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I’m an editor, AMA

(27 Posts)
Banterlope Fri 01-Nov-19 21:16:42

This is probably been done before but it might be useful for some writers. I’ve been a publishing editor for nearly 26 years – 16 in non-fiction (partworks, newspapers, illustrated kiddie books, magazines, websites) and 10 years on fiction of all sorts. God that makes me feel old. I work for publishing houses, independent authors and websites (i.e. Reedsy).

I am not a frequent visitor to this part of MN, but I see a lot of people asking if editing can be done by the author (in short: no in my experience, and I’ve worked on a ton of self-edited fiction), if editors are worth the cost (obvs I’m biased, but yes!), et cetera. If you have any questions feel free to ask me anything about the process or the working relationship between author and editor and the pitfalls that can/should be avoided, or indeed anything else and I'll see if I can help.

AppropriateAdult Fri 01-Nov-19 22:10:16

Ooh, thank you OP, am very interested in all the ins and outs of your job!

My question - when agents submit new work to you, how much does your relationship with the agent, or their reputation/status within the industry, play a role in your likelihood of signing the project? Does it make a difference, or is everything that lands on your desk treated equally?

everythingcrossed Fri 01-Nov-19 23:00:33

Great thread, thank you. What are the most common mistakes that you see in manuscripts (I don't mean typos, more structural or narrative or stylistic problems)? What is the easiest way to improve a book - cut it by 10%?

SorryAuntLydia Fri 01-Nov-19 23:04:09

What’s the most extensive edit you’ve done and what’s the lightest?

Do you have a minimum quota of changes you have to make?

flashingbeacon Fri 01-Nov-19 23:13:13

Do you ever feel a bit of text is really good, well written and interesting but still needs cut? Would you ever say to an author so they could use it somewhere else?

Also say something is littered with grammar mistakes and typos, do you have to slog through it changing affect to effect and chanting i before e? Or is that an admin type job?

SorryAuntLydia Fri 01-Nov-19 23:18:48

Which famous book/s do you think would be improved by a good edit?
(Personally I’d be looking at anything by Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens)

TildaKauskumholm Fri 01-Nov-19 23:19:17

Why is it that so much published writing is full of errors these days? I am constantly amazed at what I see, errors in grammar, spelling, sentence structure. This is in books, magazines, newspapers, and I presume most publishers employ editors and/or proofreaders - so makes me think that having a decent standard of English is no longer thought necessary. What's your opinion OP?

flashingbeacon Fri 01-Nov-19 23:19:38

Also I’ve always just assumed with an author gets a book back it’s like a teacher giving back an essay, covered in red pen with comments in the margin. That seems unlikely now I’ve written down.

LivingTheThighLife Fri 01-Nov-19 23:19:58

Is it easier to edit fiction or non-fiction? Do they need different skills?

Witchend Fri 01-Nov-19 23:28:55

How honest are you when someone gives something to edit which you know that whatever is done there is no chance a publisher will take it on?

And do you tell them directly, or is it a bit like teacher euphemism?

Banterlope Sat 02-Nov-19 10:32:10

Oh, thanks for the questions. Just have to ferry children around the countryside then I will offer my feeble insights

StartupRepair Sat 02-Nov-19 10:35:36

Agree with pp that many fiction books seem to have escaped editing, with sloppy narratives and obvious typos. Are publishers just cutting back on the editing process?

Banterlope Sat 02-Nov-19 13:41:45

@AppropriateAdult
When agents submit new work to you, how much does your relationship with the agent, or their reputation/status within the industry, play a role in your likelihood of signing the project? Does it make a difference, or is everything that lands on your desk treated equally?

I do very little work for agents. Mostly I have been employed by publishing houses/companies when I lived in London or by authors themselves and/or publishers now that I’m freelance and live in a field. In general I can only do my best so everything is equal. If (and I’m not) hired to edit Donna Tartt or Will Self I would be nervous but still work in the same way. If they don’t like it then they don’t hire me.

