fostering, developing and promoting writers and writing

1, 2, 3, edit! Things to do before you hire a copyeditor

By Katy McDevitt

Are you ready to get your manuscript edited? Here’s a quick guide to help you figure out whether you’re as ready as you think.

1. Have you tied up all the loose threads?

This sounds really obvious, right? But it’s surprising how often I come across bits and pieces in a manuscript that indicate a thought that the author didn’t quite finish, a sentence that circles round on itself, or even an ‘X marks the spot’ indicating a bit of research or fleshing-out that the author meant to come back to. Go back through your work and resolve all those small, but accumulative, outstanding issues. Your copyeditor can certainly help spot missing or incomplete elements, and raise them with you as author queries, but it’s not the editor’s job to create or research content on your behalf, and it will take longer and cost more to complete the editing stage if you don’t fully resolve your work. Tie up as many loose threads as you can, before submitting your work for editing, and your editor will thank you for it (and probably bill you less).

2. Have you done your self-editing duty?

What is self-editing? It’s when an author attempts to anticipate textual issues that an editor might find during the copyediting stage, and fixes as many of them as possible. Why do it? Because it makes the editing quicker, smoother and (if you do it right!) cheaper. Self-editing can be a painful chore if you’re not a detail person, for sure, but it’s well worth doing. My fellow workshop presenter Patrick Allington will be giving guidance on how to do it during the Editing Bootcamp. Look critically at your chapter titles, headings, paragraph structure, syntax, and punctuation; run spelling and consistency checkers; proofread your own work, onscreen or on paper. Step back, for a short time, and pretend you didn’t write the book. Be your own worst critic. What would distract you from the core meaning or message if you were reading it for the first time? Where do you see inconsistencies of fact, style, language or formatting? Remove the tripwires.

3. Have you run your work past someone else?

A copyeditor is certainly a fresh pair of eyes. But if you’re hiring a professional, you can expect to pay a professional fee, and a copyeditor isn’t going to review your work for issues like narrative drift, irritating protagonists or a downer of a conclusion (though a developmental editor will – but that’s another post!). So, it’s a good idea to get someone you think is an eagle-eyed reader to do an editorial dummy-run. They won’t pick up all the textual details that a pro editor will spot, but they will be able to give you a good idea of what kinds of issue a new reader will find in your work. Again, it’s about testing out your writing, at one remove from you, so that the manuscript is as tight and resolved as possible by the time your editor starts work.

So, you’re ready? Let’s get started.

How do you find a qualified professional editor, assess their suitability, figure out what to pay them, and brief the editing work you want done? I’ll be sharing tips on all this at my ‘What is Editing?’ workshop on the morning of Friday 16th May. Come along and find out whether your manuscript is truly ready for its editorial close-up.

Dr Katy McDevitt AE is Principal Editor at Katy McDevitt Editorial Services and Publisher at Simply EBooks SA. She has worked with dozens of authors throughout her career, as a copyeditor, proofreader and publisher, and she loves collaborating with writers to help them achieve their publishing goals. She is leading a workshop for authors, called ‘What is Editing?’, as part of the Editing Bootcamp on 16th May.

Five Questions an Editor Will Ask of Your Novel

By Kevin O’Brien

Why not join us for the Editing Boot Camp to learn more?

I should start this blog post by saying that good editors will ask you more than five questions about your novel, but I’ve chosen the following issues in particular as they can be the hardest to fix if left until the end of the writing–editing process.

It’s not going to be your main aim as an author to please an editor, of course, or to make an editor’s life easier (although the editor will love you for it if you do), but it’s always good to anticipate some of the editor’s questions. That’s because you and the editor have a common goal: to make your novel the best version of itself it can possibly be. The questions an editor asks of your manuscript are the same that you should ask of it, rather than leaving a prospective agent or publisher, or the end reader, to do so.

