Life of an Editor: FAQs (Part 1)

10.27.2014


In the first part of this series, I wrote about what I do on a daily basis, my editing process, and how I got into professional editing in the first place. For that post, go here.

You guys asked some great questions about my job, and I'm really excited you are interested in what I do. I will have 2 posts of FAQs since I didn't want this to get insanely long. Click here for Part 2!

1) HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH DIFFERENT WRITING STYLES? (ALSO SIMILAR: DO YOU FIND YOURSELF REWRITING A LOT AS YOU EDIT?)

This is such a great question. Everyone has different writing styles, and it's extremely important to me to maintain the author's original voice and tone. I never want an author to feel like their book is not their own.

That said, it isn't unusual for me to have a suggestion for rephrasing. Sometimes it's an individual sentence that needs to be rewritten because it's incomplete or incorrect. Sometimes it's an entire introduction or scene that's missing a vital component or just doesn't sound quite right. In my experience working with hundreds of authors on both fiction and nonfiction books and articles, I've found that it's much easier to show what I am suggesting rather than to try to explain it.

So, what I normally do is summarize my suggestion and then say something like this: "Here's an example of how you could rephrase. Feel free to rework this using your own author voice." [Then I provide a rewrite in my own words]

That way, I can rewrite the part I feel needs to be rewritten BUT I give them the option to rewrite my words into something that sounds like they wrote it in the first place. Does that make sense? Usually what ends up happening is the author will use my basic example but maybe switch a few words around or revise just slightly. Or, they take the basic idea of the rewrite and write a new scene/section on their own. My point gets across and the revision is made, but the author doesn't feel as though I've completely taken over and changed their book.

2) WHAT DO YOU FIND IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE AS AN EDITOR?

This isn't so much a challenge, but one of the most annoying things about being an editor is how quick other people are to point out when I make a mistake. I'll say the wrong word or misspell something, and they'll instantly be like, "Hey! But you're an editor. I can't believe you made that mistake." 

I want to be like EDITORS ARE PEOPLE TOO.

There is not one blog post I have ever written that doesn't have a mistake in it. Hopefully I catch it during my editing before it's published, but not all the time. It's actually a lot easier to catch mistakes in other people's writing than to catch them in your own. (<-- IRONY! I had a mistake in that very sentence I had to fix.) Also, on the weekends and basically whenever I'm not actually working, either at my day job or freelancing, it's like my brain shuts off or something, because I routinely do and say stupid things. I like to joke and say I'm "off duty" and my brain is resting.

I'd say one of my biggest challenges is trying to explain a difficult edit to someone. Sometimes I see the edit that needs to be made, but I can't figure out the right way to explain it. (See question #1)

3) IS IT CHALLENGING TO EDIT SOMETHING THAT IS VERY TECHNICAL AND DRY?

Yes and no. Obviously there are certain subjects I am more interested in than others. For me, it's going to be more interesting to read about, say, running than finance. But I have actually edited a few financial books, and I've enjoyed them! When I'm editing something, I'm thinking about that subject matter and how I can improve what I have before me.

There are a few things at my current work that I have to edit every month that literally put me to sleep. Like, I'm actually sitting at my desk nodding off. Clearly I'm not doing a good job editing something if I'm half asleep.

In that case, if something is really, truly just dull, I will give myself a set number of pages or a set amount of time I am going to edit before I move on to something else. That way, I can work in chunks and still do a good editing job even though the thing I'm editing might be super boring.

Also, in many cases (depending, of course, on the subject matter) if a book is dry, that means I as the editor need to do a good job making it not dry, which then makes editing it interesting, if that makes sense.

4) WHAT DO YOU DO IN A COLLEGE ENGLISH CLASS?

Mostly I read a lot of books, wrote a lot of essays, and discussed a lot of symbolism. A lot of symbolism. I also took some creative writing classes, so I wrote short stories. And I took a journalism class.

Actually, the reason I added a second major (religion) was because you can really only take so many English classes at once before you literally do not have enough time in the day to read all those books. (Yes, I actually read the books. I didn't use SparkNotes.) I had some holes to fill in my schedule and decided to tack on another major. Overachiever, anyone?

In my college English classes, we didn't talk about grammar that much, or at all, really. I learned grammar by looking up tons and tons of rules in the style book until I had them memorized. I still often refresh myself on rules just to make sure I'm doing it right, and I always look something up if I have a question.

Okay that's it for now! Next time I'll cover the following questions:

1) Are you ever able to just read for fun without editing what you're reading?
2) Do you edit other people's emails/blog posts/tweets?
3) Do you mentally edit people when they're talking?
4) Do you ever see yourself doing freelance editing full time?
5) Are you ever going to go back to school?
6) What does your supervisor do?

If you have a burning question that I haven't covered yet or don't have listed to cover in part 2, let me know so I can add it.

30 comments:

  1. "It's actually a lot easier to catch mistakes in other people's writing then to catch them in your own." THANK YOU! We're in the same boat here. Translators are people too. *sniff*

    Also, I love the questions for your next post. Especially the first three. I can't wait to read your answers, because I sure am guilty of all of these things.

