Authors/self-publishers of poetry who have created a poetry collection manuscript and are now at the editing stage will gain the most from reading: The Ins and Outs of Editing a Poetry Collection.
Nothing screams amateurish more than a poorly edited book—especially a poorly edited poetry collection where every word, comma, and full stop matters.
Editing a poetry collection successfully, therefore, requires time, patience, attention to detail, repetition, dedication—and money.
There are three essential parts to editing a poetry collection:
- Copy editing
We would all like to have editors assist us at every step of the bookmaking process but it’s costly. That is, in the thousands of dollars, in addition to book design—marketing, and distribution costs.
However, to make your self-published poetry book of equal quality to those being published by traditional publishing houses, I encourage you, don’t scrimp on copy editing!
Many authors/self-publishers have to weigh up the costs of book production against what they can actually afford and prioritise. In my experience, professional copy editing and book design are musts—do employ experts.
Where you may like to save money is with proofreading. But, be mindful, you will then be required to apply yourself diligently to the meticulous and tedious task of revision if you want a book without errors.
The first step in editing a poetry collection is self-editing – before your manuscript goes to a copy editor. It is where you will most refine your poetry collection manuscript.
Whether your grammar is great or not, editing a book should always start with you—because you, better than anyone else, will have a feeling for how your poems should be read.
Self-editing is about cleaning up your poems so they sparkle. Some poems are easier than others to work through. Start by reviewing your entire manuscript on the computer or paper checking for errors in spelling, and punctuation. (Save drafts as you go.)
You’ll quickly get a feeling for what reads well or not which you can then amend. With every reading of your manuscript delve deeper. Can these delicate expressions of mind, emotion, or beauty be enhanced by adding something or taking something away?
Be intentional with every comma, full stop, space, line break, and page break you use. These elements of poetry will cause rippling effects across the hearts and souls of your readers.
Pay attention to how your poems look on the page. What works and what doesn’t? In poetry, white space matters very much. Consider the alignment of text; left, middle, or right—and the white space between verses, lines, words, letters, and punctuation.
Now, what about the text—would a comma, exactly, there, slow, the tempo, down, or a shorter sentence—speed things up? Furthermore—full stops, italics, or bold, etc., may be used to emphasise a series of words. Give it an extra punch!
TAKES. Your. B r e a t h . Away.
Be inspired by how other poets present their poems. Review their use of font—style and size; text—small or large, condensed or open; verses and lines—short, long, in patterns; punctuation—used or not; letters—capitalised or not, and use of spacing.
Questions to ask yourself
Now, while you’re being brave, scrutinise your poems further …
- Which words can poems really do without?
- Or, can a better word be used, instead?
- Are some words rhyming too much?
- Have you over-described anywhere?
- Or, is the meaning of words misused?
- Does the collection make sense in regard to its parts?
- Are themes, point-of-view, and tense used consistently?
- Are there rises and falls in rhythm between poems?
Here’s a big one …
Do you now have the feeling to move poems around, again? Go for it! Changing the order is OK and part of developing your manuscript. (Be sure to update the content’s page.)
Is anything else bothering you? Take a break to gain perspective. Then, come back, and review your manuscript, again. If you’re still bothered, deal with it. Make changes. Be brave.
You are at the end of self-editing when your eyes flow easily over every poem of your poetry collection, from start to finish, and nothing bothers you.
2. Copy editing
The second step in editing a poetry collection is professional copy editing. (The type you pay for.) A copy editor will examine and correct the following:
- Word usage
- Dialogue tags
- Usage of numbers or numerals
- Point of view/tense
- Descriptive inconsistencies
Here are a few ways to choose a copy editor: visit your country’s society of editors, go to the copyright pages of poetry books to see who the editor was, make contact with authors and ask for their recommendations, or read reviews of editors online.
The editor for my first book Where The Light Lives was selected from the Institute of Professional Editors website and cost me a few thousand AUS dollars (it had 2 edits). The editor for my poetry collection When Eve Walked was selected from the Fiverr website and cost me $US300.
I was not disappointed with either editor, though they differed. I had a far more personalised experience with my first editor, Frith Luton (Aus). We communicated comprehensively via email and the phone.
I chose Frith because she had worked in traditional publishing houses for many years and was also a Jungian analyst and therapist which complimented the subject matter of my book: Where The Light Lives.
I chose Eva because she had specialised knowledge of poetry standards (as an editor and published author) and many satisfied clients who recommended her services highly.
Note – poets are presenting their poems in many different formats. Some begin lines with capitalisation and others don’t; some use punctuation and others don’t, or only sporadically. It can be confusing!
Therefore, it is important to ask a copy editor, before engaging their service, how they prefer to format poems and to have some idea as to how you’d like your poems to be formatted.
By the time your manuscript has gone through the rigors of copy editing and is returned to you, you should feel confident that you have a polished manuscript in your hands.
The third step in editing a poetry collection (on a budget) is self-proofreading. You will need to go through your copy edited manuscript and thoroughly review the work of your editor.
You should be able to see the track changes your editor has made and then you will have the choice to either accept or reject those changes. (Keep a copy of the original copy edited manuscript in case you need to refer back to it, later.)
To spot what your editor has missed, proofread your poetry collection manuscript with a hawk’s eye. Believe me, they will have overlooked something!
My experience has been that even the best editors (and book designers) overlook things. After all, they’re human. So, proofread, proofread, and proofread. Then, proofread some more!
Use your finger and a ruler when checking text and spacing. Start at the beginning of the manuscript and go to the end. Then, start at the end and go to the beginning.
Go poem by poem, page by page, verse by verse, line by line, word by word looking for errors—by letter, comma, full stop, dash, space, line break, page break, margin, page number, etc.
The brain often sees what it expects to see rather than what is actually there. So you need to make your brain see in unfamiliar ways. Don’t be rushed, occasionally be random, and look super closely.
Note – Check over the copyright page; the ISBN numbers, and contents page, etc. Also, make sure your poems appear in the correct order throughout the collection.
Finally, you may like to ask a friend to proofread your completed manuscript. When you believe there are no errors in your poetry collection, it’s time to contact a book designer!