@everythingcrossed
Great thread, thank you. What are the most common mistakes that you see in manuscripts (I don't mean typos, more structural or narrative or stylistic problems)? What is the easiest way to improve a book - cut it by 10%?
This is mainly relevant to the fiction titles I work on. Mistakes vary and every author has their idiosyncrasies, but in general I try to cut scenes or characters (possibly chapters) that are a means to an end and don’t add to the overall narrative. Think Chekhov’s Gun or randoms who are introduced to significant fanfare, serve a purpose then disappear forever. Over-writing is common, saggy mid-sections also, failing to maintain tension in particular. With some (not all) authors less is more but I couldn’t say there’s a formula for everyone – show don’t tell is the golden rule: with apologies to Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

In general, avoid clichés like the plague, don’t mix metaphors and avoid the repetitious overuse of synonyms and idioms to repeat yourself over and over again for ever in a way that never ever really ends. Dialogue has to be natural – speak your character’s lines out loud to see if it sounds like something someone (possibly you) would actually say. Don’t be verbose, bombastic and loquacious (repetition alert!). Most importantly: do your research – when I was starting out I had to use microfiche in Westminster Reference Library to look things up but these days there’s no excuse: shotguns are not chambered in .50 calibre, it doesn’t take an hour and a half to fly from Washington to NYC, Pink Flamingos was written by Manfred Mann and not the Kinks (all recent examples).

@SorryAuntLydia
What’s the most extensive edit you’ve done and what’s the lightest?
Some development edits can stray into ghost writing – massive rewrites, which is fine but don’t hire an editor for a copy edit if you really need a development edit (or indeed a ghost writer). Get feedback from people you trust but avoid family and close friends who might not want to say what they really think. If you can, find online communities (MN?) where you can get beta feedback rather than asking your mum/partner. Writing is so very personal – if someone you know/love says “this is shite” things can go downhill quickly. Your first draft is exactly that – add flesh to those bones in your second/third/fourth revision. If you can do that the edit will be lighter.

Do you have a minimum quota of changes you have to make?
No not really, it’s all subjective so as an editor you just do the best you can. What I consider to be a good edit could be ripped apart and reworded by another editor.

@flashingbeacon
Do you ever feel a bit of text is really good, well written and interesting but still needs cut? Would you ever say to an author so they could use it somewhere else?
If I feel it’s well written I won’t make too many changes, even though the beauty of the English language means I could probably recast the para in a hundred different ways. I often move paras around (or suggest a cut/deletion) – Scrivener can be useful for this from the writer’s perspective – but if it’s good I’m more hands-off. Just make sure everything that follows is as good (easy to say). If I come across a really well-crafted sentence or description I will flag it to use on the back-cover blurb. I always leave notes in the margin (in MS Word) to engage with the author and ask for clarification or suggest cuts/expansion where it could benefit a scene/character.

Also say something is littered with grammar mistakes and typos, do you have to slog through it changing affect to effect and chanting i before e? Or is that an admin type job?
At heart I’m a sub-editor so I love this aspect of the job – it’s rule-driven (or style guide dependant) so there’s little room for argument. Complement or compliment is either right or wrong in the context, so I enjoy the slog.

@SorryAuntLydia
Which famous book/s do you think would be improved by a good edit?
(Personally I’d be looking at anything by Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens)
Mmmm not sure really. We have hundreds and hundreds of books in my home but the last thing I want to do after nine hours a day/six days a week reading/editing is curl up with a good book. Hardy and Dickens are of course so of their time that I would be wary of suggesting changes. Same with Irvine Welsh or Jack Palahniuk – you have to let them have their voice.

@TildaKauskumholm
Why is it that so much published writing is full of errors these days? I am constantly amazed at what I see, errors in grammar, spelling, sentence structure. This is in books, magazines, newspapers, and I presume most publishers employ editors and/or proofreaders - so makes me think that having a decent standard of English is no longer thought necessary. What's your opinion OP?
I think it’s not very valued sometimes and that might be why rates haven’t really gone up much over the years – the Waily Fail is the world’s most popular website (I think) and it can be a complete shocker for the errors you mention, but the flipside of that is the terrible rep The Grauniad used to have – budgets/laziness/indifference/who knows? I love my job but it doesn’t make me rich

@flashingbeacon
Also I’ve always just assumed with an author gets a book back it’s like a teacher giving back an essay, covered in red pen with comments in the margin. That seems unlikely now I’ve written down.
That’s pretty much it, although instead of the red (or green) pen its ‘track change’ in Word. Writing is so personal (at least with fiction) that I would never pitch it as ‘C minus, Must Try Harder’ – always suggestions and questions and proposed changes so that something reads/scans/flows better. If it’s non-fiction text that I’ve commissioned it’s much easier to send back and say, ‘you haven’t fulfilled the brief/I need another 250 words/you’re off on a tangent.’ Can still be a tricky conversation to have so tact is always useful.

