Editor Vs. Author – Finding the Balance

Happy Friday, everyone!

I don’t normally talk about the specifics of projects I’ve been working on, but today I’m going to nudge that habit aside just for a moment, because it brought up some interesting food for thought. One of my recent clients works as a translator in addition to her own writing, and I was contracted to look over a short story that had been translated into English. The nature of the job and a friendly peer discussion on our freelancing careers subsequently brought up the topic of how to keep the integrity of the originals we work with — or in my case with this contract, an original translation of an original.

Of course I can’t speak for the challenges translators face, as I myself do not have fluency in a second language, but I have always held them in awe. Not only is there the technical accuracy aspect of translation, but to then balance that with equally-accurately translating the intent of the author and the subtleties of connotation is mind-boggling to me. Seriously, hug any translator you come across, or  anyone using a language outside of their mothertongue to any degree for that matter. Having worked with several clients for whom English is not their first language, my admiration remains undimmed!

Editors encounter this balancing act to a lesser degree. While of course our primary job is to ensure readability and technical accuracy of a text, we too seek to preserve the integrity of the original, particularly when it comes to more creative texts. Otherwise, many would run the risk of sounding the same and your favorite authors would not have their unique voice, nor some of your favorite stories or poems their boundary-stretching (or convention-breaking) forms. For example, anyone who has delved into Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves will tell you that if an editor had gone through the (arduous) task of revising the novel to a typical layout and style and it had been published as such, then it would not be House of Leaves. Likewise, we would not have the technically-grammatically-incorrect but stylistically-significant punctuation and syntactic choices of e e cummings.

Herein lies your editor’s challenge: to determine whether you have set additional stylistic rules for yourself (and perhaps then broken them, deliberately) on top of the rules of the language (and form) in which you are writing. Then, once this is determined, to decide whether the breaking is worth it. Although I’m not familiar with the initial publication history of either cummings or Danielewski and thus how long it took their unconventional style to be accepted for publication, it’s safe to say that although they eventually found an editor and publisher that believed it was worth it, that this is not something that happens every day. Often, it will not be worth it because the rule-setting and -breaking has been done inconsistently, or weakly, and ends up crippling an otherwise perfectly decent text. Other times, the form in which you are writing simply cannot allow additional rule-setting or -breaking, such as a civil report or legal document with set styles. The key to helping your editor out in this regard — as well as being good advice for your writing in general — is as Picasso said: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

We will do our best to retain your unique voice as long as it is worthwhile. While this may sound cold, remember that if a text is ultimately unreadable, it is useless — and surely that is the endgame for any writer in any medium?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

Talking Expectations with your Editor

Happy Friday, everyone!

It’s hard to believe that September’s almost over and that we’re entering the end-of-year crunch, both in terms of budget and deadlines. This is why I thought it apt to talk expectations. I’ve had a couple of questions to the effect of ‘how long will it take to edit X?’, which is of course a valid concern when contracting any practitioner. Unfortunately, in the creative industries this can be difficult to gauge. Knowing the factors that influence the process can help you talk realistically with your editor.

The Subjective, Creative Nature of Editing

It can seem counter-intuitive to call editing subjective (by which we mean the standard we use to judge when something is ‘correct’ or ‘done well’), since on the surface it may appear that editing is about correcting writing mistakes. Of course it is, but that’s not all. Depending on the type of editor you’re working with, editing can require a surprising amount of creative problem-solving if not outright creativity. For example, it would do you no good to contract an editor who specializes in proofreading of legal documents to help you overhaul that novel you’ve been working on — instead you’d need a developmental or line editor. Moreover, even the most versatile editor may need to do several passes over your work (especially longer projects) in order to catch everything, because we’re only human and it’s hard to look at both details and bigger picture simultaneously.

In other words, editing combines both black-and-white judgments — wrangling your commas and checking the spelling of that name you made up and use fifty times — with intuiting the gray areas: helping you reach for what you meant to say but fell short of.

