such a small amount of money?

Some selfpub firms offer a service for less than £100, and when you read what this comprises, it typically offers a good job of work on the first three chapters and a quick read-through for the rest. I guess this is useful to an author who wants to send out a synopsis and three chapters to a conventional publisher or agent, and who therefore only needs the first three chapters to be in good shape, but if the author intends to selfpub the book, what is the point of having only a small part of the book properly edited?

We sometimes use an outside editor if we’re too busy to do the work in-house. I have been quoted as much as £20 an hour for copy editing, which is ridiculous. The lady who does our work charges us around £10 per 1,000 words, and while this is on the expensive side, I know she will do a good job for us, so it’s worth it. Therefore, if you wish to selfpub a non-fiction book of 50,000 words, and as long as the manuscript doesn’t need to be rewritten, the right price for top-notch editing could be around £500. True enough, one doesn’t always need a Rolls Royce job, so a figure somewhere in the middle should be fine. Just don’t expect the world for a pittance…

Where fiction editors are concerned, an editor may only need to tweak the book a little, or he may end up having to rewrite much of it. He will certainly need to focus carefully on the story and the content of the book, as well as grammar and typing errors. We in the publishing business know that there are several much-revered and highly successful authors who owe their success to their editors. Book titles can be very important, and most of them are created by editors rather than authors. It is essential today to take into account such things as current trends in titles, clear indication of content, keywords, similarity and much more. When you are competing with millions of books, and discovery involves search engines and the Internet, titles are incredibly important. Even Jane Austin called “Pride and Prejudice” something else, and it was an editor friend who suggested the change! Interestingly, Jane Austin self-published her first few books and was only picked up by a publisher later on.

Writing or rewriting a book isn’t the job of an editor, so if you have something important to say, and you know in your heart of hearts that you can’t write, you should hire a ghostwriter. Whatever you do, you must ensure that your book is in the best possible shape, long before you send the book out to a publisher, or long before you selfpub it.

Most selfpub authors resent spending money on editing, and the result is all too obvious. If you want to see the difference between properly edited and sloppy, cheapskate books, read a few self-published ebooks – even those that tell you how to write an ebook! You’ll soon see what I mean.

A Novel Way of Catching the Eye of a Publisher

1895 HoughtonMifflin HolidayBooks Armstrong

1895 HoughtonMifflin HolidayBooks Armstrong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always worth keeping up to date with whatever is going on in your world, so as a writer, editor and publisher, I have kept myself up to date over the years by including writing magazines from time to time, in addition to direct author contact. These mags have given me many useful tips, but above all, they’ve given me an insight into the problems faced by writers, along with an equal insight into their triumphs. One thing that has always been clear, is that the Holy Grail for writers has always been to receive a phone call from a publisher who wants to publish their book.

It’s always been difficult for an author to interest a publisher in a manuscript, particularly as a first time author, but now it is almost impossible. Right now, in mid 2013, there are practically no UK publishers accepting unsolicited work. Very interesting that the same applies to literary agents – they are turning away potential new business.

I will explain the reasons for the worsening situation in another blog, but for the time being, I will suggest a way around the problem. To be honest, I got the idea for from an article in an American magazine, but I can see how it can work elsewhere as well.

The author in the article had self-published several ebooks in a science fiction series or saga. Conventionally published print books must be a certain size / number of pages, because the size affects the cost of production and the final price of the book. It also impinges on the position it can take on a shop’s bookshelf and the appeal it may have to the book buying public. This means the publisher will want the book to contain a certain number of words, which may be anything from 70,000 to 150,000, while an ebook that you publish yourself can be as short or long as you like.

The author in the article had started by self-publishing an ebook novella of about 50,000 words in length, and then he’d gone on to write further episodes of the saga of about the same length. The author built up a following for his work, and he actually made quite a bit of money from his ebooks, but then an agent spotted his work and approached him. It took the agent a while to persuade the author to let him find a conventional publisher for his work, but the agent soon managed to get a deal with a major US publisher. The author refused to give up the ebook rights, and amazingly, the publisher agreed to take him on for print books alone, on the basis that his ebook followers would also wish to buy the printed books. The author didn’t say what happened next, but my guess is that the publisher bundled a few of his novellas together to make one book.

