Anonymity And The Copy Editor: Is It Time To Be Recognised?

hidden, anonymous, sculpture, book, editor, copy editor

As an editor I often like to remain anonymous.

As a copy editor I feel that I’m just polishing the author’s intentions and getting their ‘real’ story out there. We all know what it’s like to be tongue-tied, that feeling that you know what you want to say but you just can’t get it out. That’s what I’m helping with. As a copy editor I know the constructions, the words and the layout. I know how to help. As that’s my job I usually don’t see the need for acknowledgement in a book I’ve worked on.

Sometimes this is because I feel I’ve done my job, been of help to a lovely author or publisher, and I prefer the anonymity.

Sometimes it’s because so little had to be done to the text that I feel an acknowledgement isn’t necessary.

Sometimes it’s because the book isn’t in my normal scope so professionally I don’t need the acknowledgement (it might dilute my public professional goals).

Sometimes, very rarely, it’s because the job was a nightmare and I don’t want to be acknowledged for fear it will impact negatively on my professional standing. Examples are when the budget or timescale was so tight that only triage editing was possible and left behind a lot that I felt needed addressing. Or perhaps the author decided to ignore my suggestions. Or even added stuff to the final edited version after my input was finished (oh yes, it happens). It’s very easy for an editor to be ignored and yet have their name on a final product that falls way beyond their normal standard.

And yet, most of the time, acknowledgements are not needed because I’m an editor, that’s my job and as long as I have done a job well I am happy with my lot.

anonymous copy editor

But I’m beginning to wonder if the anonymity of editors is becoming a problem.

I’ve seen this with my base profession. I trained as a librarian and information specialist. I spent my professional working life as an academic librarian explaining to people that no, I didn’t just stamp books. A librarian is so much more: we train; we handle budgets; we collate, curate and keep vast collections; we deal with the public, students and academics; we disseminate information; we are academics, counsellors, psychologists, analysts, shopkeepers, managers, lifelong learners and gatekeepers of the world’s knowledge. No, we don’t just stamp books.

And yet, librarians are a dying breed. Due to their anonymous nature, and the belief that now the world has Google anyone can be an information professional, librarians are no longer seen as vital. Library assistants are now running libraries. The librarian as we know it is endangered, as are the libraries they once ran and cherished.

library, books, reading room

And the same thing could soon be happening to editors. Because many of us don’t feel the need for acknowledgement, either through author acks or being noted for our role somewhere in the book, the world is beginning to forget why we exist.

The market is saturated with books. How many of those publications are self-published without editorial help? We’ll never know because copy editors are barely mentioned. The editor thanked profusely by the author in a traditionally published book is usually the publication editor who steers the project, the copy editor remains largely invisible.

I decided to pick ten random books from my shelf, to see if I was perhaps barking up the wrong tree. They are a mix of factual non-fiction, biography and fiction:

Two had no acknowledgements at all.

One praised an editor for meticulous and insightful editing.

One, a massive historical tome, mentions everyone except the editor and indexer, both of whom must have worked their fingers to the bone.

In one the proofreader was thanked, but not the copy editor.

A design book gave thanks to designers but not the editorial staff.

One thanked the publishing team as a whole, so that’s ok.

The last three gave no mention of the editorial staff at all.

 

That’s 1/10 giving acknowledgement to the editor, two if we’re feeling generous.

blank books on a shelf

 

But how much of that is down to the copy editor saying no to being acknowledged, or not having any relationship with the author at all? And is it really cause for concern? Are book acknowledgements that important anyway?

Just like the internet quietly brought down librarians, it is potentially doing the same for copy editors. I’ve come across conversations where self-publishing authors have said they don’t need to pay for editorial help when they have Hemmingway, Grammarly and spellchecks to do the job for them. Don’t get me wrong, these are wonderfully useful, but you can’t slavishly follow them, and using them instead of a professionally trained human editor is asking for trouble.

So we come back to anonymity, and we have to ask ourselves these questions:

Are copy editors anonymous because

  1. they really don’t need to be acknowledged,
  2. they don’t feel the need to be acknowledged,
  3. they’re rarely asked if they want to be acknowledged,
  4. they don’t want to be acknowledged,
  5. acknowledgements are personal for the author?

Should editors:

  1. make acknowledgement part of their contracts,
  2. broach the subject of acknowledgement with each new job,
  3. ask to be acknowledged,
  4. ask not to be acknowledged,
  5. expect to be acknowledged.

shy editor

And how should we move forward as professionals doing a job where many of us prefer to stay in the background?