What You Both Bring to the Table

Beyond the nature of the process itself, here are a few things that both you and your potential editor add to the mix:

  • Have you worked together before? Simply-put, if your editor is familiar with your writing it will likely mean that it’s easier for them to work on your project, whatever it may be, because they know what to look for and how long it generally takes them to get through a page or X number of words, which forms the basis for most editorial estimates.
  • Is your editor familiar with the material? This can be different from the above. If you’ve worked with your editor for years on fiction but then suddenly ask them to look over a lease you’ve created for the condo you want to rent out, it requires a gear shift that may not be instant. Following from this, if you’ve never worked with this editor before, check what they specialize in or whether they’re an all-rounder. As previously mentioned, if you’ve got a niche, highly-technical project, you may be better off searching for a specialist editor if you want anything deeper than a copyedit.
  • What kind of turnaround are you asking for, relative to the length of the project? It’s more realistic to ask for a same-day turnaround on a resume lookover than it is to ask for a line-edit of a 150,000-word psychological thriller in a week. It’s always good practice to inquire as far in advance as possible, not only because the editor may have other items on their plate but because there’s always the possibility of unforeseen delays — if their child is sick for a week or they’re not familiar with your work, for example.
  • What kind of editing are you asking for? This often goes hand-in-hand with the above. The more depth and markup you want, the longer it will take. Again, if you’re not sure, check out this handy glossary.
  • The editor’s charge versus your budget. If you have a flexible all-rounder for an editor — one who runs the whole gamut, from proofreading through to in-depth developmental work — this may be a factor. For example, my hourly charge is set no matter the depth I work to, but if I estimate that a deep line-edit of a novel will take twelve hours and thus incur a fee that runs far over the client’s budget, we may need to discuss scaling-back the depth to a copyedit so that the entire project can still be edited.

What Information Your Editor Wants to Know

You may already have an inkling of this, having read the above, but as a tip these are the things an editor will want to know prior to accepting a project. It’s a good idea to have them to hand.

  1. What the project is. Resume? Novel? Scientific article? Webcopy? Essay for school with specific deliverables? A bibliography? An anthology of poetry?
  2. Project length. It’s a good idea to give both pagecount and wordcount, as this helps editors gauge how many words to a page and thus make an accurate estimate of how this will match up with their rate.
  3. Project format. Are you using Word? Is it a PDF? A website? This is a basic logistical factor and to specify beforehand may help you avoid hiccups, particularly if one of you uses a Mac and another a PC.
  4. What kind of edit you’re after.
  5. Budget, if any. 
  6. Deadline, if any, and whether it’s set or simply preferred. While most editors aim to have as quick of a turnaround as is practical without sacrificing quality, giving us this context helps us manage our time — particularly if we have other projects we’re working on.
  7. Any other information you feel it will be helpful for us to have, such as the citation style you’re using (if it’s academic work) or the fact that the blank page ten is deliberate.

Of course many of you are already familiar with the saying ‘Good quality, cheap, fast — pick two’, and this remains true with editing and writing. However, this doesn’t mean that a compromise of sorts can’t be found. Your editor may surprise you! As always, communication is key, and any opportunity you have to build a relationship with a key practitioner in your life should be grabbed with both hands!

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

Accepting Criticism

Happy Friday, everyone!

Things are getting back to normal of a sort in my household, and we’re preparing to have the pseudo-housewarming we never had now that there are bold new colors on the walls and our eclectic furnishings are front and center. Being the homebodies that we are, and relatively ‘house-proud’, we’re also preparing for these things to not be to everyone’s taste. That’s why I wanted to take today to talk about criticism – namely how to be better at accepting it, and when to politely pay it no mind.

You might tell yourself that there’s no point in contracting an editor if you’re not comfortable with accepting criticism. Often, though, we may think we’re good at it but when it’s staring us in the face, it becomes a little more difficult. Naturally one would hope that any editor worth their salt – particularly with a client they’ve never worked with before – would provide constructive and courteous commentary rather than the clinical, bleeding-red ‘hacking and slashing’ reminiscent of a worn-down schoolteacher from our childhood. There’s a time and a place for the clinical, mind you, but ideally there should be a balance – ‘criticism’, after all, means both the good and the bad. So what do you do with criticism that appears a little harsh? What if it’s your first time getting something back from an editor and now you’re regretting it?

