Once your first draft is done, and you have taken a well-earned break, the manuscript will need some more work. You may make further drafts and do some self-editing. Then could be when you feel it is ready for someone else to read. If your presentation lacks uniformity you should consider resolving this before anyone else reads it. This standardisation will reduce the reader being distracted from the meaning of the words.
Who will the next reader be?
Who you choose to read through your manuscript could be a family member, a beta reader, a friend, publisher, an agent or any combination of these. Maybe you will decide to collaborate with a professional editor, as you could feel that the writing would benefit from their expertise and fresh eyes. Whoever you present your writing to, you will want them to form an opinion and probably offer some feedback, advice and their suggestions for improvement.
Why good presentation matters
How your manuscript looks to a reader will make an impression, favourable or otherwise. Clear writing will take the reader less time to read. This would be desirable even if they were family but if they’re an editorial professional a difficult-to-read manuscript could end up costing you more in their time. Presenting your manuscript well will reflect how seriously you take your writing and how well you respect their time.
How to set out writing clearly
Some agents and publishers offer authors a predetermined style, in the form of submission guidelines or author guidelines. Experienced authors may have a style or convention they like to follow for all their writing as their own preferences or guidelines.
If you do not have a documented format that your manuscript should follow there is flexibility but aim to be consistent. As a general guide the following choices will present a clear, readable manuscript:
Use a title page(unnumbered)
Begin numbering on the first page of the text
Typeface: keep to one font throughout and use a commonly available one such as 12 point, regular (not bold in text), Times New Roman, Black
Margins 1 to 1.5 inches all round
Each chapter on a fresh page, following a page break (not multiple spaces down to the start of the new page)
Line spacing 1.5 or double spaced
Align left (also called ragged right)
Only one space between sentences
Do not use tabs (use Word Styles with indents of five spaces for each new paragraph)
Care with formatting your manuscript will make your work easier to assess and eventually to typeset. This level of presentation will help with reader experience and reduce distraction from the message of your writing.
By doing this you will come across as having a professional attitude to your writing and help everyone concentrate on what you written rather than how you have written it.
The final arbiter is you
The more people you get to read your manuscript the more opinions and suggestions you will collect. Once two readers have seen your manuscript be prepared for them not to agree on everything. Professional editors are likely to back up their suggestions with reasoned explanations but on reviewing their edits, if you feel that you need more explanation or are unclear, you should ask for clarification. Whoever you get to check your writing before it moves to the next stage always remember that you will be the one attaching your name to it and as author you are the final arbiter.
Often writers will ask me variations of the question ‘how many words make a proper book?’ This question suggests the questioner is probably a new writer. They may not have spent long looking at the type of books they are writing or aspire to write.
As with many questions about writing, my immediate thought is, it will depend. Although some will say that a creative should let their writing flow and produce the manuscript which tells their story and writing should not be constrained by a set wordcount, this is not going to help a new writer. In the early stage of getting a first draft written, flowing creativity is most helpful and story is paramount. The beginning, middle and the end need to be crafted. At some point in the writing process, perhaps still at first draft or when self-editing and editing, manuscript length is worth considering.
When does it NOT matter how long a book is?
When the words are precisely as the author wants and the intention is to self-publish, the wordcount does not matter. Some books may be made in this way, for example where a poet has invested a great deal of time crafting their lines and verses and has a group of themed poems to go into a volume. The author is the final arbiter and if this is their process the reader could be presented with any wordcount in a book. Once an author has become established and has a loyal following, they can be less concerned about the wordcount of their manuscripts.
When DOES it matter how long a book is?
With digital publishing typesetting constraints are not what they once were but physical books still have the same issues.
Picture books are typically thirty-two pages long, as they need to be in page count multiples of eight. The words need to fit within this construction.
Most books are not tied to a fixed page count, and equally most are not entirely free from an expected wordcount norm.
At any stage in the writing and publication process the word count of a manuscript comes with implications.