Sometimes, these questions have to be set aside until you have enough of an idea of the story you want to tell for your own revisions to begin. Then, it can be hard to know where to start. So please don’t be dissuaded by these lines of enquiry. They are intended as suggested starting points for self-editing, as well as potentially problematic end points:


  • Does your novel have any problems at the level of the narrator, in terms of consistency of voice and how much the narrator knows?
    For example, is your narrator mainly invisible and faceless but then seems to develop a ‘personality’ at various points? Is your narrator a character within the story he or she is telling but also privy to the other characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings? This would need to be explained in some way if so.
  • Does your novel’s structure and length suit the story you are trying to tell?
    Readers will anticipate structure in any story and base certain expectations on it. If the book opens with a prologue, is there an epilogue, or is the action of the prologue returned to in the main story somewhere (without being repeated word for word)? If the first two chapters of the book are narrated from two different points of view, do the other chapters continue in this vein? Good structure is about managing the reader’s expectations (and this also applies to the length of the story: does it feel too long or too short?).
  • Do all of your novel’s characters serve a purpose?
    A novel can reflect reality, but it is not reality. As it has been constructed to serve a particular purpose (telling a story), all of its elements are usually expected to contribute to that purpose, including characterisation.
  • Is the plot as successful and satisfying as possible?
    Are the events of the novel and motivations of the characters believable? Are there any loose ends that need tying up? How is the pace throughout? Are there turning points and climaxes? Do these come at appropriate times in the story?
  • Have you done enough copy-editing (particularly in terms of grammar and punctuation) to make your meaning clear enough to facilitate editing?
    If not, you will likely be bombarded with queries at the editing stage (politely asking ‘What do you mean?’) or there might not be an editing stage, unless you commission one yourself, because your writing is perceived as requiring too much work. Where your meaning is sufficiently clear, of course, errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation are part of the editor’s job to fix.


If you would like to hear more about these questions, I will be discussing each of them in detail on Saturday 17 May as part of the SA Writers Centre’s Editing Boot Camp.


Kevin O’Brien is a freelance editor based in the Adelaide Hills, with clients including Pan Macmillan, Hachette, Random House, UQP, Black Inc., Allen and Unwin and Penguin. Some of the novelists he has worked with are Kate Forsyth, Gregory Day, Peter Rix, Jacqueline Lunn and Jenny Bond. He runs workshops for fiction writers, and editing and Microsoft Word courses for publishing students and professional editors.

Editing Bootcamp Program

Editing Boot Camp Friday 16th – Sunday 18th May 2014

Finished your manuscript? Thinking about submitting it/finding an editor/getting an assessment?
Before you do, why not bring it along to our 3-day intensive Editing Boot Camp. You’ll learn what editing is, who does it, how to learn the craft, advanced grammar and writing rules, then move on to self-editing techniques and practical exercises. You’ll be trained by professional editors and get to hear tips from editors and publishers that might just be what you need to get that manuscript over the line.

You’ll also be on your way to learning valuable editing skills that are an excellent way for writers to supplement their incomes and help build a literary career. Bookings via or 08 8223 7662 by COB 13 May. COST: $300 (SAWC members) $400 (non members)

DAY 1 | FRIDAY 16 May 2014

With Katy McDevitt
10.00am – 12.30pm

Editing has been called ‘a bloody trade’, but it’s a critical step if you want to publish with polish. In this workshop, you’ll explore the essentials of editing in its different forms – from developmental editing to copyediting and proofreading – and find out what you need to do to get your manuscript ready for its editorial close up.
Through exercises and group discussion with an experienced, accredited editor, you’ll get to know the types of editorial service available and develop your ideas for how your book should be edited. We’ll explore the various purposes of editing; putting you in the position of the client and giving you the tools you need to get started. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to ask questions and delve into the practicalities and challenges of editing, including:
• Why work with a professional editor?
• What different kinds of editor are there?
• How can you find the right editorial professional for your book?
• Before you hire an editor – how much can you do yourself?
• What does an editorial brief look like and how do you prepare one?
• How long will it take?
• How much will it cost?
• You will gain a sound understanding of what editors do, and what they bring to your book.
• You will learn how to locate, engage and brief a freelance editor.
• You will practice techniques and gain tools for getting your manuscript ready for
Dr Katy McDevitt AE has been an editor and publisher since 2001. She has collaborated with authors on dozens of books and digital publishing projects during her career, including as Academic Commissioning Editor at Cambridge University Press and Business Publisher at Pearson Education. She now works direct with authors as Principal Editor at Katy McDevitt Editorial Services, and as Publisher at Simply Ebooks SA (launching 2014). She is also Vice President and Communications Coordinator at the Society of Editors (SA).
Exploring ways to improve your text for publication. With Anna Solding
1.30pm – 4.00pm
You think your manuscript is perfect. You have read it a million times and so have your friends, neighbours and their dogs. Miraculously, it is accepted for publication. Then what? In my workshop, we will discuss what actually happens to your manuscript after it hits the editor’s desk.
What can you expect from working with an editor on your manuscript? As much as we’d like to think we have polished our manuscripts to perfection, we can all learn from working with an editor. Editors provide a new pair of eyes on a text that we have become intimately familiar with. Structural editors look at how the big picture of a text works and copy editors help polish the manuscript before publication. In this workshop, I will take you through some editing tips you can employ to maximise your chances of publication.
Whether you are writing short stories, memoirs or novels, every text has to be given the best chance of publication. Often this involves cutting out favourite passages or removing characters we have come to love. Killing our darlings. But it can also mean the opposite: padding out the narrative with more descriptive language where it is too spare, or more sensory input when dialogue takes over. Practising self-editing and editing other writers’ manuscripts is a great way to start, as this workshop will show.
• Familiarise participants with the editing process at a small publishing house.
• Give general advice on how to give your manuscript the best chance of reaching an
• Give specific advice on how to improve your manuscript through critical editing.
Anna Solding’s first ‘novel constellation’ The Hum of Concrete was published in 2012. It was nominated for People’s Choice Award, the Most Underrated Book Award and the Commonwealth Book Prize. She has co-edited a collection of stories, Cracker! A Christmas Collection, and has worked as fiction co-editor for literary magazines Wet Ink and Animate Quarterly. Anna earned her Masters and PhD in Creative Writing from The University of Adelaide and she currently works as editor and publisher at MidnightSun Publishing. She is passionate about punctuation.