  • The first phase is context: remember that the vast majority of editors have your best interests at heart, and want your document to be the best it can be. Egos and personal tastes shouldn’t be part of this. Also, consider what type of editor you’re working with – a proofreader should not be expected to provide the level of commentary of a development editor, for example (with vice versa being true, too).
  • The second phase is to evaluate the document holistically for understanding:
  1. Read through all the comments, and the material to which they pertain. Refrain from judgment at this point, but get as happy or angry as you want! If you have to respond to your editor at this point, a simple “Thank you for sending this, I’ll be looking through your suggestions in the next couple of days.” will suffice.
  2. Once done, put the document away. Don’t make any changes yet! Just as writing and editing require specific conditions in order to be effective, reviewing suggestions and making changes of your own need the same kind of clear headspace.
  3. When you’re calmer and ready, look through the suggestions again. At this point, if you have any questions about anything your editor has written, ask! Keep your questions centered on clarity rather than vague, subjective topics such as “Why didn’t you like this?”.
  4. Tackle the small, black or white things first – typos, grammar, formatting, etc – so that not only do you get used to looking at the criticism, but you get the clutter out of the way so you can focus on the big, maybe gray things. You can have a separate session for the little black or white things and the big gray things, if it makes it easier! Don’t feel like you have to tackle everything all at once.
  5. Save your edited document under a separate file name, so that if you need to compare or revoke changes later, you can.
  • The third phase is to evaluate yourself, and which pieces of criticism may still bother you:
  1. Read through the document again. Make notes on what suggestions you don’t agree with.
  2. Ask yourself why you don’t agree with them, and be honest – is it because it just gave you a whole lot more work to do? Was it something you didn’t want to hear, or were you expecting more flattery than you got? Has it meant that you have to completely rework something you loved? If the answer to any of those was ‘yes’ – don’t worry! These are fair, if tough, criticisms. There are solutions to all of them! Make a note and put it aside. You don’t have to tackle it right away.
  3. If a suggestion bothers you and it doesn’t feel like it’s a fair criticism, seek a second opinion – a friend, another editor, a stranger. They can help you determine if it fits into the ‘fair’ category above, or the ‘unfair’ category. If it’s the latter…
  4. If, objectively, both you and your second opinion feel that a suggestion is unnecessarily harsh, unrelated, or plain doesn’t make sense – bring it up as calmly as you can with your editor! Mature, constructive conversations may resolve the suggestion entirely, or provide further elaboration to make it fairer and worth working on.

It takes practice. Another important thing to remember is that once you and your editor form a relationship, this process becomes far easier: you both begin to understand how the other works and thinks, and lines of communication are more open. Your editor does not exist to merely give you compliments; however, if after a couple of sessions the relationship does not seem to be improving (and be honest with yourself – is it you or is it them?), or isn’t constructive at all, this may be a sign that you need to find a different editor.

And lastly, remember you can always ask me if you have questions! Have a great and productive weekend!

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

Painting and the Editing Process

Happy Easter Weekend, everyone!

I have to apologize for missing our date these past couple of Fridays. Truth be told, we’re in the home stretches of renovating our house following a flood last year and we’ve been feeling antsy to get it all over and done with, so forgive me if these posts are a little light. Most of my role lately has been painting, and this past week’s project has been painting the insides of our kitchen cabinets in particular. It’s been tedious, but worth it; that sentiment and the way our cabinets now seem illuminated from within got me thinking about the editorial process.

Those of you that have worked with me before may be familiar with my advice that rarely does a single round of editing get a text polished to perfection. I’ll frequently recommend at least two rounds:

  1. The first catches all the small and distracting errors such as spelling, grammar, and consistency (a proofread, basically); once those are resolved…
  2. The second round is able to delve deeper and catch flaws of ideas, character, pacing, and so on.

