EVERYBODY NEEDS AN EDITOR

… but not every job needs the same kind of editing

  • Copyediting (sometimes called line editing or redlining) consists of checking and correcting a manuscript's spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and style for consistency with a style manual or style guide. For the typical business document or marketing brochure, this is sufficient.
  • Fact checking can include verifying references, quotations, and citations, formatting references and footnotes, ensuring that permissions and releases have been obtained, and so forth.
  • Development editing (sometimes called literary editing in the case of fiction or poetry) is a dialogue between the editor and the author of a book or monograph. The purpose of the dialogue is to ensure that the work is well organized and structured, that the language is clear and appropriate, that the story is compelling, the characters believable, the prose taut, the author's message and intent straightforward.

Whether you are a first-time author planning a self-published book or a commercial publisher with a stack of manuscripts to process or a marketing manager with a product data sheet to clean up, I can provide the level of professional editing you need at a competitive rate.

Selecting an editor

Many people wear a hat that reads "Editor." However, they fill a number of different functions. Some kinds of editors are qualified to edit your work; others are not. A scholar who edits an academic journal or a series of textbooks may be a brilliant and perceptive judge of, for example, scientific credibility or logical consistency but may not have the shaping of readable prose as a daily responsibility—or even a goal. The editor-in-chief of a magazine may have a special talent for sensing the wishes and tastes of the magazine's audience and may know a great many authors to reach out to for contributions but, again, may not be qualified as a production editor. A publishing company's acquisitions editor may have great instincts for judging whether your manuscript is marketable and may be a fine project manager but may never have written a coherent English sentence.

Beyond looking for a person who has the right type of experience, you also need to consider the working relationship between you and your editor. I know a number of qualified editors; each of us has a distinct style. For example, I edit more aggressively than many others and I let the chips fall where they may. If seeing oceans of red on your manuscript is going to hurt your feelings, chances are you would be happier working with someone else. If your goal is to end up with a document that serves its readers and you are a secure enough person to understand that my moving a comma is not a personal insult, then we can probably get along fine. Think of me as Lou Grant, from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, but with a beard and a ponytail. If that's amusing to you, we'll do great together; if it's frightening, maybe I'm not your guy.

Scissor Man Caricature by Alan J. Lewis
©2007 Alan J. Lewis

A client, somewhat miffed at what I had snipped from his deathless prose, called me Scissor Man. I edit for the reader, not to flatter the author's ego, though. So it all worked out in the end.

Setting expectations

  • Electronic only: I do not edit on paper. I expect you to send me documents as electronic files, preferably Microsoft Word files. If your manuscript exists only as a stack of handwritten or typewritten pages, I will not bid on editing it. Neither you nor I would be able to read my scribbled markup. There are scanning and keyboarding services that can prepare a file from your hard copy, though.
  • Email communication: I will be glad to speak with you on the phone, both initially and, from time to time, to discuss your needs, project progress, and so forth. I have found, though, that projects flow more smoothly if the bulk of our communication is through email, as this ensures that decisions are reduced to writing. My memory is fallible. If you are an AOL subscriber, I expect you to learn how to quote the email message you are responding to, so I can figure out what question your "Yes" is an answer to.
  • Literary style: If you are a writer, I'll respect your style, your preferences, and the vast majority of your commas. If you have cultivated your distinct authorial voice, I will preserve it and largely work to catch the rough spots, the momentary lapses, on your behalf. On the other hand, if you have ideas you want to communicate but you are really not a writer, I am going to work on the reader's behalf to make your prose clear and straightforward. If there is no style in your writing that is worth preserving, my instinct is to serve the reader's needs rather than to flatter you. If you've been paying attention this far, you already know that.
  • Process: I generally edit a few pages or a chapter and return it to the author. We then discuss whether the author feels I am being more or less aggressive in my approach than the author desires. Once we come to a mutual understanding, I proceed with the remainder of the manuscript. The author responds to specific queries and accepts or rejects specific corrections as desired. I return a final, clean file, with paragraph styles assigned to enable direct importation into typesetting software.
  • Cost: My rates are competitive with those of other skilled professionals. I'll give you your money's worth, but I will not try to compete on the basis of price alone.

What others say

For some reason I have not yet divined, I have lately attracted a fair number of editing clients who already paid someone else to edit their work—unsatisfactorily. This experience, in fact, is what prompted me to expand the content of this page to include "Selecting an editor," "Setting expectations," and this section.

The most common reaction I get when I return the first few pages of edits is "Why didn't my first editor find all that stuff?"

Past editing clients are my best references.

What next?…

Write for a free quote, describing your project. For a book, please indicate the total word count and attach either the entire manuscript or a couple of sample chapters (not the first two nor the last two chapters, though, as these are rarely representative).