More on Gretchen Stelter
"I first started working in publishing in Australia, while I was in graduate school at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. While I loved Australia, my graduate program was much more focused on journalistic editing, whereas my real passion was for books. With that in mind, I transferred to Portland State University to finishing my MA in writing, where I met my first business partner."
"With a lot of enthusiasm and a little experience, we started a literary agency based in Portland, OR, connecting its thriving literary community with New York’s big business. We had quite a bit of success, but after a few years, I realized I was much better on the creative end, as opposed to the business end, and shifted jobs to work as Editorial Director for the agency for two years before selling my half of the agency to my business partner and heading off into the great unknown—also known as life as a full-time freelancer."
"Now, at Cogitate Studios, my current business partner and I work with authors at all levels of the writing process, from developmental editing and proposal building to proofreading and query writing, and with unagented authors, publishers, and everything in between. I’ve done a little bit of everything, including proofreading manga and ghostwriting, but the bulk of my work is in women’s fiction (I specialize in Australian, British, and Regency Era English from my undergrad and graduate school training), YA fiction, and inspirational nonfiction."
Learn more about Gretchen Stelter at www.cogitatestudios.com
The Best Tips from an Editing Pro
Hello everyone. Let’s have a little pop quiz today. When you are reading a book, what is the one type of mistake that irritates you most? Is it:
A) Unusual margins
B) Wonky font type and size
C) Typos, misspellings, and other errors of that sort
You chose C, didn’t you? (If you didn’t, you must be lying to yourself.) What can be worse than finding the wrong there/their/they’re, or a period in the place of a question mark, or a character whose name was Jenny on page 4 but Denny on page 98 (barring gender reassignment surgery, of course)?
Errors, big and small, distract readers and cause authors to lose face. In the realms of indie and self-publishing, we fight a daily battle to prove that we are just as good, if not better than, the authors sponsored by the Big Six. And the best way we can do that is to publish polished and professionally edited writing.
This month, I spoke with one of the most talented editors I know. Gretchen Stelter of Cogitate Studios, is a copyeditor, proofreader, developmental editor, ghostwriter, fact-checker, and book expert extraordinaire. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her on many occasions, and she was the first person I turned to when I wanted to know more about the editing business.
In our Q&A session below, Gretchen gave me candid insights into everything from where to find a good editor to the most common mistakes authors make. Read on to have your editing questions answered, and help us champion the indie and self-publishing industries one well-edited book at a time.
IP: Do you believe that all manuscripts should have a thorough copyedit and proofread? If you were an author with a limited budget and you had to choose between a copyedit and a proofread, which would you choose?
Stelter: I absolutely believe that all manuscripts should have a thorough copyedit and proofread. I am also a writer, and though I am an intensely detail-oriented editor, I just do not see those easy-to-make mistakes in my own writing. All writing can improve with someone else’s eye, regardless of the writer’s experience.
In choosing one or the other, it really depends on the person and the project. But if I had to pick between copyediting and proofreading, I’d go with copyediting every time. A copyedit can clean up syntax; reorganize and tighten text; be sure word choice, spelling, text treatment (numerals, dialogue, etc.) is consistent; and much, much more.
If your manuscript is the cleanest and tightest it can be before it goes to a typographer—and it will be after a copyedit—then you have a lot less to worry about during a proofread—or in skipping one if you must.
IP: What are some of the most common mistakes (grammar, content, structure, etc.) that you see authors make?
Stelter: Content-wise, the most common issue has two sides: writers either give much more information than is necessary or they hold back information, normally to create mystery, but unfortunately just causing confusion.
For example, if I know that my character’s favorite flower is anemones, I don’t necessarily need to tell the reader if it means nothing to the story. On the other hand, if my main character receives anemones from a stranger and gets freaked out about it, the reader needs to know that her favorite flower is anemones, as the flowers signal to the character someone knowing too much about her. Many writers I work with do one or another, or sometimes both in the same manuscript. Finding that balance can be difficult.
Some of the most common mistakes I see on a grammatical level include misusing semicolons, hinky punctuation with dialogue tags (either trying to make verbs that aren’t dialogue tags go with dialogue [“Don’t go,” he smiled.] or putting a period at the end of dialogue that has an accurate dialogue tag), and comma splices.
IP: Where can authors find qualified copyeditors and proofreaders? How do they know if they have found a good one?
Stelter: Fellow writers are a great resource, whether they are part of your local writing group, an online forum, or even Twitter. There are some solid online resources, like Mediabistro, Publisher’s Marketplace, etc., that have searchable lists and information on expertise, titles worked on, leading clients, and so on, but for me, there’s nothing better than a personal recommendation from someone in publishing or a fellow aspiring writer.
No matter where you find an editor, ask if they can provide a title list. Look up those books and authors, see if they’ve been published by the types of publishers you want to be published with and if the titles are books you would pick up or compare your work to. Before hiring someone, make sure that you ask them questions, agree with their process, and will feel comfortable accepting their critiques. You want to be sure they will respect your voice and style, too. Editing isn’t just about making things grammatically correct; all writers have syntax and punctuation style, and it’s important to find someone who will keep that in mind.
And always find references for pricing. Most qualified editors will use Editorial Freelancers Association’s (EFA) rates as a rough guide, so anything too far outside of those and you may want to ask why. EFA also has wonderful resources on fair practice codes, so writers can see how projects are normally billed and contracted; qualified editors will be following those practices as well.
IP: Tell us a bit about your process when it comes to copyediting or proofreading a manuscript.
Stelter: My editing process is pretty simple: hole up and read with Merriam-Webster, Chicago Manual of Style, and the author’s previous works or style sheets close at hand for reference. If I get stymied by something, I highlight the passage and come back to it later, as I prefer to keep a pretty good rhythm to my reading.
If I’ve been hired by an author directly, before that process starts, there’s a getting-to-know-you period when we discuss ourselves a bit, make sure we’re going to be compatible concerning editing style and experience, discuss the work, make sure we both have the same vision for it and know where it’s going, and then figure out the process for that particular work. Every writer is different, so I like to leave that part of the process open to individual needs.
IP: What are a few steps that writers can take to clean up their manuscript before turning it over to an editor?
Stelter: You don’t have to work in double-spaced, 12-point, serif font, like Times New Roman, but you should format your manuscript that way before you send it off to anyone.
I highly recommend writing a style sheet for your editor that puts down on paper, in clear language what you want to achieve, any goals you have, any weaknesses you know you want specific help with, any quirks that you’ve decided you want left in, and so on. Even after a talk to make sure you’re moving forward together, it’s immensely helpful to have this down on paper, both for you and your editor.
And it may sound silly or obvious, but run spell check. Sure, it won’t catch everything, and some things it catches will actually be OK (either words not in Word’s dictionary or names you’ve made up or that simply aren’t common), but it’s surprising how many manuscripts get to me with clearly marked misspellings still present.
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Jillian Bergsma is a writer and contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English. She welcomes any questions or comments on her articles at jbergsma (at) bookpublishing.com.