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    1. So glad you understand my pain :) It's so annoying, because honestly after being at work all day, when I'm on my "down time" my brain shuts off and I say the dumbest things or forget how to spell stuff, and people are so confused. My brain totally goes into vacation mode sometimes, and I'm useless. haha.

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  2. Getting called out for making mistakes in a conversation is just so rude, I have had Swedish people try and correct something I have said and it is like I am sure you do not speak perfect book Swedish so give me a break!

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  3. You have the coolest job!! Seriously.

    I can also relate to not always speaking or writing perfectly, but I enjoy editing my own writing, too. Rewrites are fun!

    The only time I've ever been paid for editing was when I was a prof's assistant and had the blissful task of marking up senior business students' capstone papers with all my corrections and suggestions and sending them back so that they could either listen or not listen to my advice before turning in their final project. That was my dream job in college. Hey, that would still be my dream job! But instead I just do free editing--last fall and winter I was editing my grandpa's book manuscript. My grandpa is an awesome theologian, I learned a lot about the Bible while editing...but he likes to ignore rules of good writing and just said that was my job. He's going to publish it for the family soon, and I'm definitely demanding an "Edited by Rachel" line in honor of all my hours of work when he does. :)

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    1. My grandpa keeps saying he's going to have me edit the book he's writing. Except I'm going to make him pay me for it ;)

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  4. I use the technique in #1 CONSTANTLY! In the past, if I was editing a student's paper, I would underline/highlight a vague sentence and say "reword". It took me a while to realize they were being vague because they were still learning /how/ to write. Now, I might start the sentence for them or give them an example of how I would reword it and tell them to go from there. It's really helped.

    Also, editors are people too? They make mistakes? I dunno about that.. ;)

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    1. It really does help to reword for the author. Otherwise, if they did it wrong the first time, how will they be able to reword based on me saying "reword"? Um, yeah they won't. I have rarely, if ever, gotten a complaint because someone feels like I totally reworded their stuff. Usually they end up copy/pasting exactly what I wrote! Which I actually find slightly annoying because COME ON think a little; get creative with it. But then again, my sentences are in hundreds of book all over the place, so that's kind of cool.

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  5. oh wow,
    i LOVE reading this. that first question is really good. i'm sure there are many mistakes in my writing. as an editor you must be itch to read a blog with so many grammar mistakes in it. haha. sometimes i read my personal notes and realise there are so many grammar or spelling mistakes. then i'll start to correct them one by one. ugh.

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  6. I love this and find your job SO interesting. I was a journalism major in college and always thought I'd be writing or editing for some type of publication one day. Turns out, 2008 wasn't exactly a booming time for newbs out of college with zero experience to land something in that industry. I'm definitely rusty these days and out of practice, but I still love to write/edit and sometimes wish my career had went that direction instead!

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  7. Oh girl! So admire you that you are gifted in the writing/editing area, because I AM NOT! English/writing is my biggest weakness :(

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  8. It is a pet peeve for me when someone points out that I misspelled something, used the wrong punctuation, etc. I want to scream at them "I was an English major, not a grammar major!" I feel you on that!

    I actually had to graduate one semester late because I couldn't fit the reading time for 3 Lit classes into my schedule during my last semester. That was slightly annoying, but I think I did better in all 3 classes because there was the time to read the required material.

    I am so loving these posts! It's really interesting to read about the editing world. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. For real, the reading in college lit classes is no joke. There's just not enough time in the day for all of that! Of course, there's a lot of reading in religion classes to, so I really should have gone with gym as my second major ;)

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  9. I have really been enjoying your "Life of an Editor" posts :) I am a Strategic Comms person, but I have done the full-time editing gig, as well... sometimes I really miss it, and sometimes I don't! Got to agree with you about making mistakes - there are words I just cannot spell and times when I use the wrong punctuation or something and you better believe I get the third degree since I am the "expert." Kills me! Sorry not sorry for failing to remember I before E sometimes. Ha!

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  10. I am the same in that I am in compliance so I have to catch mistakes and people want to really make a big deal if I make a mistake. Yes, we all have our moments. I struggle to read things i am not interesting but i like your point that is when it gets really interesting and more work is needed to make it interesting.

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  11. Your job is fascinating to me! I'm excited to read more about it. It's a job I would definitely be interested in doing, but you know... along with 1,700 other things! ;)

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  12. What's "the style" book you referenced? Do you have any books that you'd suggest?

    Just today I was thinking that the thing I miss most about college is all the reading! I read EVERYTHING too and I loved having a constant diet of great books to work through. Not only that, but every moment spent reading was actually "work" so I could do it and never ever feel bad about it!

    I'm loving these posts! Thanks for sharing and answering our questions!

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    1. I use the Chicago Manual of Style. The style changes depending on what the publication is. Newspapers will use AP style, but books use mostly Chicago. It's kind of confusing, but I find that Chicago aligns the best with what I want to do. Luckily, since I'm the editor I can go with the style I like best!

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  13. I once took three lit classes plus a history class in a single semester. Never again. You aren't kidding about the reading load!

