Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Editing - harder than it looks

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I've recently started a little sideline as an editor. I needed a bit of extra cash (a tiny bit - I'm the cheapest editor ever) and figured that since I've worked with several professional in-house editors as my own books were prepared for publication, I'd have the right qualifications and know what I was doing.

How hard could it be?

VERY. That's how. Here are some of the things I have discovered which make editing someone else's work much harder than it looks.

  • It's hard not to worry about upsetting the author. I try to tell them that lots of corrections are the sign of a good editor, not a bad writer, but I'm still ripping to shreds their treasured work and highlighting every single thing that's wrong with it.
  • I don't always understand what the author is trying to say. Sometimes they will pick a word which they've misunderstood, or which doesn't convey what it should, and my job is to suggest the correct word. Often, though, I have no idea what that word should be.
  • I need to know everything. I spend a lot of time on and other reference sites checking and rechecking. Is it "piqued her interest" or "peaked her interest"? "Spitting image" or "splitting image"?
  • Some books really aren't ready for publication, and there's nothing I can do, short of rewriting it, to help. It's tough, but in these cases I send the work back to the author with a gentle reminder that it needs to be the very best they can do, completely polished and checked, before it goes for editing. Writing is a skill, like any other, and we all need to learn it. Some people who send their work to me haven't yet reached the level where they should be putting out their work, and they may have unrealistic expectations of what an editor can do. (Naturally in these cases I don't charge.)
  • Conversely, I'm currently editing a book which is so good that it looks as though I haven't done anything. With barely a correction per page, I'm sure the author will think I didn't put in much effort.
  • If the writer hasn't quite got to grips with one little element of punctuation, like semi-colons (which can be fiendishly tricky little things) or using italics for reported thought, or commas around speech, then much of my editing time is going to be taken up correcting every single misuse of the same problem. It gets boring really fast.
So editing is proving to be harder than I expected, but I can't complain. Despite all these issues, I love editing. I get to read an advance copy of a book, and be part of the process of making it better. I get to work with some really interesting writers, and do what I love most - read books. I might even get a little mention in the acknowledgements, which is almost as exciting as having my name on the cover. Oh, and I even get paid!


  1. I'm such a nerd. I LOVE editing. As long as it's other people's work, that is. I think the reason I like it is because I feel a little bit like a gem miner- I can see that little sparkle of a diamond peeking out amidst the rock and dirt and I get to excavate it and pull it out and polish it until it shines.

    And it makes me feel smart.

    Ha ha.

  2. I had that problem too when I started editing!

    anna @ Deeply Shallow

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