You can’t edit your own book

Recently I read a book by an academic colleague. It was interesting and ground-breaking but needed a good edit, and I told the author so. The author was surprised. The facts were right, a spell-checker had been used and there were no obtrusive typos. What the book lacked was that final polish which would expand its value beyond just a worthy addition to the library.

Academics are often writing for themselves, or for a small audience who they fear will stick the daggers in. A lot of non-fiction is likewise written for the author’s pleasure, with a hope there is a readership out there. This is particularly true of self-published or small press books. I frequently have conversations with aspiring non-fic writers who don’t see the value of a third party editor. Time and again I see a new book which dearly cried out for an edit – in some cases a ‘heavy edit’ which takes the author’s raw text and turns it into something engaging and readable. Hopefully, also error-free, as the rush into print is the biggest error of the first time author.

In my last post I discussed my approach to drafting – that’s the self-editing process where I produce a text to my own satisfaction.  The facts are right (as far as I can establish), the grammar is right (to the limits of my education) and my style is firmly imprinted on the book.

“Remember thou art human”

So then its off to the agent/publisher’s editor in the case of my fiction. My most gruelling edits were however the two Roman York volumes. I received back the whole text printed out on wide ‘tractor’ paper. Down the margins were individual comments and questions by the Director, the Deputy Director, the Head of Finds, the Head of Pottery, the Chief Editor and indeed the Editor. Sigh. Archaeologists are nothing if not thorough. Even my small ‘Story of Guernsey’ history book was sent to eight colleagues to verify and comment on. These comments need to be taken on the chin –

“If I know what I am writing is rubbish, then so will the person who reads it”

As my chemistry teacher used to say. If an editor thinks your sentences are too long, or you are mis-using subordinate clauses, then so will many of the people reading it. My big sin my latest editor tells me is that I over-use hyphens. Take the hits, make the changes, and a better book results.





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