Featured From the Archives: The Difference Between Editing & Ghostwriting

Apologies for the abrupt and unexpected hiatus of the past couple weeks. Between illness and back-to-back deadlines, I sort of lost all concept of time for a bit there. But, as you can see, I’m back. Which means I also have new things to say. (Well, in theory, anyway.)

Coming off the heels of the guest post I wrote about the differences between editors, critique partners, and beta readers seems like the perfect time to pull this out of the archives, blow off the dust, give it a few tweaks, and expand on your vocabulary of book-doctor specialties. So, without further ado, I give you the encore presentation of . . .

The Difference Between Editing & Ghostwriting

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 3/22/13

I’m sure the more astute of you already know that I moonlight as a freelance editor (there’s a handy little tab at the top of the page that will tell you all about it if you somehow managed to miss it), as well as working on the editorial staff at REUTS Publications. But I’ve also been known to work as a ghostwriter (very infrequently; it’s not really my cup of tea). This week had me doing both. And it got me thinking about the differences between the two; how they can often be confused by those outside the literary world. So, in the interest of clarity, I’m going to take a moment to break each of them down, starting with editing.

There are three types of editing a freelance editor (or an editorial staff) will perform:

  • Developmental Editing: This deals with the underlying structure of a piece, focusing on things like flow, POV, character consistency, and plot. Sometimes called Substantive or Structural Editing, it’s usually the first part of the process, as there’s no point in fine-tuning a scene that will just get cut later on. Developmental Editors have a firm understanding of storytelling basics and can rearrange a work like pieces in a puzzle, requiring dramatic changes that will ultimately make the story stronger. It’s the part that most feels like honing a diamond from a rough piece of rock and is my favorite style of editing. (2015 addition: The key thing that makes this different from ghostwriting is that it requires at least a base of story to work with — a first draft, an outline, something the author has already put on the page.)
  • Line Editing: The second stage of the process, line editing dissects individual sentences, working on tightening the prose and overall smoothing, as well as things like spelling and grammar. Similar to the layered approach of painting and sculpture, line editing builds on the foundation developmental editing provides, focusing on the details rather than the work at large. This can be extremely painful for people that dislike dealing with minutiae, but it’s an important step in creating the final outcome.
  • Proofreading: Generally the last stage of the process, proofreading gives a manuscript a final pass, looking for any typos, misspelled words, or wonky punctuation that might have slipped through the cracks. There should be relatively few revisions made in this stage, and often, the proofreader will simply make the necessary changes without requiring the author to step in. Proofreaders are the last defense before a manuscript heads to the printer, so it’s a good idea to have them be a fresh set of eyes from the prior stages.

You’ll notice that none of those definitions included rewriting. That’s because it’s not the editor’s job to actually fix the problems. This is where the confusion kicks in. It’s a common misconception that editors help with the actual writing. But editing isn’t that kind of hands-on, instant fix. In fact, most editors won’t even look at a piece that hasn’t already been completed and polished to a high standard. (2015 addition: Except for developmental editors, that is, whose job is often comprised of brainstorming advice and other coaching.)

An editor is like a personal trainer for words. And just like a personal trainer can’t lose weight for their client, an editor can’t rewrite a manuscript for their author. The author does all the heavy-lifting in the relationship, working out the kinks and fixing the rough spots under the editor’s guidance and moral support (even though it can feel like the complete opposite when you get your manuscript back covered in red “delete” suggestions). When they do their job well, the end result is like the movie-star version of the original work, but it’s the author that actually gets it there.

So who, then, helps the people that can’t quite articulate their brilliant idea into words on a page?

Ghostwriters.

Ghostwriting and editing are two completely different things. Editors are passive observers, guiding the author from the sidelines, while ghostwriters are active, aggressively transforming the author’s loose, un-articulated thoughts into a commercial literary product. Unlike editors, a ghostwriter’s job is to actually write the manuscript. To take the vision, voice, and generalized, messy thoughts of the author and actually write in their stead. In short, ghostwriting is hard. Which is why I only do it on very rare occasions, and why you won’t see it listed in the services I offer.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some small similarities between the two, though. For instance, both require the ability to see past a rough exterior to the heart of the story, to be able to understand the final vision for the piece and the best way to present that to the world. They both require a firm grasp of language and storytelling (although ghostwriting mostly happens in the non-fiction world), as well as a keen understanding of voice, so that the final product sounds like the original author, not the ghostwriter/editor.

