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 missed by a hair.
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.
- What the project is. Resume? Novel? Scientific article? Webcopy? Essay for school with specific deliverables? A bibliography? An anthology of poetry?
- 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.
- 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.
- What kind of edit you’re after.
- Budget, if any.
- 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.
- 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!