Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

While different editors might wince over certain areas of editing, I believe I can come up with a few items that make a less than favorable impression upon the majority:

Targeting the wrong publisher: Yes, we can tell when an author hasn’t done his marketing research before submitting a manuscript. How? Manuscripts are over the word count. An imprint who publishes solely romance receives an action/thriller. Better yet, the editor of a fiction publisher begins his review and discovers the manuscript presented is a non-fiction book on why readers should never read fiction.

Ungodly subject matter: We’re specifically talking editors who edit for Christian houses. It’s safe to assume that most editors in Christian houses are Christian. I shudder to think they are not, but with some of the subjects published recently, one may never know. However, as a Christian who happens to be an editor, I don’t want certain words or situations to come before my eye to enter into my mind, and protecting the reader is of utmost importance to me. Curse words and taking readers into the bedroom for explicit scenes is something that the majority of Christian publishers do not allow. Even Christian imprints held by secular houses sometimes hold to a very strict code of conduct. When an author presents such scenes and language, they often cite “reality.” The first question to ask in that regard is whose reality. Yes, Christians face everyday situations, and they don’t live in a bubble away from the world, but Christian authors ought not bring the world to Christians or to non-Christians they are trying to reach.

Racial slurs and prejudicial references: An author might feel that authenticity is raised when a derogatory term is used to denote a race or nationality within a novel. Yes, a story can be layered in such a way that when one character uses a derogatory term, the reader understands the ugly nature of that character. However, that sort of use should always be kept to a minimum and should be very necessary to the story—with a lesson to be learned from it. A lack of regard for the feelings of others (no matter the race or ethnicity) is a sure way to garner the ire of an editor. As a funny example, I once used the term “Florida cracker” is a novel to describe a much beloved character. The use highly offended a critique partner who was not familiar with the term. Floridians and Georgians are proud to be called “Crackers” as it simply states that we are natives of our state. However, the term has been hijacked, and I was thankful for the heart of the woman who took offense. If the term upset her, how many others might it have upset in print? The moral of the story: always be careful and sensitive in this regard.

Lack of Research: The best example I have of this one is a review I did (not as an editor) of a pre-Civil War historical in which the KKK was said to be causing trouble in the area (the key here is pre-Civil War). Another story was written about the history of a specific locale. The author misspelled the locale throughout the entry. That’s basic research, but when submitting a manuscript for review, especially a historical novel, it is best to have your research well documented. You may not have to present it to an editor, but there are instances when I have researched an event or timeline in the story, and I’ve come up with different information. How refreshing it is when the author writes back and cites the information for this non-expert on the subject, and I learn something new, but how disappointing it is when I learn the author did no research at all.

I'm sure my editor pals could add some more pet peeves to the list, but I'll leave it at this.

Happy editing.


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