Case-studies

Which editorial services are most useful for early drafts of stories?

Some writers plan in minute detail, researching and reading a great deal before they start to write. They create character sketches, storyboards and timelines before they begin to shape their story.

Others set time aside and fill every second furiously typing into their word processor.  Still others will set their tidy desk straight before sitting in front of their lined notepaper to take up their favourite pen and form their words in beautiful handwriting across the page before them.

However it is achieved a first draft can be a stream of consciousness, which produces a relatively unwieldy manuscript that leaves the author drained and unable to face the task of organising their thoughts and ideas into a form the reader can digest more easily.

An initial manuscript is likely to include many germs of ideas, some well described and others less so. The thread of the plot may contain some undesirable elements. There could be inconsistencies in names or places. There is likely to be some repetition and some verbose sections. It may contain characters who do not contribute to the story in any way, or unclear elements that cause the reader to question what they are reading.

Developmental editing

Developmental editing helps an author focus on the big picture by considering such things as: the way the story is put together; how it conforms to recognised genres; how it addresses specific themes; its structure and language choices; its characters and their dialogue; and the point(s) of view that are used.

The developmental editor will be able to advise on how the author might adapt, or amend, the manuscript for a more pleasing read. They can direct the author’s attention toward any issues that are reducing the manuscript’s coherence and will usually present their feedback as both a report and as edits and comments within the manuscript.

Manuscript critique

Some authors use a manuscript critique to assess the quality of an early manuscript draft. For this the editor will carry out the same type of analysis as for a developmental edit but their feedback will usually be in the form of a report, without making edits and recommendations within the text of the manuscript.

Any advice is likely to lead to the author rewriting the manuscript based on the editor’s suggestions. The aim is to improve the story and increase its quality before it is read more widely.

Which editorial services can help with a memoir manuscript?

Reliving treasured memories

Some writing can represent the outpourings of a lifetime and could record maybe seventy years of adventures, perhaps including reference materials such as black and white photographs, sketch maps, a group of drawings brought back from sun-drenched, white sandy beaches visited decades before. Spread on a table before the writer may have been dog-eared wage slips, sections of a wartime cookery book, a dusty thesis and albums of well-thumbed photographs. These materials may all have been pored over to create a manuscript that has become one, very long, essay. This manuscript will need some development to become the book the author set out to write and one a reader can settle down with for an enjoyable read … this is a job for a copy-editor and proofreader, possibly an indexer and a cover designer, and finally a typesetter/book designer.

After a manuscript has been drafted it is a good idea for the author to take a break and then return with renewed enthusiasm to run through the piece again, incorporating further details, embellishments and clarifications and to carry out a first edit.

Help beyond the second draft

A second draft is likely to contain more explanations, more headings and, hopefully, fewer mistakes but after all that work honing the first version the author may need help to progress to publication.

If the work is fictional, containing characters and a plot, the manuscript could benefit from a developmental editor reading it to review the overall structure and to make suggestions on how it could be angled to increase reader engagement. A likely outcome of this is the author rewriting the manuscript, informed by the developmental editing advice.

A non-fiction work is less likely to require developmental editing and copy-editing would be a suitable service for a memoir manuscript. If the author has worked on more than one version then copy-editing needs to be carried out by a fresh pair of eyes, especially if they belong to a trained and experienced professional.

A copy-editor checks for and corrects errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation; they look at the style of the writing (for example, is it British, Australian or American English?) and make suggestions to increase its consistency, both through word choice (for example, pavement/sidewalk, colour/color) and conventions (for example, use of numerals, capitalization, fonts and hyphenation); and to decrease story inconsistencies (for example, where a garden is described as overgrown in one paragraph and as having a manicured lawn in the next). A copy-editor can also check for factual accuracy, potential legal liability, copyright infringement and the like.

Once a manuscript has been copy-edited it will be more cohesive, more consistent and more complete. Any changes suggested by the copy-editor should be shared with the author, who is the final arbiter on what the manuscript contains and can still make changes to improve the text.

After this the work can be typeset, so that for the first time it begins to take on the appearance it will have for the ultimate reader. After this process, and in case any errors have either been left in or added, it is advisable to have the work proofread.

Help in the final stages

The proofreading stage assesses how the print looks on the page and double-checks issues of grammar, spelling and consistency. A proofreader will make suggestions concerning all these details.

A designer can prepare a book cover, which will bring the manuscript to a point where it is ready for publication. So, as with other forms of writing, memoir authors have many choices of which editorial services they favour and the extent to which they want to involve others in producing their manuscript.

Business writing

Writing can be started in business meetings using techniques such as spider diagrams, brainstorming, word banking or mind mapping. The results are captured on whiteboards or flip-chart sheets on which executives have wielded chunky, multicoloured pens and scrawled inspired thoughts from the heat of their discussion.

Business writing

Ideas can come from concerned groups, assembled to come up with specific solutions. These could be handwritten on index cards clagged up around the walls, to be poured over, added to and mashed together with different thoughts. Some meetings even end up with pearls of wisdom hastily scrawled on Post-It notes in three sizes and five fluorescent hues, stuck all over a boardroom’s polished table.

After these meetings someone is tasked with cobbling together the different threads into an action plan. It is going to be a report that is needed urgently and must be in corporate style, like last year’s. There may be an in-house communications officer who has the time to compile it in the available time and to the standard needed. But to be sure it is fit to send to the executive group then it needs to go through a copy-edit.

Copy-editing will make the content consistent, it will check spelling, punctuation and grammar. It will improve the overall style and professionalism and make the report more business-like while preserving the creativity and ideas generated in the original meeting. Sections may be unclear or repetitive and a copy-editor will offer helpful suggestions or at least bring it to the attention of someone who can amend it before the report is finalized.

A copy-editor can also prepare a bespoke style sheet for this company so that the document can be used as a model for producing future reports consistently and efficiently.

The output from this process will be a well-checked document, which should flow as though it had been written by one author following a recognized corporate style.

Academic writing

A piece of writing can be the outcome of months, even years, of painstaking research that could have involved trips to ancient library books, recording hours of first-hand testimony, reviewing stacks of questionnaires or crunching numbers in large spreadsheets. All this work needs to be honed into, say, a university-specified word count by a university-specified deadline and formatted as a thesis or dissertation.

If someone other than the researcher were to rewrite sections of the manuscript it would not represent the researcher’s effort, which is what a thesis or dissertation is designed to do. Where editorial services are being used to assist in their preparation there needs to be due concern for the ethics of the process. Some copy-editing tasks could overstep what should be amended in a document that is to be presented for examination by anyone other than the researcher.

Academic writing

Nevertheless, especially where the researcher is not writing in their native language, the task of writing up this length of manuscript is very demanding and typos and transcription errors are bound to creep in. To ensure that the work is as readable and clear as possible for the examiners it can be very worthwhile to invest in a fresh pair of eyes, trained to spot writing problems – this is a job for a proofreader.

Journal articles

Some academic writing is tailored for specific journals, each with their own professional and consistent preferences and styles. Often, manuscripts are reviewed by a panel as part of the acceptance process, which makes it especially important that they are of as high a quality as they can be.

Proofreading will make a document easier to read and give it a more professional finish. It will reduce spelling errors, remove unnecessarily duplicated words and make capitalization and hyphenation consistent. A proofreader can improve the look of a document by checking, for example, that pages are not too gappy, that cross-references are correct and that different fonts and styles are applied appropriately. A proofread also checks that tables and figures are correctly placed in relation to the text and are labelled clearly with suitable and consistent captions. All these checks will make an examiner’s task easier by ensuring that they aren’t distracted by the style and can focus on the content.