Over the years I’ve had a fair number of potential clients preferring to hire an editor who lives locally. Don’t worry, it’s not just me, it happens. This week I’ll look at why this isn’t necessarily a good idea. And why in some cases it can be.
Many people don’t understand the editing process (after all why would they, they’re not trained editors). Because of this, they think they need to sit down with the editor and work through the edit with them, or have regular face-to-face meetings. Even if you’re determined to hire a local editor and believe you won’t meet up, the temptation to meet because you’re ‘just around the corner’ can be overwhelming.
There may be expectations for a local editor to work in a room with the author or business owner. Imagine trying to work with someone sitting next to you? Even being in the same room, it can be difficult to keep a sense of distance. There could be a tendency for the editor to feel ‘on show’. Some clients may feel that ‘they know best’, or conversely ‘know nothing’, and it could be difficult to let the editor get on with their work.
Editing is a very conscious occupation and needs high levels on concentration. Editors tend to have their own individual way of working, which heightens their productivity. Remove them from their usual surroundings and productivity can dip. Meaning it can take longer to perform the tasks needed.
Editors rely on a whole range of resources to do their job. This doesn’t just mean a good internet connection and space to plug in a laptop. Some editors use more than one screen. Some feel more comfortable using their PC, rather than a laptop. There are industry specific resources, such as reference books and software (we don’t all get everything we need from online sources). It can be extremely difficult to carry all our resources around, and you can guarantee as soon as you are away from the office you’ll forget one vital tome or piece of equipment.
You’re looking at out of hours travel both ways, expenses and possibly a premium to cover extended working hours and further loss of work. If the editor has to drive to your office they’ll be unable to carry out the other work they usually do (and could do on the train at a push). Because someone is local to you, doesn’t mean it will be cheaper.
For an effective working environment, there needs to be a distance between the client and the editor. This is for both our sakes. It’s good to have a rapport and to get on with each other, however, friendship is best left outside of the working relationship. A working relationship should be professional and mutually beneficial.
It’s human nature. We can’t help it. You see something you’re not used to and there’s an urge to ask questions. Every, single question interrupts the flow and concentration. If you are sitting in a room with your editor you’re going to end up asking questions, frustrating your editor and costing yourself money.
Just like the last point. It’s human nature. We arrive in the office, the kettle’s put on and the small talk starts. While it is nice to catch up and talk about what’s been happening, a quick catch up can roll on to half an hour of chat. And that extends the working hours for the project.
This last point is the important one. When you are ‘working together’ in the same space, it becomes very, very difficult to let the editor get on with their job. Everything that’s noted above compounds into one very simple fact – whether it is fiction, non-fiction or a business document, it’s very difficult to let go and let the professional do their job. Especially if you’re not sure of their process and already think that you’ve done a great job and things are just about perfect. You very likely will have done a good job, but it’s the editor’s job to make it even better. If you can’t give up control while the edit is being carried out it will take twice a long and be twice as hard for the edit to be done.
Having said all that, there are some instances where it makes sense to have a local editor.
Sometimes it can just make sense for the editor to be on site, or to at least make a visit. Working on complex material, and carrying out a complicated or technical edit, might benefit from the editor being close to the author or a company representative. If the company doesn’t have an in-house editorial team, then a conversation will have to take place about the best way to work around the technical issues.
Now, this doesn’t seem to happen very often. Most editors work on-screen these days, but occasionally physical papers need to be edited. If this is the case, it can make sense to visit the company offices, as long as the editor is allowed to get on with their work uninterrupted.
Similar to the first point, if the editor would benefit from being around the technicians or accessing their processes, then it can benefit both parties to be in the same place.
Yes, sometimes editors are hired to train company staff. Obviously, then it makes sense to have a local editor visit the offices.
This is the most likely reason for an editor to be in the same premises as their client. Although we often work on sensitive information and confidentiality is assured, sometimes we have to work on documents that cannot leave the business premises.
In this case it does make more sense to hire an editor who knows the local environment, although they don’t necessarily have to live in the area.
There really are very few reasons in these days of instant communication where you NEED to work with a local editor.