It’s similar to painting these cabinets of mine – on the untreated, raw draft of the wood, a single once-over with the brush does very little. By the second go-round, things are looking a lot better, but on a few I’ve needed a third or even fourth coat before they’re the best they can be. I use a fatter, broader brush – a wider-toothed comb, if you will – to do the bulk of the work, and then go back with the thinner detail brush – the fine-tooted comb – to get those hard-to-spot places and the edges. I’ll do this as much as I need to until it’s polished.

I’m sharing this because it’s useful for you to know that your editor has a variety of mental tools or modes in which they work to get your project on track. While there are those of us that may employ several of these all in one sitting, it’s best to prepare for the possibility that more than one session may be necessary in order for you to get a thorough service, particularly on longer projects.

It is of course possible that a single round of a broader brush does the trick, just as it’s possible to receive a manuscript that – on the surface at least – doesn’t need touching at all. While I firmly believe “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I also believe as a writer that an editor’s job is not just to catch that single typo in seventy pages, but to illuminate the project from within by making suggestions that can improve its overall caliber. In other words, there wasn’t exactly anything wrong with my unpainted cabinet interiors, but don’t they look so much more professional, so much brighter, now that they’re painted? Instead of focusing on the sub-par things, I can focus on the contents. Likewise would I feel negligent in keeping silent on conceptual, creative, or theoretical flaws or gaps that, when addressed, could bring a project from ‘Good’ to ‘Insightful and Engaging’.

It’s not complicated. Tedious, sometimes, but worth it. And we editors and cabinet-painters alike wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

When Editing is Bad

Happy Friday, everyone!

As all you poets are no doubt aware, tomorrow begins 2017’s Poem-a-Day April! As it says on the box, the goal is to write a poem a day for the entirety of April, which  – even as a poet who’s semi-successfully managed it a couple of times – I have to admit is pretty daunting. Not only am I writing this in solidarity and as a salute, but also as a chance to point out when editing can sometimes be a hindrance.

If you’re not a perfectionist, in a way I envy you. The fact of the matter is that sometimes – no matter what you’re writing – you can become preoccupied with making your first draft perfect on the first try. This can lead to a lot of false starts, over-writing, a sudden block partway through, or worse – never starting. If this happens enough it can even have longer-lasting effects on your overall confidence. All of these are killer if you have deadlines of any kind.

So say it with me: “It’s okay if it’s not perfect on the first try. Or the second, or the third, or…”

Say this, too: “What matters is that there’s something on the page. I can work with that ‘something’. I can’t work with ‘nothing’.”

Always keep those two things in mind, because I promise, you will get stuck otherwise. It happens to folks who have just started writing, and to folks who have been writing professionally their whole lives. You will get stuck on worrying whether you’ve got the right word, that you’ll forget all the others you were going to write after it. You’ll take a break to figure out the right metaphor or a good name, and you’ll get distracted for the next two days. You’ll pause to fact-check and end up down the rabbit-hole of the Internet.

Here are a few tactics to help you curb the tendency to become distracted by editing:

  1. Know there’s something you’re going to have to go back and change or check? Put in a placeholder or highlight it. One method I’ve heard of is the ‘ELEPHANT’ method, where if you can’t think of a word right then and there, just type ‘ELEPHANT’ and keep going – when you’re done drafting, you can search for all instances of ‘ELEPHANT’ and replace them when your mind is clearer. This helps you keep your flow.
  2. Set realistic deadlines if they help you, or remove them if they don’t. If you do choose to have deadlines, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them. For example, you can start with something small like ‘write a poem before you have your second cup of coffee’ – it’s a deadline with a built-in reward. The idea is that when your brain grows accustomed to achieving small goals, it’s in a better position to achieve slightly larger goals, and so on.
  3. A friend of mine hand-writes her work and covers her prior lines with a sheet of paper to stop herself looking back and thus getting distracted by editing. You can feasibly do this with window-resizing on a computer, too.
  4. Devote specific times to writing, and specific times to editing, e.g. – ‘during the week I’ll write, but Saturdays I’ll edit’, or ‘I’m not going to look at these poems again until May, when Poem-a-Day April is over’. Knowing you’ve allotted time in advance can help put your mind at ease, as it’s no longer worried about missing the opportunity and feels bolstered by your organization skills.
  5. Remind yourself that beyond a simple spelling/grammar check, you can always leave the editing to – guess who! – your editor. That’s why this tag-team exists in the first place! Knowing someone else has your back can be instrumental to your process.