    As an editor, I appreciate the reminder to all that editors are people too. I used to get really embarrassed when friends or coworkers would find an error in my emails. Then I realized (A) it made them unspeakably happy to know that I'm human and make mistakes, and (B) it helped them learn/practice their grammar skills. So I came to terms with it. :)

    Great post, Amanda. Looking forward to reading more.

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  14. I really like these "life of an editor" posts! I never thought about it before, but it makes sense that you read a lot in English classes. I think learning through example is probably a great way to learn grammar.

    Also, "My brain shuts off or something". Ha ha ha! I completely relate. I'm not an editor, but I'm positive I can write much more intelligently than I can speak. I use made up words all of the time without realizing it, but as soon as I see them written on paper I know that I just invented something for the dictionary.

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  15. I find your job endlessly fascinating. You have so much power! Your job can make or break a book! (Maybe this is slightly dramatic - but is it? Is it really??)
    I wonder how you split up your work: Do you do several projects at the same time? Let's say you have to edit a 1000-page novel, would you do that in one go, or along-side other assignments?

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    1. That's a great question! I will add it to my list for part 2 FAQs :)

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  16. Okay, so this is sooo fascinating. I was fascinated by the last one, super fascinated by this one and I'm so excited to see you answer the next questions on your list (I really want to know if you ever find yourself editing blog posts while reading them). I honestly think this would be a really fascinating link-up or vlog. Getting to know a blogger's day job? Yep, I like that idea. :)

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  17. 2) Do you edit other people's emails/blog posts/tweets?

    I can answer for you --> YES! and I'm so glad you do.

    I wish high school and college focused more on grammar. I really enjoyed that part but never understood why they took that away. My Christian college did one year of grammar. Then you had one year off and at the end of your 'off year' you had a grammar test. If you didn't pass you had to do a class to re-learn everything. It was strange. All that to say I really enjoyed that one year of grammar class!

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  18. Yes to all of this! I'm glad you're spreading the message the editor's make mistakes (and rest their brains), too. Plus there are the grammar rules I know but purposely ignore because they make me sound too formal.

    It's interesting to hear your description of college English classes. I feel like every college's English department is vastly different. Mine had separate concentrations for literature, linguistics, creative writing, and professional writing. I took classes in a variety of those concentrations, and I felt it gave me a very well-rounded education. Only the lit classes were heavy in reading and analysis. The writing classes in particular made me a better editor and business owner, and I'm forever grateful that my school had a heavy emphasis on grammar!

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    1. I purposefully ignore the who/whom thing sometimes when I'm speaking because it sounds ridiculous in certain contexts to say whom. Same thing with lay/lie. It seems like the correct way always sounds dumb. I blame pop culture.

      You know, looking back it seems odd, because I don't remember focusing on grammar at all. The college I went to was a small liberal arts college, so we didn't have any particular specific concentration of majors. Although I did take a lot of different types of classes like English lit, Brit lit, feature writing, communications, creative writing, etc., so I feel I got a well-rounded English degree. But even in my writing classes, we still read books like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, etc. Anyway, choosing to add a religion major didn't save me anything, really. There's a ton of reading in those classes too! Should have went with gym :)

      If I had actually considered editing as a career when I was in high school, I might have tried to go to a school where that was an actual focus as a major or something, but it turned out well anyway. Because I landed a job working for a publisher in the editing department, my grammar learning curve was steep, and I had to learn fast!

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  19. I edited a lot of papers in college for other students so I definitely relate (in a much smaller) way to a lot of what you're saying. My husband is a financial reporter now so he runs a lot of his reports by me before sending them to the higher ups. Not because he can't do his job along, but sometimes a fresh set of eyes can catch something far more easily. Though I definitely find it far more challenging to edit his work stuff (it's all financial information) than it was to edit his papers when he was working on his Master's degree last year (when he often wrote about controversial topics). So it's definitely good that you can edit dry/technical stuff without being bored out of your mind. :)

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  20. This was really interesting. I love editing my own work (like, LOVE it), but I think it would be a lot more challenging editing the work of other's, and still keep their voice. I have looked over people's work for grammatical errors and mistakes, which is fine. But it is harder for me to think like other people. I wonder if it just takes practice, though, because when I worked in the Senate, I was basically a ghost writer. And I got pretty good at writing in the Senator's voice. I also think it is interesting that you didn't study a lot of grammar in college. What major would have you study grammar? Creative writing? I was a history major, and even though that required a ton of reading and writing, I think I wouldn't be qualified to be an editor because I haven't technically studied grammar since high school. But maybe I would like it...

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I can't wait for part II. You do such a good job at making pretty much any topic interesting.

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  21. You are awesome at that thing I am the worst at. I always found it fascinating though because I was a communication major and had to write a ton, I'm just so bad at copy. I even avoided my degrees copy editing class because I knew I would fail horribly.

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  22. I love this series!

    Also, I sometimes think about being an editor but the making mistakes thing scares me. I love how you explained it -- how it's easier to see the errors in other people's work sometimes and that you're human! :)

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  23. I would absolutely love to get into professional editing. I am enjoying these posts immensely.

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