Getting it written – if you know the wordcount you are aiming to write for a project (whether book, blog post or article) you can use it as a gauge for how far remains to completion. The wordcount can be helpful to break the writing down into chunks which are more manageable to consider as chapters, scenes or acts to help bring a balance or pace to the narrative. Grouping wordcounts within a long-form manuscript can help outline and plan.
Managing the project – wordcount can be used to monitor progress. Awareness of wordcount helps with scheduling dependent activities such as self-editing, copyediting, proofreading, beta readers, publication and marketing.
Meeting genre expectations – book genres come with standards for the number of words they require which is based on traditional publishing. Staying within the recognised wordcount appropriate to genre will prevent frustrating the expectations of others.
Wordcount will have a bearing on editing and proofreading costs; production costs and perceptions of value. Books which seem short may appear as poor value for money and books that are longer than readers expect may be perceived as drawn out or demanding.
What are standard traditional publishing wordcount guidelines?
These are benchmarks wordcounts and come from various sources including Hill (2016), and the Writers and Artists Yearbook (2020):
Children’s Picture Books: up to 500 (absolute maximum 1,000)
Short Stories: 1,000 to 8,000
Children’s Chapter Books: 6,000 to 10,000
Novellas: 20,000 to 50,000 (some recommend a maximum of 40,000)
Novels: between 40,000 and 100,000 but typically 90,000
Young Adult: 50,000 to 80,000
New Adult Novel: 60,000 to 85,000
Horror, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller: 70,000 to 90,000
Mainstream Romance: 70,000 to 100,000
Literary Fiction: 80,000 to 110,000
Crime: 90,000 to 100,000
Science Fiction: 90,000 to 125,000
For a new writer it is advisable to keep within wordcount guidelines as it is less likely to succeed as an exception than by conforming, although there will always be some exceptions.
Hill, B. (2016). The Magic of Fiction: Crafting Words into Story: The Writer’s Guide to Writing and Editing. Atlanta: Title Page Books
Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook (2020). Writer’s and Artist Yearbook 2020 113th ed. London Bloomsbury Yearbooks
Here is a style sheet to give you an idea of style decisions which it is useful to record in a collaboration. This is especially useful where there are multiple manuscripts which need to have a consistent style. Using this as a basis you can adapt it to suit your writing.
How to anonymise a Word document. This would be useful if you want to remove your author identification marks from a document and could be used to maintain privacy or to present a particular professional or corporate style.
Being confident about a few style choices and applying them consistently can make all the difference to writing speech clearly. Even though it should not be a main priority for the first draft, it is good to try to standardise these decisions and aim for consistency in the second and subsequent versions of a manuscript.
Done right, speech will add to your writing and make for a better reader experience. Here I set out detailed advice with examples for:
Reported and direct speech
Quote mark styles
Choosing speech tags
Punctuating speech tags
Reported and direct speech
Reported speech within narrative is not set out with speech marks (also called quote marks):
He said that they were under arrest.
She told Dad to climb the wall.
He asked where I went.
Conventionally, direct speech will include a vocative word or phrase (which indicates, or evokes, the speaker) and is set apart from narrative using quote marks and dialogue tags (also called speech tags).
Style of quote marks
The usual style for quote marks in UK fiction is single, as in this from Leonard and Hungry Paul (2019) by Rónán Hession, p19:
‘Indeed. And sometimes it’s difficult to know whether you want to scream or block out a scream,’ said Leonard.
Whereas in the US double quote marks are the convention, as in this from Room (2010) by Emma Donoghue, p127:
“Look,” she says, “a flamingo flying by.”
“Look, a zombie all drooling.”
“Jack!” That makes her smile for half a second.
In both UK and US styles nested quotes (quotes within quotes) take the opposite form of quote mark to that used for the outer quote mark. Thus, the UK convention would be to use double quotes within single; an example would be this from Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, p48:
‘I was very agitated at the conference … and to look out at the South China Sea in the afternoon. Are those not beautiful words … “South China Sea”?’
Whereas, the US convention would be to use single quotes within double, as in this from The Lives of Animals (1999) by J.M. Coetzee and in my 2016 edition, p86:
“Didn’t you write a book the first chapter of which was called ‘All Animals are Equal?’”
