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.

© An American Editor. Content may not be recirculated, republished or otherwise used without both the prior permission of the publisher and full credit to the author of a given post and the An American Editor blog, including a live link to the post being referenced. Thank you for respecting our rights to and ownership of our work.

5 Comments »

  1. Good points here, and good reminders. Reading of your experiences, coming up through the ranks, so to speak, made me think that you must be my twin! Oh, yes, AB Dick machines and LetraSet!

    I’ve been working to build my skills and services in both copywriting and copyediting. A year ago, I took an online course in SEO writing, and although I haven’t had much chance to put it to good use so far, I have noticed things that need an SEO-trained eye. A headline that made me laugh a couple of weeks ago, which showed up in one of my Google Alerts, was an announcement that “Camilla & Tony Blair join Order of the Garter and Covid Heroes …” A comma after “Garter” would have denied me this amusement, which prompted a search for the order’s origin – Edward III, almost 700 years ago. I’m sure he had no clue what would transpire, in the name of the order, so many centuries later.

    But this example proves useful to illustrate one more aspect of writing and copywriting – how things are viewed online, something for which there was no training in our nascent years.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Brass Castle Arts — January 24, 2022 @ 10:34 am | Reply

  2. I just realized that I wrote something about this topic last year: https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2021/09/08/on-the-basics-reflecting-on-editing-then-and-now/
    And that one thing I remember about “editing then” with great affection is my red IBM Selectric typewriter, with the changeable type ball. Three whole choices of typeface! Now I’m having flashbacks to writing on a manual typewriter when a typo meant retyping a whole page, adding info meant retyping the whole paper, how exciting it was to get correction tape and Liquid Paper …

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by An American Editor — January 24, 2022 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  3. I’ve always been an optimist and I agree, Ruth, editing is here to stay. I base this view on the fact that each year, more writers come to me with a manuscript for development/editing and/or, eventually, proofreading. More businesses, not-for-profits, and government departments and agencies are hiring freelance editors rather than expecting a stretched member of staff who has ‘decent’ English skills to ‘proofread’ their marketing material, reports, and correspondence. Our profession is always evolving – as you’ve demonstrated in your article – but I don’t believe it’s diminishing. The one thing we need to do is to encourage clients and, even more so, potential clients, to see the value we bring to their writing. Editors are highly educated, skilled and trained. That training is ongoing. An editor never stops learning. So, our rates and pay should be commensurate with that. Raising the profile and value of editors is something I am passionate about.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by fullproofreading — January 24, 2022 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

  4. My biggest concern is the downward pressure on rates. I abandoned working for traditional publishers, save for a few special relationships, because I couldn’t afford to stick with them. I’ve also lost out on many indie and full-time jobs because of being underbid or underpaid.

    Now I work exclusively with indie authors who care and have full wallets, and business entities with same. Taped on the wall above my computer is a quote I copied years ago by a colleague named Andrew Warren, who itemized “How to be a Happy Freelancer”:

    (1) Take only interesting jobs,
    (2) from nice people,
    (3) who have money.
    (4) Compromise, if necessary, only on point (1).

    In recent years I’ve been able to do all of that, and my business is doing fine.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by documania2 — January 24, 2022 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

  5. This is a great post! Thank you. I am right there with you as I began my editing career in the 1980s (had my trusty Corona electric typewriter through my college years in the late 70s). The advancements across these last three decades are astounding and yet, to your final question, editors will always be needed. Whether we are valued as we should be? There’s the question. Those saves we make? Most of the time, no one ever knows. Even authors may never know how many times we saved them from embarrassment. All in a day’s work.

    Like

    Comment by lindaktaylor — February 20, 2022 @ 9:35 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: