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

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.