Smart quotes versus straight quotes
With UK and US styles the quote marks, and any apostrophes, are smart ones (sometimes called intelligent or curly). They are favoured over straight ones (which typically came from typewriter use, where they were adopted due to space and mechanical constraints).
To make a single smart quote in MS Word for PC use ALT +0145 for left and ALT +0146 for right, and for MS Word on a MAC use Option+] for left and Shift+Option +] for right.
If you do want to enforce the use of straight quotes in a document within MS Word on a PC select the file tab and click options.
Select Proofing and the AutoCorrect Options button.
Click the AutoFormat tab and in the Replace section untick the box next to “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes”, click OK, OK.
Conversely to enforce smart quotes leave this box ticked.
In these examples I have added bold to indicate the words that indicate speech (which is the tag). They come from What You Wish For (2014) by Mark Edwards:
‘Who do you mean by “this lot”?’ I asked softly. (p130)
‘I take it you’ve had no word from Cherry?’ I said. (p138)
‘A friend,’ I said. ‘Someone else who loves visitors.’ (p168)
These clarify that the section is different to narrative, clue the reader as to who is talking and help create pace and rhythm. To guide your use and selection of dialogue tags think of them as supportive of speech so:
only there if necessary
secondary to the dialogue
Only tag where needed
Think of dialogue tags as traffic lights at a minor road junction, the sort which only operate at peak times. When there are lots of vehicles they are needed but when the there is little traffic, they would hold things up unnecessarily so stay off.
In sections of direct speech when many people are talking together the tags save confusion but if there are as few as two people in a scene tags can often be dispensed with. This avoids slowing the pace as the conversation is already easy to follow.
Dialogue is superior to its tag
Conventionally when there is a new speaker one would open a new paragraph. There are times when this is not followed, such as when those speaking only say a few words to one another.
This works as a rule of thumb, and is what most readers expect. Avoid over flamboyant speech tags as these take the limelight from where it needs to be for the storytelling.
Sadly, I can remember being set a class exercise in school which was to create chunks of writing with as many differenttags in as we could dream up. We were encouraged to flip through a thesaurus in an effort to add obscure and flowery terms. I shudder to think of it now and want my school-child self to march to the front of the class and say, ‘I have an urgent message from my editor-to-be self, “No! please don’t.”’
Mostly ‘said’ works, as does ‘asked’ with a question. These are transparent to the reader and have the subtlety of a gentle nod from a parent, leaving the dialogue front and centre.
Keep it about speech
Occasionally you will decide it is appropriate to use other tags and, properly considered, this can be a good choice. However, if you do, remember to keep the tag relevant to the speech.
These examples from Smith (1967) by Leon Garfield all work well and do not dominate:
‘And who, miss, would you ask?’ queried Miss Bridget irritably. (p17)
‘And so say all of us,’ murmured Miss Fanny, as she might have said, Amen! (p35)
‘Oh, Smith!’ she whispered, and turned away. (p105)
Used less well, tags can be distracting and annoying and can put readers off. I have created the following examples of how not to do it:
‘Climb the wall,’ fantasised the prince.
‘This one is for me,’ gobbled the child greedily.
‘I can’t speak through this mask,’ muffled Sarah.
‘I did not know that,’ laughed Tony.
‘Here take an ice cream,’ she smiled generously.
‘Catch the bus home,’ he pointed.
Speech tags must present the possible otherwise they pose a puzzle.
These are not so much firm rules as guidelines to consider when seeking to engage readers in your story. Ignore them, however, and you risk spinning readers out of the story, wondering how they would have written that sentence differently had they been the writer.
As with so much about writing, once you are aware of the conventions you may decide to go against them but with knowledge, foresight and intention.
Punctuating the speech tag
A speech tag can be placed before, in the middle of or after a piece of speech and, in most cases, is set out with a comma (although a question mark or exclamation mark might be used instead where appropriate).
These examples all come from Me Before You (2012) by Jojo Moyes.
