“I’m learning more from this [editing] than any creative writing class, so keep up with the criticisms . . . your work makes my work better.”
The above testimonial on Duke Pennell’s editing about sums it up. I first met Duke at the Northwest Arkansas Writers critique group, and I can say first hand that his critique has helped to improve my writing.
Duke has a wide range of editing experience. He is the founder and editor of the online e-zine Frontier Tales, a website for “Westerns and other stories that deal with the raw edge, where civilization crashes into the frontier.”
He is also an editor for an independent publisher and provides freelance editing services.
Recently, I sat down with him to ask some questions about the editing process and what he’s up to next:
JAN: What are the three most common mistakes you encounter in a manuscript?
DUKE: 1) Point of View. Point of View is so easy to get wrong. You know what you intend but, by the time it’s on paper, what was clear in your mind has become confusing to your reader. Unfortunately, when you re-read it, you still see what you meant, not what is there.
2) Logic. Every story has a structure and an internal environment. Everything within the story must be consistent with that environment. It’s not fair to say “. . . and then some magic happened!” and expect the reader to go along with it.
3) Author Intrusion. Almost every story has a message. Usually, the lead characters show us that message by what happens to them and their reactions. Sometimes, though, you’ll see words—lines, paragraphs, even pages—that are “background” information, put there by the author to help the reader understand. Don’t do it! If you require the “voice of God” to tell some key information, please let one of your characters have a religious vision or something of the sort. Unless it’s a memoir, the author should be invisible.
JAN: There is a Japanese Proverb that says, “To teach is to learn.” In editing, have you learned anything new about writing?
DUKE: Lots! When I edit other people’s work, I’m actively looking for problems. Another proverb says “practice makes perfect.” While none of us are likely to be accused of perfect writing, the practice of actively looking for errors has allowed me to see the same types of errors in my own work. They’re easier to fix now, and I find I’m not making as many of those errors as I used to. I’ve moved on to other errors . . . but my writing is better for it.
JAN: Please describe your typical editing process. (ie, Do you read the entire manuscript first, or do you edit as you read? How do you provide comments – via Word Review, or hand-written notes? Do you communicate with the author as you go, or give one review when complete?)
DUKE: 1) I format the manuscript if it needs it. Then, I read it from start to end, doing Line Editing (spelling, punctuation, etc.) as I go. Once I’ve read it all the way through, I’m able to see what message the author has. Then I can go back and do Copy Editing and/or Developmental Editing as needed, ensuring the manuscript is a cohesive whole and reaches the author’s goals.
2) I comment in whatever method works best for the author. Some like Track Changes, others like highlighting text. The only thing that matters is for the author and me to understand what’s being said. I insert comments pretty liberally, targeting specific areas that need attention. So far, that works better than supplying generalized notes.
3) I’ve communicated with authors both ways: as we go and giving one overall review. Again, it depends on what the author finds works best for him.
JAN: How can an author contact you for more information regarding your editing services?
DUKE: I prefer email sent to email@example.com because I don’t often lose those messages.
JAN: You are also a writer, website developer and editor of Frontier Tales. Any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
DUKE: I’m getting ready to produce the first anthology of stories from Frontier Tales. That’s fun and exciting! I’m also writing a novel and a non-fiction reference book for writers. This is on top of the editing jobs I have. The variety allows me to do one thing for a while then, when I get burned out, switch gears to something else with renewed enthusiasm. It’s like I imagine juggling chain saws would be: hard work, absorbing, and tiring — but not boring!
JAN: Is there a question I haven’t asked that you’d like to answer?
DUKE: I think you should have asked “What’s the most important trait of a good editor?” My answer? You have to want to help people get their message across. You can’t do it for them, and you can’t turn their work into yours. You are a writer’s assistant. No more and no less.
Thanks to Duke, for taking time to share some information regarding his editing services. If you have any questions or comments, email them to Duke or leave them below and I’ll pass them on.
Email Duke (firstname.lastname@example.org) the first ten pages of your work and get a free edit. If you have a completed novel-length manuscript, page count can be extended to the first twenty-five pages. Along with the edits marked, you will receive a free estimate of the cost for a full edit.
Anyone who posts a comment by Friday, July 29 will be entered in a drawing for a copy of the anthology, Voices Volume III, autographed by both Duke Pennell and Jan Morrill.