Dear Readers and Followers
There are times when something happens in your life where you reflect on some principles you’ve learnt to live by. As the cliché goes, the only constant is change. Yet, we as human beings tend to hold on to some sense of consistency, at least where our core principles are concerned.
One bad egg should not spoil the bunch, but I’ve had so many varied approaches to editing that led me towards just doing it myself. I’m happy to say that a recent experience was pleasant enough to rock my principles in a positive way. But before we get to that, I want to actually share the editing path I’ve walked down that led me to become the type of writer who is not overly fond of editors.
**Be warned: there will be some instances where editors or readers might feel offended by what I’ve said. It was not meant to be an insult, but simply my honest opinion or feeling from my experiences. If the shoe fits… get it polished.
1. My Bad Experiences With Publishers Who Want to be Editors
I’ve written many a post about my history with having my books published by others. There have been rocky paths, but in 2006 when I was having Windfarer worked on by my American publisher at that time, that was my first experience with having my work edited. And the first experience I have had with the Americanisation of my words.
Before I continue, let me explain what I mean by Americanisation, as I am going to use it a lot in this article and it is not meant to offend anyone, especially the Americans. And when I say Americans, I refer to inhabitants of the United States. South Africa inherited the British English standard from the times when we were still a British colony. So I am used to saying ‘realise’ instead of ‘realize’, ‘colour’ instead of ‘color’, ‘signalled’ instead of ‘signaled’, ‘centre’ instead of ‘center’. I’ve also learnt, just a month ago, that when listing items (i.e. the dog, cat and fish), Americans put an extra comma before the ‘and’ (the dog, cat, and fish). As a grammatical rule, we don’t.
Alright you get the point. So when I received my first manuscript back from my publisher, who was also the editor, the first thing I had to contend with was figuring out what had been changed. I present to you case number 1 (#1) in point. I read through what I had been waiting half a year to receive, trying to find if anything had actually been edited. So I used a nifty tool of Microsoft Word at that time called ‘compare’. I compared the two docs side by side, and the very first change I noticed was the Americanisation of my South African / British words. Since my publisher was American, residing in New York City, I decided to just leave this. I was young; what did I care about which grammar set was used. Screw my principles.
I was also very cautious about sending the document back for re-editing. I had waited several months for this draft manuscript, and the last thing I wanted to do was send it back for a few more months. Yet, there were huge chunks of my story missing with no explanation (#2), things that I assumed did not make sense to my publisher or that he felt could be removed. My publisher did not know what I had planned for the whole series though, so by removing those chunks he messed up my future plans for DragonRider and Sadgi. So I bit back my impatience, wrote the parts back in and sent them to the publisher with an explanation as to why it had to be retained.
Windfarer was published in 2007, and I learnt another valuable lesson. No matter how many times you, your publisher / editor or proofreaders (thank you Bernadette Liebenberg) work through a draft manuscript, there will always, always be more errors (#3). We will get to this point often in this article, but this was the first instance I experienced it. Of course, in retrospect, I don’t think my publisher at that time did much effort into actual editing. He did more work in Americanising my grammar and looking for plot problems that actual editing.
And it was not only me who discovered this. The National English Literary Museum of South Africa reviewed Windfarer in the NELM News 49 of 2008 and one of the comments was this:
“There is plenty of imagination in The Windfarer, but editing is needed to improve expression, grammar and spelling. Suspension of disbelief is particularly crucial in works of fantasy. It is ruined when errors of spelling and grammar interrupt the flow of imagination and draw one back to reality. The large number of such errors in this book is particularly unfortunate, as Jooste’s imagination has depth of both scale and scope.
Raider Publishing is a pay-to-publish company. Essentially, the author pays, and the book is published. Their website describes the various packages on offer (‘bronze’ –
the least expensive – to ‘gold’, like some sort of holiday club) and offers various pre- and post-publication services for the US dollar fees that they charge.
That said, exposure is exposure, and it is to be hoped that Jooste’s talent will ultimately find a more professional vehicle and the guiding hand of an experienced editor.”
I am happy to end this off with saying that, when I republished Windfarer in 2015 under Celenic Earth Publications, the novel went through a drastic change and I cringed under all the grammatical mistakes I had made. But hey, it was my first novel, and I still had so much more to learn.
Which effectively leads me to my next section…
2. Meeting Wanna-Be Editors / Authors / Something
While I was getting DragonRider published, I met a group of local writers aspiring to become published authors. None of them at that time had actually had any novels published, but they rather enjoyed having someone in their midst who was (he says rather modestly). Those were their words, not mine.
They had meetings every week or so when they sat around a table in one of their houses and discussed what they were working on. They would print 5 pages of their work and pass it around, giving opportunity at the next meeting to discuss it further. There was meant to be some editing involved somewhere, and if that actually happened I never did see it.