Granddad called out something that may well have been, ‘Hear, hear.’ (p229)
‘Let’s get some lunch,’ I said to Nathan. (p187)
‘Yiss,’ he said, and broke out a smile. ‘Yes, it is let’s head for the gee-gees.’ (p181)
Where there is a long passage of speech which crosses into a new paragraph the convention is to place an opening quote mark at the start of the new paragraph within the speech but not to close the preceding paragraph with a quote mark.
An example of this can be seen in The Lives of Animals (1999) by J.M. Coetzee, which in the 2016 edition is on p56:
“Let me now turn to Gulliver’s Travels.
“On the one hand you have the Yahoos, who are associated …”
Not all speech will be neatly complete sentences, especially when a speaker is interrupted or distracted. To present this an ellipsis is used.
Trailing off speech
Where a character’s speech either dries up or is interrupted is indicated by an ellipsis. In a part sentence an ellipsis is placed after the last word uttered and is followed by the closing speech mark.
This example is from The Comfort of Strangers (1981) by Ian McEwan – 2006 edition p35:
‘Yes, two of those,’ Colin said eagerly, ‘and …’
Hesitant, uncertain or tentative speech is indicated by a spaced ellipsis. There is no need to indicate this further – inspead respect the reader’s ability to understand the pauses, stumbles or breaks.
This example is from Cold Sunflowers (2018) by Mark Sippings p160:
‘It’s a book about the First World War. I got it from the club – It was only two bob, well, ten pence. You wouldn’t believe what those soldiers went through; they were only youngsters. Some were even shot for desertion. It was terrible … terrible, the conditions … goodness me.’
An action beat is a short section of writing which is attached to dialogue and indicates who is speaking. The use of an action beat can add to the pace of writing and can help show a character’s voice or give insight into their emotions and perhaps their movement in a scene.
These examples from The Snow Child (2012) Eowyn Ivey:
‘It’s her.’ She turned her hand at her throat. (In the 2016 edition p86.)
‘So you do have some fight in you, my girl.’ Esther hugged her waist. ‘You’ll need every bit of that to survive around here.’ (In the 2016 edition p140.)
And from The Crow Trap (1999) Ann Cleeves, p323:
‘This is all I could find.’ She grinned so they would know she was lying.
‘That’s very kind.’ Anne took the letter and added, ‘Do you know where Edmund Fulwell is?’
Good advice to an aspiring writer would be to read their dialogue out loud as this helps to bring authenticity. It is also a good idea to look at a selection of titles and see how speech is presented, as some authors make unconventional approaches work well.
Some prefer not to use speech marks at all, seeing them as an interruption, distraction or perhaps slowing the pace too much. Not using speech marks seems especially popular for writing in the present tense or over a restricted timespan.
Some genres and target readerships may lend themselves to less conventional approaches; some recent books which present speech unconventionally include Normal People (2019) by Sally Rooney and Summer (2020) by Ali Smith.
There is a great deal to writing well and, as the communication medium, writing needs to convey the writer’s message to the reader. The writer decides on what the message is, and the extent to which conventional approaches are used is their choice.
Where editorial assistance is sought the author needs to consider their style decisions and present these within their project brief to enable an efficient collaboration.
These points should help you to consider what is involved in writing engaging dialogue and presenting it clearly. Get it right and it will give your story variety, interest and pace.
Bailey, M. (2020). Editing Fiction, UK: August Publishing
New Hart’s Rules: New Oxford Style Manual (2012). Oxford: Oxford University Press
Quoted books (in quoted order)
Hession, R. (2019). Leonard and Hungry Paul. Hebden Bridge: Bluemoose Books Ltd
Donaghue, E. (2010). Room. London: Picador
Levy, D. (2016) Hot Milk. UK: Penguin Random House
Coetzee, JM. (1999) The Lives of Animals. Princetown: Princetown University Press
McEwan, I. (1981) The Comfort of Strangers. 2006 edition. London: Vintage
Sippings, M. (2018) Cold Sunflowers. Amazon
Ivey, E. (2016) The Snow Child. Second edition. London: Tinder Press
Edwards, M. (2014) What You Wish For. Seattle: Thomas & Mercer
Garfield, L. (1967) Smith. 2004 Edition. London: Puffin Modern Classics
Moyes, J. (2012) Me Before You. London: Penguin Books
I think honesty from the outset about the quality of writing is important. Clients sometimes ask for their manuscript to be edited to be perfect, but quality in writing has a subjective component. There will be improvement but perfection is an elusive aim.