Although editing is still part of the creative process – and some would argue that it’s the most rewarding part – they are different modes of thinking and sometimes jostle for elbow room, to the detriment of each other. The fact remains that you cannot edit what isn’t there, therefore you should prioritize creation in the initial stages.

What are some of the hurdles you’ve encountered? Any other tactics for overcoming them that you’ve found useful?

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

P.S. – Good luck, poets! I’ll be writing alongside you this season.

Apples to Oranges – a Glossary

Happy Friday, everyone!

Like with any profession, you soon discover that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Editing is no different. As you grow more familiar with using an editor you will likely notice that not all editing is the same – nor is it charged at the same rate. To help you come to grips with the types of editing that are out there and which will best suit your needs, read on!

The following are listed in approximate order of the editor’s level of involvement with re-writing the text in any way, from the shallow end to the deep end. It’s not all the types that are out there, but the most common. Note that sometimes these definitions will vary depending on who you talk to and the level of expertise required by the text, and sometimes the terms may be used interchangeably. Additionally, each type of editing has optimum points at which it should occur in the process. Always remember to ask your editor what you’re getting.

Manuscript evaluation – while not an editorial service, strictly-speaking, it’s worth mentioning because you may encounter it and it may be all you need. A manuscript evaluator will provide a read-through of your text and then provide you with an in-depth critique (what’s working and what isn’t, and how it can be improved); they do not, however, go into depth or make marks on your text. Those spelling errors will stay where they are.

Proofreading – the most basic of editorial services, and probably the one you’ve heard in everyday use. Many folks think that this goes into more depth than it actually does. Proofreading will check your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other little things like format and any style issues (did you use a different font size accidentally, for example). Sometimes a proofreader will also do small edits for clarity or concision, but nothing beyond that.

Copyediting – the most commonly-used phrase to describe editing of any nature, and as such please be cautious. Some folks use it to describe what is actually proofreading or what is actually developmental editing, but the reality is that it’s somewhere in between. You’ll get a good proofread, but a copyeditor will also look at overall manuscript flow, consistency, and other broader issues. They may also do some fact-checking, though you should probably look for an editor who specializes in this aspect.

Line-editing – it’s common see this term used interchangeably with developmental editing. However, it can also denote a creative copyeditor, in the sense that while a copyeditor will look for technical errors, a line-editor will look for creative flaws or weaknesses such as pacing, strength of imagery, or voice-appropriateness. As you may have guessed, they go line-by-line (which isn’t to say that other types of editors do not). You’ll often see line-editing in conjunction with fiction.

Developmental Editing – as the name suggests, very in-depth editing. Developmental editors may work with a text that’s already finished, but it’s more common to find that they are there from the start of the text and help the writer see it through to fruition. They specialize in significant textual overhauls – structure shifts, reorganization of ideas, and other in-depth editing that takes place alongside codyediting/proofreading (though a second editor may be involved afterward to do this). However, if the developmental editor has to do any significant amount of writing they then tread into the territory of ghostwriting. You’ll often see developmental editing in conjunction with non-fiction, particularly academia.

Notice that the majority of these involve the editor working with texts that have already been created. Generally-speaking, if you’re looking for someone to help you create the text initially or completely rewrite it for you for one reason or another, the terms you’re going to encounter will likely have the word ‘writing’ or ‘writer’ in there somewhere. That’s a discussion for another day.

Once you know what you want, it’s easier to find it and ask for it. I hope this helps! Remember, you can always ask me if you’re uncertain.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan