Monthly Archives: July 2020

Manuscript critiques: piecing together the puzzle

By Sophie Playle

When a novel crosses my desk for copyediting but I can see ways beyond the sentence level the book could be improved, it can be frustrating. By that point in the publishing process, though, it’s often not helpful to provide suggestions for large-scale revisions.

Perhaps you’ve been in a similar position. Or perhaps you’ve felt – on an instinctual level – that a manuscript could be better, but you just weren’t sure exactly how.

When an author comes to me for a manuscript critique, it’s my job to figure out how their novel can be improved – and it’s so, so satisfying when that author comes back to me for copyediting, too, because I get to focus on the sentence without that sinking feeling that the manuscript could be so much more.

Developmental editing vs manuscript critiquing

A manuscript critique is a kind of developmental edit. With both services, the editor analyses the manuscript as a whole and suggests how it can be improved. All the big-picture storytelling elements and techniques that go into a novel are considered.

Things like:

  • story
  • plot/structure
  • character
  • tension
  • theme
  • point of view

… and so on. These elements are usually considered in tandem with the novel’s suitability for its target readership and genre, and how publishable and marketable the manuscript is.

A manuscript critique is essentially a developmental edit lite. With a developmental edit, you analyse every scene, every character arc and every plot point in a novel. With a critique, you provide more general analysis that focuses on the main ways an author can improve their book. And instead of showing the author every instance of every problem (as you would with a full developmental edit), the author will comb through their manuscript and find the places they can apply your feedback.

Of course, take my descriptions with a pinch of salt because every editor will work slightly differently.

How the client benefits from a manuscript critique

With fiction, it’s usually the author who hires an editor for a manuscript critique. Fiction publishers look for compelling, effective novels – and competition is high. Because of this, authors need to be able to submit their best work. It’s a similar story for independent (self-publishing) authors. They also need to publish their best work in order to attract readers and good reviews.

A critique provides an author with a professional, objective perspective on their novel – and is more affordable than a full developmental edit. They can use the feedback to strengthen their novel’s foundations, increasing their chances of being published or minimising the risk of poor sales or bad reviews.

The critiquing process

A critique should come before any sentence-level editing. Not every author needs (or wants) a professional critique, but I’m yet to read a manuscript that wasn’t sent to me by a publishing house that wouldn’t have benefited from some larger revisions.

My critiquing process is very straightforward:

  1. I read the manuscript.
  2. I set the manuscript aside for a few days to let my thoughts percolate.
  3. I write up my thoughts and suggestions.

The author can email me with any points they need me to clarify, but then I leave them to make their revisions.

Skills required to offer manuscript critiquing

The skills you need to be able to offer manuscript critiques are the same skills you need to become a developmental editor (of fiction). These include:

  1. Knowledge of writing-craft theory – You need to know what makes a good story, how different writing techniques work, and what makes a novel publishable and compelling. Otherwise, you’ll have no concrete way to back up your suggestions.
  2. Ability to read fast but carefully – To earn a competitive fee, you need to be able to read a manuscript as quickly as possible while still absorbing enough detail to be able to provide your critique.
  3. Objectivity and detachment – You need to be able to keep your preferences out of the equation. You aren’t telling an author how you would have preferred the book to be written, but how changes to the book can best help the author achieve their creative and publishing goals.
  4. Ability to organise and structure your thoughts – A novel is a huge, complex piece of work made up of many overlapping elements. You’ll need to create processes that help you untangle your thoughts and shape them into clear feedback.
  5. Creativity – Even though you need to be objective, you still need to be creative enough to provide the author with suggestions. Suggestions help authors understand your criticisms and demonstrate how the problems with their manuscript can be resolved.

Summing up

It’s really satisfying to be able to help authors improve their novels on a deeper level.

I just love being able to take a novel-in-progress and turn it into a puzzle – seeing which pieces are missing, which bits can be discarded, and which shapes need to be changed in order for the bigger picture to become crystal clear.

Critiquing is both an analytical and a creative challenge – and one that I relish. It’s both my pleasure and my privilege to be able to offer this service to my clients.

Sophie Playle is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She’s a specialist fiction editor who provides editorial services to authors (and publishers) – and trains other editors through her online courses, too.

