Anonymity And The Copy Editor: Is It Time To Be Recognised?

hidden, anonymous, sculpture, book, editor, copy editor

As an editor I often like to remain anonymous.

As a copy editor I feel that I’m just polishing the author’s intentions and getting their ‘real’ story out there. We all know what it’s like to be tongue-tied, that feeling that you know what you want to say but you just can’t get it out. That’s what I’m helping with. As a copy editor I know the constructions, the words and the layout. I know how to help. As that’s my job I usually don’t see the need for acknowledgement in a book I’ve worked on.

Sometimes this is because I feel I’ve done my job, been of help to a lovely author or publisher, and I prefer the anonymity.

Sometimes it’s because so little had to be done to the text that I feel an acknowledgement isn’t necessary.

Sometimes it’s because the book isn’t in my normal scope so professionally I don’t need the acknowledgement (it might dilute my public professional goals).

Sometimes, very rarely, it’s because the job was a nightmare and I don’t want to be acknowledged for fear it will impact negatively on my professional standing. Examples are when the budget or timescale was so tight that only triage editing was possible and left behind a lot that I felt needed addressing. Or perhaps the author decided to ignore my suggestions. Or even added stuff to the final edited version after my input was finished (oh yes, it happens). It’s very easy for an editor to be ignored and yet have their name on a final product that falls way beyond their normal standard.

And yet, most of the time, acknowledgements are not needed because I’m an editor, that’s my job and as long as I have done a job well I am happy with my lot.

anonymous copy editor

But I’m beginning to wonder if the anonymity of editors is becoming a problem.

I’ve seen this with my base profession. I trained as a librarian and information specialist. I spent my professional working life as an academic librarian explaining to people that no, I didn’t just stamp books. A librarian is so much more: we train; we handle budgets; we collate, curate and keep vast collections; we deal with the public, students and academics; we disseminate information; we are academics, counsellors, psychologists, analysts, shopkeepers, managers, lifelong learners and gatekeepers of the world’s knowledge. No, we don’t just stamp books.

And yet, librarians are a dying breed. Due to their anonymous nature, and the belief that now the world has Google anyone can be an information professional, librarians are no longer seen as vital. Library assistants are now running libraries. The librarian as we know it is endangered, as are the libraries they once ran and cherished.

library, books, reading room

And the same thing could soon be happening to editors. Because many of us don’t feel the need for acknowledgement, either through author acks or being noted for our role somewhere in the book, the world is beginning to forget why we exist.

The market is saturated with books. How many of those publications are self-published without editorial help? We’ll never know because copy editors are barely mentioned. The editor thanked profusely by the author in a traditionally published book is usually the publication editor who steers the project, the copy editor remains largely invisible.

I decided to pick ten random books from my shelf, to see if I was perhaps barking up the wrong tree. They are a mix of factual non-fiction, biography and fiction:

Two had no acknowledgements at all.

One praised an editor for meticulous and insightful editing.

One, a massive historical tome, mentions everyone except the editor and indexer, both of whom must have worked their fingers to the bone.

In one the proofreader was thanked, but not the copy editor.

A design book gave thanks to designers but not the editorial staff.

One thanked the publishing team as a whole, so that’s ok.

The last three gave no mention of the editorial staff at all.

 

That’s 1/10 giving acknowledgement to the editor, two if we’re feeling generous.

blank books on a shelf

 

But how much of that is down to the copy editor saying no to being acknowledged, or not having any relationship with the author at all? And is it really cause for concern? Are book acknowledgements that important anyway?

Just like the internet quietly brought down librarians, it is potentially doing the same for copy editors. I’ve come across conversations where self-publishing authors have said they don’t need to pay for editorial help when they have Hemmingway, Grammarly and spellchecks to do the job for them. Don’t get me wrong, these are wonderfully useful, but you can’t slavishly follow them, and using them instead of a professionally trained human editor is asking for trouble.

So we come back to anonymity, and we have to ask ourselves these questions:

Are copy editors anonymous because

  1. they really don’t need to be acknowledged,
  2. they don’t feel the need to be acknowledged,
  3. they’re rarely asked if they want to be acknowledged,
  4. they don’t want to be acknowledged,
  5. acknowledgements are personal for the author?

Should editors:

  1. make acknowledgement part of their contracts,
  2. broach the subject of acknowledgement with each new job,
  3. ask to be acknowledged,
  4. ask not to be acknowledged,
  5. expect to be acknowledged.

shy editor

And how should we move forward as professionals doing a job where many of us prefer to stay in the background?

I expect that as time goes by, if we are to survive as a valued profession, we need to uphold professional attitudes, become ambassadors for plain, good quality written language and champion excellence wherever possible.

We may need to step out of the shadows and shout about what we do and why it is valuable before, like librarians, we are sidelined and people settle for ‘good enough’.

 

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments whether you’re an author or editor, let’s get the dialogue started.

What I Learned From My Creative Writing Courses

blank notebook, writing, editing, creative writing

As an editor I’m trained to edit. I can take an author’s book and polish it. I can address the grammar, spelling and flow along with all the other editory type things that us editors do. I can tell an author what’s working and what isn’t and I can take a jargon filled piece of writing and make it readable.

