An American Editor

June 17, 2019

On the Basics: Where Do We Go for Our Own Editing Support?

Filed under: On the Basics — An American Editor @ 9:32 am
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By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, AAE Owner and Editor-in-Chief

As often happens, I’ve been inspired by a Facebook post to write a column here. This time, someone asked where editors who are also writers find editors for their writing work. Here’s how I responded:

“Since I’ve been writing, editing and proofreading professionally for a looonnnng time, I’m lucky to have a network of colleagues and friends whom I can trust to look at my stuff if needed. If none of my go-to people are available, I give preference to anyone who has attended a Communication Central ‘Be a Better Freelancer’® conference.
“I would never bother with a ‘nameless editing site’ or outlets like Upwork. If I didn’t know anyone to ask, I’d go to the EFA, NAIWE, ACES, EAC, SfEP, etc., to look for someone whose skills and background seem compatible.”

As a much-published writer, I get edited by some of my clients, so I know what it feels like to be on that end of the relationship or process. As a freelance editor and proofreader, I work on material by clients, some of whom are more nervous about being edited than others (although I’ve rarely had to deal with outright outrage). As the owner and editor-in-chief of the An American Editor blog, I edit colleagues regularly (and I hope sensitively).

As we all know, editing can be a delicate dance: We have to learn how to balance fixing obvious and more-subtle errors with retaining the author’s voice and not upsetting an author by the level or volume of changes we suggest. We have to learn how to relay our substantive changes with authority and tact — not always easy to do simultaneously. We have to be able to explain or defend some of our changes, which can be a challenge when there’s something we know is wrong but we can’t quote a specific rule to support what we think the author should do.

Being professional editors ourselves makes the search for our own editors both more challenging and more interesting. We’re likely to be more demanding about the skills and experience another editor brings to the process, and we might be more difficult to work for. Finding and working with editors on our own material can make us better at both writing and editing by reminding us of the value of that outside set of eyes on our work, and showing us where our writing needs help. We also might be grateful to learn how to make our own writing better, stronger, livelier …

As editors, we know how the process works. Some of us may have had challenging experiences with clients, so we know how not to behave on that side of the equation.

Steps in the process

The first step is to accept that everyone needs an editor (or at least a proofreader). No matter how experienced any of us might be, we can’t see our own writing with total objectivity. We know what we meant to say and often see that intent, rather than how a phrase, passage or entire article might come across to readers. We even miss clear-cut typos in our own work, especially if we’ve turned off spellchecker to enhance the writing flow or don’t use resources like PerfectIt or various Editorium tools to automate some of the process.

We have to put our egos aside so we can focus on what I see as the ultimate goal of editing: making the work better.

The next step is to define what we need or want from a colleague’s editing services, and whether we can pay for their help.

With all that said, where do we go (channeling the Chief Blue Meanie’s plaintive query to his sidekick Max in “Yellow Submarine”!)?

As I said in my Facebook post, I can’t see myself using online sources like freelance.com, Upwork, Reedsy, Craigslist, etc., to find an editor for my own writing. I know that many colleagues use such sites to find projects and find them worthwhile, but I turn to other channels. I start by looking among my colleagues for someone who has editing experience, has demonstrated strong knowledge of usage and all its aspects, follows the rules of groups or lists that we belong to, and seems as they would be sensitive to an author’s tender ego or at least knows how to relay suggested edits tactfully. In other words, I probably look for someone a lot like myself. We probably all would do that.

Having a colleague edit my writing work is usually a simple matter of contacting someone and saying, “Do you have time to look something over for me?” For those here who don’t have the great good fortune of a network like mine, here are a few tips.

  • Edit yourself — set your manuscript aside for a day or two, and then go through it one more time to make sure it’s as clean and complete as possible. Try to view it through a reader’s eye to find clunky passages, danglers, missing facts, consistent style (especially with character names!), and any other elements you would look for in a client’s material.
  • Put together a brief description of your manuscript or project — genre, length in number of words, preferred style, planned outlet if known, deadline, etc.; level of editing you want to receive; budget. (If you’re low on funds, think of ways you might be able to swap services, but remember how you feel when a prospective client wants Cadillac editing for go-cart prices.)
  • Put your ego in your pocket.
  • Go to reliable sources: the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, Editorial Freelancers Association, American Copy Editors Society, American Medical Writers Association, Society for Technical Communication, Society of Editors and Proofreaders, Editors Canada, freelance sections of specialty groups like the Society of Professional Journalists or National Association of Science Writers, etc.
  • Post or list your project with one of these professional associations, or identify a few people through their directories who look like a good match and contact them directly.
  • Remember to let those you don’t choose to work with know that you’ve found someone.
  • Go for it!

If you’ve had someone edit your writing work, how did it go? And are there resources I’ve overlooked that colleagues would find useful for this?

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