They both have their place, but editing is more akin to reading with annotations, while ghostwriting involves the more rigorous creative process of actually putting words on paper, complete with stipulations and expectations attached. They both require someone well-versed in the craft of writing, but rarely will you find someone who likes to do both. Just like writers have preferences when it comes to style and genre, those on the book-doctoring side of the fence have preferences on the types of surgery they like to perform. So before you ask for help, make sure you’re asking the right person. If your manuscript is finished and you just need polishing, you’re looking for an editor. If you have a brilliant idea but something just isn’t quite clicking, you’re looking for an editor. But if you need help actually constructing your manuscript, as in literally writing the words, you might actually be better off looking for a ghostwriter to collaborate with. Knowing the difference will save you a lot of headaches.

Beta Readers, Critique Partners, Editors; They’re all the Same, Right?

Today’s post is a little different from the usual. I was asked to write a guest post over at Live, Love, Read, and I chose to write about something I feel could have value to all of you here as well — the difference between critique partners, beta readers, and editors. Rather than copy the article in full though, I’m going to use the handy re-blog feature and turn you over to the lovely ladies that host the Musings of the Eternal Dreamers series, for which the post was written. There a lot of other articles from that series which might also be of interest, so be sure to check them out as well. Enjoy! 🙂

Live, Love, Read

eternaldreamers

Beta Readers, Critique Partners, Editors: They’re all the Same, Right?
by Kisa Whipkey
Acquisitions and Editorial Director, REUTS Publications

Beta Readers. Critique Partners. Editors. These are all terms that swirl around the writing community, and authors are encouraged to collect them all, like Pokemon. But that advice, while true, rarely includes the order in which you should use them. And there is an order, trust me. We’ll get to that in a minute, though. First, let’s look at what each of these important roles entails and how they impact your journey as an author, because, contrary to what some believe, they are most definitely not the same.

I’ve written about the different types of critiques several times on my own blog, so feel free to check out that article as well. For now, here’s a small preview detailing the three review types pertinent to today’s discussion.

The Critique Partner

Every…

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Book Review Wednesday: Split the Party by Drew Hayes

Hey, look! We haven’t had one of these in a while. But as I continue to corral the chaos of the past few months back into at least some semblance of normal, they should be appearing more frequently. Today’s post is special, though, because not only is it a return of the Book Review Wednesday, it’s the release date for the book featured. That’s right, today is the day Split the Party by Drew Hayes is released into the hands of readers everywhere. So check out my thoughts on it, and then go wish Drew a brilliant book birthday by purchasing a copy for yourself. Sound good? Good. 😉

**Disclaimer: I was hired to proofread Split the Party, but the opinions expressed below are entirely my own and were not impacted by the author’s ability to use commas.**

Split the Party

by Drew Hayes

Split the Party by Drew Hayes

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Fleeing from a vengeful king has sent the former NPCs across Solium’s borders, into the kingdom of Alcatham. As wanted fugitives, they head to the small farming village of Briarwillow, hoping to blend in, lay-low, and avoid trouble at all costs.

Unfortunately, Briarwillow has problems all its own, and its troubles quickly become theirs. If they hope to survive long enough to escape, they’ll have to tackle an all-but-forgotten mystery buried at the town’s border, as well as seek the wisdom of a mysterious group of mages.

With time, magic, and at least one god against them, it will take everything they’ve got to save Briarwillow, and themselves.

The highly anticipated sequel to Hayes’s unique, role-playing-game-inspired NPCs sees the return of everyone’s favorite non-player characters. Exiled and on the run, the gang ventures into new territory, both physically, as they cross the border into a new kingdom, and figuratively. While still infused with all the charm of the original, fans of Hayes’s work will also quickly notice a distinct shift in the overall feel of the narrative, moving into slightly darker arenas and taking on heavier, almost somber undertones. Hayes’s signature humor is still present, of course, but the backbone of the story feels more serious and deals with themes that resonate more deeply on an emotional level than the first book did.

The pacing of this one is quite a bit different as well, sauntering at a slower, more controlled clip, and the scope of the world the NPCs explore is smaller this time, hovering around a single location instead of sprawling across a massive kingdom. But where a certain video game franchise attempted something similar and failed, Hayes succeeded, taking the opportunity to more fully flesh out the characters and overall mythos of the world.

The one thing I was perhaps a tad disappointed with was the lack of interaction between the real world and the adventurers. That was part of what made the first one so brilliant, in my opinion, and this one doesn’t really have that same aspect. Yet. It’s obviously coming in future installments though.

In a way, Split the Party almost feels like the start of the series rather than a sequel, as it was very episodic in nature, less sprawling, and felt like the base for something much larger. Even though there were a lot of obvious references to the first installment, it still felt a bit more like a side-step than a step forward in terms of answering the questions we were left with at the end of NPCs.