Instead I was privy to much criticism of each other’s work. Fortunately I did not participate long enough (I was only a guest for one or two meetings) to have my worked criticised, but none of it sounded constructive. They would tell each other how plots didn’t work, how they believed the story should go and problems with their characters… but in a way that didn’t really sound helpful. More often than not, the writer of that work would ask how they could improve it, and then being informed by the critic that they are not sure, but it needs to change.
The writers would even criticise their own work, saying how the character had changed his mind about his goal and now the whole story had to be changed. That novel never did see the light of the publishing day.
Which leads me to case number 4. I know this was just an amateur group hoping to make something of themselves one day, and I hope that they actually did, but when editors try and change a story in such a way as to make the writer’s story their own (#4), they’re not focusing on their core function. I’m all for suggestions on improvements, but when you shift from editing to criticising or changing the entire story, you’ve lost the plot of your role, so to speak.
I’ve used this writer group as the first taste I had of this example, but trust me when I say I met many more editors who tried to fill the role of writer instead and make the story their own.
3. My Great Experience With International Writers
When I started working on Anthologies for Celenic Earth Publications, I met many international writers. We have writers from US, UK, Germany, China, just to name a few. We all write in English, but I was able to learn how much diversity there is across the globe when it comes to writing styles.
And so I decided not to South Africanise anything. Nor appoint an official editor. We each took each other’s work and read through it, editing the pieces for each other until we were completely happy with it. No destructive criticism, no epic changes of other writers’ stories as with issue #4, simple editing with indications of plot inconsistencies if any. Also, presenting indications of where more descriptions were needed to explain things slightly better, with some suggestions.
We kept each country and writer’s style, which is why you will see ‘realise’ and realize’ in one volume. I also did not want to make the #1 mistake of simply changing things without discussing it with the writer. Spelling mistakes were fine, but I suggested ways to say things better in some instances.
Even though it worked out pretty well in my opinion, we were still only writers editing each others work, with our major focus being on the plot and characters. When one of our reviewers picked up on some errors during the review process, I reminded everyone of case #3, that there will always be more errors no matter how much you edit. After I explained to the reviewer the decision to keep to each writer’s style, it was easier to review the anthologies as she understood why each story was written so differently. We received received high scores and positive reviews for each anthology, with only a private mention of one or two spelling mistakes that had been found.
4. I Seldom Pay For Something I can Do Myself
So here is one of my highest guiding principles in life: I seldom pay for something I can do myself. I will never pay a ghostwriter to write my novels (almost threw up in my mouth there). At my actual day job that pays the bills, editing has become my forte. No, I will never call myself an editor, as that is neither my profession nor business. Yet, when we work on reports and presentations, we tend to work through the documents a hundred times before we send it off. Editing , editing and re-editing. Finding new ways to say things. We even send it to someone else with fresh eyes to look it over. And you know what? Case #3: there will always be more errors. When we reach the point of presenting the documents to upper management, we more seldom than not ask “How the hell did we not see that?”
Since I established Celenic Earth Publications, I’ve been editing my own work. I edit it at least 5 times until both myself, grammarly and Microsoft word are satisfied. Even then, Amazon KDP publishing platform will tell me there may be a few mistakes and then that gets fixed. I’ve had some reviewers on Silent Hill: Betrayal come back to me saying they found some too, but more often than not that has to do with cultural differences with grammar, spelling and punctuation use. I’ve even had some who were ready to tell me something was wrong with the story, only to realise I had caught the reader out by explaining it only MUCH later in the book. Which was how it was intended. It was not meant to make sense at that point.
I’ve been receiving many requests from editors on twitter and LinkedIn to sign them up as editors, but I’ve simply ignored them. Many times you can see they are automated responses to adding them as connections or following them, and I don’t speak to robots. Mainly though, I won’t pay someone to do what I can do. Yes I will make mistakes, but I will learn through them. Editors will go out of their way to find those mistakes, or call your writing rubbish, just to sell you their services. Yes, I know you guys make a living off editing our work, but sometimes it feels like that’s all it is to you. A paycheck for something you might not do properly yourself. The industry is saturated with ‘editors’ making a living reading through books. I’d rather just cut back on this luxurious expense of having a paid editor and do it myself.
I guess I can also confess that I find myself in a comfort zone. I’ve had fantastic experience this year, writing for a now defunct entertainment website where I was told my articles need so little editing that I could publish them myself without further approval. I was even praised privately on GameTyrant for my writing ability, that my articles only ever had to be Americanised now and again, but no serious editing was needed.
