What to Expect from the Editorial Process

copy editor looking at a book

 

You’ve written your book (or your business documentation), done all your groundwork, sorted out your budget and found an editor you’d like to work with.

So what happens next? What can you expect from working with an editor?

question mark

Every editor is different. Just as there are different types of editing, there are different ways of approaching an edit, but generally the process will remain the same.

Let’s break it down into stages …

  1. You’ve approached your editor, made sure your manuscript is ready, given them a sample of your work, a budget has been agreed and the type of editing has been agreed upon.
  2. Next you will have to book your work into their schedule. Never expect that as soon as you are ready to go your editor will have space for you. Depending on the scope of the edit you may have to wait a while. Generally, editors like to know that they have work scheduled, so many will have booked work a few months in advance. Expect to wait a couple of weeks to a couple of months before they can start work on your manuscript. If they work in a highly specialised field you may have to wait longer. Don’t see this as a bad thing – once you’ve found an editor who you feel you can work with, the wait will be worth it.

    stopwatch

  3. Send all your relevant details. This includes not only the manuscript that the editor will be working on, but your preferences for style. If you are writing for a company send the editor your company’s style guide. If you are an author let the editor know if you have been using a style guide such as New Hart’s Rules or the Chicago Manual of Style, and which dictionary you prefer. If you have made your own style guide too, let your editor know. You’ll be working together to make your writing the best it can be, collaboration is key – don’t expect your editor to be a mind reader.
  4. Let the editor do their job. Once your slot has come around you may be contacted by your editor who will let you know that work will be starting. Now is the time to sit back and let them get on with it. Do not hassle them with ‘oh, by the way …’ or ‘can you just …’ or ‘when will you send …’ or ‘have you finished yet’. Editing is both an art and a science. It takes time and concentration. If your editor has questions that are important to the flow of the job they will contact you. Just sit back and wait. Patience is a virtue.

    copy editor

  5. Review the document. If you’ve spoken to your editor you should know how they work on your manuscript and how many passes or rounds of editing are involved. The terminology can be loose, but generally a pass means how many times your editor has gone through your manuscript, a round can mean how many times it goes between editor and author. For example, when I edit your work I will generally carry out two passes in one round of editing. In this example my first pass will be to look through your document for obvious layout errors, spelling mistakes, stylistic errors etc. (a fairly mechanical process). My second pass will be where the majority of work is carried out: the nitty gritty editorial process using Word’s tracked changes. The document will then be returned to you for review and any queries and comments will be addressed. That round of editing is then complete. Any further rounds will require payment as a new edit.

    big tick, correct
    When you get your document back for review take your time to read it through and address any comments from the editor. You may want to just go through it yourself, thank the editor for their time and move on, or you might want to ask the editor a few questions. This is the time to do it. You are perfectly within your rights to reject any changes that have been made, but you must take into account that rejecting one change may impact on the sentence and those around it. If you really don’t like, or understand, the change this is your chance to talk it through. Remember that an editor is a trained professional, but this is your document and you must feel comfortable with the edit.

    next step in the process

  1. Move onto the next stage of your publishing process. Once you’ve reviewed the edit, and you’re happy that the document is ready, it’s now time to either move on or add another round of editing. Some people will go back and rewrite after an edit, focusing on the editors comments, while others will accept all the changes and feel that the job is done. It all depends on the type of edit carried out – a developmental edit is one at the beginning of the process, whereas after a copy-edit you should be ready for the final stages of publishing. When you’re happy, it’s time to get your manuscript ready for publication and hire a proofreader for that final look-over.

So, you see, the editorial process isn’t at all mysterious. The main thing to remember is to talk with your editor, communicate well and don’t take comments personally. It’s very easy to get protective of your work, but trust your editor, they want what’s best for you and your work.

If you would like to work with me, contact me and we can talk through your project.

Copy Editors Matter

newspaper editors

Yesterday copy editors on Twitter came out in solidarity with their colleagues in the New York Times.

The paper is reported to be shifting to be more reporter focussed and is cutting down on the number of copy editors in the team from over 100 to around 50. And expecting the same level of accuracy in its written material.

As you would expect there is outrage, upset and a whole load of copy editors soon to be out of jobs. At a time when you would expect that accuracy would be foremost in the minds of the media.

I don’t work there so can’t comment other than it seems to be the state of things to come.

To give them their due, the New York Times actually reported on the walk-out.

If you want to see the Twitter thread go and search for #whyeditors

newspaper editor

I’d like to say I was shocked when I heard about the restructuring, but I wasn’t. It seems to be the way things are going at the moment. We are living in a world that increasingly wants things NOW and to hell with factual accuracy, readability and good plain English.

Go online and you will find ‘news reports’ from a large variety of providers that have obviously been typed up quickly and posted without any kind of editing or proofreading. Words are missing, grammar, spelling and punctuation is woefully bad and accuracy gives way to the immediate gratification of the readers. It’s the same with printed matter.

Books, magazines, newspapers, company information … wherever you find shortcuts you will find errors. Errors that can be easily and quickly remedied by hiring a copy editor.

‘It’s ok, we’ve used Hemmingway, Grammarly, Word spell check, given it to our English teacher/friend/neighbour/dog to proofread’, they’ll say.

‘No-one notices/cares/has the time or money or the inclination’, they’ll mutter.

But you know what?

People do notice and do care, and those automated helpers will only take you so far.

Computers cannot take the place of a real human being, no matter what the tech bods will have you think.

Copy editors:

  • Catch bias
  • Catch blindspots
  • Catch politically incorrect language
  • Catch potential libel
  • Catch potential offensive language
  • Catch copyright problems
  • See what you wrote, not what you thought you wrote
  • See what the readers see, not what you see
  • See holes in your argument
  • See padding in your prose
  • Fix errors in grammar
  • Fix errors in punctuation
  • Fix errors in format
  • Fix errors in style
  • Fix errors in voice
  • Spot missing information
  • Spot mislabelled information
  • Spot wrong information
  • Find repetition
  • Find overused phrases
  • Find ambiguity
  • Check readability
  • Check facts
  • Check links
  • Uphold quality
  • Uphold credibility
  • Uphold standards
  • Are invisible
  • Are invaluable
  • Save your ass more times than you realise

So you see, while editors tend to remain invisible, once they are gone you will notice.

All those errors will creep in, the standard of material will hit rock bottom and your credibility and accuracy will suffer.

If you want to remain ahead of the game, stand out above the crowd and be seen as having a quality product you really cannot ignore the role of the copy editor and the value they bring to your business.

why editors matter

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There’s been a lot of interest in this image, so I’ve made it available over on my Redbubble site.

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.