Daily Archives: November 26, 2009

The Value of Two Sets of Eyes

I once heard a greenhorn author say, “I don’t need anyone else to edit my manuscript. It is self-edited. I’ve looked over it a thousand times.” It made me cringe. The truth is, every manuscript can benefit from two or more sets of eyes. Even the best writers use professional editors to improve the quality of their books.

Why do some people resist having their work edited/proofread by a professional? I would venture to guess there are two primary, underlying reasons: one, the fear that their work may be stolen if they share it with a stranger prior to publication; and two, the fear that the context of their work may be changed during the editing process. Let’s discuss these two concerns separately….

  1. Fear of Copyright Infringement: First and foremost, the chances of anyone having their manuscript stolen and published by someone else is next to nil; however, writers can give themselves peace of mind by protecting their copyright ahead of time.In Canada, writers own the copyright to their work as soon as they create it. There is no legal requirement to register it. That said, copyright can be protected in a very straightforward and cost-effective way. Writers can simply seal a copy of their completed work in an envelope and mail it to themselves via registered mail. When the date-stamped package is returned to them, they should keep it sealed and stored in a fireproof container. In the unlikely event that someone else ever tries to claim copyright ownership of their work after the fact, they will have the date-stamped proof of ownership to fall back on.
  2. Fear of Changed Context (Loss of Personal Voice): It is important to understand that a copy editor’s job is simply to enhance a writer’s story as it is—to offer helpful suggestions that may have been overlooked or not considered at all.
    Simple copy improvements:
    A second set of eyes will catch those unobvious errors—such as transposed words and letters, punctuation issues, or improper word usage—that an author is simply blind to after reading the same thing over and over again (and that electronic spell checks sometimes miss).
    Story development improvements:
    Have you ever been trained for a new position by someone who knew the job so well they unconsciously went about many of the details and neglected to discuss them with you? They’d been doing it for so long, themselves, that they were unaware of everything they were doing. As a result, you received only part of the information which made it difficult to follow the entire process from start to finish.

In much the same way, writers can sometimes see a scene so vividly in their own minds that, when they transfer it to paper, they unwittingly leave out important details the reader will need. A good editor will point this out and ask the question, “How exactly did we get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ here?” This type of commentary gives writers an opportunity to go back and fill in the blanks they didn’t realize existed beforehand.

At PPG, authors always have the last say on the editing and design of their books. A good copy editor will work with a writer to enhance the story while keeping the original voice intact, and a smart writer will take that editor’s advice.

As always, let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. (And if you see any typos in this blog, please bring them to my attention. After all, two sets of eyes are always better than one!)

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