Day 2 | SATURDAY 17th May 2014
With Kevin O’Brien
10.00am – 4.00pm
Learn five of the questions an editor will ask of your novel, so you can apply these approaches to your own writing and bring it one step closer to being the best version of itself it can possibly be. The better you can self-edit, the better your manuscript will be, and the better its prospects of being published.
Authors and editors share a goal: to make a novel the best version of itself it can possibly be. And authors often have an additional goal: to get published. The more that authors know about the craft of editing, and the approaches that editors are likely to take to their work, the more they can apply these approaches themselves. Through self-editing, writers will not only facilitate any professional editing their manuscript then goes through but also increase their novel’s appeal to anyone who reads it, including prospective publishers and agents.

Kevin O’Brien, a book editor with over 15 years of experience, will intensively take authors through five main questions on this five-hour course. The first four questions will relate to important aspects of fiction writing such as the narrator, characterisation and plot, and the fifth will deal with grammar and punctuation rules, which are vital to writing clearly and professionally.


With Society of Editors (SA)
4.30pm – 5.00pm
Society of Editors (SA) President Marianne Hammat AE and Vice President Katy McDevitt AE will talk about the Society’s role as the lead organisation for editing in South Australia. There will be an opportunity to ask questions about the Society’s activities, find out about membership and explore any follow-up questions about editing based on what you have learnt over the weekend.
Society of Editors networking evening
5.00pm – 7.00pm
Please join workshop presenters and Society of Editors members for drinks and nibbles. All Welcome.

Day 3 | SUNDAY 18th May 2014


With Patrick Allington
10.00am – 4.00pm
This workshop explores practical strategies involved in self-editing: the art of being ruthlessly honest with yourself. Sometimes fine details, even key phrases or words, can make or break a story; sometimes the architecture needs attention; often, it’s both the nitty- gritty and the big picture. We will also consider realistic ways of judging your manuscript’s progress. The workshop will make use of participants’ own works-in-progress.
Patrick Allington is a writer, critic and editor. His novel Figurehead (Black Inc.) was longlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin award, and his short fiction has appeared in Meanjin, Griffith Review, Kill Your Darlings, The Big Issue, Southerly and elsewhere. His essays, columns and reviews have appeared widely, including in Australian Book Review, The Melbourne Review, The Adelaide Review, The Weekend Australian, The Monthly, The Advertiser and elsewhere. Patrick is completing a novel about Adelaide.
With Michael Bollen, Wakefield Press
4.15pm – 5.30pm
Michael Bollen has been publisher at Wakefield Press for more than twenty-five years. He has helped build the company from tiny beginnings into a vigorous independent Australian publishing house. Michael works across all areas of this small, busy company, from the selection of titles, through to editing, design and the sale of books.Wakefield Press, based in Adelaide, publishes an eclectic mix of forty or so new titles each year. One of the company’s delights is taking South Australian voices to the world.




