What to expect from an editor #3: What to expect from me

As I am planning an update of my website, I've been thinking about how I set out my stall. To this end I have been re-reading past posts that deal with my literary ideology, as well as those that deal with what I think editing is all about. By the end of this post I hope to come up with additional expectations for editors and authors.

Here are some past posts about this sort of thing. There are more, but this post is already long enough.
I have also made use of the wonderful educational tool, InspireData to help me think about how I think about editing:

Each of these diagrams shows the same set of editing "interventions" (e.g. spelling, grammar, diction, punctuation) sorted via Venn diagramming three different ways, first by general editing domain, then by the type of checks (or controls) used, and then by the origin or source of those controls.

The broad outcome of this analysis is that in my thinking, editing can be divided into four general domains, as follows:

  1. PresentationPresentation includes all interventions whose primary purpose is to assure and maintain readability in print. Much of this work is done by electronic typesetters (formatters). This is the expert in page layout, font and onscreen presentation. If you intend your work to be read on more than one type of device or screen, you should go to a formatter. The main work of the literary editor in this area is in aiding the author in making his choices, such as localization of spelling and punctuation, and selection and application of a consistent style and format.

  2. Linguistic. Initially this was the domain that was hardest to define in such a way as to separate it from the others. You can see from the first diagram that nothing is solely in this category. (I could create an arbitrary intervention called "grammar" and put it there.) Linguistic interventions are all those that deal with word selection and word use, however there is significant overlap with the third domain, narrative, in features such as POV, person, tense - linguistic intervention in such cases concerns the consistent execution of these choices.
  3. Narrative. Narrative elements of your book are based on your choices, conscious or unconscious. There are many features that appear only in this section, and those which overlap overlap with linguistic inasmuch as linguistic concerns will determine the effectiveness of your narrative techniques.
  4. Oversight. Has no sector (since InspireData doesn't do four sector Venn diagrams). Those outside the other sectors are all ones which can be an embarrassment if they are not controlled. Practical concerns are those outside of the book itself, such as marketing and distribution. Factual is what it sounds like; authors and editors must verify information presented as fact, even in a fantasy novel. Originality deals with copyright, disclaimers and plagia (unconscious or otherwise). Inside the Narrative domain are three others subject to oversightfeasible, naturalistic, realistic. There is a close overlap between these three, but in short, feasible is concerned with whether an imagined thing is really possibly; naturalistic is concerned with trying to write events and people that occur and behave like in real life as contrasted with stories; realistic is concerned with whether the reader will be able to believe the story or indeed, suspend his disbelief.

The purpose of this analysis is not to create something new; it is to describe what I am already doing, what I have always done, and how it has evolved in the light of the indie publishing phenom.

Two major points arise from the co-evolution of indie-publishing and literary-editing-for-indie-publishing:

1. Formatters can do all the layout work. The opinion and advice of the formatter is valuable when making stylistic choices within the domain of Presentation. Editors and writers should both be aware of this.

2. While many editors will, for their own comfort or ease, or the comfort or ease of their writers, continue to apply style and format using the Chicago Manual or the Economist Guide; will continue to refer to dominant arbiters over word use and meaning, and over grammar and (especially) syntax, the author who is confident of the value and clarity of his personal preferences can ignore all authority if he wants to.

In the case of 2 above, I think that the author has a duty, and the editor a responsibility, to ensure that the author's eccentric, esoteric or merely mildly divergent choices remain consistent within a given book (so they do not confuse or alienate readers), and do not hinder clarity or accessibility.

Like never before, however, we writers and editors have an opportunity not merely to democratize publishing, but to democratize language; to celebrate regional variation; to experiment with alternative means and modes of expression. I for one feel that (f'rinstance) there are many situations where the common US and UK conventions for laying out direct speech are stifling and inflexible, and I would love to see more writers looking for something better (and simpler).

Great (and apparently, Irish) writers have in the past had to establish and fight for their own authority before being allowed to go outside the conventions (Joyce, GB Shaw). You don't have to. As long as you don't compromize comprehensibility, you don't have to compromize on your style.

So here are two additions to What to expect from an editor  parts 1 and 2:

For part 1:

A good editor is aware of the greater literary freedoms that are possible with indie publishing, and will aid and encourage you to take advantage of them if you want to, but will also know how to shelter you from their uncertainties if that is what you need.

For part 2:

You can expect me to ask you if you have a preferred style manual, or what consistent style rules you apply. I will make a choice between proposing one of the commonly used conventions, that, with your agreement, we apply across the board, OR I will infer a set of personal rules for you from the choices of style and presentation that you make, and ensure that those are applied consistently.

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