Every writer decides at some point that a piece of writing is finished and ready. However, they know that if they leave their document for a while, then go back to it and read it again, they are likely to tweak and improve what they have written – to improve the clarity or the pace of the story or the words are used. Redrafting and editing are all iterative processes; many writers produce multiple versions before they feel that their work is complete. What writers aim for, and what readers seek, is good writing but it is difficult to pin down exactly what that is.
Perfection v. improvement
Editorial professionals, be they developmental editors, copy-editors or proofreaders, work to improve the content they are presented with. Ask a dozen copyeditors to work on the same manuscript and give them all the same reference books (such as Butcher’s Copy-editing,The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, New Hart’s Rules or Merriam-Webster and The Chicago Manual of Style), then read the twelve edited versions. You will find that no two versions will be exactly the same. Why is this?
They will have spotted a great many of the same changes needed in spelling, grammar, capitalization, consistency and the use of language. But their individual suggestions will differ, if only slightly, and across the manuscript there will be a number of variations. Each edited version will be an improvement but no two versions will be exactly the same improvement.
As an editorial professional I aim at perfection, but writing is subjective and each revision of a text will find further improvements to make. There are constraints on everything and deadlines need to be met so, at a point, the work must stop and the improvement be deemed sufficient.
I work to lift your text and voice to the next level. Realistically, perfection is the aim and improvement is the reality.
There isn’t an easy answer to when an author should find an editorial professional, be that for developmental editing, copyediting, line-editing or proofreading. However, it is best to give a collaboration of this sort some time for consideration. It is good to be clear what the different services provide and to approach suitable candidates with enough time to find a good match to achieve the best outcomes for yourself and your manuscript.
It would be an understatement to say that how writers write varies. The amount of planning which different writers undertake ranges from the highly detailed plotters like John Grisham who feels that the longer he spends preparing a detailed outline the easier the book is to write. Through to writers like Steven King who plans very little, preferring to work things out as he writes. To him very outlined books have a somewhat stale quality.
Some writers use a Pomodoro approach, with disciplined daily word count goals and others will take a cabin in the woods with the aim of not resurfacing without a completing manuscript. Bashing out a first draft and not looking back is the advice of many how to write books and some writers edit as they go along.
As a writer you will know how writing a book is a major accomplishment and the culmination of a great deal of time, discipline, perseverance and not a little emotion. Many will be unable to say the number of hours it took to reach that stage and will frequently answer with the number of years since the first idea came to them.
Redrafting and editing choices
However, it is arrived at the completed manuscript it is a good idea for the writer to distance themselves from the manuscript, at least for a while before embarking on the next stage. Self-publishing writers will not have the same set up as a publishing house with the team focused to ensure all the necessary stages of the production process are carried out in a coordinated way so that deadlines are met and all the preparations are carried out smoothly.
If you are thinking of using the services of an editorial professional you may want to involve them at any stage. Once the manuscript is written you may request a developmental edit or ask for a manuscript critique. This would be to help you identify where there may be difficulties of plot or with the structure of the writing. Perhaps you do not want to change any of the big picture features of your manuscript and you have time to rework the manuscript through some rounds of redrafting. After this you may decide to collaborate with a professional copyeditor. It could be that you feel you have reached the point where your latest draft would benefit from being looked at with fresh pair of eyes. Even if you set aside time and decide that you are going to rely on your self-editing skills you may seek the reassurance of a proofreader for a last check before it goes in front of a reader, be that publisher, agent or beta readers.
Some authors feel their time is best spent creating the next title and may already be preoccupied with that. From an editor’s standpoint schedules get filled up and earlier approaches are easier to accommodate.