@LivingTheThighLife
Is it easier to edit fiction or non-fiction? Do they need different skills?
I started in non-fiction and you can’t really argue with facts (hello Fox News) so that was easier as long as you can back up everything you say with evidence. I then went freelance and jumped into the subjective realm of how/why/what-if of fiction, which was fractious at first but if you handle people with sensitivity you can suggest changes/rewrites/edits that they can read and see if they agree with. These days I prefer working on fiction as it’s more creative and fun. Both need consistency and thorough research though.

@Witchend
How honest are you when someone gives something to edit which you know that whatever is done there is no chance a publisher will take it on?

And do you tell them directly, or is it a bit like teacher euphemism?
For fiction authors I always offer a sample edit (say 3k words) so that they can see if I’m a good fit for them. More importantly, it gives me an idea of the standard of their writing and sometimes their personality and if I want to get involved. I’m as honest as I can be with a creative endeavour and will say if they need to work on it more before it’s ready for an editor to take on.

(No refunds for any typos in the above, soz)

Banterlope Sat 02-Nov-19 13:48:08

I used to sub for The Telegraph with 'named' columnists and that could be an ego nightmare, especially with tight daily deadlines. I would have to call them up and discuss each and every transposed comma, proposed cut or extra inclusion, all sticking to an exact word count so it fitted the column. I have never worked with Giles Coren (wouldn't want to) but this kind of scenario used to happen often: bit.ly/2N8EBnZ

AppropriateAdult Sat 02-Nov-19 15:54:12

I do very little work for agents. Mostly I have been employed by publishing houses/companies when I lived in London or by authors themselves and/or publishers now that I’m freelance and live in a field. In general I can only do my best so everything is equal. If (and I’m not) hired to edit Donna Tartt or Will Self I would be nervous but still work in the same way. If they don’t like it then they don’t hire me.

My mistake, sorry - I was reading too quickly and for some reason assumed you had a role in acquisitions.

I can see how it’s a very fine line to tread, especially working with fiction authors - how to make it better without losing the voice of the writer. What happens if an author really resists the changes you’re suggesting? Who gets the final say? (Much as I think Giles Coren is an absolute tool, I completely understand his anger at a column under his by-line being altered without his agreement, although I know this is the norm in journalism.)

Witchend Sat 02-Nov-19 17:04:26

Amused by Giles Coren's article. I wonder if he got his explanation. grin I can understand his frustration though.

Here's one you may not want to answer. I understand if you don't want to, even if you're anonymous.

Are there any of the editing companies that you would recommend, or say avoid at all cost?

Banterlope Sat 02-Nov-19 17:51:12

I can see how it’s a very fine line to tread, especially working with fiction authors - how to make it better without losing the voice of the writer. What happens if an author really resists the changes you’re suggesting? Who gets the final say?

Ultimately it's the author's decision to overlook an edit if they don't want/like/agree with it. I can argue why they should do it but it's their choice and they can make the error (i.e. .50 cal shotgun) if they feel strongly about it.

Banterlope Sat 02-Nov-19 17:55:36

Are there any of the editing companies that you would recommend, or say avoid at all cost?

I would say go to Reedsy and select an editor based on their experience, genre and online reviews – they take a fee from both the editor and the author but they've pretty much cornered the market in matching writers with editors – loads to choose from. There are a few other sites that are trying to do what Reedsy does but they don't seem to get much traffic.

LunaFortuna Sat 02-Nov-19 22:47:00

Not a writer but I would love to work within book design/layout and I’m not really sure how best to go about it. I assume most people who do this are freelance, would it be best to apply to publishers or authors? Hope you don’t mind me asking but I love the idea of living in a field and designing/formatting books smile

Banterlope Sat 02-Nov-19 23:44:17

Don't work in that field (although I do live in a rain-lashed field at the moment), but having worked with designers you of course need to be super good at Photoshop and Illustrator and stuff like that. I used to know a designer who's loved photography and used her pics in her layouts/designs after filters and Photoshop stuff was applied, it was quite distinctive. If you paint/draw/stuff like that it could help create an identity – being an illustrator in particular would make you stand out (assuming you're good at it).