I expect that as time goes by, if we are to survive as a valued profession, we need to uphold professional attitudes, become ambassadors for plain, good quality written language and champion excellence wherever possible.

We may need to step out of the shadows and shout about what we do and why it is valuable before, like librarians, we are sidelined and people settle for ‘good enough’.

 

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments whether you’re an author or editor, let’s get the dialogue started.

What I Learned From My Creative Writing Courses

blank notebook, writing, editing, creative writing

As an editor I’m trained to edit. I can take an author’s book and polish it. I can address the grammar, spelling and flow along with all the other editory type things that us editors do. I can tell an author what’s working and what isn’t and I can take a jargon filled piece of writing and make it readable.

I love my job.

But I love writing too.

That’s why three years ago I embarked on a creative writing course. It wasn’t to write the kind of stuff I already write (non-fiction writing for clients), it was to write creatively. I wanted to write stories. But I also knew it would help with my day job – an editor who writes can have more empathy with an author than one who doesn’t.

 pen and paper icon

Just Do It

That first year I took a free FutureLearn course produced by the Open University. The course leader was (and still is) Derek Neale, who also wrote and edited the course books for the ‘real’ OU courses. It’s an eight-week course so I thought I’d give it a go. It was scary – I knew other people might read my stories, but I never actually realised just what that meant. Strangers reading something you’ve written with an eye to picking it apart, then telling you just what they thought. Urgh!

Despite my reservations (I would be rubbish, I wouldn’t write anything decent, I’d cry a lot) I thoroughly enjoyed it and realised that I should have done it years ago. I started in October and as soon as the course finished I signed up for the OU A215 Creative Writing course. I then spent the next six months wondering what I’d signed up for.

 laptop, writing, editing, creative writing

Then Do Some More

When October 2015 came around I received my course books, took one look at the size of them and the timetable and realised that I had a busy year ahead of me. I had to fit the module around work and my theatre commitments. Let’s just say that since then I haven’t had a spare moment!

But the course was a joy. I was lucky to be part of a very active forum (where a group of students bounce off each other and comment on each other’s work) and had an active tutor. As another academic year went by I honed my writing skills and became less scared of what others thought. I gained a thick skin and began to appreciate every critique and observation. I also gained a distinction at the end of it.

And so I signed up for the Advanced Creative Writing course A363.

pen and paper icon

Keep Calm and Carry On

When October 2016 came around I received my course books and again realised I was going to be busy. Very busy. And again I loved every minute of it. I have spent the last eight months with stories in my head and characters vying for attention. I wrote stories and two plays (ok, one was only ten minutes and the last one is a 30 minutes one-act play, but they are still plays). My ten minute play may be extended in the future as I can’t get it out of my head.

pencils, writing, write

Never Stop Writing

After three years I have reached the end of my creative writing courses. I’m waiting for my final results (another nail-biting month to go before I get them) but I’m confident of a decent mark and I’m already missing the camaraderie and creativity. I have to continue. I must. So I’m saving up to do the Creative Writing MA. There are a few to choose from (I have my eye on a Crime Writing and Forensic Investigation MLitt from Dundee, but there seems to be no distance learning option) but rather than go down the student loan option I want to have some cash behind me before I start.

For now I have to go in another direction, but my goal, after years of denying it, is to get that MA and write creatively and well. And the last three years have helped me professionally. I have learnt so much that now I not only see things from an editor’s perspective, I see things as an author.

So with both my editor and author hats on I thought I’d share with you what I have learned over those last, wonderful three years.

coffee, notebook, notepad, writing

What I Learned From My Creative Writing Courses:

 

One pair of eyes is never enough.

Just as you can’t edit your own work, your writing will benefit from being read by more than one person. The OU course relies heavily on peer review, and the more of us that commented on each other’s work, the better our work became. Different people pick up on different things. One person may be particularly good at picking up on grammar and spelling mistakes, while another may be better at the big picture.

That’s why I always recommend that you get more than one person to look at your book. Before you hire an editor, get as many people as possible to read it. Get their honest feedback. Listen to what they say and either take or leave their comments, but take on board what they tell you. That way when you approach your editor you know that your book already works (of course the editor will pick up on things as that’s what we’re trained for, but the less work we have to do, the cheaper your edit will be).

pen and paper icon

Writing in different genres requires different skills.

I can’t write poetry, well, not very well. I can practice and I’ll get better but it doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. I can, however, write short stories, plays and screenplays. I can also write non-fiction, but that involves different brain cells.

Just because you are great at one type of writing, don’t expect it all to come easily. Be honest with yourself. If you find that you are slogging over your writing, take a step back and ask yourself why. Do you need more training? Do you need someone to critique your work and really delve deep into where the problems lie? Should you change direction? As a writer being honest with yourself is the first step towards finding what you are really, really good at.

pen and paper icon

You have to listen to feedback and not take it personally.

One of the most gut-wrenching things is to have others read your work. You are laying your soul bare. You’ve put hours of work into your writing and it becomes personal, it shows you for who you are. You ARE your work.

But it’s essential that you listen to any feedback that you are given. Don’t take things personally. The reader isn’t attacking you or your work by pointing out where it could be better. They’re just being honest.

As a writer I kind of dread the feedback, but know it’s essential and worth it all in the end. As an editor I try to be kind in my comments. I know that with my writing I value a straightforward, non-emotional, kind approach to feedback, and that’s how I try to give it when working. I think of how I would feel if I got the comments back that I give out.

When you get feedback, try to distance yourself from it. Look at the words and not the hours of hard work. Look at the final result that is getting nearer. Always keep in mind the finished product and the readers you hope to delight.

pen and paper icon

Sometimes you have to start again.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work. It’s not because you’ve failed, it’s just that it doesn’t, and will never, work. Even the best laid plans sometimes come unstuck.

That’s why our notebooks are full of half-formed ideas.

Accept the failed starts, put them away, perhaps for another time, and start again. It can be a lot less painful than plodding on just for the sake of it. If you think it doesn’t work, it probably doesn’t. If you aren’t sure ask someone you can trust.

stack of documents, books, writing

As a professional editor I knew these things already, but as a writer I now feel them more than ever. I can sympathise and empathise with an author on their own level. I think that it’s made me a kinder editor in that I’ve felt what the authors have felt, and can approach their writing from both sides.

But what I have really learned from my OU creative writing courses is that once you start writing you can’t stop. You see the world with new eyes and every drop of rain or missed bus is a new story waiting to unfold.

 

If you are an author looking for an editor who knows what it’s like to write, get in touch. Your book deserves a little TLC before you send it out into the world.

 

How To Make Your Historical Fiction Believable

historical fiction Victorian setting

Writing historical fiction isn’t easy. You don’t just have to have a brilliant storyline and interesting characters, you also have to be as historically accurate as possible. This is one genre where there are readers who will gleefully tell you you’re wrong and pick up on the minutest of details. It really isn’t the easy option.

But when historical fiction is written well, I think it can be one of the most satisfying areas of fiction. You are allowed a glimpse into the past. You can walk through a world with your character that hasn’t been seen for years – hell, even the 1980s can be seen as historical fiction to millenials. For twenty somethings a world without the internet or mobile phones must seem just as antiquated as a Victorian timeset.

1980s cassettes

The knack to writing this type of prose is to be prepared. Research your chosen time, get a feel for the era and write with conviction. You’ll either love it or hate it, but it will never be boring.

Here are 12 tips to make your historical fiction believable:

  1. Be as authentic as possible. When you write well your reader will become immersed in a world that may be unfamiliar to them. They should be able to see, hear, smell and feel that world. You walk along with the characters and see what they see. Authenticity is the number one aim for a historical writer.

  1. For the reader to believe your world you should know it inside and out. As writers we find ourselves going deeper into time and place. We all write differently – some authors research as much as they can before setting pen to paper, while some research as they go along. But at the heart of the story is the setting, the small details can come later. If your world is half-formed it will stay that way for your reader and satisfaction levels will bottom out, even if the premise of the story is a good one.

  1. If you’re going to use real characters from history stay true to them. Would they really have said or done what you made them say or do? Learn about that historical figure, their background, family, hopes, dreams, moral and religious standing. Learn everything you can about them, become their friend (I know, it sounds stupid). A teetotaller wouldn’t have taken that wine to toast a friend’s good health, and someone with very high moral standards would have to be persuaded very, very strongly to loosen them. Like any character you have to see the world through their eyes, but you don’t have the ability to play with their character or destiny unless you have a very good reason for doing it. If you’re going to change a historical figure give them cause and effect for the change. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a great example of how you can work with history, tweak it and give a historical figure a new direction.

Abraham Lincoln

  1. If you are going to use real incidents, stay true to them. Of course you can, and probably will, use historical happenings as a backdrop to your story, but make sure dates and the main focus are correct. Unless you have a very good reason, research your timeline and find out when things happened. If you deviate, someone will come back at you with the ‘correct’ information. If you are taking literary liberties, make sure the reader knows this and knows not to expect historical accuracy.

