On the whole, I’m finding that I enjoy being an editor. As little as a year ago, I wouldn’t have taken on the job because I didn’t feel qualified. Still not sure if I am, but I’m getting compliments on my editing, so I guess I’m doing something right.
The problem with editing at a growing company, though, is that I have to wear several hats. I guess it’s happening more and more at the big New York publishers too, as they downsize to try and up their bottom line, but in days gone by, when your manuscript was accepted, several editors looked at it. We don’t have the personnel for that—though it would be nice if someday we did—so I find myself, along with the other editors in the company, being line editor, general editor, copy editor, and acquisitions editor.
Line editing is probably the easiest part. That’s where I look for things like typos, misspelled words, and things of that nature. It’s the most tedious, probably, and the one it’s probably easiest to mess up on because we simply can’t see all the mistakes by ourselves (but that’s what we have beta readers for). Copy editing, of course, takes research sometimes, because it means I have to catch mistakes—such as having a safety on a revolver (not very many revolvers have safeties, so pay attention, folks).
It’s the copy editing I worry most about. I can tell a good story within a few pages, and I’m pretty good at spotting typos and the like. But copy editing? What if I don’t know they’ve made a mistake? It’s not me the reader blames—they don’t think of the editor, or at least I never did. If there’s a mistake, I always assumed the writer didn’t do their due diligence. And a lot of times that’s where the mistake originates.
But what about larger mistakes? Sometimes, because of the meticulousness involved in line editing, you can forget to keep the larger picture in mind. That’s when I’m afraid I might miss some gaping plot hole that will make the book fall flat on its face without me realizing it. So it’s something I’ve been thinking about rather heavily the past few weeks.
And I realized something: reading is not passive.
Here’s where my fear of missing something like that comes from: movies.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been talking over a movie with someone only to have them point out some gaffe that undermines the whole thing, and I didn’t see it. Not at all. Hollywood is famous for not getting things right, so I should be spotting these things. But I don’t. Not as often as I should. So it’s made me wonder if I’m missing things when I edit. After all, it takes longer to get through a book, especially when you’re editing, than it does to get through a movie.
But then I was a beta reader for JB Hogan’s Living Behind Time, his Jack Kerouac-type novel of a man discovering himself. I’m not trying to make an example of JB and shame him online (okay, maybe I am; he’d do the same for me lol), but this is such a graphic example of what I want to illustrate. JB wrote this novel years ago, and did a few updates to it in the interim. Then, when Oghma agreed to publish it, he brought it out, blew the dust and cobwebs off (to hear him tell it there was plenty of both), and touched it up some.
There are a lot of years—about thirty at this writing—between his original writing of the book and it being published. So mistakes are bound to creep in, and I found one that ended up being a humdinger: he had a man in his mid-forties stationed at an Air Force base in Biloxi in 1964—fifty years ago. That was the largest timeline mistake, though there were a couple of others. The upshot of it was it simply couldn’t be, unless the man really was time traveling. And that wasn’t the plot of the book believe me.
Turns out I was the only beta reader who spotted this, which means it was a good thing I read the thing. It took a bit of changing, but according to JB, it was a fairly easy fix.
The point to this is that it boosted my confidence in myself as an editor, even though I wasn’t actually editing his book, only beta reading it. But when I read a book, whether it be for review purposes or as a beta reader, I bring the same tools to the work bench as I do when editing. Beta reading or reading for a review is just as important to the author as a good edit. In fact, it’s another step in the editing process, as far as I’m concerned, and I hope beta readers who go through books I’ve edited do the same thing I do: go over them as if they were editing. In this print on demand world, this allows a writer and publisher to fix mistakes in each consecutive printing so that it’s continually evolving, at least on that end of things. Obviously, that’s not the place to make major changes to the story, but it does allow you to fix mistakes.
And that got me thinking about movies versus books, and I realized that, for me anyway, watching a movie is a passive thing. I just go along for the ride. Sure, I make minor criticisms, but on the whole, I let the thing take me where it wants me to go. I’ve got a drink of some kind at my elbow, a comfortable chair, and I’m ready to go. It’s a good way to unwind. Unfortunately, it’s also a problem in that too many people are turning themselves over to mostly mindless entertainment. It’s why we’re getting the quality of movies we’re getting.
TV seems to be breaking the mold, at least on the the cable channels. With shows like Justified, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy, and a few of the newer ones people are geeking over, cable TV is bringing some quality entertainment to our living rooms, and Hollywood is feeling it when it comes to the blockbusters they try pushing on us every year.
But when I’m reading—and especially when I’m editing (the lines of which are becoming more and more blurred these days)—it’s not passive for me. I have to actually do something, think about what I’m taking in, rather than going along for the car chases and explosions. Books don’t have to justify their budgets, so they don’t have to have all the nifty special effects to pull you in. Movies are a visual medium, so they need that kind of thing to keep you going. Lots of people just sitting around talking doesn’t really get it unless they’re wailing on one another.
And let’s face it: books make for far better entertainment. And maybe that’s partly our fault. Yes, I realize they’re two different mediums, but movies could still be better if we the consumers demanded it the way we do with books. Some bad apples will still get through in both arenas, but if we’d apply the critical thinking skills to movies as we do our books, we’d eventually get better movies.
Meanwhile, I feel better about my editing skills. I doubt I’ll ever reach a point where I think my word should be law as some editors seem to do, but at least I can feel confident in giving writers advice that I think is solid, and I hope they will too.