 

 


In the CIEP directory of Professional and Advanced Professional members, 25 listings include ‘manuscript critique‘.


Photo credits: puzzle – Kieran Wood; open book – Kiwihug, both on Unsplash

Proofread by Lynne Baybut, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Crafty editors: Part 2

Earlier in July, we shared Part 1 of our crafty editors series – here are some more delicate, striking and tasty examples of what our members do with their spare time!

Jenny Papworth

This is a set of four prints on the theme of ‘winter’. I started screen-printing after a course at the local arts college, and I now print on paper and textiles and sell through my shop on Etsy. Doing something crafty is a great way to wind down after a long day in front of the computer, and screen-printing offers a whole new arena in which to be precise and pedantic.

John Ingamells

Lockdown inspired many people to try baking sourdough bread. But the method’s popularity has been on the rise (!) for some years. Of course, sourdough is nothing new; it is the way bread was made for thousands of years before we learned how to make yeast separately.

Its devotees are captivated by the strange alchemy: the bread-and-water starter that lives in the fridge for years; the process that turns three simple ingredients – flour, water and salt – into well risen bread with a depth and complexity of flavour that mass-produced breads cannot match. And, to add a genuinely modern twist, they now tell us it’s actually very good for us as well!

Sam Hartburn

Here are some modular origami dodecahedra I made – the first is a normal dodecahedron made from post-it notes; the second is a stellated dodecahedron. I’m not sure if the third has a name – a flowered, cubed dodecahedron maybe.

In modular origami, you fold a number of identical modules from small pieces of paper, then fit them together into a bigger shape. The modules usually slot together and stay in place without any glue, although often there is no strength to the piece until the final module is slotted into place – meaning that the process of putting them together can be frustrating. You can even make origami pieces that move, like this rotating structure.

Rich Cutler

A few years ago I became interested in art and photography. Like most budding photographers I started out by taking decorative, pleasing images. However, I soon became dissatisfied with these, and found myself drawn instead to contemporary art – about which I knew very little (my background is in science). On a whim I applied for a master’s degree in photography, and to my surprise I was accepted! Doing the MA was one of the best decisions I’ve made, and improved my photography immeasurably. Since graduating in 2013 I’ve exhibited as a photographic artist both in the UK and internationally.

Rich has managed to show his work publicly despite the lockdown: Insecta in the window of the contemporary art gallery Fabrica, Brighton (on display until September).

Annette Doutney

I arrange flowers at my parish church and it’s something I have missed during lockdown. It’s both relaxing and satisfying to take beautiful things and create something even more beautiful with them in a peaceful, empty church. I can let my mind wander as I work, too, unlike when I am editing or proofreading!

Philippa Tomlinson

Wet felting is surprisingly hard physical work when done by hand, but this is partly why I love it. It is also a sensory activity – so a welcome antidote to the sometimes stressful hours spent staring at the computer screen. I can let my mind drift off, immersed in the colours and smells and textures of the felting while listening to music or the sounds of nature outside in the garden. It is also an unpredictable craft – you are never quite in control of how the final product will turn out – and it’s good to learn to embrace that.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Professional Member.

Stitched together and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Editing fiction and non-fiction: can you do both?

By Sara Donaldson

Can you have it all?

When you start out you might want to become a brilliant fiction editor. One who works on amazing stories that make your heart flutter when you spot someone reading them on the train. Or you might want to work on excellent non-fiction that delights and informs those around you. Many editors are drawn to one or the other.

But what if, like me, you love working on both fiction and non-fiction?

When I started out, I moved from indexing to editing and project managing almost in the blink of an eye. While I learned on the job I was also working through editorial training, so it was a natural progression to carry on with non-fiction. But when the opportunity to take part in a fiction editing workshop at a SfEP conference came up, it was too good an opportunity to miss. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It really is history – that’s my speciality. But I’ve worked on general fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction and lately, one of my favourites, crime fiction. All while editing non-fiction too.

If you want to work on both fiction and non-fiction there are some things that are roughly the same, but there are also some obvious differences. Bear in mind that my experiences may differ from those of other editors – we all have different ways of working and varying backgrounds – but this might help you decide if both are possible for you.

