The Craft of Editing

June 29, 2010

Some writers think of editing as a necessary evil they have to deal with if they want to sell their writing. Others embrace working with their editors because they’ve had good experiences with editors improving the writing.

So what’s the difference? If an editor changes your writing to reflect the editor’s viewpoint or style preference, that’s not a good thing. If an editor comes to your writing with the reader in mind, you’ve got the basis for a good editing experience.

But editing is more than that. Editing also entails following standards–Chicago Manual of Style for books, Associated Press Stylebook for periodicals, and APA (American Psychological Association) for most academic work (although there are other manuals for academic work as well).

When you hire an editor, make sure you check that the editor you hire knows which manual to use and uses the correct one in editing your work. Anyone can say he/she is an editor. In fact, many writers hire English teachers/professors as editors. This may or may not be a good practice, depending on the teacher’s familiarity with when to use which manual. Just because someone knows a verb from a preposition doesn’t make that person an editor–it makes them knowledgeable in that one part of the craft of editing.

You also want to be clear about what type of editor you’re hiring. If you want grammar and punctuation edited, you’ll want to hire a copy editor. If you want content and clarity edited as well, you’ll want to hire a content editor. If you simply want someone to look for typos and check spelling, you’ll want to hire a proofreader.

All of these are part of the craft of editing. But, just as you don’t go to a pediatrician for cardiac care in the elderly, you don’t want to hire the wrong editing expert.

Connecting with an editor you can work with and who respects your voice can make or break your writing career. Whether you’re looking for someone to slash and burn your text down to bare bones (technical writers may be looking for this type of help) or creating fiction that requires an eye for content and timing and detail, you can find the right editor for you.

Happy writing!

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Good Editors Ask These Questions

June 4, 2010

I was looking at a publisher’s website the other day. It was a publisher who advertises itself as a “self-publisher,” which is a misnomer unless the only author that publisher publishes is himself. That made me wonder how accurate that publisher was in other aspects of publishing, so I clicked around and discovered that they “edit as needed.”

That allows all sorts of leeway in what one can expect from their editors.

Writers deserve better and here’s a list of  questions good editors ask when editing a manuscript.

  • How clear is the author’s message to the reader (sentence by sentence)?
  • What does the reader need to know and does this sentence meet that need?
  • Am I suggesting this revision because that’s how I would say it or because it improves the author’s voice and clarity?
  • Have I consulted the appropriate manual (Chicago Manual of Style for books, Associated Press Stylebook for periodicals) regarding the suggested change?
  • Have I done my best to verify facts or references I thought needed verification?
  • How well did I proofread (typos, spelling, capitalization)?
  • Have I examined every punctuation mark?
  • Have I considered legal issues regarding quoted material, allegation, etc.?
  • Have I looked for overuse of favorite words, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc.?
  • How does the organization work overall for the piece?

The next time you get your piece back from your editor, you’ll be able to tell if your editor asked these good questions by the changes suggested. If your editor did not, you may want to look for a new editor.

Happy writing!


Don’t Let Your Editor Get Away With Changing Your Intent

May 7, 2010

In our book publishing company, Expert Publishing, Inc., I’ve had the opportunity to work with several editors. Sometimes I’ve had to re-do their edits because they changed the author’s intent. Obviously, I don’t rehire those editors.

Every author (including me) needs an editor. Authors know their topics so well that they don’t know when they’re not being clear to the reader. Authors also may not know the various editorial manuals as well as an editor does (for example, periodicals don’t use the serial comma–the comma before the conjunction in a series–but books do).

One editor we hired was very well versed in the Chicago Manual of Style, the book  publishing industry standard, but he changed the author’s voice in the manuscript so the text read the way the editor would have written it, not the way the author wrote it. Of course, you expect your editor to improve your work, and you should trust your editor completely, but the final decision to make a change should be yours, as the author whose name is on the work.

Another editor we hired worked on a book that contained several scriptures. Chicago says to include the translation (KJV for King James Version, for example) next to the scripture reference. The author did that and the editor changed Version to Volume. Clearly, this was not an editor familiar with scripture. Had we not checked her work, it would have been a disaster for both the author and us, as publisher.

By all means, hire an editor when you think you’re in the final draft of your manuscript. BUT never allow the editor to change your intent. The editor’s job is to improve your work. You are the author and your name is on your book or article, so it should reflect your words, not the editor’s.

On the other hand, hire an editor you trust to challenge you to be as clear to the reader as possible. You won’t go wrong.

Happy writing!


What Makes a Good Editor?

April 6, 2010

When I teach my writing and publishing classes, I often get students who tell me they’ve always wanted to become a writer. I also get students who tell me they love finding errors in books and magazines when they read them. Then they tell me they think they want to become editors.

What makes a good editor?

A good editor is well read in many areas. To limit one’s expertise to one or two topics is to limit one’s ability to edit well to those few topics–at least if one wants to do more than edit for grammar or punctuation.

A good editor also needs to be adaptable. Authors have their own voices, and those voices won’t necessarily match the editor’s. Too often editors inflict their preferences on how to word something rather than accept the author’s wording. A good editor may suggest a better way to say something to make the writing more clear to the reader, but does not inflict his/her own voice onto the author’s work.

A good editor should be a bit compulsive. To be overly compulsive is to be disabling, but there’s merit in being compulsive about finding punctuation errors, incorrect word usage, and striving for clarity in writing.

A good editor understands the medium he/she is editing and uses the correct manual for editing that medium. For example, the book publishing industry uses The Chicago Manual of Style. Academia relies on the American Psychological Association (APA) for business and management, but on Modern Language Association (MLA) for other academic disciplines. Periodicals use the Associated Press Stylebook.

Finally, a good editor is self-disciplined. By that I mean a good editor understands the importance of deadlines and works to make sure every deadline is met. Sometimes that means shifting work priorities. Sometimes that means working long hours. Sometimes that means giving up lunch or a weekend event.

Whether you aspire to become an editor or are searching for an editor, you now have more information on what it takes to be good at editing.

Happy writing!