Having said that, I’m not saying I will never appoint an editor. In my own time, and in my own terms. Working on my Silent Hill book series, I know I will never appoint an editor for those. That will remain untouchable as everything in the series is so finely planned out, I cannot afford for anyone else to work on it. For the Celenic Earth Anthologies though, I have found someone that I’ve worked closely with before to become an official editor of the anthologies.
Interlude – The Bitchitisation of the Word ‘Got’
I’m going to shift focus quickly to this word that really works on my nerves. Well, not actually the word but the application thereof. It’s not really important, which is why this is a short break from the actual topic. The one thing I did actually learn from that amateur writing group I mentioned in Section 2 of this article, was the bitchitisation (as I call it) of the past participle, ‘got’. Move on swiftly to section 5 if you don’t want to read this.
You will notice (now that I mention it) that this is the only section where you will see me write ‘got’. If you are a true South African writer, you will be cringing in your pants right now. It didn’t really bother me until that amateur group pointed it out in one of the writer’s writings. Ok, so they called it the Americanisation of the word ‘have’ or ‘to obtain’, but I prefer not stereotyping in this case, as I have found plenty of writers from other countries using it too.
If you’re wondering what I’m carrying on about, let me explain. Too many writers using the slang easy way out of saying they have something. “Have you got milk?” instead of “Do you have milk?”. “You’ve got to get that promotion”, instead of “You must get that promotion”. “I’ve got the flu”, instead of “I have the flu.”
Got is meant to be the past participle of Get. Like fetch or obtain. How the hell you can fetch or obtain a flu, like it’s a gift. “Can you please go get me that flu sitting on the table right there? I’ve been looking for it all day.” “Alright, here it is, I got it for you.” “Thanks man. I’ve been wanting to get the flu for so long.” (yes, I’m being pedantic, since it irritates me that much.) And don’t get me started on ‘gotten’. Blegh. If you had said “I got the flu from Sasha”, that would be more appropriate, but I still prefer saying anything else but ‘got’.
I have become rather anal about it. To the point where, even when it is acceptable to use the word, I make sure I don’t. This has become an editing nightmare for me. Surprisingly, overusing ‘get’ doesn’t bother me as much.
Alright, rant session over.
5. The One Editor Who Recently Had Me Praising the Lord
So recently Celenic Earth Publications launched The Heroes of Antreya: The Journey Begins, which has now been nominated for Best Fantasy Novel of 2017 in the Preditors and Editors Awards. Ironic, since I am now writing about editing. Fellow writer Dean Clark got (haha) us an editor for the novel, since he is lead creative writer for Antreya Studios on the Antreya Chronicles game project in development. When I learnt that someone else would be editing the novel, I had severe internal reservations.
And boy, did Jessica Fisette surprise the heck out of me. (Yes, Jessica, this entire post was inspired by you – get over it. lol). When I received the draft manuscript back from Dean and Jessica, with notes on my chapter portions, I opened it with trepidation at first. Yet as I read through it, that all dissipated so quickly.
#1: I didn’t have to figure out what had been changed. Jessica had smartly used the Track Changes function for us to see what had been edited, and used the Comments function to tell us where something didn’t make sense to her. Hell, she even told use which parts she enjoyed the most.
#2: No chunks of information when missing without explanation. There was only one or two sections that had been entirely removed, marked by the Track Changes function, and she had explained in the Comments why it was removed, mostly because we were repeating something we had already said before in another way.
#3: There will still always be errors. Even when I worked through the draft after editing, I still found spelling and other mistakes I had made that neither Dean, Jessica, Microsoft Word or myself had seen after several edits. And I promise you if I work through it again, I will find something else. You can work through your work a hundred times, and find two hundred different ways to say things. Don’t lose yourself in your editing that you never publish.
#4: Jessica didn’t try and change the story so much that it became her own. She respected us as writers and simply pointed out where things could have sounded better, or where the dialogue was inconsistent with a character. She was an editor, not a critic or reviewer.
If this is what real editors are like, then I’ve clearly been speaking to the wrong ones. As you can see, I’ve had real bad experiences, but I’ve learnt that at the age of 37 even I can see the light. And the only real purpose of this post is because it has dawned on me that not all editors are the same, and even some understand where us writers are coming from. And I wanted to share my revelation with you.
This post actually drew out longer than I thought it would. I was just wanting to share how one editor changed my mind on editing, but as usual I always have to have a backstory to my story. I am a writer after all.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate editors. I just prefer to keep them at arm’s length, so to speak. I know it isn’t easy for you editors to work with us writers either. I would never want your job, which is why I prefer to edit my own work and not someone else’s if I can help it.
I will leave you with one witty thought though: Who is the lion and the girl symbols of in that picture… the writer or the editor? hehe.
PS: To those of you who feel the need to point out the errors in my article, you can shove it up your……
With Warm Regards
The Count of Celenic Earth