Is it for you?

Dare I say it, but no editor can edit every type of writing. At least not well. You may be great at editing historical fiction, but rubbish at science fiction, and with non-fiction you may need to be a subject specialist. The more subtle editing often needs someone with a deep knowledge of the subject, or a willingness to learn it quickly. As an academic subject librarian I worked closely with law and civil engineering books, but there’s no way I would edit one.

Before jumping into a new type of editing, make sure it’s really for you. Look at what you read and your subject knowledge – if you don’t read fantasy and sci-fi you might find it difficult to come to terms with genre expectations, jargon and world-building. And you might want to steer clear of scientific non-fiction if you don’t know the difference between the types of ion.

Make sure you’re trained for whichever type of editing you want to do, then there’s no reason why you can’t mix and match, and enjoy the variety that brings.

Similarities

There are definitely similarities between both types of editing: the most obvious are the technicalities of how you approach the documents.

Make sure everything is there

When you receive the files, look through them and make sure you have everything you should – is the word count what you expected, is everything there (check chapter headings, sections and any appendices, tables, images, etc), and is there anything you weren’t expecting? Even in fiction, whole sections can be missing or duplicated.

Pre- and post-edits

Generally speaking your checks will be the same whether you’re working on fiction or non-fiction. I tend to create a style sheet, if one hasn’t been provided, through using Paul Beverley’s Docalyse and a few other macros that let me know the author’s preferences. Then a spellcheck and a sweep through with PerfectIt make sure I’m ready to edit.

Logical flow and no plot holes

With both types of editing you have to make sure the narrative is logical and there are no plot holes. Are the chapters coherent, in the right order, and does the narrative flow logically and with ease? You might come across plot holes – or ‘holes in the argument’ or missing information in the case of non-fiction – that you need to sort out.

Differences between fiction and non-fiction

Despite the similarities, there are enough differences to … make a difference.

Plot sheet/character sheet vs chapter diagram/mock-up

When you’re editing fiction it makes sense to have detailed plot and character sheets to make sure that everything flows well and your brown-haired, green-eyed heroine doesn’t change physical characteristics halfway through the book.

However, when you’re editing non-fiction you’re more likely to have a detailed list of the chapters and the information they contain, perhaps with a mock-up of the book’s insides, and lists of tables, images and diagrams. It’s crucial to make sure that nothing’s missing, you know where everything fits in and that the size and density of the chapters reflect the weight of what’s contained in them.

Style guides

Often fiction authors don’t have style sheets or use guides, whereas non-fiction authors may already use them. Academics especially may use a preferred style guide and should be able to access a copy for you; if they’re an independent non-fiction author, without a style guide/sheet, you might have to work closely with them to pinpoint expected conventions.

Plot, characterisation and consistency vs clarity and organisational flow

With all writing the content needs to be easily understood by the target audience.

One common problem with non-fiction is that you might have multiple authors to contend with. It feels like herding cats sometimes, so you must keep everything in check. You have to make sure the terminology is consistent throughout and that everyone is working towards the same clear message.

With a fiction book you usually only have to deal with one author, so plot, characterisation and consistency can be easier to deal with as you get used to their writing tics.

Levels of intervention

These can differ greatly. With fiction editing you can be more hands-on with the structure and development of the book, but non-fiction will often be under the guidance of the author (and/or publisher). You might have to work with facts, references and notes. Ask any editor who has to work with reference lists – they can be a love/hate relationship and can take a LOT of time to go through.

How to switch from one to the other

If you do think you can cope with the complexities of both fiction and non-fiction, you’re going to have to decide how you manage your workload. Personally, I tend to work on only one or two jobs at a time, so I find it easy to switch between the two. As an editor, my brain tends to compartmentalise, so I find it easier to split my day and work on non-fiction in the morning, when my logical brain is more active, then move over to fiction on an afternoon when I’m more relaxed and open to the flow of a narrative. If time allows I might work one whole day on one, then work the next on the other.