I love my job.

But I love writing too.

That’s why three years ago I embarked on a creative writing course. It wasn’t to write the kind of stuff I already write (non-fiction writing for clients), it was to write creatively. I wanted to write stories. But I also knew it would help with my day job – an editor who writes can have more empathy with an author than one who doesn’t.

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Just Do It

That first year I took a free FutureLearn course produced by the Open University. The course leader was (and still is) Derek Neale, who also wrote and edited the course books for the ‘real’ OU courses. It’s an eight-week course so I thought I’d give it a go. It was scary – I knew other people might read my stories, but I never actually realised just what that meant. Strangers reading something you’ve written with an eye to picking it apart, then telling you just what they thought. Urgh!

Despite my reservations (I would be rubbish, I wouldn’t write anything decent, I’d cry a lot) I thoroughly enjoyed it and realised that I should have done it years ago. I started in October and as soon as the course finished I signed up for the OU A215 Creative Writing course. I then spent the next six months wondering what I’d signed up for.

 laptop, writing, editing, creative writing

Then Do Some More

When October 2015 came around I received my course books, took one look at the size of them and the timetable and realised that I had a busy year ahead of me. I had to fit the module around work and my theatre commitments. Let’s just say that since then I haven’t had a spare moment!

But the course was a joy. I was lucky to be part of a very active forum (where a group of students bounce off each other and comment on each other’s work) and had an active tutor. As another academic year went by I honed my writing skills and became less scared of what others thought. I gained a thick skin and began to appreciate every critique and observation. I also gained a distinction at the end of it.

And so I signed up for the Advanced Creative Writing course A363.

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Keep Calm and Carry On

When October 2016 came around I received my course books and again realised I was going to be busy. Very busy. And again I loved every minute of it. I have spent the last eight months with stories in my head and characters vying for attention. I wrote stories and two plays (ok, one was only ten minutes and the last one is a 30 minutes one-act play, but they are still plays). My ten minute play may be extended in the future as I can’t get it out of my head.

pencils, writing, write

Never Stop Writing

After three years I have reached the end of my creative writing courses. I’m waiting for my final results (another nail-biting month to go before I get them) but I’m confident of a decent mark and I’m already missing the camaraderie and creativity. I have to continue. I must. So I’m saving up to do the Creative Writing MA. There are a few to choose from (I have my eye on a Crime Writing and Forensic Investigation MLitt from Dundee, but there seems to be no distance learning option) but rather than go down the student loan option I want to have some cash behind me before I start.

For now I have to go in another direction, but my goal, after years of denying it, is to get that MA and write creatively and well. And the last three years have helped me professionally. I have learnt so much that now I not only see things from an editor’s perspective, I see things as an author.

So with both my editor and author hats on I thought I’d share with you what I have learned over those last, wonderful three years.

coffee, notebook, notepad, writing

What I Learned From My Creative Writing Courses:

 

One pair of eyes is never enough.

Just as you can’t edit your own work, your writing will benefit from being read by more than one person. The OU course relies heavily on peer review, and the more of us that commented on each other’s work, the better our work became. Different people pick up on different things. One person may be particularly good at picking up on grammar and spelling mistakes, while another may be better at the big picture.

That’s why I always recommend that you get more than one person to look at your book. Before you hire an editor, get as many people as possible to read it. Get their honest feedback. Listen to what they say and either take or leave their comments, but take on board what they tell you. That way when you approach your editor you know that your book already works (of course the editor will pick up on things as that’s what we’re trained for, but the less work we have to do, the cheaper your edit will be).

pen and paper icon

Writing in different genres requires different skills.

I can’t write poetry, well, not very well. I can practice and I’ll get better but it doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. I can, however, write short stories, plays and screenplays. I can also write non-fiction, but that involves different brain cells.

Just because you are great at one type of writing, don’t expect it all to come easily. Be honest with yourself. If you find that you are slogging over your writing, take a step back and ask yourself why. Do you need more training? Do you need someone to critique your work and really delve deep into where the problems lie? Should you change direction? As a writer being honest with yourself is the first step towards finding what you are really, really good at.

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You have to listen to feedback and not take it personally.

One of the most gut-wrenching things is to have others read your work. You are laying your soul bare. You’ve put hours of work into your writing and it becomes personal, it shows you for who you are. You ARE your work.

But it’s essential that you listen to any feedback that you are given. Don’t take things personally. The reader isn’t attacking you or your work by pointing out where it could be better. They’re just being honest.

As a writer I kind of dread the feedback, but know it’s essential and worth it all in the end. As an editor I try to be kind in my comments. I know that with my writing I value a straightforward, non-emotional, kind approach to feedback, and that’s how I try to give it when working. I think of how I would feel if I got the comments back that I give out.

When you get feedback, try to distance yourself from it. Look at the words and not the hours of hard work. Look at the final result that is getting nearer. Always keep in mind the finished product and the readers you hope to delight.

pen and paper icon

Sometimes you have to start again.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work. It’s not because you’ve failed, it’s just that it doesn’t, and will never, work. Even the best laid plans sometimes come unstuck.