The author hadn’t considered foreign rights, but agents live by these, so between the publisher and the agent, the book was printed and sold in shops in the US, but the agent also managed to sell translation rights to several foreign countries.

The author himself advocates self-publishing your own ebook, because in his opinion, it’s better to have the work out there where people can see it, than languishing in a drawer or as sheets of paper in a self-addressed envelope coming back from yet another publisher or agent. At the very least you will immediately reach people who like your kind of book, while you may also catch the eye of an agent or a publisher.

Editors don’t have time to read through piles of submissions, so they prefer to take books from agents, who only send them those that have real potential. However due to the changes in the book trade these days, neither publishers nor agents are bothering as much as they used to with the “slush pile”, while some savvy agents are searching through the list of self-published ebooks to see what’s hot. This way, they don’t need to rely purely on their own judgment to work out whether a book is likely to sell or not, because it will already be doing so, and the author will already be building up an audience for their work.

For information on how you can publish stuff yourself, or how you can let us do some or all of the work for you, for an extremely affordable price, please contact me at info@stellium.co.uk

Writing & Publishing

This is my first ever blog. It’ll be an interesting change from my usual day job, which involves either writing a book, or publishing other authors’ books.

I’m going to start with a range of tips about writing in general, as my husband Jan and I have found over the years that there are lots of people who have an interesting book inside, but not enough experience in getting it out in a way that’s good enough for distribution and sale to the public at large.

What I would love to see is feedback from you, about what I’ve written here, as well as what you’d like me to discuss.

I’ll be covering most forms of writing, and different methods of publishing your work, as there is so much available today in the writing and publishing game that one can hardly keep up with developments. There is a vast amount of freedom of choice that never existed when I started writing; whether you consider traditional publishing, or a self-publishing project.

Another track I’ll touch on from time to time will be the pitfalls that one needs to avoid. Vanity publishing still exists, as well as exorbitant charges that really rip off unsuspecting people.

There’s no question about it, whatever you do, you have to keep your eyes open all the time nowadays. Luckily, apart from blogs like this one, there is Google always to hand, and I would always recommend that you search for reviews or other information about whatever organisation you may wish to deal with.

You’ll even find me talking about the ever-increasing complexity of software, like modern word processors, and MS Word in particular. For a start, I really feel that Microsoft is missing s trick by not producing a cut-down version of MS Office for the average, non-corporate user, who doesn’t need (or understand!) their Rolls Royce equivalent of office products. I notice this time and again, for example, when processing a book for digital publication, e.g. for Kindle. All the recommendations, wherever you look, say the same thing – get rid of all the formatting that you find in a typical Word file, only then can you hope for a decent result!

If things pan out the way I would like, and if there’s enough interest, Jan and I would consider running workshops to deal with all the issues that face everyone today. However, first of all, we would need to find out from you what are the biggest thorns in your side, and why the Internet, the source and font of all knowledge nowadays, hasn’t given you the answers you need.

Why would we even think about lectures and workshops about writing and publishing, when there are already so many being advertised across the country? Well, because:

  • Jan and I have had about fifteen years of experience in running our own, successful, publishing business (Zambezi Publishing Ltd, www.zampub.com)
  • We’ve recently formed a brand new company (Stellium Ltd, http://www.stellium.co.uk) to handle our new Fiction and Digital imprints, to keep up with developments in today’s publishing world.
  • I’ve had over twenty-five years of writing experience, having been published by the likes of Thorsons, HarperCollins, Collins & Brown, Sterling Publishing, Inc., Piatkus and others. Having written 126 books in my time, with sales of over 6.5 million copies to date, I feel I know a bit about the author’s side of things!
  • I’m constantly being asked questions about practically every issue to do with writing or publishing, and to be able to say, “it’s on my Blog, look it up!” will save me a great deal of time.

I think that’s about all for now; I’ll be back as I come up with something useful to say, but not on a regular basis at present, due to pressure of work. However, if you’d like to be emailed when there are new tips and ideas to view,  I suggest that you leave your email address here. I promise, Jan and I keep mail lists and any data we have on file totally confidential and in-house – we don’t share mail lists with anybody – period!