Once you have the Adobe gear you have to learn and love and collect typefaces for your computer. Like, thousands of them - they don't take up much space. Different fonts/leading/tracking/weights/sizes/blah can really help your layouts pop. There's roughly 1 billion font nerd typeface websites out there, so jump in.*

Then maybe sort out Insta or something to show your stuff off? You can obviously just come up with a genre/title/author/other page furniture of your choice and go to town on it, dream something up that you're happy with. Then Google online writer communities and find an author/story you like the sound of and offer him or her a free demo cover. They're not going to say no to the opportunity, and they might even go with it. Either way you add it to your showcase so people can see what you can do.

Don't know about approaching publishers unless you're pretty well established, but at the very least you would probably need all of the above and a varied portfolio of designs for different genres. So yeah, it really is that easy, if you start now you should be done by Monday teatime.

* Or ask an actual designer, I just used to mainly drink with them

LunaFortuna Sun 03-Nov-19 10:34:38

Thanks Banterlope. Yep, have all the above - currently work within design, v experienced with Adobe and I have a decent portfolio, just not for books. Actually the demo idea is a good one, at least then I have a portfolio that’s a bit more relevant to what I want to do. Thanks.

flamingo40 Tue 12-Nov-19 14:11:13

I'm
Following this with interest.
I've been told many times to write my life story.
I've actually no idea where to start so am currently working on drafting key points to work on.
Is there online forums that can't point me in the right direction?
Also what's the process once you have a draft copy ready? What would be my first port of call?

sunshinesupermum Tue 12-Nov-19 14:22:04

I love Coren's letter although he is so often up himself Banterlope
'I have never worked with Giles Coren (wouldn't want to) but this kind of scenario used to happen often: bit.ly/2N8EBnZ' He is correct about 'a' nosh and not just nosh.

radioactiveimagination Thu 14-Nov-19 20:15:06

Hi, I am an editor not a writer. I was wondering what your experience was like with Reedsy (you mentioned working with them in your OP) as I've just got my first job through it? Thanks!

Banterlope Fri 15-Nov-19 16:35:07

Sorry for my late reply, not been keeping an eye on this thread.

@ flamingo40
I'm Following this with interest. I've been told many times to write my life story. I've actually no idea where to start so am currently working on drafting key points to work on. Is there online forums that can't point me in the right direction? Also what's the process once you have a draft copy ready? What would be my first port of call?

Great idea, I’m sure you’ll find it a worthwhile project. Once you start you will (hopefully) start recalling other events/people/experiences to flesh out your chapters – but the trick is to start. It can be very overwhelming but I think (well, for me personally) that writing down key points is a good way to get started. Some writers (Stephen King for example) are ‘gardeners’ – they just start writing and see what grows. Others are ‘architects’ and write to very strict notes and guidelines – some chapter by chapter, others scene by scene. Work out your preferred approach and then allocate time – early morning/once a week at a specific time/half an hour every day and make sure you stick to it religiously. Some days you might put 100 words down and feel they’re rubbish, another day you might get 1500 and think they’re great.

Can’t help with forums but there are some out there – if you offer to be a beta reader someone will reciprocate and you can let them comment on your manuscript. Need a thick skin though. Perhaps others on this forum can add their thoughts as to where you might find a supportive community.

I think once you have your first draft down that’s when the hard work happens – edit to the best of your ability, cut the flack and add to the bits you feel are working. Be ruthless and do it two or three times start to finish. Ultimately it’s worth hiring a professional (erm, I would say that) as they can come at it with fresh eyes and new ideas. Good luck with it, if it’s based on your life story then you’ve already got a chronological structure in place, so that helps.

@radioactiveimagination
Hi, I am an editor not a writer. I was wondering what your experience was like with Reedsy (you mentioned working with them in your OP) as I've just got my first job through it? Thanks!
Congratulations! Reedsy has been great for me, I get a lot of work out of them and although they take a bite out of your fee (as well as the author) they are super professional and very helpful. It can be slow at first as you need to get reviews so that potential clients can trust you. I did a few cut-rate projects to get the ball rolling and have been with them since they started in 2014.

One thing that really helps is to offer a sample edit of 3000–4000 words, which clients tell me is unusual. Many editors send over an example of something they have worked on and how they have improved it but I personally don’t think this works very well. An author wants to see how you can improve their writing. As mentioned above it also gives you a chance to see how well they write and if you actually want to take it on (I turn down more than I take on). Reedsy allows authors to contact up to nine (I think) potential editors, so you’re really auditioning for each and every book – if you take the time to work on their text you will stand out from the competition. Hope it works out for you and make sure you don't have any typos in your profile!

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