Helping authors publish

Tag: Editing

Why hire an editor?

This is a guest post written by Paul Martin, an editor that we’ve worked with several times.

“I searched for copy-editors online and found Paul… It turned out that it was a very good choice.

Paul edited the text thoroughly and made suggestions that were very pertinent and helpful. On top of that, he offered further suggestions how to improve the manuscript. I valued his comments and revised the text. The manuscript became considerably better.

After a while he contacted me and put me in touch with a very good publisher. I sent a few chapters, they accepted the manuscript, I signed the contract and the process of having my memoir in print has now started. Paul did for me much more than just copy-editing work.”

Every project is different, every writer has their own style and reasons for publishing, and there are as many ways of editing a text as there are writing one. The terms we use for the different services can also vary and can be confusing to the uninitiated. The story above is a rare but satisfying one, the perfect conclusion to an editor-author relationship that shows the impact a good editor can have. Not only do we know the industry and the market, and our trade, we also have our own contacts and networks that can benefit our clients. Especially if you have decided to self-publish, there is much to be gained from employing a professional editor.

A professionally published book goes through round upon round of editorial processes: from the drafting, beta reading, revision and submission of the author themselves through agency edits, copy-edits and proofreads. Everything designed to make your work the best it can be. However, if you are self-publishing, this work will not necessarily happen unless you arrange it yourself. If you want your product to be the very best it can be, not just free of typographical errors but coherent, engaging and enticing for readers and industry alike, then you should consider hiring an editor. For those looking to go through the traditional publishing route, it is still a valuable option – as a well-edited script can help encourage agency or publisher take-up.

Agents often have a variety of alarm-words and stylistic preferences that a good editor will know to look out for. Have you used ‘said’ when not necessary or instead of more illustrative alternatives, for example ‘whispered’, ‘sneered’? Do you overuse ‘filler’ words such as ‘had’, ‘that’? Do you show the reader through your words, or simply tell them? Have you ensured that the subject you are discussing is clear rather than overusing pronouns such as ‘she’ and ‘he’? These kinds of fixes, as well as a check for actual errors, can make a huge difference to the reception of your work. No matter how good the writer, there is always room for improvement – and there is always something you will miss. As the author, you are most intimately familiar with your work – and it is difficult to detach yourself enough to be thorough. What makes sense to you, knowing what you know, may be less clear to a new reader – a fresh pair of eyes is therefore vital.

So, what services can an editor offer? The development or story edit focuses on the structure and plot of your story, do your characters have a consistent voice, does the story read well and make sense, is it engaging or confusing? The copy-edit focuses much more on the nitty-gritty of the language choices, punctuation, spelling and grammar. A consistency check can be carried out at either stage, ensuring what was a sword in one chapter has not become a dagger or a club in another. As you receive feedback, revise and tinker, it is easy for such slips to creep into your work – and a good editor will be keeping notes to ensure consistency. If appropriate, a fact check can also be incorporated to make sure any factual material is correct – for it is very easy to type 1066 instead of 1966 and not to spot the error.

If you build up a good working relationship with an editor, you will be able to bounce ideas off of them, to develop a more fluid and varied writing style and to build your script into something even greater than it already is. They will provide you with style notes to help with future revisions and improve your future writing, to help you answer exactly what your style preferences are (do you prefer the Oxford comma?). Consistency and accuracy are key to a pleasant reading experience, errors are the jolt from being absorbed in a work.

It can take quite a long time to thoroughly read something as lengthy as a novel, especially when constructing style or consistency notes and adding commentary and critique. A good editor is not cheap, therefore – a novel of around 80,000 words can take up to a week’s work to get through, depending on the level of intervention required. However, it WILL be an investment worth making if you want to produce the best version of your work that you can. The editor will make tracked changes and comments for you to review and consider, but the final say will of course be yours.

If you are considering hiring an editor, then the best place to start is the CIEP directory: the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading is the publishing industry’s go-to standard, a non-profit body and community dedicated to promoting editorial excellence. The directory lists over 700 CIEP members, their details, services and expertise – as well as recommended rates and other useful information.

Paul Martin, an editor that we have worked with several times.

Paul Martin is an Advanced Professional member of the CIEP, a freelance editor, author and consultant. He learned his trade in education publishing, before going freelance in 2017, and has since diversified into academic and trade publishing, and supporting independent authors of fiction and non-fiction. He has supported a number of Author Help clients, as well as other independent authors, and his partner is due to have her first novel published in April.

Editing: Use Regular Expressions to Find Common Errors

I have a great editor, but I understand that she is human, and therefore she makes mistakes, and misses things, just like I do. Therefore, I like to try and make my manuscript as good as I can before I hand it over to her. The trouble with editing your own work is that all too often, your brain sees what is supposed to be there, not what is actually there.

One tool I use for finding errors is regular expressions. Regular expressions are like search and replace on steroids. Instead of finding simple strings of text, regular expressions provide a way to find patterns within the text. This makes them ideal for finding certain types of error that can occur all too easily when writing a long piece of text. The use of copy & paste, deleting, etc, can mean that even simple grammatical mistakes or typos can slip in and not be noticed.

