We're joined today by the fantastic folks at Edited By Humans, an editing team with decades of experience under their belt and who have worked on several best sellers. They talk to us about the importance of a good edit, avoiding death by committee and how to roll with the punches in the world of writing and publishing.
Many writers, whether experienced or new to the craft, have had the edit from hell and when the dust settles, it often turns out that the ‘editor’ behind it all is not a person but a ‘robot’; in other words, a computer program which has simply looked at the syntax, spelling and other grammar and ‘put it right’. In robot-land, this simply means applying the basic rules without thinking about the author’s voice, the market in which the piece will finally appear or, indeed, common sense. One of our clients, a very experienced author, once received a manuscript back from the copy editor and for some extraordinary reason, he had put a whole load of split infinitives in! And of course, that editor turned out to be 99% robot.
Here at Edited By Humans, we concentrate on the human bit as much as the editing. Of course, we often see manuscripts which are incredibly badly written and sometimes so much so that there is little that can be done, except suggest that the author doesn’t give up the day job. Because, it has to be said, not everyone really has got a book in them – it isn’t given to every person alive to have a talent for writing. The way we look at it, we won’t bother abseiling down the Empire State Building if bad writers don’t bother trying to write a book. But mostly – and especially if a writer has come as far as to visit a publisher’s website – there is something there that can be polished and worked on, by people not programs.
Sometimes, a writer has a really quirky style, and this is something that no robot invented can cope with. Older examples include ee cummings, who never used upper case. A robot simply changing all that would take the charm out of the whole output of that particular poet. There is a novel, written in the Thirties, which does not include the letter ‘e’. It is called Gadsby and to be honest is not the most riveting work ever, because some of the word choices have by definition to be odd ones, to accommodate the letter ban. Just a little snippet for your next pub quiz, by the way, anything written in that style is called a lipogram. Ironically, the author has three ‘e’s in his name – Ernest Vincent Wright. You’d have thought he would have used initials, wouldn’t you?
But we digress. The whole point of being Edited By Humans is that this is the only way to be sure that your golden words won’t end up being flattened out and sounding just exactly like every other piece of writing which has been edited by robots. There are various ways to find out in advance if your ‘editor’ is a machine into which someone is feeding your text and sending it back to you at the end. Firstly, watch out for timescale. Here at Edited By Humans we try to edit at as near to reading speed as is possible, because that way we don’t miss out plot holes, repetition etc which may otherwise fall through the cracks if the gaps between work sessions is too long. However, that said, what with meals, loo breaks, walking the dog (because we are humans, don’t forget!) and sheer overload of brain cells, a book of about 70 thousand words is going to take about four days, once all the final checks and other tweaks have been done. That’s for fiction – non-fiction may take longer, allowing for fact checking etc. So any ‘editor’ promising a 48 hour turnaround is not human. Trust us on this.
Second thing is, watch for the location of your editing service and also the name of your editor. This is a tricky thing to discuss in these woke times, but we recently had to re-edit a book which had been ‘edited’ by someone from Bangladesh who swore up and down that English was their first language. This was patently untrue, especially as their email stating this fact included what was a new word to us – lanugage. So, when looking for an editor, look out for typos from them – a bit of a red flag, as you can doubtless see.
Ah ha, we can hear you say. This article isn’t written in perfect English, so why should we trust Edited By Humans? Well, the long and the short of it is, anyone can write perfect English. A robot can write perfect English. What a robot can’t do is write something which is engaging and keeps your attention right to the end. If you are a bit of a web surfer, especially of the clickbait kind of website that pops up on your newsfeed (how to open a tin with a spoon, she sprayed this and couldn’t believe it etc) then you will see robot text. It is soulless and boring and usually incredibly repetitive. One of our editors once worked for an SEO company, turning out thousands of words with search engine optimisation in mind and pretty mind-numbing work it was too. She finally escaped, poor love, so don’t worry, but before she did, she was asked to populate a program with synonyms for all the most popular ‘puff’ words in various genres. These were then ‘spun’ by the program so that a basic sentence could be made different by simply changing all the adjectives. This was finally chucked out by the client because what you mainly get is gibberish, but many companies (including those offering editing services) have gone ahead with it, to the detriment of the language – or do we mean lanugage?
One final point. Although we speak using ‘we’, actually your edit will be done by just one person. This is a vital point to remember. Editing by committee just doesn’t work. Ever. Once you have written your book, please, for the love of everything, do not show it to your neighbour-who-used-to-teach-English, your sister, your mum, your grocer, the postman – no one. Just don’t. Each and every one will have an opinion and if you listen to them all two things will happen. You will go stark raving bonkers. And your book will never see the light of day. Editing is essential, for any book. Many books now considered classics went through umpteen versions before they hit the shelves – Day of the Jackal, was it, that had something like eleven rewrites? – but they were professionally led, not suggested by the captain of the darts team.
Don’t be insulted if you are told your book needs an edit – a bit of a polish never hurt anyone. Just make sure it is done by a human!
To get in touch with the Edited By Humans team, please click here.