That said, the plot of this one is definitely self-sufficient, and while my questions might not have answers yet, I was left feeling satisfied and looking forward to the next one. So I suppose the best analogy would be that it was like watching an episode of my favorite show in the middle of the season, rather than the season finale.

Anyway, take that for what its worth. I’m still a huge fan of this series, and all I can say is, “MORE PLEASE!” 🙂

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Featured From the Archives: My Love Affair With Complex Narratives

Confession: I was going to use today’s post to wax poetic (or completely fangirl gush, I hadn’t decided yet) about one of the books I finished recently. But then I realized that next week already has two book reviews scheduled. So instead of subjecting to you to four straight posts of reviews, I figured I’d pull something from the archives. You’re welcome.

This particular post (which I can’t believe was written over TWO YEARS ago already) does have a certain relevance, though. Not just in my own work, but for what I look for in general. I suspect that a large portion of you out there are writers. And I further suspect that most of you, if not all of you, are aware of my position as Head of Acquisitions for REUTS Publications. (That’s not my official title, by the way, but you know what I mean.) And I would hazard that of those who both write and know I actively cull the query trenches for new victims (did I say that? I meant authors —  talented, amazing authors) there are even some who have heard or seen the #MSWL tag/site.

In case you haven’t though, that’s short for Manuscript Wish List, and yes, I have a profile there detailing what I’ve been tasked with finding. In it, you’ll see that I list “intricate, multi-layered narratives” as one of the things most likely to tickle my fancy. Some have even submitted with that particular desire mentioned in their query. But it seems not everyone really knows what that means.

Which brings us to today’s topic: defining exactly what I mean when I say “intricate, multi-layered narratives.” Keep in mind that this was primarily written in reference to my own work, but the definitions toward the bottom are certainly useful for querying authors. (And to those thinking of submitting to REUTS/me: bonus points if you use the correct terminology in your query. 😉 )

My Love Affair With Complex Narratives

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 3/29/13

I had a revelation this week — I’m completely infatuated with complex narratives. More than infatuated, I’m like an obsessed stalker. I already knew that my WIP was a complicated son-of-a-gun, with layers upon layers of intricate plot threads. But when my “simple” rewrite of The Bardach suddenly decided to morph into a complete overhaul with an added web of complexity, I started to wonder if it was a pattern.

Every writer has their go-to storytelling device, and apparently, this is mine. Like some kind of virus viciously mutating my fluffy little ideas into beefy, hulk-like variations with mental disorders, complex narration has spread through almost all of my plot bunnies. I suppose that really shouldn’t be a surprise, given the type of entertainment I tend to gravitate toward (they do say writers should write what they love to read), but still.

Why do I feel the need to complicate everything? Is it to push myself out of my comfort zone, testing my limits as a writer and forcing myself to rise to the challenge? Or is it simply that those are the stories I most enjoy as a reader? I’m honestly not sure, but I suspect it’s a little bit of both.

I’ve been writing for a long time now — over 20 years if you count the embarrassing grade-school attempts my mom continues to mortify me with whenever she gets the chance. (Love you, Mom!) And I’ve been an avid reader for even longer. So maybe it was a natural progression that I would grow past the simple narratives and start searching for things that were more complicated and therefore interesting.

I think all of us start to feel storytelling overload in this entertainment-soaked digital age. Eventually, storylines become predictable, plot twists become stale, character archetypes become as familiar as our siblings. So when a book/movie/show/game manages to keep us on our toes with an unexpected curveball, we are instantly intrigued. I know I go from only halfway paying attention to fully engaged in T minus 2 seconds when I run into a story that is different, refreshingly intricate, or surprising in some way.

Complex narratives add that extra depth to a story, regardless of medium. When done well, they’re almost invisible. The only thing readers notice is total immersion in the experience. We’ve all felt it. It’s the difference between mildly enjoying something and being so hooked that you’re glued to the edge of your seat, riveted until it ends; finishing a book and then promptly forgetting it, or being consumed by the need to share its brilliance with everyone you know. In short, it’s exactly the kind of reaction every content creator hopes to elicit from their audience.