Below I have listed some regular expression searches that I currently use on my manuscripts before sending them to my editor. To use one of them, simply copy it into the “Find” box in your word processor, just as you would type in a word you wanted to search for in the text. Note that they are formatted with a different background colour because spaces at the start or end can be important. It is possible to use regular expressions to replace text, but I haven’t included replacement expressions because I prefer to be cautious and make corrections manually. I’ve tried to order them in increasing complexity, and I’ve included some explanatory text for each one.

LibreOffice Find & Replace dialogueThe expressions given below should work in LibreOffice and Scrivener version 2.4 or later (earlier versions don’t support regular expressions). Microsoft Word also supports regular expressions, although the syntax is rather unusual, so you’ll need to check the documentation for help. Whichever software you use, you will have to tell it that you’re doing a regular expression search, rather than a normal text search. In LibreOffice Writer, use the “Find and Replace” function (not “Find”). Click “Other Options” in the dialogue box, and tick the “Regular expressions” tickbox. In Scrivener project search, select “RegEx” from the operator section of the magnifying glass icon menu. In Scrivener document find, select “Regular Expressions (RegEx)” from the “Find Options” drop-down menu.

Note that, when copying and pasting from your browser into the search box, make sure that the quotation marks are correct – they sometimes get mangled.

Punctuation And Quotation Marks

This is a simple expression, but there are two versions. In British English, the convention is to have commas and full stops outside quotation marks, whereas in US English, commas and full stops are placed inside the quotation marks.

Expression to find commas and full stops inside quotation marks (use this if you write in British English):

[.,]”

Expression to find commas and full stops outside quotation marks (use this if you write in US English):

“[.,]

These simple expressions match a quotation mark followed or preceded by a full stop or a comma. Square brackets are used to group characters, so that if any character in the square brackets is present, a match is found. In this case, the square brackets are used to match a full stop or comma, but nothing else.

“a” instead of “an”
This expression will find words that begin with a vowel immediately preceded by “a”, instead of “an”:

 a [aeiou]

The first three characters are simple: space, lower case “a”, space. Then square brackets are used to group all five vowels. Note that the “Match case” option must be selected in LibreOffice for it to work correctly.

Oxford Commas

At school, I was taught not to use Oxford commas, but I use them in my books because they can avoid ambiguity. Unfortunately, because I didn’t use them for so long, I frequently forget to add them. Consequently, one of the first regular expressions I wrote to check for errors in my writing was to spot missing Oxford commas. Note that this won’t find every sentence that is missing an Oxford comma, but that’s why you have a human editor ????

\w+, \w+ and 

If you have the opposite problem, and you don’t want Oxford commas, the following expression should find them:

\w+, \w+, and 

“w” matches a word character, ie any character that can be part of a word (letters, numbers, etc). The “+” means at least one of the preceding characters must be present, so “w+” matches a word.

Missing Capital After Full Stop

I started using this expression after seeing this error in a book published by HarperCollins. If the big publishers can miss such basic mistakes, so can the rest of us.

Note that the “Match case” option must be selected in LibreOffice for it to work correctly. Acronyms followed by lower case letters, eg “The N.C.O. said” will not be matched.

[^.][^A-Z]\. [a-z]

This expression introduces a new twist on the use of square brackets: if the first character in the square brackets is a “^”, it matches anything NOT in the group. So, “[^.][A-Z]” matches anything that is not a full stop, followed by anything that is not an uppercase letter. The next term is “.”, which matches a full stop. When not in square brackets, a full stop is a wildcard, but placing a backslash before it tells the regular expression engine to treat it as a full stop, not as a wildcard. Finally, it matches a space followed by a lowercase letter.

Missing Brackets

It’s far too easy to forget to close brackets, or to accidentally delete the closing bracket. This expression will find an opening bracket that doesn’t have a matching closing bracket.

\([^)]*$

Since parentheses have a special meaning in regular expressions, the opening bracket is prefixed with a backslash. This tells the regular expression engine to treat it as a simple opening bracket. The “[^)]” matches any character that is not a closing bracket, and the “*” means “match this zero or more times”. Finally, the “$” indicates the end of the line/paragraph.

Repeated Word

Repeated words crop up sometimes, and often aren’t noticed if the word happens to appear at the end of one line and the start of the next line.

\b(\w+)\b \b\1\b

This one may look rather odd, but is simple once you understand it. As above, “w+” is used to match a word. The parentheses are used to group the characters that are matched, so that they can be referred to later in the expression. The “1” matches the group in the parentheses. “b” denotes a word boundary. In this case, it is used to ensure that only complete words are matched. Without the word boundaries, it would match a term like “anderson song” as the “son” would be matched in both words.

Putting all that together, this expression matches a complete word, followed by at least one space, followed by the same complete word.

Want To Learn More?

If you want to learn to write regular expressions to find the mistakes that you find yourself making, www.regular-expressions.info is an excellent learning resource, and regex101.com has a regular expression tester, which will also explain the elements of the regular expression.

Hire Me

If you don’t want to run these regular expressions yourself, I can do it for you. I run a set of regular expressions over every manuscript that I proofread, at no extra cost.

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