(Remember this is only this editor’s opinion based around genuine needs, I expect there are others I just haven’t thought of yet.)
There are thousands of editors out there. Properly trained editors. If you can think of a subject, you can find an editor who works on it.
While your local editors may be lovely, and trained, they may not be the best fit for your project.
You need to carefully consider what’s best for your work. If that’s a local editor, that’s good, but if there’s a better editor out there for you, you would be foolish not to consider it.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to address comments and questions that I’ve heard over the years as a freelance editor and writer. I aim to help you understand who we are and what we do, and to help you decide if the time is right to work with us. And I do mean ‘us’: not every editor or writer will be a good fit for every client. Just like buying any service, you need to do a bit of research to see what works best for you.
So, let’s kick off the new year with a common misconception – that editors and proofreaders are the Grammar Police.
If I had a penny for every time I’d heard editors and proofreaders being called the Grammar Police, I’d probably have enough by now to buy a month’s worth of top notch snacks for my corgis and a slap-up family meal in one of our friendly local establishments. And those dog snacks aren’t cheap!
Despite what people think, we aren’t the Grammar Police, and, in fact, many of us have been targeted by the GP, because as editors ‘the Police’ think we should be perfect in our written word and our approach to ‘correct grammar’.
Would it surprise you to hear that language is an ever-changing, flowing, living thing, and there’s really no such thing as ‘correct grammar’?
There are conventions and suchlike. But nothing is written in stone.
Like using a conjunction to start a sentence. Oh, how the Grammar Police hate that.
Let’s get this straight right from the beginning.
Editors and proofreaders are not the Grammar Police.
As editors, we tactfully guide our clients through the maze of good writing practices. The Grammar Police are compulsive pickers. They correct everyone who doesn’t measure up to their exacting standards. And they often do it in public. Some may feel they’re ‘giving a service’ and some may feel they’re ‘educating the less well informed’, while others are just vicious busy-bodies.
The Grammar Police don’t tend to educate in a well-meaning, private environment. They attack in public, trying to make themselves look more educated and superior in the process.
The Grammar Police are bullies (whether they realise it or not).
They like to belittle people, and in their hurry to seem better than the average writer they often forget a few minor details:
I’ve rarely seen one of the collective take that into account before they wade in with their criticism.
English is one of the most difficult languages to master. I reckon someone who has chosen to learn English, as well as speak their own language, deserves a major pat on the back, not a snarky put-down.
Kids are often at the mercy of educational fads, and worse, and teachers and assistants who are confused themselves by spelling and grammar, and pass that along to the students. The person the Grammar Police Representative is attacking may genuinely believe there is nothing wrong.
Editors understand that dyslexia can make spelling and grammar more challenging, and will help their clients in an understanding and sympathetic manner – not belittle or chastise. They applaud those who take on English as a second language and can guide them through the differences in language structure. Many editors specialise in helping ESL writers. Editors also understand that sometimes there is a chance to help educate when the educational landscape has been muddied by changes in teaching practices.
Editors help in a private, safe environment. They help writers make the best of their writing and advise on current practice and accepted usage. They advise, they don’t dictate.
The Grammar Police actively seek out errors so they can pick the writer apart and make themselves look superior (well, in their heads – most people think they’re a dick).
Sometimes it can all seem like a bit of a laugh.
There’s a Facebook page (@theofficialgrammarpolice) where 160,000 members love to pick apart people’s grammar. But it’s not had anything posted since 2018. Perhaps they got bored?
On Twitter, the Grammar Police (@GrammarCops) has 7,000 followers (an account in no way linked to the Facebook group), which seems to take a light-hearted approach.
On social media the hashtag #grammarpolice conveniently mixes those who want to educate (both helpful and snarky) with those who need help, plus some sometimes shocking observations. If you want to waste an afternoon go ahead and look.
The things that tend to get the Grammar Police most agitated are homophones and apostrophes.
Although they will attack just about anything they think is incorrect.
Homophones are words that have ‘the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling’ (Oxford Dictionaries definition, 2020).
Most often you’ll see words such as too and two, your and you’re, and there, their and they’re being slammed by the GP Representatives.