On Writing 52 Tuesdays

52 Tuesdays is a locally produced feature-film by Adelaide-based collective Closer Productions. It explores the relationship between a mother and daughter over a year, a year in which the mother decides to transition to become a man. 52 Tuesdays was filmed once a week, every Tuesday, for a year – with the scripts for each week constantly evolving, metered out to the performers week by week. Screenwriter Matthew Cormack speaks about the process of writing such a unique film:52Tuesdays_still_cast_promo_-Tilda with moustache biscuit-_TildaCobham-Hervey_CreditbyNatRogers.JPG

The genesis of this project was a simple pitch I wrote at the bottom of a page of many other ideas. It was something like: “Every Tuesday, every week for a year, a man and a woman meet. Shot over a year, every weekon Tuesday, with two actors, it is an exploration of how time and circumstance affects our relationships.” Like a lot of initial script ideas this is different from the final product. However, it’s wonderful to look back to this as it does remind me that the reason I was drawn to making a film this way, as a writer, was how time and circumstance might affect storytelling. I was interested in how chance and disruption might change the experience of telling a story and simultaneously the experience of being told a story.

What initially seemed like an arbitrary set of filmmaking rules became an interesting production model, a meditation on time and compartmentalisation, and eventually became integral to the story itself.

It seemed to me how we made the film, confining our narrative and shoot time to fifty-two consecutive Tuesdays, could inform the very ideas of what the characters were grappling with, especially around the pursuit of authenticity and the promise of change. Is it possible to live an authentic life? As creators, is it possible to create an “authentic” fiction?

I will say little about the actual process of making the film as it’s there to see on screen now. What I will say about it is that from the very start there was an overall story document that was worked and reworked throughout the year, and there was always the plan to script before we shot – in the end, for production logistics, the week’s script always had to be “ready” at least a few Tuesdays ahead of time. So while there was never a lack of intention, vision, and careful planning, due to the nature of the production, there was also never a lack of wonderful disruptions, accidents, and circumstance that significantly affected what I was writing. That was exciting. Ultimately, however, as a writer, it was not about relinquishing control to some kind of chance and circumstance but about the opportunity to embrace the chaos of the unknown in a way that would hopefully show me (and consequently an audience) something about the challenge of constructing a life, a story, an identity, a gender, a sexuality, only with the materials we’re given in our short, limited lives.

52 Tuesdays is screening at the Palace Nova Cinemas now.

What is Editing Really About?

By Katy McDevitt

NB: SAWC is holding an Editing Bootcamp. Register early to avoid disappointment.

Here’s a proposition for you: editors are the most misunderstood of any publishing professional. Let’s test it out. What do you think of when I ask you to imagine an editor? Perhaps a dainty woman in spectacles, wielding a red pen and a dictionary, pausing in her grammatical mission only to feed her cat and adjust her cardigan? Or, at the other end of the scale, a cosmopolitan big-city publisher, swilling a gin and tonic while taking a long lunch with his pet author?

I’m exaggerating, of course, but that’s what stereotypes do. In case either of the images I’ve just described chimed with you, let’s dispel them right away and look at what modern editors are actually like, and how their role is changing. Because, as my own favourite editorial guide, Janet Mackenzie, asserts, ‘editors who fit either of these stereotypes don’t get far’. Here, I’ll focus on copyeditors, since that’s the type of editor authors most often meet – but of course there are also developmental, substantive, web and any number of other types of editor out there.

A challenging, creative job

The American copyeditor and blogger Carol Fisher Saller has written that it’s important to recognise ‘the challenging, creative, intellectual aspects’ of copyediting. We’re not bean-counting accountants, shushing librarians, or frustrated writers with a grudge. Editors possess unique skills in interpreting and manipulating content for effect – whatever it comprises, from text to images to hypertext – and we make a highly valuable contribution to publishing (even if we aren’t always highly paid… sigh…). Editing can also be a wonderful career, as we can hone and deepen our skills and experience throughout our working lives, and we get to work with creative people every day.

It’s true: editing is detail-oriented, consistency-minded, and persistent in its pursuit of the most expressive, most effective writing. The British poet Blake Morrison famously wrote almost 10 years ago that it’s a ‘bloody trade’ (he compared it to surgery). But it’s far from a dry and dusty, pseudo-scholarly practice. Editors get vocabulary, dialect, rhythm and word placement; structure, pace and flow. We know when to query and when to fix. We judge writing, but we’re never judgemental. We understand the markets and readers our authors are trying to reach.

