FAQ 6: Why Do I Need an Editor?

Hello everybody!

Today I’m answering the last question in my FAQs series: Why do I need an editor? It’s rare that I actually get this question phrased this way, but the underlying inquiry remains. I’ve found that there are really two levels to this question. The first level is something along the lines of, “Why does anybody other than me need to read my manuscript before I publish it?” The second level is something to the effect of, “Why do I need to hire a professional editor? My friends have read my manuscript and think it’s fine; isn’t that enough?”

So, for the first level… The short answer is that it is always a good idea to have somebody else read your work–and this is as true for me and other editors as it is for authors. (As an example, I have my darling husband read all of my blogs to make sure I didn’t miss anything.) It’s very challenging for anybody to make an unbiased evaluation of their own writing. As writers, we know what we’re trying to say and what words we intended to use. We might be able to catch some misspellings and incorrect commas–though it’s very challenging for a single person to catch all errors in a manuscript; it’s definitely a case of the more eyes and the more reviews, the better–but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll realize it if our meaning doesn’t come across clearly or if what we’ve written could be interpreted another way. Maybe we’ve alluded to something that isn’t actually common knowledge, but we think it is. Maybe we’ve skipped a step in our logic or in the plot, forgetting that our readers aren’t inside our head and might not be able to fill in that missing piece. Or maybe we’ve said something in a way that could come across as offensive, but we have no idea because we did not mean it that way when we wrote it. These are all distinct possibilities we face as writers that make it vital for us to have somebody else read our work before we publish it for the world.

The question then becomes why anybody needs to hire a professional editor as opposed to just giving a manuscript to friends or family to review. The most honest answer I can give is that any eyes are better than none. If it’s a case where it’s got to be an author’s friend or family member reading a manuscript or nobody at all, it is the vastly better option to have that friend or family member read the manuscript. There are distinct advantages to hiring a professional, however, the first being that–as with most things in life–it’s just a better idea to have somebody trained in a specific job or skill performing that function than somebody who is not trained. For example, I think we’d all prefer to have a trained stylist or barber cut our hair rather than somebody who has never given anybody a haircut. We don’t particularly want to take our clothes to a tailor who’s never threaded a needle. And we probably wouldn’t have somebody clean our homes who had never touched a sponge. In the same way, it’s preferable to have your manuscript cut, tailored, and cleaned up by somebody who knows even the most minute rules of language (or knows when to look them up), who has worked with many manuscripts in the same genre before and thus knows what distinguishes a good story from a great one, and who has specifically committed him- or herself to taking the time and putting in the effort to make your manuscript exceptional. Professional editors take great pride in their work; editing is not a field that people enter for the money, but rather one that people enter because they have a passion for and extensive knowledge of language. When you hire a professional editor, both you and your manuscript benefit from that passion, that knowledge, and that commitment to excellence. And that is why all authors need an editor.

And that also concludes the FAQ blog series! Please let me know if you’ve got any other questions you’d like to see me answer by posting in the comments or sending me a message. Otherwise, enjoy the rest of July, and I’ll see you next time!

FAQ 5: What Types of Materials Do You Edit?

Hello everyone!

Today I’m answering another question I’m often asked: What types of materials do I edit? The short answer for this one is that I edit any type of material a client would like me to edit. I have been fortunate to encounter a wide range of materials in my editing work, which means that in addition to having experience with editing all those material types, I’m also excited about and fairly adept at tackling new-to-me material types as well.

I find that most of my projects end up being either academic writing (dissertations, theses, and the like) or self-published memoirs, but I’ve also worked on everything from marketing and HR materials for companies, to law textbooks, to fictional manuscripts of various lengths, to online course material. You might now be wondering which of those things is my favorite to edit, but in all honesty, I don’t have a favorite. I enjoy the challenge that comes with variety and the need to swiftly switch gears from nonfiction to fiction and back again. As a former teacher and teacher librarian, I have a great love of learning, and there’s no better way to remain a lifelong learner than to constantly teach myself new things…and editing a new material type definitely falls into that category!

Next time, I’ll be answering the last question in this FAQ series: Why do I need an editor? I hope you’re looking forward to reading the answer as much as I am to writing it! Until then!

FAQ 4: Where Do Your Rates Come From?

Hello all!

It’s time for another in my frequently asked questions series. Since it deals with money, today’s topic tends to get people particularly curious: How do I determine my rates? Well, the short answer is that I multiply my hourly rate for the desired service by the number of work hours required to complete the project. But where do I get that hourly rate and that number of hours?

When I was describing the editing process last week, I mentioned that I do a sample edit to help me develop an estimate for any project. That is the origin of the number of hours. I take the total number of words in the project and divide that by the number of words in the sample edit, then multiply that result by the amount of time it took me to do the sample. That gives me a fairly accurate estimate of the number of hours a project will take me. For those of you who (like me!) aren’t exactly math-brained people, here’s an example to help illustrate the point:

  • Say I receive a sample edit of 500 words. The total number of words in the project is 25,000. It takes me 30 minutes to complete the sample edit.
  • First, I divide 25,000 words by 500 words, which gives me 50 (25000 / 500 = 50).
  • Then, I multiply 50 by 30 minutes (0.5 hours), which gives me 25 hours (50 x 0.5 = 25). It will take me about 25 hours to complete the project.

