Friday, 8 August 2014

Editing Tips By Sally Odgers

Sally Odgers lives in Tasmania, Australia She has more than 200 titles to her name that span over an incredible 35+ year career. Apart from writing Sally loves reading, walking, collecting odd information, thinking up new character names, listening to music, watching science fiction movies and  playing with the dogs.
 Today Sally shares some of her insight and knowledge about the editing process.

How do you begin the editing process?
That depends on the client. I work for private clients but I also sub-contract for other providers. Ideally, I have already done a manuscript assessment on an editing job and so know the storyline and characters. This kind of job has already had the major problems weeded out. If I come to it "cold", then I edit about ten pages to get the feel of it. With a brand new client, I may send off this ten page sample to make sure it’s what the author wants. Usually I am asked for a copy-edit or style edit rather than a full-on structural edit. After the first ten pages I have spotted author style habits, and after thirty pages I have usually got a grasp on too-often–used words and repeated habitual errors. At this point I often do a global search to find out how pervasive a specific problem is. For example, I recently did an edit for a ms that had 85 occurrences of the word "actually". I often find errors such as "reign" for "rein" or "your" for "you’re" too, and I can do a global search for these.

What are some common mistakes you find in clients work that could be avoided?

Bad sentence structure is common. (Authors use comma splicing or run-on sentences.) Incorrect punctuation in speech tagging is rife. So is incorrect tagging. Misspelling and homonym mixes come up over and over. Bad grammar is common. Almost all these things would have been taught correctly at school, but writers get into bad habits and then they get reinforced. Bad formatting is rife. MS Word’s default format is incorrect for fiction, for example, and a lot of people use the wrong proofing dictionary. This results in weird hybrid manuscripts that use randomised/randomized US/Aus spelling. Words such as meter/metre, color/colour, aluminium/aluminum appear in both forms and Mr/Mr. and Mister often co-exist.

A manuscript assessment can be expensive. How valuable is it?
It need not be too expensive. I charge $25 for the first 5000 words and $15 for each 10,000 after that. (Editing is more because it takes longer.) I suppose the value comes from the skill of the assessor. I’m by no means perfect, but now and then I have been sent assessments from other providers attached to a ms. This has been in error, I think, because the other assessment has been paper-clipped behind the ms or else pasted into the bottom of an emailed file. Some of these have missed obvious errors such as plot holes or bad grammar. Let’s put it this way: quite often an author sends me a ms with the comment that it’s been rejected five times and that s/he has no idea why. In about 70% of cases I can tell the author the probable reason within ten pages. Quite a few clients now send their mss to me before offering it to any publisher. This means they can solve any problem I find and not waste the submission. Obviously, I also get mss that have nothing much wrong at all. An assessment probably isn’t much value in these cases, but authors seem to like an unbiased look anyway. I assume my pricing makes it an easier decision. One of the saddest cases I saw was a little self-published picture book. A couple had come into a small nest egg and had spent it on publishing their story. The small book was riddled with errors. They had spent thousands of dollars on printing their story. A payment of $25.00 to me would have sorted out those problems in half an hour.

Top tips for editing your own work.
If writing for children, read the story aloud, slowly. Make sure you read every word. That helps to pick up redundancies. For structural editing, I think you can’t go past a Cinderella Graph. For spelling, I suggest checking anything doubtful in a good dictionary. I had a few words I often got wrong, so I sat down and learned them. Psychedelic was one. Now I can spell it! If using a recent word or a brand name, always check it. I find a lot of people get iPhone wrong (they put Iphone or I-Phone). Another big offender is "Tinker Bell" whom most people misspell as "Tinkerbell". If you suspect you overuse a term or word, you probably do. Try a global search. If you spot the same word (really, actually, eyebrows, grinned, blinked, nodded, yelled…) multiple times in the same chapter, you should put on your weeding gloves.

How can we learn more about Sally Odgers?

My services and rates are all listed there. Check out the FAQs. If you still have questions after this, send me an email at Assessments for jobs of under 5000 words cost a flat $25.00. We also offer an affordably-priced range of how-to PDF-format books. I have a list of unsolicited testimonials if anyone wants it.


If you like a writing challenge and a chance to pick up some free editing and advertising, you are welcome to join the crew. Prints Charming Books is a tiny not-for-profit enterprise where we make anthologies which authors like to use as gifts, prizes, promos and publication credits. 
 I have personally used and recommended Sally. So if you are looking for some feedback consider her manuscript assessment an investment in your writing career.

1 comment:

  1. She sounds great and very reasonable. Thanks for connecting us with her.