Adapting to publishing change

Where editors work and what we call ourselves are changing. Judith Butcher, a superstar copyeditor among copyeditors, writes that ‘a book’s journey from the author’s mind to the printed page can follow many different routes’. For her, it’s essential that the editor is ‘adaptable to the publisher’s requirements’ – as the available formats and technical options expand, so too do the skills a pro editor needs. However experimental your chosen form as an author, there’s an editor out there who wants to hone what you’re creating. You can find people using editorial skills of different sorts everywhere from traditional publishing houses to technology companies and from charities to businesses – so there are editors who work on fiction, yes, but right alongside them there are editors of non-fiction, poetry, magazines, communications, ebooks and digital publishing of all kinds.

So, what are editors like now? We’re techie, we’re collaborative, and we’re increasingly entrepreneurial.

Copyeditors still exist (mostly editing onscreen). Proofreaders still exist (mostly working digitally, too). But more of us are taking on additional editing roles, or adapting our traditional skill set, as publishing forms expand – and that goes double here in SA, where more of us work in non-traditional editorial roles or as freelancers than as in-house editors in publishing companies.

Beyond grammar and spelling

Of course, a professional editor needs the same aptitude for grammar and spelling they’ve always had – the rules of which vary a lot more than you might think – but my point is that there’s way more to editing than fixing grammar and spelling errors. In the best working relationships, the editor understands profoundly where the author is coming from, and helps them amend their work to make their voice more theirs.

As my fellow Bootcamp presenter, Kevin O’Brien, has said, ‘the editor help[s] a book to become the best version of itself it can possibly be’. If you like, a good editor is the best critical reader you’ll ever have – one skilled in perfecting what you thought was 99% there already, and who is 100% on your side. Poet and editing guru Mark Tredinnick believes that ‘writing is creativity and discipline; it is freedom within bounds. It’s freestyle drawing and engineering’. So too with editing. How limited would an editor be who only did discipline, without appreciating creativity? We might introduce commas to Roald Dahl’s rich, headlong lists of adjectives (which he rarely punctuated), losing his distinctive rush of descriptive exuberance in the process. We might – horror! – encourage Ernest Hemingway to use more semicolons, to break up all those short sentences. You get my drift. A dogged application of ‘rules’ to the neglect of an author’s creative intentions can be disruptive and damaging – worse than no editing at all.

Through a combination of wordsmithery, language sense and ingenuity, a good editor brings on your work from drafted to polished. Although I’ve talked about editors as technically savvy, there’s always something reassuringly handmade about the work we do for and with authors. We’re individual readers, above all, and we can bring fresh, unique editorial insights to writing. So, I encourage you to say farewell at the trackside to those mythical, stereotypical editors of the past, and hire an editor who’ll travel much more comfortably by your side.

To find a South Australian editor, including Accredited Editors (AEs), visit the Freelance Register at Society of Editors (SA)

Dr Katy McDevitt AE is Principal Editor at Katy McDevitt Editorial Services and Publisher at Simply EBooks SA. She has worked with dozens of authors throughout her career, as a copyeditor, proofreader and publisher, and she loves collaborating with writers to help them achieve their publishing goals. She is leading a workshop for authors, called ‘What is Editing?’, as part of the Editing Bootcamp on 16th May.

Warning to authors: unfair contracts

This was first published in the Australian Society of Authors enewsletter. If you have any questions or concerns about your contract, please contact the ASA for assistance.

The ASA is concerned about the increasing number of authors being presented with book publishing contracts which require the author to assign copyright to the publisher. Of particular concern are contracts which:
Seek to have any rights assigned (i.e. transferral of copyright ownership), rather than requiring the author to grant an exclusive licence (i.e. permission for one party to publish the work for a period of time as per contractual terms), according to regular practice
Do not commit the publisher to actually publish the work in the formats described, or exercise assigned rights in any way
Do not offer the author a means through which publishing rights may be reverted to the author on termination of the contract
Include a clause for automatic renewal of the publishing licence once the initial Term concludes
Attempt to control how an author might seek remedy for any breach of contract by the publisher
Requires the author to accept an open-ended indemnity, including full financial compensation to the publisher
Offers lower than industry-standard royalties to authors, usually on ‘net receipts’ rather than RRP.
Contracts of this nature attempt to exploit authors by taking full control of their intellectual property, by subterfuge and/or without offering commensurate financial compensation. While they may ask for no financial contribution to publishing costs, the royalties offered are so low that the author will have limited potential for earnings on any title, even if sales are high. Further, by requiring the author to assign full rights to the publisher, the author has a limited chance of recovering their rights and securing publication under fairer terms and conditions.

The ASA advises that authors contact the ASA office for advice prior to signing the contract, in an instance where a contract requests assignment of copyright.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: