In the past few weeks I’ve been exploring the ins and outs of editing - a skill of many facets that authors have to master. This week: proof editing.
Proof-editing is an essential part of the quality assurance process for writers. It involves an editor going through the work looking for consistency of content, consistency of style, and the sense of the wording.
It’s essential because the best author won’t get everything right all the time. Familiarity breeds contempt – that’s human nature. And these days it’s all too easy to mis-amend something in the word process and then miss the mistake. Enough misses to re-form the GTO’s, but that’s another story.
Proof-editing is also a delicate skill because the editor must work sympathetically with the style of the author. Sometimes they don’t – I recall one awkward experience with one of my early military histories in which the proof-editor was a frustrated writer who took the opportunity to re-write my work entirely, and badly. I rejected the changes – it was my book, not his.
Another time one of my books was butchered by a proof-editor whose editing was wholly out of sympathy with my style. The house editor handling the book at my publisher refused to bend. I came very close to withdrawing the book on the basis of breach of moral right – I am entitled to object to derogatory treatment of my material. In the end I didn’t, but I bucked my objection up to the managing editor of the publishing house, got the most egregious amendments reversed, and refused to work with their house editor again when she turned up working for a different publisher.
That said, this “total re-style” is a legitimate technique. Some magazines hire proof-editors to do just that. Ever wondered how Time or National Geographic get their styling so consistent? A proof-editor working in this capacity is usually not just an experienced editor but also a quality writer in their own right.
So what it boils down to is that proof editing is, itself, a skill of many facets – running the gamut from quietly correcting another author’s work, to totally re-writing it into a specific style.
Needless to say, authors also have to master it for their own purposes. A manuscript sent to a publisher will be proof-edited by the publisher – but that doesn’t reduce the onus on the author to provide the highest possible quality text. Which means learning how to proof-edit yourself – despite the fact that the familiarity problem makes that a very difficult task. It’s all part of the process.
One trick when doing it is to have a glossary beside you – a list of the consistencies that need checking. Working in chunks, backwards through the manuscript is also a useful technique – it breaks the flow of the work and means you have to concentrate on the details of the actual writing.
Next – line editing. Oh – and does anybody remember the GTO’s?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014