Over the years, I have been asked by “young” editors (by which I mean editors new to the profession or who have only a few years of experience) about how I approach an editing project. Also over the years I have discussed with colleagues how they approach a project. What I have learned is that as our experience grows and as we adapt to the types of projects we edit, each editor creates his or her own methodology. But that is an unsatisfactory response to the question. Consequently, with this essay I begin a series of essays that discuss how I approach an editing project — that is, my methodology.
As I am sure you can guess, much of my methodology is wrapped up in making as much use of methods focused on efficiency and productivity as possible, which in my case means a large reliance on my EditTools set of macros (for those of you who are unfamiliar with EditTools, you can learn about the macros that make up the package by visiting the wordsnSync website) and my online stylesheet (see Working Effectively Online V — Stylesheets [note: access to my online stylesheet is no longer available to the general reader]). I also rely on parts of The Editorium’s Editor’s Toolkit Plus 2014, primarily ListFixer and NoteStripper.
It is also important to keep in mind the types of projects I work on. Most of my projects are large medical books, ranging in size from 1500 to 20,000+ manuscript pages. This is important information because what works for nonfiction doesn’t necessarily translate well — in terms of efficiency or productivity — for fiction editing. As you read about my methodology, do not dismiss what I do by thinking it won’t work for you; instead, think about how it can be adapted to work for you — and, more importantly, whether it should be adopted and/or adapted by you for your editorial business.
Recreating the Wheel
No matter what type of manuscript you edit, the objective is (should be) to edit profitably. Profitable editing is possible only when we can make use of existing tools and adapt them to our needs. It makes no sense to reinvent the wheel with each project and it makes no sense to dismiss tools that others have created because the tools were created to work in a different environment. What does make sense is to create the wheel once and reuse it repeatedly and to take already-created tools and adapt them to what we do.
A good example is marketing. Smart marketers make note of what ads are the most effective at pushing a product or business and then think about how such ad can be adapted to promote their business or product. Years ago, when I was planning marketing campaigns for my editorial business, I would indirectly, as part of a conversation, ask clients (which included potential clients) about ads I had seen and thought effective. A positive response from clients would have me think about how to adapt the positively viewed ad for my business.
Looking at Tools
Which brings to mind another point. A common failing among editors is to look at a package of tools, decide that of all the tools in the package the editor can only make regular use of one or two of the tools, and thus the editor decides that the package is not worth buying. This, however, is faulty thinking.
In the early days of my editing career, I, too, thought like that. Then I kept seeing the same types of problems popping up in many of the manuscripts I worked on and it dawned on me that a package of tools I had dismissed had a tool in it that could solve some of these repeating problems in seconds. I realized that the package would pay for itself after just a very few uses of the one or two macros that I could use (thinking that the other macros had no value for me), and thereafter each time I used one of the macros, the package was making me a profit. I had to address the problems whether I used the package or not; the difference was the amount of time and effort I needed to solve the same problems with each new manuscript. By not using the package, I was reinventing the wheel for each project; by buying the package, I created the wheel once and reused it.
I also discovered something else. That tools I had dismissed as not usable in my business because of how I worked needed to be relooked at. Usually I would find that with a little tweaking in how I worked additional tools in the package would save me time and make me money. The lesson I learned was that the stumbling block may be how I work, not the package, and that sometimes it makes sense to modify my methods, that the “tool” knows better than me. By not using the package, I was not learning to tweak my methodology to make my business more profitable.
Artisan vs. Businessperson
Editors like to view themselves as more artisans than businesspersons. There is nothing wrong with such a perspective as long as one does not forget that editing is a business and must be approached as a business. The artisanship is the bonus we get for having a smooth-running business. We have discussed in multiple essays the ideas of being businesslike and profitability (see, e.g., The Commandments: Thou Shall be Profitable; The Twin Pillars of Editing; The Business of Editing: A Fifth Fundamental Business Mistake That Editors Make; and The Business of Editing: The Profitability Difficulty; for additional essays, search An American Editor’s archives), so I won’t rehash the idea again other than to say that if you are not profitable, you will find it difficult to be able to afford the artisanship aspects of editing — and the key to profitability is to reuse, not recreate.
Back to the Basics
The other important point to note about my business is that, with rare exception, I work only with publishers (either directly or indirectly through packagers); that is, I do not work directly with authors. The importance of this point is that publishers generally have set rules they expect to be followed by the editor. For example, I rarely have to ask whether it should be one to nine or 1 to 9 or whether it should be antiinflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Publishers follow established style guides, like the AMA Manual of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style, and if they deviate from the manuals, they do so in written form that is applied across a particular line. Working with publishers brings a high degree of consistency (although a packager can have its own additional twists) to the “mechanical” aspects of what editors do, something that is hard to achieve when working directly with authors on a one-off project.
Coming Up Next
With these caveats in mind, The Business of Editing: The AAE Copyediting Roadmap II will begin the discussion of how I approach to a manuscript.
(For an alternative approach to copyediting, watch Paul Beverly’s video “Book Editing Using Macros.” Paul’s approach is also macro reliant, but, I think, less efficient. Paul makes his macros available in his free book Macros for Editors.)
Richard Adin, An American Editor