If a publisher is already interested in the manuscript planning for editorial services will help get the manuscript to be as good it can be for the publisher. Experienced authors appreciate the value of booking their editorial collaborations to meet their deadlines and aspirations.
You can have ambassadors who are envoys for their country and you can have brand ambassadors who promote a brand. But the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders (CIEP) have voluntary ambassadors who represent the profession and help introduce others to editing and proofreading as well as encouraging engagement with the CIEP.
What are important skills for ambassadors?
Any ambassador would be expected to know a great deal about the thing they represent and it is not a role for a newbie or novice. Alongside this subject knowledge they should have a high level of professionalism and be interested in spreading awareness of what that professionalism means to stakeholders. This, as far as the CIEP is concerned, means that they are members and thereby follow the Code of Practice.
This set of standards, entitled Ensuring Editorial Excellence, covers both in-house and freelance professionals as well as their clients. It sets out relevant definitions to help with clear communication. Professional standards are detailed in relation to issues including working agreements, working relationships, confidentiality, legal issues, levels of work and loyalty. Different forms of editorial work are defined and materials and practices are covered which include online content, page mark-up, multimedia and project management. The Code of Practice goes on to set out advice and a wealth of information on training, finances, health and safety, contracts, copyright, data protection and British Standard Institution marks.
Furthermore, an ambassador is likely to be keen to meet with others, to raise the profile of the profession and to set clear and accurate expectations of the profession within a wider context. They will be passionate about their chosen specialisms and happy to discuss them.
An ideal skillset for the role includes ability at networking, strong interpersonal skills and some confidence with public speaking.
What do CIEP ambassadors do?
Ambassadors might be asked to attend local CIEP groups, perhaps get involved in discussions or give presentations. Each ambassador will have particular subject expertise depending on their experience and background. The groups they address are often not CIEP members but may have a particular interest in publishing, writing or collaboration.
During 2018, as an ambassador for the CIEP, at that time known as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), I attended a two-day conference of the Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) at Oxford Brookes University. This group is a specialist section of the International Association of Teachers of English (IATEFL). As a group which includes many professional writers and professionals who write, they were interested to hear about editing and proofreading professionals and their organization. Several of the delegates were also SfEP members but others had not heard of the group before. Many of the delegates were considering how materials they had created for their own lessons might be shaped either for sharing with their work colleagues or as publishable resources to be shared more widely.
What’s a cauliflower got to do with it?
At the conference presenter Johanna Stirling proposed that teaching materials were becoming too strongly focused on testing. She stressed the need to move learning forward in interesting ways rather than just assessing current knowledge.
There was a lively talk by Fiona Mauchline about designing material for teens and adults entitled, ‘Not rocket science but brain science’. Speaking spoke enthusiastically, she waved a halved cauliflower to represent the brain and discussed how being aware of how the brain works helps with creating engaging, motivating and memorable materials. Her understanding of memory, and how memories are made, led her to urge teachers to go beyond language, language acquisition and methodology and to incorporate creativity and fun within their materials and within their lessons. She described these as valid and desirable, exhorting teachers to include creativity and fun as it would lead to greater retention. She stated that ‘if you use sensory stimuli to encourage an emotional response, you facilitate learning’.
The final session by Jon Hird, ‘Adapting texts for ELT: intuition, analysis and authenticity’ included a look at the importance of sensitivity. There is a risk or reducing authenticity when texts are altered. This thought-provoking presentation included some amusing adaptations of original texts which had been changed to avoid, in some cases, copyright infringement.
Jennifer Dobson and Michelle Worgan presented a session, ‘Giving up the day job – a double-edged sword’, in which they pointed out the pros and cons of leaving the teaching profession to write materials full time. They discussed some pitfalls of working as a freelancer, both full and part time, and stressed the importance of maintaining close links with the profession.
As a CIEP ambassador I have become a regular visiting speaker at Roehampton University, on the MA in Publishing course, in their School of Humanities. The thriving course is led by the author of A Poetics of Editing, Dr Susan Greenberg. It is a relatively new postgraduate course designed for students seeking a career in the publishing industry. The course can be studies full time for a year or part time for two years.