How you work will depend on what makes you comfortable, but once the pre-edit is done it makes sense to allow a chunk of time for fiction, to allow you to get into the flow. But you have to be meticulous in all your work – fiction is definitely not an easy option, and non-fiction doesn’t have to be hard.

So can you have it all?

Yes, you can. But respect yourself and your clients – make sure you’re trained and have the expertise to edit to the best of your capability. CIEP has excellent courses, such as Introduction to Fiction Editing, that will make sure you have the skills to build upon.

Sara Donaldson is an Advanced Professional Member of CIEP who works on both fiction and non-fiction, specialising in history and heritage. She’s also a professional genealogist and content writer – when not working she can be found lost in online archives for no reason whatsoever, or in her local theatre.

 


If you want to widen or deepen your editorial skills, have a look at the full range of CIEP courses.


Photo credits: books – Paul Schafer; writing – Priscilla Du Preez, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Kelly Urgan, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

How to be a freelance introvert

By Tom Albrighton

Freelance editing is an ideal occupation for introverts. But if you want to make a success of freelancing, you’ll need to overcome some challenges too.

Are you an introvert?

If you’re happy on your own for most of the time and prefer working alone, the answer’s probably yes.

The word ‘introvert’ is from the Latin intro, meaning ‘inside’, and vertere, meaning ‘to turn’. So an introvert is someone who tends to turn inwards, towards their own thoughts and feelings, rather than outwards, towards other people or external events. While extroverts get an energy boost from being in company, introverts draw theirs from solitude and quiet.

Being an introvert isn’t quite the same as being shy. Shyness is about being tense and awkward in company, sometimes unbearably so – and even extroverts can feel that way sometimes. In contrast, introverts can deal with company if they have to. They just prefer not to – at least, for much of the time.

Introverts at work

Being an introvert is fine, as long as you have choices. But that can change when you get to work.

Open-plan offices, team working, brainstorming and many other modern workplace trends are fine for extroverts, but tough on introverts. The effort to fit in and take part demands emotional labour from introverts, on top of their actual work.

It’s ironic, because your work is probably still done alone. Editing and proofreading, for example, are solo tasks. But because of the nature of the workplace, there can be a tension between where you work and how you work.

Although I generally call myself a copywriter, I’m really an editor by trade. I began my career as a lowly assistant editor, checking calendars for a trade publisher, and eventually graduated to editing non-fiction (mostly guidebooks).

Along the way, I worked with plenty of freelance editors and proofreaders. I often envied them, because while they obviously had an introverted character that was very similar to my own, they didn’t have to put up with working nine to five in a busy office. Instead, they got to work in the quiet and seclusion of their own homes, where they could bring their full concentration to bear on their work.

At that time, I couldn’t see how they’d done it. How had they gone from the hamster wheel of employment to an enjoyable, plentiful freelance life?

Upsides and downsides

A few years later, when I went freelance myself, I began to understand what it’s like to run your own freelance business. And I also saw, at first hand, how being an introvert can both help and hinder your progress.

On the plus side, working at home was everything I’d hoped for. No maddening noise, no trivial chit-chat, no interminable meetings, no tedious office politics. The chance to work in an environment that I controlled, at hours I chose. And, in theory at least, the freedom to work on whatever projects I wanted.

However, I also saw the flip side of the coin. While the upsides of freelancing are indeed great for introverts, the challenges can be tough.

For instance, I learned first-hand what it’s like to build up a roster of freelance clients from scratch, and how galling it can be to compare to yourself others who are further down that road.

I saw that it’s difficult to market yourself and set prices when you’re naturally retiring or diffident. Building a network when you prefer solitude is hard work. And when you have a strong tendency to sit and reflect on problems alone, you sometimes struggle to resolve issues that would really benefit from outside input.

Managing clients, gaining confidence

I also realised that although I no longer had a single boss, I now had lots of mini-bosses, whose demands I had to balance and prioritise. I experienced the distress of clients playing hardball on price when I was struggling for work. And inevitably, I collided with the small minority of clients who are unreasonable, timewasting or downright rude.

What’s more, it’s hard to listen to your instincts about rogue clients when you’re used to overriding your own unease in social situations. It’s even harder to turn work down when you prefer not to rock the boat. And it’s upsetting when clients move on, because your natural introvert instinct is to hold on to relationships rather than forge new ones.