  1. Don’t be overly detailed when you don’t have to be. Allow the reader to find out the back story organically; no one likes an information dump (they usually make the reader step out of the narrative flow as you educate them). In the same way don’t over describe to show just how much you know about the period. If you know your stuff that will come through in your writing, you don’t have to show how clever you are by naming the brand and colour desi gnation of the lipstick your flapper applied in front of the named mirror type in the bathroom graced by a certain brand of soap and toilet paper.

  1. Don’t worry too much if you can’t find all the details. There are some areas of history that are much more difficult than others to research. Through newspapers in the C19th (and if you are lucky the C18th) we’re given an insight into the everyday lives of the population. Even if you do fall down the rabbit hole of research and lose a whole day (or week) trawling through copies of the local paper, you will pick up snippets of the real lives of characters – what they ate, wore and used are thrown up magnificently in adverts and random articles. But if you are writing about the early Hanoverians, the Elizabethans or a foreign country it will be more difficult. If you can’t find that little detail you were looking for make a note and move on. You may never find it and may have to take an educated guess. Unless it’s a major plot device, or very important to the story, readers will usually forgive if you really can’t find the information.

steam train

  1. Get the research right. If you are writing a historical novel you will have to research to remain authentic. Try to use primary sources as much as you can (those written, or originated, by people of the time you are writing about). Get yourself down to the library and look through newspapers of the time. Go to your county archives to look at the documents lovingly cared for there. Go to the national archives if you have to. Do not be afraid of archives! They are your friend. Archives are generally open to anyone, but if they aren’t, and you are researching for a specific purpose, contact the archivist and ask for a pass. If you don’t ask, you don’t get and even the most closed off institutions are often open to allowing researchers into their collections.

  1. Beware of internet research. If you can’t get to, or have exhausted, all the primary sources, you may have to use secondary sources – those not written or recorded at the time by people directly associated with the events. Generally this type of source is a book or article written by someone later. If you are going to use secondary resources check their credibility first. We were taught at library school back in the early days of the internet that anyone could write anything and pass it off as fact. This is still the case. Wikipedia is perhaps more recognised now, and more factually correct, but it really should only be a jumping off point if you are going to use it. Check the references and go there instead. Choose scholarly articles and monographs if you can, or websites by recognised authorities. Always try to confirm what you have read via more than one source.

Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of Paper

  1. Get the geography right. There will be someone who knows the area you are writing about. Remember boundaries and names changed throughout history. A journey that can take you an hour today could have taken days in the past. There were toll roads, mud roads, drove roads, no roads. Geographical features can change over time. Buildings are raised, demolished and built over. Building materials change with new innovations. Bridges are built, rivers are forged and impassable gorges made passable. Always check what the landscape was like in your story’s timeline. Someone, somewhere will want to prove you wrong.

  1. Make sure everything is time appropriate. Research your costumes, names and dialogue. If your character is using a zipper he probably wouldn’t be using one much before the mid 1910s, and certainly not before 1893 when they were invented. Someone could have stapled their bills together from around 1869, but staplers as we know them weren’t really common until 1937. And someone could actually use the term OK from the mid 1800s. Names have phases of popularity, so if you’re going to use an unusual name you might want to research it first.

  1. Don’t be afraid to see the world though your characters’ eyes. We live in a lovely diverse worldwide community now, but even 50 years ago the world was a much smaller place. Try to see what your characters see, and feel what they feel. And don’t be afraid to show your characters’ prejudices. Political correctness is really only about 25 years old; as long as your characters are true to themselves don’t worry overly much. Your characters should stay true to character, place and time. Just don’t be offensive for the sake of it, and try not to let your own prejudices come through – a reader can spot that a mile off.

  1. Accept that you will get some things wrong, and there will be people out there who will delight at telling you. Accept their comments with good grace. Don’t get into arguments over who is right or take their information as an attack. Be polite, say thank you and move on.

train wreck

Finally remember to use beta readers, friends, family and other writers to go over your work. Listen to what they say, take action if it’s needed and research more if that’s what’s required. Don’t neglect the spelling, grammar and formatting, and use professionals to help you. Editors and proofreaders are trained to spot the errors you may miss, and will give you a professional opinion on your work.

If you need a copy-editor who specialises in historical fiction you’ve landed on the right page. Let me help you with your writing, contact me to talk through your project needs.