That process gets me the number of hours. But then, of course, I need an hourly rate to charge for my work. For that, I simply use the industry standard as indicated in the Editorial Freelance Association’s list of editorial rates (found at http://the-efa.org/res/rates.php). The EFA is a national organization for editors, and they offer many marvelous resources for editors and authors alike. Their rate chart helps keep a level playing field when it comes to charging for editing in the United States. So, to continue with the example:

  • The author for the project wants a medium copyedit, for which the EFA suggests charging $40 per hour.
  • I multiply 25 hours by a $40 hourly rate, which gives me $1,000 (25 x 40 = 1000). My estimate for this project is $1,000.

And that is where my rates come from! Next time, I’ll be talking about the different types of materials I edit. I hope to see you then!

FAQ 3: How Does the Editing Process Work?

Hello everyone!

I’m back with another frequently asked question and its answer. Today’s topic is how the editing process works; that is, how is it that things move from an author’s inquiry to a completed editing project? While I can’t claim to be speaking for all editors when I answer this one–since every editor has his or her own process and techniques–I do believe that a description of my editing process will at least give a general idea for how it works for most editors out there. So, off we go!

The process begins when I receive an inquiry from an author interested in hiring me. Generally, my first step is to obtain information about the work to be edited (its genre, length, etc.), the due date for the project, the type of editing sought, and (if applicable) whether it will be self-published or marketed to publishing companies. Finally, I request a two- or three-page sample of the work.

My next step is to use that sample to both get a feel for the author’s writing and complete a sample edit for the author. Completing the sample edit assists me in determining the estimated price of the editing project, and I am then able to send both the sample edit and the estimate back to the author for review. Once the author has reviewed everything and asked any questions he or she might have, I draw up a contract for the project for the author and I to sign. In addition to stating the cost of the project, the contract’s primary purpose is to protect the author’s rights to his or her work, explicitly stating that the author retains sole copyright to the work being edited and that any changes I make or language I write falls under that author’s copyright.

Once all those preliminary steps are complete, the author sends me the manuscript and the actual editing work begins. My process might vary slightly depending on the genre of the work or the timeline for the project, but generally, I do two or three runs through anything I edit. The first run tends to be where I catch most of the things I correct, with the second and third runs in place for me to correct anything I missed in the first run. I also read the work aloud on the second and third runs; reading aloud allows me to catch things that my eye alone would miss. I primarily use Microsoft Word for my editing because its Track Changes feature is hard to beat in terms of allowing the author to see and accept or reject each and every change I make to a document, but sometimes I also work in Adobe Acrobat or InDesign. I also frequently refer to the style guide and dictionary being followed for the work to check myself on anything from spellings to citations.

Once I’ve completed the editing, I send the work (with all my changes tracked) back to the author for his or her review. Usually, the author will then make further changes based on my suggestions and will send the work back to me again for another quick edit. That is also when I answer any questions the author might have about my changes, and we might discuss how best to handle any particularly tricky or sensitive sections of text. Finally, when the author is completely happy with my editing and the shape the work is in, we call the project complete.

And that is how the editing process works! I hope my description helps shed some light on how editors do their work. Next time, I’ll be discussing that most controversial topic: rates. See you then!

FAQ 2: What Exactly Does an Editor Do, Anyway?

Hello everyone!

Today, I’m answering another one of those questions I’m asked most often: “What exactly does an editor do, anyway?” The short answer (borrowed from one of my wonderful copyediting certificate program professors) is that it is the job of editors to infuse any written work with consistency, clarity, and elegance. We make sure that everything within a manuscript is consistent, from usage of commas, to spellings, to characters’ descriptions, to major themes. We make sure that the content is clear for readers, smoothing out any sections where the wording has the potential to lead to misunderstandings. And finally, we make sure that the language is elegant, that it both looks and sounds as pleasing as possible without altering the author’s voice or purpose in the writing.

That’s the answer in a nutshell, but the actual process of bringing those three elements to a manuscript is a bit more complicated and varies depending on the type of work an editor is hired to do. Every type of editing, however, involves at least two (and often more) very careful and detailed readings of a written work. It’s not like reading a book for pleasure, though it can indeed be quite an enjoyable process; it’s not even just checking to make sure things are spelled or punctuated according to the “rules,” though that is part of it. It is a meticulous consideration of every word and every punctuation mark to ensure that they are the words and marks best suited to convey the author’s meaning consistently, clearly, and elegantly. When the task is done right, an editor will be able to justify each and every element of the text, whether a suggested alteration or the author’s original work left as is.

And that is what an editor does! Hopefully that helps solve some of the mystery in an admittedly nebulous profession. Up next time, I’ll discuss what the editing process involves. Until then!