What Kind of Editing Do You Need? Part the Third


In case you’re just tuning in, this post completes athree part series detailing the various freelance editing services offered by Yellow Bird. I promised to talk about copy editing in this edition. No really, I did. And you seemed okay with that. So here we go.

What is copy editing and how is it different from proofreading? To answer that, let’s start by defining the two levels of copy editing:

Standard copy editing includes corrections for grammar, punctuation, capitalization, verb tense, spelling, sentence structure, awkward phrasing, and word usage errors. Intensive copy editing covers all of the above with an additional focus on style, consistency, clarity, pacing, and dialogue.

So where does proofreading fit into the mix?

Proofreading is essentially the same thing as standard copy editing. However, the distinction is that proofreading is done on a PDF or print-ready file (for example, when getting ready to self-publish a book). In addition to correcting spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc., your editor will also check for visual disruptions in the text layout, such as widows and awkwardly-placed hyphens at the end of a line.

So if you’re just looking to give your manuscript a final once over before submission, then go with proofreading or standard copy editing. An editor will go through and fix only the mechanical things. This is probably the least subjective editing service because it’s all about the rules of writing.

But if you need a little more guidance, a little more spit with your polish, then you might be looking for an intensive copy edit which delves deeper into more subjective questions of style and usage. This slightly more expensive service is perfect for the writer who feels pretty good about the “big picture” but still needs help wrestling with clunky sentences and paragraphs before sending her baby out into the world.

And that’s that. We’ve reached the end of our journey. Now I’m off to a workshop/retreat at Austin’s own Writing Barn where I’ll start revising my own manuscript for a change of pace.

Happy writing!

What Kind of Editing Do You Need?

I had a great time this past weekend at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference. I spent most of it manning the Yellow Bird booth with Sara Kocek. A lot of the writers who dropped by felt unsure about how to move forward editing their manuscripts. In particular, many wanted to know what kind of editing they needed.

First off, if you don’t already have a critique group or a cadre of trusted beta readers, get one. These folks are your best first stop on the editing journey. The feedback a writer gets from these readers is invaluable, and it doesn’t cost money. Start there.

However, that is just the beginning of the rewrite process. I once heard YA author Matt de la Pena put it this way: critique partners look for different things than professional editors. In other words, your critique partners can only take you so far toward perfecting your manuscript.

But pro editors cost money, right?

Yes. We do. Which is why you need to do your homework and find an editor you can trust. Word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to start. Ideally, your editor should come recommended to you by a past client. When that’s not possible, Google the name of your potential editor to learn as much as you can about him or her. Editors often grant interviews, appear as guests on blogs, or publish articles online. Reading these pieces should give you a feel for their editorial sensibilities. Once you’ve made contact with a potential editor, don’t be afraid to ask questions. What kind of works have they edited in the past? Do they have testimonials? Can they provide samples of their editorial work? How long have they been editing? What’s their educational background and editorial training? If a freelance editor balks at answering any of these questions, that’s a red flag.


The bottom line is: you should feel as comfortable as possible before you write that check and hand over your manuscript.

Okay, so you’ve picked an editor you feel good about. Then what?

The Yellow Bird website breaks down the various types of editing services that are available as well as some of the rates. But how do you choose which service is right for you?

Think of the editing process in terms of an upside-down triangle, and start at the top. In other words, you need to identify and fix the big problems first. Address the major issues like plot and pacing, character arcs, and thematic resonance. Depending on your preferences and your budget, this means developmental and/or content editingis what you should spend your money on first.

It’s only after you’re through with this big picture phase of rewrites that you should move down the triangle, narrowing your focus to word choice, grammar, and spelling. This is the copy editing and proofreading phase of the process, and it should always come last.

Doing your editing in this order (even if you do it on your own without professional help) will save you hours — if not days or weeks — of duplicated effort. It’s hard enough to write a good book; don’t make it any harder by rewriting it in the wrong order.

Five Basic Critique Group Rules

Over the years I’ve taken part in a lot of critique groups. I’m a big fan of them. They provide writers of all levels with a forum for finding honest and supportive feedback, assuming everyone knows the general rules of critique group behavior. Few things are worse than getting stuck at a table with a writer who doesn’t play well with others. This is one of the reasons why I prefer open critique groups to be moderated by someone with lots of writing workshop experience.

Unfortunately that’s not always what you get. So today’s post is all about the basics of critique group etiquette. It’s a few ground rules to help everyone get what they need from the experience, regardless of whether it’s moderated.

My first critique group rule is the most important. And it’s really more of a foundation for all my others. It’s an attitude that all participants really need to adhere to in order to make a critique group function properly.

Critique Group Rule #1: Never forget you’re there to support each other.

A critique group is not a competition or a showcase. It’s a place for writers to help other writers write better. (Yeah, that last sentence was on purpose! Leave a comment and tell me how you’d handle it in a critique group.) It must start with acceptance and respect coming from all participants.

Critique Group Rule #2: Start your feedback with a compliment.

