“At Your Service” is an ongoing blog where we ask a self-publishing industry professional to describe his or her services, in order to help self-publishers understand the intricacies of each step in the self-publishing process.
Today, we talk to New York publishing professional Carla Jablonski about the complex world of editing and why it’s in your best interest to invest in a professional editor.
Jablonski began working in publishing right out of college. She was hired as a reader for Skylark, an imprint of Bantam Books that focused on children’s books. The editor at Bantam became her mentor and subsequently she began editing paperback originals for Bantam Doubleday Dell.
She went on to work for several other publishers, editing dozens of best-selling mass-market series, including R.L. Stine’s Ghosts of Fear Street and Give Yourself Goosebumps; Choose Your Own Adventure, and The Hardy Boys, as well as trade and literary individual titles.
Jablonski is also a widely published author, including the Books of Magic (HarperCollins) series, based on Neil Gaiman’s popular comic books, the award-winning Resistance trilogy (First Second Books) and two Young Adult novels published by Razorbill/Penguin that were selected for the prestigious NYPL “Books for the Teen Age” List.
She now works as an independent content and line editor for individual clients, many in the process of self-publishing, and also serves as a reviewer for BlueInk.
Q: Let’s first look at the various kinds of editing, as it’s important for writers to understand that editing is a step-by-step process. First, can you explain what a content (sometimes called developmental) editor does?
A: If possible, every author should start with content and developmental editing. A content editor is the “Big Picture” editor. These editors looks at everything — plot structure, character development, dialogue, pace, and anything else that’s pertinent. For mystery, for example, they’ll analyze the development of clues, suspects, and characters to make sure they’re working and well timed. In fantasy and sci-fi, they’ll look at world building and overall consistency of the logic. With historical fiction, they make sure there are no anachronisms. And in books for kids and teens, they’ll pay attention to age and reading level.
Q: What is the role of a line editor?
A: This stage of editing takes place after the manuscript has gone through a content edit and a revise based on the editor’s recommendations. It comes when the editor and author are pleased with the overall structure of the book and now plan to concentrate more carefully on writing details.
In this stage, the editor makes sure every sentence is doing what it needs to do. A line editor looks for repetitions, clunkiness, organization and does the fine-tuning to make sure that what the author intended is actually on the page. They check that the rhythms work and that the flow is good, and that chapters end well.
Q: What comes after line editing?
A: The next step is copyediting, which is done by a different person. The initial editor should never be the copyeditor, because at this point the editor is extremely close to the material. A very good copyeditor will go into extreme detail. A copyeditor checks for errors in grammar, spelling mistakes and picky details like proper formatting of name brands and trademarks, and the spelling of foreign words. They’ll make sure that details are consistent; for example, if there is communication between different time zones, they make sure the timing is realistic. They also determine how things like italics, capital letters, and certain kinds of punctuation are going to be handled.
Q: What does the proofreader do?
A: Once the book is printed — or in e-publishing is a finished file — everybody looks at it again— author, editor, line editor, and copy editor. This is where the proofreader comes in. A proofreader makes sure that everything that was in the manuscript ends up in the printed version. This person is not the editor or the copyeditor because at this point they are each too close to the material. If there are photos, they make sure they are included and in order and that captions are correct, that sort of thing. Also they check that there are no simple mistakes, for example the main character’s name spelled wrong halfway through, or that the copyeditor missed any typos (it happens…).
At this stage, the author will have the opportunity to make final changes. The book will be reprinted and sent to a different proofreader for good measure.
Finally, the book will be printed and sent out into the world.
Q: What do self publishers not realize about editing?
A: Editing is a skill, and therefore you pay for that skill.
Q: How do you base your fee?
A: For content editing, I charge a flat rate based on the length of a book and its complexity. This allows the client to know upfront what the fee is going to be. This rate can fall between $1,200 for a middle-grade novel to $6,000 for an historical epic spanning over a hundred years.
For line editing, I usually charge by the hour based on how many revisions it’s been through — a book that has had very little editing before I get it obviously requires a different level of attention than one that I or someone else may have guided through revisions. This range runs between $50 and $125 an hour.
I try to get edits back to an author in two weeks. Very often a client will be stunned by how many hours it takes.
Q: How long does it typically take for you to edit a book?
A: A developmental edit can be upwards of 25 hours, even 40 hours, depending on how many times I have to read the manuscript. Books in great shape can take just as long as the ones in bad shape. I recently sent a manuscript back to the author scrawled with notes —partly because it was very good — along with a 13 page single-spaced revision letter.
Q: What do you see as your role in the process of creating the finished book?
A: My intention is for the manuscript to become the best possible book the author has in mind — not the book I would write if I’d had the idea. My goal always is to clear away the debris so we can see the story clearly. If an author disagrees with my edits, that’s fine, but for those looking for agents or traditional publishing, I let them know if the problem could present an obstacle for traditional publication. Ultimately, though, it’s all subjective. My editing is my opinion. It’s based on experience, but it’s still my opinion. If they want to reject it, more power to the author. My ego’s not involved in it; it’s like being a midwife. It’s not my baby, I just help it arrive.
Q: What is your take on traditional publishing versus self publishing?
A: It’s hard to break into traditional publishing, and it’s hard to break through the noise in self publishing. You must be a great marketer to self publish and there’s almost never enough marketing for traditional publishing. That’s why I think BlueInk is great. BlueInk is providing a great service because the books that actually deserve to be read might be noticed.
Q: What advice would you offer self publishers about the editing process?
A: My belief is that everybody needs an editor. I’ve had dozens of book published and I need an editor — and I AM an editor! There’s stuff that you just miss. Every author needs that second set of eyes. That set of eyes should not belong to a mother or best friend, no matter how qualified they are. You need an objective editor.
Know that there is a better book in there. There’s no difference between the first manuscript of someone who plans to self publish and someone planning to traditionally publish. The main difference is that self-publishers often spend less time in the editing stage.
It is critical that you at least get a proofreader. I’ve struggled through self-published books with typos, sentence structure problems, and grammatical errors. You don’t want a reader to have stumbling blocks because of typos, because they might just put the book down.
No matter what, congratulate yourself for not just sitting around talking about becoming a writer, but actually writing. I have complete respect for that.
BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at www.blueinkreview.com.
Camilla Sterne is a senior at the University of Denver, where she studies creative writing and media studies. She is a freelance writer at the Boulder Weekly and assistant lifestyles editor at the DU Clarion. She was BlueInk’s Summer 2013 Intern.