Apostrophes are notoriously difficult for some people to deal with. And the apostrophe seems to bring out the worst in the Grammar Police. So much so there was an Apostrophe Protection Society. Which has now shut up shop for the last time, the ‘barbarians have won’.
These seem to be the two bugbears for the pedants, but honestly, they’ll pick you up on anything.
Perhaps this is why people see editors and their red pens in the same light as the Grammar Police. It’s always scary handing over your work to see if it’s ‘good enough’. That red pen (or red marks on a Word document) can strike fear into the heart of the greatest writers. Red can be seen as aggressive, which is why myself and other editors choose to make our tracked changes in a more soothing colour. But editors use tact and diplomacy to show where changes can be made and leave the final decision up to the writer. We’re highly trained, can always explain where our changes come from and are paid to help, not hinder, the writing process.
Editors are there to make you look good.
Whereas the Grammar Police are another thing altogether. They’re rude, opinionated and can be so sure of their own heightened state of perfection, they can sometimes get things wrong too. Not that they’d admit it.
People really are scared of the Grammar Police. No one wants to look stupid or uneducated. This is why Grammarly (https://www.grammarly.com/) and ProWritingAid (https://prowritingaid.com/) are such a huge hit. While I wouldn’t say they’re perfect (and they definitely can’t replace a human editor), they have picked up on writing insecurities and help eliminate them for many people.
Modern day living can bring many frustrations that lead to errors in writing you’d normally catch. The pedants will quickly jump on these before you get the chance to edit.
Editors are here to help you (although obviously we can’t be there for every text, email and small snippet of writing). We are not (or shouldn’t be) pedants, rather we’ll help you get your message out there in a way that ‘sounds’ like you but isn’t ambiguous, or sloppy, or just plain wrong. And we won’t shout you down for beginning a sentence with and. But, if starting a sentence this way is less effective than using a more ‘traditional’ opener, we’ll let you know.
Grammar Police like to embarrass people, whereas editors are your armour against them.
So now we’ve got that straight. Editors are NOT the Grammar Police. Let’s have a comparison:
|Grammar Police||Editors and Proofreaders|
|Like to make people look small.||Like to help people.|
|Do what they do out of the kindness of their hearts.||Do what they do because they are trained professionals and (let’s be frank) are paid to do it.|
|Love to give their opinions whenever they find the opportunity.||Love to give guidance during their ‘office hours’.|
|Are ALWAYS right (even when they’re not).||Know that language is an ever-changing, flowing beast that sometimes needs to be prodded and poked, and sometimes needs to be left alone to take its own course.|
|Are often very angry people, with an inflated sense of entitlement.||Are usually a very happy, friendly bunch who support each other and their clients.|
If you want confidential, professional advice on your writing, an editor is a smart choice.
If you want that final look over to make sure everything is present and correct, a proofreader will give you peace of mind.
Editors and proofreaders are professionally trained and there will be one out there who is your perfect fit. Don’t be afraid to ask for their background and training, and don’t be embarrassed to talk to more than one editorial professional.
Editors are there to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of language.
The Grammar Police are hobbyists with a penchant for pedantry.
In the last couple of articles we’ve concentrated on why storytelling is good for your business.
But it’s no good if you waffle so much that your customers lose the plot.
Now, ok, I’ll admit I have a tendency to waffle occasionally.
But that’s because I tend to write as I talk, and I’m a terrible waffler (that’s SO a thing, I could be the waffliest waffler in the north).
However, writing for yourself is notoriously difficult, and I am no exception, but when I write for clients I know to rein in the waffle and write concisely and simply.
Simplifying your writing isn’t dumbing down, it’s allowing the largest number of people possible to read your words.
So how do you tell a business story, and still keep things simple?
Despite what you may think, fancy words do not a storyteller make. Fancy words can alienate your customers.
If your customers have to think about what a word means, they won’t hang around.
● ● ●
They don’t want to feel stupid, and you don’t want them to feel stupid. Stick to the non-flowery, easily understood language that will convey your message, without sounding like you’ve swallowed a dictionary.
