Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rules for Editing (Editing)

Okay, so technically it's supposed to be a Publishing advice day, but I don't have anywhere for editing, and both are thinner than the rest of the categories, so why not?

While editing some people's manuscripts, I've started to come up with my own set of rants rules for the writer before it is given to people to read and review. This counts for anyone doing it for free. If you're paying someone, I guess it's your money, and it's their income, so whatever.

Perhaps most importantly is my Number One (No. 1, #1, numero uno, unus, ena, in case I didn't make it clear enough): Review it yourself first.

That bears repeating.

Number 1: Review it yourself first.

I'm reviewing it for plot points and character development, not basic grammar and weird sentence structure. Those are things you're going to catch on your own if you just read it. I'm a Writer, Jim, not an English Teacher. I don't want to spend an hour writing advice to you about hyphens.

And that's why all my friends have scars.

Number 2: Tell me what you want reviewed.

I don't want to spend an hour writing advice to you about hyphens, only to find out that's not what you wanted.

Tell me what you want, Writer, and I will give it to you in my review. There's only so much I can do, I can't rewrite your entire manuscript for you, and there has to be one thing about your manuscript in particular that's bothering you. Even if it is spelling or grammar, I can do that, but you have to tell me. The more detail you give me, the better. If someone says, "I don't feel like Brandon Badguy is evil enough, what can I do to make him better?" By golly I'm going to focus on Brandon Badguy and give you some advice, because that's what you specifically asked me to do. If you say "Review this" and throw me a stack of papers (be they a stack of actual papers or a big .doc file) and tell me nothing, you're going to get a reviewing mess. It's going to be helpful, yes, but it's not going to be the best review that it could be.

Number 3: Expect it to take a while.

I have my own things to do, I have my own life. I'm not going to drop everything I'm doing, no matter how awesome your magical manuscript is. I have goats escaped from a fence running rampant on the road, I have chickens to feed, I have a kitchen to clean, I have a Windows Server 2008 class every Thursday and Friday (Flexible Single Master Operator, y'all!). Those are Real Life things, but those are to be expected from the Writer, what Writer doesn't seem to expect is that Reviewer has other things too: I'm writing my own work, I'm reviewing my own work (because I follow Number 1), I'm reading a book, Minecraft just got updated this week, Steam had a sale on Deus Ex, my kitten just bounced off my face and we are now participating in a Benny Hill-esque scene in the backyard. Anything could be happening, so that it could take weeks and weeks, if not months and months, to review your manuscript.

I don't want to spend all day sitting at my computer, the white background of Microsoft Word as the only source of light strong enough to give me a tan darker than Gollom's, to review your manuscript from start to finish.

I'm not getting paid for reviewing your manuscript, so I'm not likely to be professional about my schedule.

Number 4: First come, first serve.

I'd never had this one happen to me until recently. Someone sent me their 60k manuscript to review, and then another friend sent me their short story. I'm sorry, but I'm going to review the 60k word manuscript first. Why? Because it was sent first. Size doesn't matter, if it did, I'd be reviewing nothing but short stories while my friend's 60k word manuscript would gather dust. He worked pretty hard to write all of that up, rather than crank out short story after short story, it's only fair I review it before getting to those dozens of short stories.

Don't expect me to put the finishing touches on Writer 1's manuscript, and then turn around and pull up Writer 2's manuscript, either. I'll probably take a long break between them.

Number 5: If I bother to read something of yours, you'd better read something of mine.

It's only fair. I'm working for free here. You want something read or reviewed so badly you're asking me to do this for you. You should be able to do the same for me. I've never been more miffed, and therefore slow, to review someone's Manuscript 2 because they didn't read something of mine when I reviewed their Manuscript 1 months ago.

Number 6: Number your chapters.

I never thought I'd ever have to say this, but that 60k manuscript? It didn't have chapters. It had end and beginning chapter points, but not actual chapter numbers. I'm not going to review it in one sitting, so please give me a jump point. The way I have been navigating through this manuscript is by copy-pasting a chunk of random text "growing on the other side of the fence" for non-literal example, and putting it in a different Word file with START REVIEWING AGAIN HERE written next to it so that I can do a Find option and look from there.

I don't want to have to do that.

When I finish, I want to end where it says Chapter 6. To know where I stop, I want to write "On Ch6" on a piece of paper at my desk. When I pick it up again, I want to use the Find function and type "Chapter 6" and instantly bounce there to continue my work. Anything that inconveniences me even just a little bogs me down a lot more than you'd think.

Number 7: Warn me ahead of time.

An old friend of mine asked me to review a story of hers, but she didn't tell me what the fanfiction was based on...or even that it was a fanfiction in the first place. Instead, I had to use what little I knew about the show it was based on to figure out it was a fanfiction based on the show.

Along with your manuscript, provide a quick and dirty synopsis of the story for me, including characters, so I'll know where I am and what to focus on. I don't want to focus on Lilly, only to find out she's just a shopkeeper and only appears in a single scene. I don't want to review an entire manuscript, only to find out your main character is an OC in an I Love Lucy fanfiction. Fanfiction reviews differently, tell me what it is.

This dog is a better editor than me.

Number 8: Don't expect professionalism.

I'm not an editor, I never learned how to edit, and I'm doing this for free. I have no idea what I'm doing.

Number 9: I'm doing this for free.

I can't say this enough. I'm doing this for free. I'm not getting paid for this. You didn't drive a truckload of money up to my house. It's from the goodness of my own black heart. Keep all of that in mind.

Number 10: Review my review.

Like I said before, I have no idea what I'm doing. As a writer, the only way you're going to get better is to keep writing, and for people to point out your strong and weak points. As a reviewer, the only way I'm going to get better is for all of you to leave me alone you to point out my strong and weak points. I've reviewed a lot of stuff, and I don't even know if I'm doing a good job, or making their once beautiful manuscript into a smelly mess because they never told me if it helped or not. So, as far as I know, but I could, potentially, keep ruining people's work because no one told me I was wrong.

Even something as "It helped me" or "That's not what I wanted" can be helpful. With only 2 exceptions, whenever I've reviewed a manuscript and returned it to Writer, I have never heard about the review, or the story, ever again. Tell me if I was able to point out errors in a clear manner, tell me if something I did was confusing, tell me if I reviewed a part weirdly.

Number 11: DO NOT TOUCH

Don't touch the manuscript when I'm editing it. This is almost as important as Number 1. Review it yourself, but once you give it to me? Stop. Nothing is more frustrating to me than to make a huge review of something, and then find out the writer nixed the entire scene, making my hours of reviewing worthless.

These are just my rules, and I'll probably come up with more as time goes on, but if you just keep these in mind, the world of writing and for-free-editing-by-friends will be a much happier place.

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