An American Editor

January 24, 2022

On the Basics: The Future of Editing

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 9:58 am

© Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

Colleagues both in-house and freelance may have reason to worry about the future of editing, in large part because of social media posts and groups claiming that editing is unnecessary and editors are ripping off authors who don’t need their services. Contributing to our angst is the consolidation of publishing outlets, mostly in newspapers; apparent trend among publishers to cut way back on editing and proofreading; and proliferation of low-budget entities that claim to provide editing services but have not real skills or training in our art.

It does seem scary. But it isn’t the end of the world as we know it. There are still people who aspire to be skilled editors, and there are still clients who value skilled editing.

I talked about this in a presentation for the Colorado chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association recently, and it turned into this post.

For those who say that the editing and proofreading of today’s books is at an all-time low, by the way, I say “Maybe not.” I read a lot of books published in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, and trust me: lots of errors! Of course, publishers in those days didn’t have spellcheck or grammar-checking computer programs to help their authors, copyeditors and proofreaders catch egregious errors — but many of us would say the editors and proofreaders of that era were better than many practicing our art today.

In writing, editing and proofing since high school, I’ve seen a lot of changes. I’ve written articles on a manual typewriter, a very basic electric one and one that could do macros before progressing to using computers to write, edit, proofread and do layout/production; I’ve edited or proofed manuscripts that were written on typewriters, stencils (AB Dick mimeograph machines), typesetting machines and computers — both PC and Apple/Mac. I’ve gone from using dictionaries and encyclopedias for reference resources to using the Internet and all its wonders — and issues — along with various software programs to enhance accuracy and consistency. I’ve worked with clip art and LetraSet stick-on lettering, proportion wheels, grease pencils, Rubylith and rule tape, so I love using InDesign and Quark for layout and production.

I’ve proofed laid-out projects in bluelines, so I enjoy proofing PDFs and the ease and reduced expense of adapting, correcting and updating documents in today’s computer programs and systems.

It’s been fun to see how typewritten résumés have become easily adaptable Word documents and PDFs, sent in moments by e-mail. And physical portfolios evolving into websites. And newspaper ads for editing jobs become e-mail lists, website areas, LinkedIn and other online elements, job-site platforms, etc.

It’s been fascinating to see these changes over the years; it’s a perspective that, of course, no one new to editing now might be aware of or appreciate.

What else has changed? Editing and proofreading on paper, now done in Word with Track Changes or Google Docs with Suggesting mode; slides as transparencies now created in PowerPoint and similar programs; bluelines as PDFs; print dictionaries, encyclopedias and style guides now available online, with Q&A functions and immediate, real-time updates and changes; teamwork and collaboration through Zoom and various online platforms …  

Our work has gotten easier and more efficient in many ways, although the demands on and expectations of editors has increased as well. We also often have to defend our training and skills against online programs that claim to do the work of checking or fixing grammar, spelling, usage and other aspects of the editing process — not all technology is a good thing, or at least, the human factor can’t be removed from the process, no matter what people say — and against platforms that offer supposed editing at bargain-basement rates. 

Many aspects have remained the same: the importance of basic skills in grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, attention to detail, being organized (for myself and my projects or clients).

There are fewer traditional in-house publishing jobs and outlets today — but new opportunities for editors. Self-publishing is expanding at every turn, and those independent authors need us; often more than they realize. It can be a challenge to make someone understand our value, but once an author recognizes that reality, the result can be a wonderful collaboration and relationship that lasts beyond a first book or other project.

The online environment is a boon in many ways. One is that short articles in publications can become longer, in-depth treatments at website and in blogs. Corrections and updates can be made in moments as needed. We can check for plagiarism far more quickly and easily than in the past. And we can work almost anywhere — at home, in coffee shops, on the road, wherever.

I firmly believe that editing is here to stay, and editors will remain needed and relied upon. What do you think?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is the owner and editor-in-chief of An American Editor and an award-winning creator of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide. She created the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues in 2006, now cosponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com) and An American Editor. She can be contacted at Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com or Ruth@writerruth.com.

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