One of the optional modules presented to students is Dimensions of Editing. This takes a practical look at different editorial services and gives an insight into how the processes vary when carried out on hard copy and digital manuscripts. Although this is usually an in-person event, due to the Coronavirus pandemic it was held online in 2020–2021.
Being a professional body ambassador has led to meeting interesting people involved with words, writing, teaching and publishing. There have been some engaging discussions which have enriched my continued professional development in a dynamic and fascinating business.
The written and unwritten rules of fiction, which readers and authors acknowledge, group stories into recognisable genres which usefully serve as a form of jargon or shorthand to guide readers to find the type of novels they enjoy by knowing which genre they are choosing. On the other hand, genre also helps the authors to deliver fulfilling writing to their readers and to meet reasonable expectations based on the chosen genre.
Publishers also use genre to inform their purchasing decisions and to direct their marketing. Genre is of great importance in fiction writing and there are many tropes and standards which apply within particular genre and do not apply in others, for example a story from the romance genre and a story from the horror genre will attract different readers. For an author to include extremes of the horror genre within a romance is very likely put off a swathe of readers, who will then avoid selecting titles by an author who does not write in a manner which conforms to their expectations.
The term genre comes from the French word for kind and is helpful for everyone in choosing the right content or type of story. Knowing the genre of a book helps to recognise what can be expected from it without having to read it first.
Text in context
Whatever story an author writes a genre will be fitted to it by the world at large and that labelling will, to some extent, select who chooses to engage with the story. Readers come to a title with certain assumptions depending on its genre. Knowing this, authors wisely craft their stories to fulfil those expectations in the reader. If it is a humorous work the reader will have different expectations to those they would have for a thriller where they are looking for suspense and intrigue. Umberto Eco states that no text is ever read independently. Authors and editors do well to steep themselves in their preferred genres to help create the emotional effect of stories on the readers while at the same time avoiding the presentation of cliché.
The reader should be offered an entertaining experience where they can be drawn into a story and feel that the author has crafted a believable world, without the distraction of unpleasant surprises. These pull the reader out of the story, leading to dissatisfaction and disengagement. This is especially a problem with long form due to the greater investment of time for both the reader and the writer. Whatever an editor can do to steer a work to better fit a genre will serve both the author and the reader.
Dynamic nature of genre
McCaw notes that genre is not static. So, whereas there is a temptation to view what works of a genre have in common, as though there were a fixed set of criteria to be met, genres change over time. The differences within a genre can be studied and change is ongoing which points to the importance for both authors and editors to be aware of recent works written in the genre they are writing for, or editing within.
At the online Edinburgh International Book Festival 2020, The Midnight Library author Matt Haig, points out how he has witnessed massive change over the past ten years. He says ‘genre snobberies have evaporated remarkably’ and the barriers which used to exist between literary and commercial works have moved, making it much more possible for authors to take creative influence from everywhere. Which he sees as a more natural way of doing things.
Experience shows that editors may come across a manuscript which pushes the boundaries of genre and they must be ready to embrace this in their work otherwise the dynamic nature of genre could be restricted and the new could be stifled. As with much about fiction editing sensitivity and tuning into the author’s voice is paramount. I would argue that this craft element will always present a problem to techniques of artificial intelligence and will ensure human editing retains its elusive, unique quality and value.
Eco, U. (1981). The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader. The Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association,14(1), 35-45. doi:10.2307/1314865
Developmental editing is carried out at an early stage of preparing a manuscript. You may have written a full manuscript but be unsure what aspects need improvement and whether there are issues with the plot which, if improved, would increase your success with the book once it is in the hands of readers. A developmental edit will consider the big-picture aspects such as: plot holes, unconvincing characters, character development and themes. From a developmental edit you will have a report on the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript as well as comments and suggestions within the manuscript to consider.
Manuscript critiques are similar to development edits and you’ll get a similar report on your manuscript considering the big-picture aspects but without the additional comments and suggestions within the manuscript.
Following both a developmental edit and a manuscript critique it is likely that you will want to apply some or all of the suggestions and prepare a redraft.
