Desert Sage Book Editing Services  

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The Book-Editing Process at Desert Sage

Professional Book Editing - Manuscript Editing

In an ideal manuscript-editing situation, communication flows between author and book editor (via e-mails or even a phone call, if necessary). I know firsthand how much effort goes into writing a book, so I assume you care passionately about your brainchild and want to do a thorough job of bringing it to perfection. For this reason, I follow the procedure that most publishers use: first pass, author review, and cleanup. The only difference is that I break each manuscript into three-chapter sections (or whatever size the author wants a section to be). (See the article "Free Sample Edit and Price Quote" for pricing and details on installment payments.)

1. First Pass: In the first stage of book editing, I turn on “Track Changes” so that every change I make shows up in another font color, compared to the original black type. Later, when you, the author, type in comments or answers to queries, they will appear in a third color. If I encounter a written passage I don’t understand, I insert a query in the text to you. I might fill an edited book with thirty to fifty queries, all of which you will need to answer when reviewing the edits. While editing a book, I make thousands of judgment calls without querying, if I feel that I understand what you are trying to say. In some cases, however, I really cannot guess what you mean, so I must insert a query. Until receiving your answer, I put off editing that sentence until the “second pass,” or “cleanup.” It is crucial that you answer my queries because if certain passages confuse me, they may equally mystify the reader. You, the author, being so close to the book, might not realize that the meaning of a sentence is not crystal clear to everyone who reads it. Only when I learn what you really meant can I edit the sentence during cleanup to reflect your intent.

2. Author Review: For the second stage, I e-mail the edited section of the manuscript to you for review, and I keep Track Changes turned on. At this time, you can add new material, answer my queries, and change anything you want. To answer or add new sentences, you will simply type a response right after the query or add new material in the place it belongs, and the author's new revisions will show up in another color of font. That is the value of Tracked Changes. Also, I cannot stress enough how essential it is for authors to answer each query. With every book, I put off making quite a few decisions in editing difficult passages until the author supplies me with more information.

3. Cleanup (Second Pass): You, the author, will then e-mail that section of the manuscript back to me for “cleanup.” In this step, because Tracked Changes kept your new revisions in another color of font, I can quickly find and focus only on the new material. In this stage, I read all of your insertions and answers and do any final editing that is necessary in those passages. This is my last chance to clarify the ideas that were confusing on the first pass. Then I click “Accept Revisions,” which gets rid of all of the cross-outs and colored fonts added by “Track Changes,” and I do another spell check. Regarding the cleanup, sometimes I charge by the hour, and other times for large books I throw in the cleanup for free, or I tell the author the first four or five hours of work are free, then I'll charge for any hours over that. If the author decides to rewrite a substantial amount of the book during the cleanup phase, I'll need to decide on a case-by-case basis how much to charge for editing the new material.

4. Returning the Final Edited Manuscript: After all sections of the manuscript go through these three stages, I save all of the revisions, turn off Track Changes, and e-mail the entire clean manuscript back to you. At that point, you can either print out a hard copy or use the e-file to submit to agents and publishers.

Cautionary Tales

I was going to keep this explanation brief. Yet sometimes unusual problems crop up, so forewarned is forearmed.

For book editing, don't use Apple’s "Pages" software and iPads.

I'll preface this by saying that I'm a Mac lover, and I've only used Macs in my professional and private life. But Apple's "Pages" word-processing software simply won’t work with the back-and-forth emailing of an edited manuscript. There is no substitute for Microsoft Word, and to make your Mac compatible with everyone in the publishing industry, you need to install some version of Word for Macs on your computer. Here are some examples of why Pages will not work in the editing process. Even if the original manuscript was typed in Word, and I edited it in Word, if (say, while on vacation or away from his office computer) an author opens the emailed, edited Word doc on an iPad with Apple’s word-processing program “Pages,” it won’t show any of the Tracked Changes I made. Rather, the crossed-out words won’t show up at all, and the new words I added will be saved as black font, so the author will have no idea what I changed. Even worse, if I typed yellow-highlighted queries into the text for the author to answer, but they referred to passages I’d either crossed out or added, the author won’t be able to tell what the queries refer to. If the author then tries re-translating the Pages file back into Word, the Track Changes will be permanently lost. In addition, the translation of even normal text (without Tracked Changes) from Word to Pages and back to Word often gets screwy, with hyphens randomly added and formatting or punctuation changed. The moral of the story: Do not use an inferior word-processing program at any stage of the editing process. The industry standard is Microsoft Word.