If you cannot find at least one thing good to say about the work, then don’t say anything at all. Period.

Critique Group Rule#3: Critique the work, not the writer.

Often this boils down to phrasing. For example, “Your metaphor doesn’t work” can be interpreted by the hearer as a general assessment of a writer’s ability to use metaphor in general. But if you say “That metaphor doesn’t work,” you’re just talking about the words on the page. It’s a fine distinction, but it can mean the difference between a comment being perceived as constructive or destructive.

Critique Group Rule#4: Don’t Defend Your Work. Not even a little.

This can be incredibly difficult to pull off, but you have to do it. Otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll twist the discussion into a debate about your authorial intentions. And that’s not helpful to anyone, especially you. Remember, your intentions are ultimately irrelevant because you won’t always be there to explain what you meant to your readers.

If questions or clarifications occur to you, note them as your work is being is critiqued. Then, once everyone’s given their opinions, you can ask any follow-up questions you feel you need to.

Corollary to Rule Number Four:

When you verbally justify your writing, you tend to get trapped in one-on-one discussions that usually end up wasting everyone else’s time. That’s not respectful.

Critique Group Rule#5: Don’t mess around on your phone while a writer is reading her work.

I can’t believe I even need to say this. But this very thing happened during a recent unmoderated critique group I participated in. It’s rude! There’s no excuse for it! And it sends a clear and unequivocal message that you hold those around you in contempt. If it’s an emergency, then excuse yourself and leave the room to take care of your business.

Sorry to get a little strident there, but that kind of self-absorption angers me. There is never a good excuse for it.

… Okay, I’ve taken some deep breaths, and I’m better now.

Just remember, critique groups are all different, and there are as many ways to structure them as there are writers who take part in them. But these five rules are pretty much universal. And they all grow out of what should be the basic organizing concept of any critique group:

Respect Each Other

Forget Everything You Thought You Knew About Strunk and White’s Elements of Style


If you’ve taken any sort of writing class or ever gotten any professional writing advice, there’s a good chance you’ve been referred to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Here’s a 2009 review of the classic that takes a decidedly different view:

“50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.”

This article is a thorough vivisection of The Elements of Style. I just don’t know what to think anymore. One of the sacred icons of my little world has been desecrated!

Read this article if you’re a grammar geek. The author, linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum, is not afraid of getting too esoteric with his arguments. But you’ll also enjoy it if you’re not a grammar geek. Pullum mostly manages to subdue his grammar wonk urges. Generally, he just bashes the world’s most beloved pocket style manual. He cites example after example of Strunk and White breaking their own rules on the very same pages where they’ve stated them.

It’s both horrifying and immensely entertaining to follow along as he systematically shreds it. Don’t be ashamed to find this interesting. Embrace your inner writer geek and read 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Commas and Apostrophes and Periods – Oh My!

Creating characters, setting them off on great adventures and sending in villains to thwart them are the fun parts of writing. But as writers, our own villains are often those pesky commas, apostrophes, em dashes and more.

There are so many rules. And there are times when the rules are allowed to be broken. Grammar can make the most creative of us squirm and feel enclosed, trapped. But done well, proper grammar and spelling can set your story free.

That’s where good copy editing comes in.

A comma in the right place can make a big difference in meaning. For example, notice the difference between “Let’s eat Uncle Mark” and “Let’s eat, Uncle Mark.” Uncle Mark will be very grateful for that comma.

But using correct grammar doesn’t have to be clinical. It can be as much an art choice as a character’s decision. Used well, commas, periods and em dashes can change the pace and tone of a sentence, paragraph or scene, speeding it up for action or slowing it down to build anticipation.

Of course, proper grammar and spelling also helps the reader stay in the story. Every time a reader sees a spelling error or a missing period, it jerks the brain into remembering that these are words and this is a book — it’s not really the movie they’ve been experiencing in their mind. It pulls them back to the real world and away from the reality of the story, which is where you want your readers to stay.

Word and most other writing software have at least a spell check and maybe a grammar check too. These are useful tools, but their not fallible. A spell check won’t notice that the “their” in that last sentence should have been “they’re,” for example. And the grammar check won’t care whether Uncle Mark is dinner.

So, what to do? If grammar is your specialty, a good read-through paying close attention is a start. However, our brains are smart. They’re trained to fill in what’s missing. So you might have read “they’re not fallible” and not noticed the mistake until you read the next sentence. If you caught it, congratulations. But if you had written it, your brain would have remembered and most likely filled in what you meant to type instead of what you actually typed.

That’s is why it’s important to have others copy edit your work.

Having your manuscript edited is especially important for self-publishers. But it’s equally important for writers who are submitting to agents and editors. Sure they’ll forgive the occasional missing comma, dangling participle, or “that” instead of “which,” but too many errors, and you’ll have that reality check problem. When it’s your career on the line, and your manuscript is the last of 15 the agent or editor has read and it’s nearing midnight, you don’t want to give them any excuse to put it down.

Don’t let pesky grammar get in the way of your book deal. Call Yellow Bird Editors.