Copyediting or line editing is carried out on a manuscript which may already have been reworked and could have had some developmental editing. You will be happy with the structure and the big-picture aspects. Having been redrafted the writing is ready to be thoroughly checked through and consistent improved where appropriate.
This will help the next reader to have a smooth and immersive reading experience without the distraction of inconsistencies and errors. When copyediting I will edit the work line by line and word by word. Working in MS Word I will be aiming to increase the clarity and flow of the sentences and words. I will be checking for:
Clear, effective and well-paced narrative
Spelling, punctuation, grammar, hyphenation and capitalisation
Suitable use of tenses
Clarity of dialogue expression and presentation
Consistency within the word choices with character and author voice
Believability of characters through consistent traits
The avoidance of overwriting, repetition, cliché or unintended confusion
Suitability of balance between showing and telling within sentences
Spacing of chapters, paragraphs, sentences, lines and words.
Following a line or copyedit you will receive the marked-up manuscript (in MS Word and with Track Changes) and a bespoke style sheet showing the style decisions which have been made in relation to capitalisation, numbering, spelling and punctuation styles etc. within the manuscript.
Proofreading is carried out on the manuscript when it has been written, redrafted and edited so is almost ready for the final reader. Proofreading aims to catch issues of spelling and grammar which remain and other mistakes that may have still have slipped through. You will probably have read the manuscript so often by this stage that it will be harder for you to spot mistakes.
Traditionally proofreading is carried out after the manuscript has been typeset and the layout of the paragraphs, lines and words on the page can be viewed as they would be by the readership. A trained and experienced second pair of eyes will help to ensure that the manuscript is as good as it can be before the next reader, be that publisher, agent or the public get to read it.
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Speech can bring difficulties when it is written and one area of difficulty is that of whether to capitalise some naming words. This is because words Mum, Dad and Grandad have different forms. These words can be used in their proper noun form, and this is when they should be uppercase.
Proper noun form
Sentences where these words are used as proper nouns:
Did you like the flowers, Mum?
Can I borrow your glasses, Dad?
I asked Grandad to pass the map.
To check that a word is being used in this form you can keep the sentence the same but swap out the proper noun form and swap in their proper name, if the sentence still makes sense then the word was being used in its proper noun form.
The same sentences with the names swapped in:
Did you like the flowers, Mary Gilesbie?
Can I borrow you glasses, Ian Telling?
I asked Alfred Potter to pass the map.
Generic noun form
However, these words can also be used generically – as generic nouns or regular nouns and when they are, they are lowercase.
Sentences where these words are used as generic nouns:
If theses sentences are given the same swap test they don’t work because the word was being used as a generic noun.
My mum does not like red flowers.
All dads have children.
My granddad called on us.
Sentences where generic nouns have been swapped for proper names:
My Mary Gilesbie does not like red flowers.
All Ian Tellings have children.
My Alfred Potter called on us.
Rules of thumb
Whenever these words are preceded by a possessive adjective like (my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their) the noun will be lowercase.
Whenever you use these directly as a name, they will be uppercase.
I brought this for your mum.
The coat was from my dad.
These are from Grandad.
When there is determiner preceding the word (such as – a, an, the, this, that, these, my, his, their, much, many, some, two, seven, all, every) use lowercase.
Some mums drove the car.
Seven dads ate the pizzas.
His grandad was in the play.
This works for other similar words in the same way, these include: uncle, aunt, father, mother, daughter, cousin etc.
Is it a name?
Changing between upper and lowercase depending on usage happens with other words. This applies to when the word is a title or political entity.
Where a word is used as a name it will be uppercase:
They followed Captain Wilson over the bridge.
We walk up the steps to meet Queen Bess.
Come on let’s go Governor. (instead of name)
Where a word is not when it is not being used to replace a name and is being used as a description it will be lowercase.
Our old captain turned to fight.
The girl was a princess.
The governor was going to the meeting.
Style guides often have requirements regarding capitalisation and these should be followed where applicable but as with general rules about writing it is important that the rule is applied consistently or the writing can be jarring and the reader can be distracted from the meaning of the content.