While introverts aren’t necessarily lacking in confidence, I have personally found that building confidence is vital. There are several ways to do that – and they don’t have to involve making huge leaps outside your comfort zone. You can also consciously change your beliefs and explanatory style so you favour more positive and productive interpretations of events.

Overall, freelancing has been great for me, and I’d always encourage people to give it a go. You just need to go into it with your eyes open, and understand that while some aspects of it will come naturally, others will take some work. Put that work in, and you’re well on the way to becoming a successful freelance introvert.

Tom Albrighton is a freelance copywriter and author. His latest book, The Freelance Introvert, is available now in paperback and ebook. Find it at Amazon UK, Amazon US or your local Amazon store.

 

 


As we adjust to a slightly less locked-down life, introverts may find themselves needing to re-establish some restorative niches (which aren’t just for conferences).


Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Crafty editors: Part 1

On the CIEP forums, we recently asked members if they’d like to share their crafting skills, and had a fabulous response – this is Part 1 of our crafty editors series!

Sarah Perkins

Here is Pugin, my firescreen.

I saw a beautiful glass peacock firescreen. I loved it, but it was far too small and delicate for my fireplace, and very expensive. It got me thinking that I could make something three dimensional, so I didn’t need the traditional frame to make it stand upright. Apart from the peacock blue felt, he was made from various scraps, in different techniques so I didn’t get bored or run out of a material I couldn’t find again. There’s knitting, patchwork, quilting, drawn thread work, crewel embroidery, ribbon weaving, needle lace, felting, machine embroidery, and even a bit of fair trade raffia.  You wouldn’t believe how many people have asked me why I don’t call him Penelope. Because he is a peacock. Ah!

Nicholas Taylor

This is my latest line of handmade cards, combining my love of maps and all things outdoors and the joy of sending cards. I haven’t been able to get out as much recently but this has just given me more chance to cut up a lot of old OS maps!

 

 

 

 

 

Catherine Dunn

I studied fine art at Loughborough University and graduated in 2001 with a BA in painting. Since then, I’ve continued to draw and paint as a hobby. I find it helps me zone out and relax. Due to space constraints, these days I keep it fairly small. This piece is in watercolour pencils and ink. I enjoy working in a wide range of media, but I always keep things mainly in two dimensions. I’ve recently started experimenting with ProCreate Pocket on my iPhone, which is opening up new avenues to me.

Joanna Porter

I make lace, mainly bookmarks because they are relatively simple to do and still work even if the lace is not 100% perfect. I find it therapeutic as it is not that complicated to do but does require total concentration. Part of the pleasure also comes from using my grandmother’s bobbins. I hope to add a lace bookmark to the raffle at the 2021 CIEP conference.

Elaine Monaghan

Silk satin; pre-print dip in logwood dyebath; bramble, oak and coreopsis

I enjoy making botanical contact prints (sometimes known as ecoprints), mostly using leaves from my garden, or collected while on a walk. It’s a very personal way of making a permanent record of a moment in time. I generally print on protein fibres (silk, wool), which take prints well; cellulose fibres (cotton, linen, bamboo, etc.), including paper, can be trickier. The photos show two examples of printing on silk. The technique has great potential for upcycling favourite old garments that need a new look, and I’m working on incorporating prints into conventional garments (such as on a silk lining for a jacket).

Habotai silk; sumach and oxeye daisy; post-print dip in madder dyebath

One of the attractions of the technique is that each print is unique: the result of printing a leaf from an individual tree may vary, depending upon the season, and if weather conditions change. It’s encouraging that even the most experienced printers get unexpected results!

 

 

 

Caroline Petherick

After a rather long break, I took up knitting again and kicked off with a nice warm woolly for winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Sensecall

In my spare time, I produce abstract works on canvas using natural coloured mica pigments mixed with resin and hardener. The resin sets to a hard clear vitreous finish, giving interesting light-diffracting qualities to the pigments on the canvas. I use a mixture of techniques to add and disperse the pigments and resin across the canvas and to introduce cells and lacing effects.

 


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Professional Member.

Stitched together and posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.