Never turn off Track Changes during the steps of book editing.

After I finish the first pass of editing and send the author the manuscript to review, it’s crucial that the author leaves Track Changes on. If an author turns TC off and then proceeds to change passages and add new text, all of the new text will be displayed as black font. This would be a nightmare, because I would have no way of seeing any additions or deletions the author had made, without doing a word-for-word edit of the entire manuscript again.

Don’t cut-and-paste revised sections together into one document at any stage of the book-editing process.

Otherwise, all of the Track Changes will be lost, if you follow Microsoft’s normal instructions for cutting/copying and pasting. Then I would have no way of seeing any of your revisions, and I’d had to edit the entire manuscript again, word for word. (And I’d have to charge by the hour to do this. Remember: It is my job at the end of the “cleanup stage” to combine all of the sections, and I know how to do it using a special method without losing the Track Changes.

Follow the book-editing procedure.

In another case, an author wanted me to edit his manuscript in pencil on the hard copy. Then he planned to manually input all of my edits from the hard copy into the MS Word file on his computer. This was a recipe for disaster. First of all, most writers are not expert editors (and, conversely, the majority of editors are not good writers). The state of mind necessary for writing is much more right-brained, free flowing, and big picture–oriented. For editing, the left brain takes charge and focuses on every tiny detail, repeatedly honing in on minutia, moment by moment. Second, even if the author were capable of repeating my edits accurately, he would be taking on an enormous amount of work. If you consider that an ordinary manuscript page contains 1,500 characters (letters, punctuation marks, spaces), then a book that needs a fairly heavy edit might require 50,000 or more keystrokes if you consider each letter the editor adds or changes. All of these would have to be repeated by the author, with no mistakes.

There’s a reason publishers follow the steps they do: it’s the only way to eliminate all errors and perfect the manuscript. Yes, before computers were ubiquitous, publishers did ask copy editors to mark hard copies of the manuscript with red pencil, but several stages of professional oversight followed that. This author would basically be cutting out three or four levels of quality control (a typesetter, then the author’s review of the proofs, then cleanup by an in-house production editor, and a final author review). In addition, he wanted to introduce a new step that would give him an opportunity to add more mistakes. I turned down the job. I could see in advance that the resulting manuscript would not measure up to anyone’s professional standards.

Keep up the two-way communication.

In another instance, I edited an author’s entire manuscript during the first pass, and I embedded dozens of queries in the text that I needed him to answer. I planned to address those confusing passages in the cleanup stage, after he clarified what he meant. For some reason, he misunderstood my instructions, plus he wasn’t too good about answering my e-mails, so I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on. I kept waiting for him to send back the manuscript after he reviewed it and answered my queries, but no response. Finally, weeks later, he did communicate with me, and I realized how bad the situation was. He said he didn’t know how to “Accept the Revisions” so that my edits would be seamlessly incorporated without the lines and cross-outs made by MS Word’s “Track Changes” feature. (But he wasn’t supposed to do this; that was my job to do during cleanup.) Instead, he attempted to transfer all of my thousands of edits, one by one, by typing them into a clean copy of the original version of the manuscript. Even if he were painstakingly precise, this would be a Herculean task and would have taken him as long as it did for me to edit the book. He didn’t manage to finish but said he “got most of them.” I felt so dismayed, I didn’t know what to do. I knew the manuscript was a mess by then, but he said he was late for his deadline and that the book was “good enough.” I knew it wasn’t, and I asked him to please never tell anyone I was the editor.

I know you want what is best for your book, and so do I. If we follow the correct procedure, we'll both be happy with the results.