KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Polishing Gems

I don’t often write here about what it is that I do for a living, because this blog is a place for me to write about politics, religion, human rights, and parenting as seen through the eyes of an editor. I’m analytical in my work, and that carries over into how I see the world. I analyze it and the people in it. But I figure that maybe you might want to know what I’m doing when I’m not blogging or parenting, so that you can understand what I bring to this blog. So in this post, adapted from comments I posted at Evil Editor’s blog, I explain how I spend my workday and how clients find me.

As a professional freelance copyeditor with 22 years’ experience in publishing, I say using the services of a professional editor is worthwhile. But why?

Authors hire freelance copyeditors because they know that their opus may have weak spots, and they want to maximize their chances of getting a publisher to buy their manuscript. If a publisher thinks it has to work too hard to whip a manuscript into a book that'll sell, it won't bother taking it on.

How do you find a freelance copyeditor, and how do you know if the critter is proficient?

After you’ve had your manuscript critiqued by a writers’ group and revised it, do an Internet search on the phrase “freelance editor” or “freelance copyeditor.” Peruse the web sites of several of the freelancers who are listed in the search results. Look for a philosophy of editing, a client list, a résumé, a project list, and affiliations with profession-related associations. E-mail a few freelancers whose sites inspire confidence. Ask about their working process, their rates, their time frames. Of those whose responses you like, request a sample edit. This generally isn’t free, but because a sample is usually 5 to 10 of your 250-word double-spaced pages, it won’t be that expensive. Choose an editor on the basis of compatibility and how well you like his or her editing; don’t choose the one who says your golden prose is perfect as is. Choose the editor you feel will help your writing sound like what you meant to say in the first place. Then get a written contract and dig in!

Now, why should you go through working with a writers’ group first? Because that will deal with the big-picture issues. You can go directly to a copyeditor, but then you’ll be paying a great deal more because your work may very well need substantive editing, which takes longer, rather than copyediting. You can find definitions of the levels of editing here.

But can’t you just ask freelancers for references and contact them? Yes, but looking at a freelancer’s client list and résumé will tell you about the copyeditor’s background, how long he or she has been in the business, and how many—and which—clients have actually trusted him or her to edit.

Isn’t this process an awful lot of work, on top of the hard work of writing? Yes. But if you were looking for a new, expensive car, you’d likely take the time to shop around for the best value and the best warranty. Why would you do any less for the manuscript you’ve sweated over for months or years?

You know what? Everyone needs an editor—even an editor! Whenever I write for publication, I always have a colleague review my work before I submit it. An editor is a second (or fourth or fifteenth) set of eyes that can spot what you can’t see because you’re too close to your work. You know what you meant to write, so you see it on the page even if it’s not there.

I understand just how precious an author’s work is to him or her. That’s why I advise taking extra care in finding the right person to work with. I work both with publishers and directly with authors, and I treat each manuscript with respect, recognizing how much effort went into crafting it. My job isn’t to slash and burn. It’s to point out areas where readers may need more information or where they’re given too much of it, to get rid of wordiness, to point out lapses in logic, to polish the author’s gem until it shines.

That’s what I do all day—polish gems.

publishing manuscript book author writing writer


Anonymous said...

What an interesting little window on your world.
I too have always felt (and said) that even an editor needs an editor. It helps my writers feel less self-conscious about their writing, especially when they've never been edited before. Thanks for the confirmation of this part of my philosophy!

Anonymous said...

Having edited many manuscripts, including my own, and been involved in a writers' group, I can vouch for your statements!

I used to teach creative writing to elementary students, and I told them about the "In Your Head" syndrome. YOU know what you mean, but part of it's still in your head, not on the paper. I told them about my daughter's attempts to write a story, and how I kept scratching my head. "But how did the princess get in the bucket?" I asked. "Her father shrunk her," was the answer. "But you didn't TELL me her father was a MAGIC king!" "But I knew he was," she told me, not understanding she had to put that vital information down on paper.

An exaggerated example, but it got through to the kids. I told them that even experienced writers often forget to write important elements of the story down on the paper because they know it "in their head".

Anyway, thanks for the insight. I've often thought I should hang out my shingle, so to speak.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Melissa, sounds like you're right on track.

KathyF, I love the example of your daughter's writing. I'ved edited so many manuscripts in which the authors did the same thing. When I think about how complex a process writing a book is, I'm amazed that any writing ever becomes a book. Authors who manage it thoroughly impress me with their skill and tenacity.

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