Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Publishing #3: Editing

"Editing" represents a variety of tasks that serve slightly different purposes. Some of these tasks ought to be the author's responsibility. Some are best performed by a person other than the author. In a couple cases, the author and editor collaborate to complete a particular editing task. When you work with an editor to improve your manuscript, tell the editor specifically what sort of help you want at the moment; don't make the editor guess, otherwise he might waste his time proofreading, when you really want a peer review. Of course, if the author doesn't make his needs explicit, the editor ought to ask.

Review (collaborative)

Reviews (sometimes called Peer Reviews) are typically performed on non-final drafts, when the author wants someone to look over a manuscript for significant issues: Organizational flaws, lack of worth (i.e., it's just not useful, relevant or interesting), logical shortcomings, and areas that need clarification, expansion, or pruning.

Reviewers should also point out chronic stylistic issues, such as overuse of passive voice or too many "to be" verbs (see the Writing Style Tips article).

And don't forget to point out areas that are good!

Ideally, authors and reviewers should have a conversation about the manuscript. The feedback helps the author understand whether the manuscript is on the right track, or whether it needs some kind of course correction.

Reviewers are not expected to make corrections as part of this task. Instead, authors must incorporate the feedback and make any appropriate alterations as they revise the manuscript. Indeed, authors may need to make considerable revisions after receiving the feedback -- possibly even a complete rewrite!

Authors take note: If you show what you believe to be your final draft to someone, and they find significant issues with the manuscript, your next step should not be publishing; your next step should be revision!

Revision (author's responsibility)

After considering feedback from reviews or proofreading, or after simply reading the manuscript himself, the author should make changes to improve the clarity, utility and strength of the manuscript. The effort might be anywhere between rewriting a few sentences, to rearranging paragraphs, to adding a subsection, to starting over again from scratch!

This step is where the author prunes all his unnecessary uses of "will," and replaces his "to be" verbs and unnecessary passive voice with more expressive language.

Spelling & Grammar Checking (author's responsibility)

Most word processors include powerful spelling and grammar checking commands, so authors really ought to handle this task on their own. Don't ask someone to proofread a nearly-final draft unless you already ran a spelling & grammar checker tool on the draft. Proofreaders should not be asked to catch the author's missing periods, his sentence fragments, and his misspellings of "the" as "hte."

Spelling and grammar checkers sometimes make mistakes, especially on gaming products that use many special terms and monster names, so consider each suggested correction carefully before allowing it.

Proofreading (by others; author can help too)

This is the step where people catch the sort of mistakes that computers can't catch, such as the use of a wrong (but correctly-spelled) word, like "parley" vs. "parlay," or "rogue" vs. "rouge." This is also where people check creature stat blocks for correctness, make sure situations make sense (i.e., did you really mean to include 10,000 g.p. in a belt pouch?), ensure various game/mechanical effects are described properly, and look for incorrect room numbering and other mismatches between the map & the text.

Additionally, proofreading should ensure the relevant parts of the manuscript adhere to the publisher's standards for things like:
- Order of information in creature stat blocks. Publishers ought to provide a desired "template" for stat blocks.
- Number usage; i.e., using "1" vs. "One." These guidelines are likely complex.
- Describing hit points & damage; i.e., "6 hp" vs. "6 hit points."
- And more. I plan to write another article or two covering these sorts of things in more detail.

With luck, a proofreader's feedback will contain only minor, easily-corrected issues. But sometimes the feedback will indicate that the author should make another significant revision and produce a new major draft.

For my own gaming projects (whether as an author or an editor), I maintain a cheat sheet of troublesome and commonly-misused words. When I'm in the proofreading stage, I use my word processor's Find command to search for each of the troublesome words, and ensure the correctness of every instance. I have a hard time using the various forms of "lay" & "lie" correctly, so my cheat sheet includes usage examples of about a dozen different variations of those two words. I thought I was pretty well covered as I began work on F3 Many Gates of the Gann, but my awesome editor found a mistake and schooled me on the use of "Lain." I didn't know that word even existed! I added that one to my cheat sheet so I can avoid the mistake next time.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Any of these steps can (and should) be repeated until the author or publisher is pleased with the result. For example, the first peer review may lead to a major rewrite, a second review, and a revision. Then the author may reread and revise a couple times on his own, perhaps based on issues found during playtesting. After using some spelling & grammar checking tools, the author may ask a proofreader to look it over. If this reveals a couple sections to revise, those sections (only) would need another pass from spelling & grammar checking tools, plus another proofread. And after one last proofread that aligns the manuscript to the appropriate standardization & consistency guidelines, the manuscript would finally be ready for layout!


Editing is not just looking for spelling mistakes. Authors that only want typos corrected are doing a disservice to their manuscript. Editors that provide less help than a computer's spelling checker are doing a disservice to the author. Yes, a complete review, revision and proofreading cycle takes a good bit of effort, but your manuscript will thank you for it!

For more good editing insights, check out these posts on the Gothridge Manor blog:


  1. These are really awesome tips, Guy ... although a bit painful to read since I'm guilty of just about every sin you mention, including editing while doing layout. At least I proof and edit according to best practices :)

  2. I just jumped over here from Mythmere's blog and was surprised to see you linked to my posts. Thanks for the shout out.

  3. Great series so far, really appreciated the writing tips. Didn't know you had a blog! Looking forward to reading past stuff.

  4. Excellent points! As someone who's done a bit of proofreading for OSR writers, this is good stuff.