What exactly are these complicated creatures I simply cannot live without? Well, there are several types of complex narratives, including these fine specimens:

  • Flashbacks: The interjection of a past scene or memory that illuminates the current situation or provides insight into the character’s backstory.
  • Dream Sequences: Similar to flashbacks, this oft-scorned device introduces atmospheric foreshadowing, additional information, or mystery for the reader.
  • Repetition: Just like it sounds; the literal repetition of a scene, clue, theme, etc.
  • Swapping POVs: We should all recognize this one. Head-hopping has become a pretty popular method for providing readers with multiple perspectives inside one plot. Just make sure you keep the identities clearly separated, generally with a scene or chapter break.
  • Converging Plotlines: Two seemingly unrelated, simultaneous plotlines that converge at the end, where the connection and overall message of the piece is finally revealed.
  • Circular Plotting: The story circles back around to the beginning.
  • Backward Storytelling: The end is shown first. We then work backward toward it, explaining how the characters got there in the process.
  • Framed Narration: A story within a story. Or in my case, a story within a story within a story. It’s up to you how many layers deep you want to make it. As long as you can keep it all straight and clear enough for the reader, it’s all fair game.

I’ve used them all in some form or other without even realizing it. You probably have too. Even my first forays into storytelling (I’m not counting those frightening grammar-school moments, no matter how much Mom insists they’re legit) contained flashbacks, dream sequences, and framed narratives. Those of you who have read my short stories know that I graduated to a hybrid of backward storytelling and circular plotting with Confessions, and have now gone even further to converging plotlines in the new version of The Bardach and a combination of about 5 techniques, including repetition, in Unmoving. It’s taking an exhausting toll on my muse, that’s for sure, and has me screaming, “What’s wrong with a little simplicity?”

The fact is, there’s nothing wrong with it. The standard three-act structure with no fancy trappings has been the traditional storytelling format for thousands of years. But complex narration builds on that, creating a richer, more engaging experience for everyone. Isn’t that what every writer wants? To connect deeply with their readers? I know I do. I want to make people feel the way I have when reading some of my favorite books — nearly all of which utilized at least some of the techniques listed above. Maybe that’s where I learned it, emulating my favorite authors while searching for my own literary voice. In the end, who really knows? All I know is that my stories would feel extremely lacking without their complexity. And that’s as good a reason as any to keep including it, even if, as I strongly suspect, it’s at least partially responsible for my slacker status on the prolific-meter. 😉

How about you, do you prefer simple or complex narratives? Sound off in the comments below!

Featured From the Archives: Self-Editing Tips From an Editor

I’ll admit that I honestly didn’t know what to post this week. I have article ideas, but I’m also the human equivalent of a car running on fumes — which, for those who don’t understand that analogy, means I’m pretty much a walking shell waiting for every possible second of sleep I can find. “I haz the dumb,” as the epic words of countless internet cat-memes would say.

But that doesn’t excuse me from deadlines, as much as I might wish it did. And before I step back into the gauntlet of Insane Editing Deadlines, I wanted to find something to post. Fortunately, the archives came to my rescue yet again. And so, with that, I’ll let you read on while I disappear into the shadows of the Edit Cave. Hopefully I make it out the other side of the gauntlet in one piece!

Self-Editing Tips From an Editor

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 9/20/13

It’s no secret that writers loathe the editing process. With its tedious attention to grammar rules you tried to forget as soon as you graduated, repetitive methodologies that make anyone’s brain numb, and general snail’s pace, it’s no surprise that it pales in comparison to the joy of creating. But it’s a necessary evil. One that a strange few of us actually enjoy and decided to make a profession, creating that editor/writer bond we know so well. That doesn’t exonerate you from having to edit, though.

Surprisingly, I’ve actually seen the statement (more than once) that writers don’t need to worry about things like grammar and spelling. That’s the editor’s job; they’ll clean it up. (Every time someone says this, another editor’s muse disintegrates into ash from the horror.) No, actually, that’s not our job. It’s yours. Yes, editors (especially freelance editors) are more forgiving of the occasional typo and drunk-sounding sentence than your average reader, but that doesn’t mean they want to sludge through something that isn’t even as legible as your 4th grade history paper. And if your 4th grade teacher made you proofread, what makes you think an editor standing between you and publication, between you and being paid for your work, wouldn’t expect the same thing?

Exactly. They do.

But that doesn’t mean editing has to be as painful as a self-lobotomy. In fact, I’ve given tips to get you through the revision process before (Divorce Your Words; Save Your Story). But it’s a topic that bears repeating, so today, I’m going to give you another set of helpful insights, not from the perspective of a writer (like that previous post was) but from that of an editor.

(Hold on a moment while I swap my writer hat for my editor one . . . okay. Ready.)

1. Step Back

 

No, I’m not bastardizing “step off,” so don’t get your panties in a bunch. Step back is a concept from the art world. In fact, it’s one of the first things you learn at art school. (Yes, you learn stuff at art school. Shocking, I know.) The idea is that an artist can’t clearly see the entirety of their work when they’re hunched over it and it’s about 6 inches from their face, so they have to “step back” to change their perspective and see their work the way the world does. Now it makes sense, huh?

The first step in self-editing is finding a way to create that shift in perspective, to see the work you’ve poured your heart into for the past year in a different way. We’re too close to it during the creation phase, viewing it like an overprotective mother turning a blind eye to their kid’s flaws. You have to break that connection before you can even begin to analyze your work objectively.  You need to step back.

The easiest way to do that is simply to shove your manuscript in a drawer for a few days and avoid it like a note from a debt collector trying to repo your car. I recommend a bare minimum of 48 hours, but a week to a month would be better. That allows the warm, fuzzy glow of creation to fade away and stark reality to set in. If you can’t afford to take the time off, then simply changing the mode of viewing can help. Download it onto an eReader or print it out. Even just moving to the Starbucks two blocks away instead of the one next to your house will help, as the change of venue will help clear your perspective of any lingering rosy tint.

2. Ignore the Details

Editing is synonymous with comma hunting, spell-check, and word choice, right? Wrong. So many writers (and more than a few editors) dive right into the detail work, thinking all they have to do is clean up the grammar, completely skipping over a very crucial step — structural/developmental editing. Bypassing this is like trying to repair a broken bone with makeup. All you end up with is a mangled limb painted like a hooker. Offensive, maybe, but it gets the point across, no?

At this stage in the process, no one cares if you spelled “definitely” wrong, or have a bazillion commas in all the wrong places. Ignore all that. Look deeper, at the story itself. If the structure isn’t working, there’s no point in polishing. That lump of coal’s not turning into a diamond. The only way to fix it is to become a story surgeon, diagnosing and repairing things that are otherwise fatal to your chances of publication. How? Like this:

Take that fresh perspective you earned in Step 1 and read through your manuscript from an aerial view, glossing over all the details. You’ll fix them later. Right now, you want to focus on things like pacing, character motivations, world development, scene transitions, and narrative sequence. What’s the message of your book; is it coming through clearly? Do the characters feel like fully fleshed-out people, or cardboard cut-outs? Are the scenes in the right order, or does shuffling a few around improve the plot’s progression? These are the kinds of questions you should be asking. Trust your instincts as a reader. We’ve all been programmed to know when a story works and when it doesn’t. And don’t be afraid to make a giant mess; you can stitch it all back together afterward.

3. Murder Your Habit Words

Habit words are insidious, riddling your manuscript like a cancer, so before you send your book off to the cosmetic surgeon (aka, your editor) for that much-needed facelift, you need to eradicate them. (Don’t ask why my favorite analogy for editing is medical. I don’t know.) Don’t feel bad, though, everyone has them. They’re like comfort food, something we turn to without even realizing. My habit words are “was”  and “so.” I’m sure I have others, but that’s all I’m admitting to.

Other common ones are “that,” “had,” and “actually.” It can also be a phrase, like “for a moment,” or “roll his/her/their eyes.” Pretty much anything you find yourself repeating over and over again qualifies as a habit word. Ideally, you should try to avoid repeating words or phrases on the same page, or even the same chapter! The English vocabulary is huge; use it to your advantage. But without being pretentious about it. Rarely will you find a word that doesn’t have at least one synonym. So before you go to the next step, arm that delete button with a hefty dose of radiation and go hunting for your habit words. You can’t kill them all, but you’ll be surprised at how even just this small tweak can drastically improve the smoothness of your prose.

4. Rhythm’s in the Details

Now you get to go through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, copyediting line by line until it’s as perfect as you can make it on your own. This includes things like fixing rocky sentences, condensing wordy parts, simplifying convoluted phrasing, fixing grammar mistakes, and just general tweaking for rhythm and smoothness. This is what people picture when they hear “editing.” It’s the tedious part that will make you want to poke your own eyes out just so you never have to read that chapter ever again. It’s repetitive and monotonous, but it’s like sending your book to the gym. Each pass will trim a little more of the fat, until your manuscript is a lean, efficient piece of storytelling. At which point you send it to an editor, and the whole process starts over.

That’s right. I just outlined what a professional editor does. (With the exception of Step 1.)

So, why, if these are all steps you can do yourself, do editors exist? Because they provide objectivity. Even a self-editing master won’t be able to catch everything. Writers can never truly disconnect from their work, can never view it with complete objectivity, because they know the story and what they were trying to convey. An editor provides clarity, finding things that are confusing or missing just like a reader would. But since they’re also literary doctors, they’ll help you fix it, saving you from the embarrassing backlash of reader criticism and scorn. And besides, two heads are better than one. Right?