That’s why our notebooks are full of half-formed ideas.

Accept the failed starts, put them away, perhaps for another time, and start again. It can be a lot less painful than plodding on just for the sake of it. If you think it doesn’t work, it probably doesn’t. If you aren’t sure ask someone you can trust.

stack of documents, books, writing

As a professional editor I knew these things already, but as a writer I now feel them more than ever. I can sympathise and empathise with an author on their own level. I think that it’s made me a kinder editor in that I’ve felt what the authors have felt, and can approach their writing from both sides.

But what I have really learned from my OU creative writing courses is that once you start writing you can’t stop. You see the world with new eyes and every drop of rain or missed bus is a new story waiting to unfold.

 

If you are an author looking for an editor who knows what it’s like to write, get in touch. Your book deserves a little TLC before you send it out into the world.

 

35 Easy Keyboard Shortcuts To Improve Your Workflow In Word

cogs, clock, productivity

There’s a lot of talk among editors and wordy wordsmiths about using macros to help efficiency when you’re working. Truth be told, macros can be scary and take a bit of getting used to.

But there are clever little tricks that can help you become more efficient without having to go through the learning curve of macros and the swearing that can sometimes entail. Believe me, when playing with macros I have learnt a few new swearwords.

Now, Word’s ribbon feature is a godsend for quickly toggling between page layout, the document basics, tables etc. but it’s quicker if you don’t have to reach for your mouse or the trackpad.

I’ll bet a lot of you are using many of these already. On the other hand, I do know there are heaps of people that don’t know about these shortcuts and don’t use them on a regular basis.

So, following on from how to get your document ready for your editor and my guide for using styles in Word, here is my guide to keyboard shortcuts in Word.

Disclaimer: I’m one of those poor people who don’t have a Mac, so if you are one of the privileged this may not work for you.

computer keyboard

 

Here, for your delight and delectation 35 easy keyboard shortcuts to improve your workflow In Word.

 

New / Open Document

If you already have Word open, these can save a little time.

Ctrl+N                  (new)

Ctrl+O                 (open)

 

Undo and Redo

Handy as anything. Yes, there’s a button you can click on the ribbon, but why bother when this is quick as a quick thing.

Ctrl+Z                  (undo)

Ctrl+Y                  (re-do)

 

Italic, Bold, Underline, All Caps, Highlight

I use these ALL THE TIME. For the first four, use them as toggles – hit the combination once to make the change, hit it again to undo. If you highlight then change your mind use Ctrl+Z to undo.

Crtl+I                   (italic)

Crtl+B                  (bold)

Ctrl+U                  (underline)

Ctrl+Shift+A        (all caps)

Ctrl+alt+H           (highlight)

 

Add a Bullet Point

Use this to add a bullet point without having to go to the ribbon

Ctrl+Shift+L        (bullet point)

 

Insert a Hyperlink

When you need to add a hyperlink to your document, select the word and use this shortcut.

Ctrl+K                  (insert hyperlink)

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Fonts

Make your font bigger, add superscript / subscript or open the Font box using these.

Ctrl+>                  (make your font bigger in increments)

Ctrl+<                  (make your font smaller in increments)

Ctrl+=                  (make subscript  – that’s Control plus the equal sign. When your + and = signs are on the same key it can screw with your mind a little if you overthink it!)

Ctrl+shift++        (make superscript)

Ctrl+D                  (open font box)

 

Quick Line Spacing

Select the text then:

Ctrl+1                  (makes line spacing 1.0)

Crtl+2                  (makes line spacing 2.0)

Ctrl+5                  (makes line spacing 1.5)

 

Go to Beginning / End of a Document

Ctrl+home          (go to the beginning)

Ctrl+end              (go to the end of the document)

 

Insert Current Time / Date

Handy for when you need to quickly add time or date to your document.

Shift+Alt+D         (date)

Shift+Alt+T         (time)

 

Select and Select All

I use Select All more than the first two, but they’re useful if you want to select sections of text.

Ctrl+Shift+right arrow     (selects each word, one at a time moving right)

Ctrl+Shift+left arrow       (selects each word, one at a time moving left)

Ctrl+Shift+up arrow        (selects each paragraph, one at a time moving up)

Ctrl+Shift+down arrow   (selects each paragraph, one at a time moving down)

Ctrl+A                                (select all)

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Cut, Copy and Paste

I use these on every job. These shortcuts are real time-savers.

Ctrl+X                  (cut)

Ctrl+C                  (copy)

Ctrl+V                  (paste)

 

Find and Replace

Again, something I use on a regular basis. When you’re looking for a word in the document, or need to replace one word or phrase for another, this is a lot quicker than reaching for the trackpad.

Ctrl+F                  (find)

Ctrl+H                  (replace)

 

Save and Print

Ctrl+S                                 (save)

Ctrl+P                                (opens print dialogue box)

 

 

So, there you go. Thirty-five Word keyboard shortcuts that will save you time and have you working like a professional wordsmith in no time.

If you’d like to help me save for a Mac so I can see if these things work on one, why not hire me to copyedit or copywrite for you. Email me and we can talk over your wordy requirements.