Shelby was absolutely ravenous, but the options at the buffet were simply horrific, she chose a monstrosity of a quiche and consumed it half-heartedly.
can become this:
Shelby was hungry but didn’t like the buffet, so she reluctantly chose the flan.
This leads on from the last point.
Unless you’re writing for your peers who really need to have jargon scattered all over the place, it’s best to just get rid of it.
● ● ●
Your customers don’t want to wade through paragraph after paragraph of ‘special’ words. There’s a reason the Oxford Dictionary gives the word ‘jargon’ as ‘a form of language regarded as barbarous, debased, or hybrid.’
Getting rid of jargon can be a great way to simplify your writing.
Dave took out his Meisterstück Le Petit Prince Solitaire Doué LeGrand and taking his 75% post-consumer Fourdrinier-produced block proceeded to draft a relinquishment of professional vocation.
can become this:
Dave wrote his resignation letter.
Get rid of the waffle. When you’re passionate about your business or your product it’s easy to go on and on and on …
● ● ●
As heartbreaking as it is, your clients probably don’t want to know about every tiny detail. Even when you’re using storytelling as a means of communication.
Jemima first had the idea for the business while cooking a meal for her family. She’d just been to the supermarket and they didn’t have any nice jam, so she went to the upmarket delicatessen and found that theirs was way too expensive and had loads of fancy ingredients, some of which she’d never heard of. Then, when she was cooking she realised that she had way too many pieces of papaya and mango (her husband didn’t like mango at the time). Rather than try to figure out whether to bin them or not (she really doesn’t like waste), Jemima realised that with the left-over unrefined sugar in the pantry, she could make her own jam – she remembered her grandmother giving her a recipe for exotic fruit spread when she was a teenager. That was when the idea for Jemima’s Jolly Jam came about.
can become this:
The idea for Jemima’s Jolly Jam came about when Jemima realised she could make simple, delicious homemade jam using her grandmother’s recipe.
When you’re writing for your business, the full-stop is your friend.
Don’t have one long sentence when it can be broken down into a number of concise, easy to read sentences.
● ● ●
I’ve had to contend with sentences that James Joyce would be proud of. I think my current high point was a sentence of around 360 words. Think of your clients. Don’t do it.
When Philip was sitting at his computer and it wouldn’t start (it had broken), he was wondering whether or not to hit it with a hammer or turn it off and on again, he did that anyway and it didn’t work, so he decided to go for a coffee, as coffee solves all problems. He went to the coffee machine, that was broken too, oh my goodness what a day this had become, so he chose the next best thing – doughnuts. He then had to decide whether to go for the ring doughnut, the jam doughnut or one of the fancy doughnuts on offer that had sumptuous fillings and sprinkles of edible glitter on top. When he found that our establishment also serves great coffee he knew that he had found his tribe. Thanks to his computer breaking he was about to find his happy place, a place that he would come to time and time again, and not just when his computer decided to break down. He was also happy when he realised that Daphne’s Doughnuts welcomes freelancers with a two for one coffee offer, free WiFi and a plug for your laptop.
can become this:
When Philip’s computer broke, his quest for coffee led him to Daphne’s Doughnuts. He had trouble deciding from our vast doughnut menu. But he knew he had found his tribe when he saw that we serve great coffee. He was about to find his happy place. Daphne’s Doughnuts welcomes freelancers with a two for one coffee offer, free WiFi and a plug for your laptop.
Simplifying your message doesn’t need to be just simplifying your writing.
Make sure your page, whether it’s a web page or a printed one, isn’t fussy.
● Use plenty of white space
● Use a font that’s easy to read
● Stick to only a few colours
● Use subheadings
● Use a decent line space – don’t have cluttered blocks of text.
You’ll notice that this blog has broken a few of the rules mentioned here ... kind of proves the point, don’t you think?
Keep it relevant
The easiest way to simplify your writing is to keep it relevant and to keep it easy to read. If I doubt, leave it out.
Read everything out loud. If you stumble, so will your readers.
If you don’t feel confident, and want some help simplifying your writing, you can contact me directly to chat about how we can help your business.
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