Editing Like A Boss

How to Edit Like a BossEditors are expensive. It’s a painful truth for writers who are trying to get their work to a publisher while working a less enjoyable job in the meantime to pay the bills. That’s why so many writers choose to exchange their work with others in similar situations. I mean, if you can write, you can edit, no? No. But you can provide a decent service if you make an effort.

So, as an editor, I want to share some tips about how to edit a piece of someone else’s fiction without coming off like a loathsome toad.

Tip One: Learn how to use Track Changes in Microsoft Word. This one little function will help your edits to look professional, and any suggestions or changes you make are much easier to implement this way. You’ll be doing a world of good for both yourself and the writer.

Another tip with Track Changes is to take advantage of both the inline editing feature as well as comments. Fix errors and so on inline, and leave suggestions or encouragement in the comments.

Tip Two: Red doesn’t have to mean “bad”. Not all of the red markup that an author sees needs to be negative. Make note of specifically strong passages or unexpected cliffhangers. Tell them where the dialogue is working and where they described something perfectly. This helps to show the writer that you paid attention to the whole story instead of only focusing on what wasn’t working.

Tip Three: Only provide helpful insight. If you don’t have a suggestion as to how something could be fixed, or you can’t quite figure out what is working, leave it. You are there to be helpful, not to provide useless feedback. If something is really rubbing you the wrong way, but you can’t figure out why, mark it and come back to it later. But don’t hand it over until you can explain what isn’t working and why. How is a writer supposed to fix an issue if the reader can’t tell them what is wrong?

Tip Four: Pick your battles. This is not your story, it belongs to someone else. Take your personal opinion out of the mix and substitute a good helping of understanding. If you prefer serial commas and the author doesn’t, don’t feel like you need to explain why they are superior or start putting them in every list of three or more items.

However, if you feel very strongly that a character would not react a certain way, that’s an example of when you can feel free to make a note of it.

Tip Five: Make a style sheet and ask the author style questions before you start. If you don’t know what a style sheet is, you should probably do a little research.

Essentially, it’s a document where you keep a list of proper spellings, grammar and punctuation choices, and writing rules specific to the manuscript you are reviewing. Before you make one, ask the author how to spell all of the character names correctly, if they prefer to spell out numbers, and so on.

Watching for these things will help you to edit not only the story and the bare minimum when it comes to errors, but more technical issues that would get picked out by editors and publishers.

Tip Six: Before handing over the manuscript with all of your edits, write a letter about your thoughts in general. Start with a paragraph or two that includes what you enjoyed the most about the manuscript. This could include things like: dialogue, descriptions, character interactions, setting, etc.

Use another paragraph to briefly list the most common high-level things that you picked out that could use work, like common misspellings, poor syntax, or poor transitions between chapters.

Tip Seven: Be open to scheduling a conversation about your edits. It can be hard to want to dedicate more of your time, for free, to going over edits, so limit it to a one or two hour conversation with the writer. This should be after they have had a chance to review your suggestions and write up a list of questions about any of your thoughts.

In this meeting (in-person, over the phone, online, wherever) reiterate what they did well and offer to look over any changes they have made based on your suggestions. Be kind and courteous, while still holding your ground about anything that you felt strongly about.


 

Never forget that the work isn’t your own, and that even though you have made suggestions, you shouldn’t assume that any or all of them will be incorporated into the final version.

The most important part of editing like a boss is knowing how to balance both criticism and encouragement in a way that is helpful, clear, and consistent. Take time to review your edits, to ensure that they make sense and provide value before sending anything away, and be open to discussing what you had to say. When in doubt, think about how you would feel if the tables were turned.

Do you exchange work with other writers? Have you come away satisfied, or feeling like it wasn’t worth it?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.

Writing is a Profession

pencils-762555_1920After spending the last six months reviewing resumes and leafing through writing samples, I have come to question whether the majority of the people who responded to our job posting actually know what a writer is. In fact, I have often wondered if the majority of those who claim to be “writers” truly understand the craft at a professional level.

Let us first consider this: if someone who took a first aid course say, 10-20 years ago, and who casually kept up-to-date on medical news via Google, claimed to be a medical expert, or even a doctor, would you allow them to perform surgery on you? Would you hire them to work at a hospital? Probably not, unless you are presented with the opportunity after a zombie apocalypse and your only other choice is someone who once worked at a Band-Aid factory.

Or, if you were looking to build a house, would you hire an actual carpenter, or would you enlist your neighbour from next door who has a penchant for making birdhouses? Again, the only time this would be a good fit is if he or she were your only choice, as in you survived the zombies and are now responsible for rebuilding human civilization.

But for some reason, people think differently about writing. Perhaps it’s because everyone is technically able to do it. That small difference, the ability to type a word or hold a pen, seems to make a ridiculous number of people feel as if they deserve to be paid for writing, when in reality, they most definitely should not.

Now, that may sound harsh, but writing is a profession just like any other, and those who excel at it deserve to be recognized for the time and skill they put in. We go to school, we spend hours learning how to navigate grammatical turmoil, we learn how to influence emotion through content, and we pay for the privilege to do so. We deserve to be treated just as any other professional would be, after all of the blood, sweat, and tears we put in.

Is it so much to ask that those who have no professional training in writing, who have never even written for an internship or client before, refrain from applying for jobs where their main responsibility will be to write?

As a PSA, I beg of you, don’t contribute to the avalanche of resumes that get sent in for writing positions if you don’t have samples. If you don’t have any professional experience whatsoever. If you have never been to school for writing, editing, or publishing in any capacity.

Please, if you only write for fun, and you don’t know the difference between “their” and “there”, or “it’s” and “its”, don’t bother submitting a resume for a writing position. I don’t even mean this to be unkind or unjust. Certainly, there are many who have natural talent, or who are self-taught, and that’s wonderful. Get a couple of good samples made, either through a blog of your own, clients, or an internship, and I will gladly review your content.

But if, at the end of the day, writing didn’t cross your mind once, or you didn’t stop to correct a text message before hitting send, and you are only mildly interested in the technicalities of the craft, don’t bother applying. I will look at your resume briefly and then toss it into the already brimming “no” pile.

Writing is a profession. It deserves to be treated as such. The people who take time to learn it, to bend it to their wills, deserve to compete with each other. Respect the craft and you’ll become a respected writer.

Do you find that there are a lot of “writers” out there? Do you consider yourself to be a casual writer, or a professional? Do you think there is a difference between an author and a writer?

I’ll be on Facebook until next time.