Pro Tips from Your Favorite Editors

CaTyra Polland and Cynthia Williams

Editing is art and science. Two editors can look at the same copy and use very different approaches to get it in the best condition. Though a colleague often can’t tell us the “right” way to do an editing task, sometimes, we can benefit from seeing how other professionals work. Here, Editor Knows Best and Outside the Book have curated some tricks of the trade from your favorite word nerds.



Adrienne Michelle Horn
Editor, I A.M. Editing, Ink LLC
Years editing: 7
Specialty: Line editing, copyediting
Type of material: Articles, blogs, dissertations, manuscripts

Do: Always inform your client of what type of editing is needed and why.

Don’t: Never return a draft to a client without reviewing your changes at least once. We are all human and make mistakes.



Amber Riaz
Editor, A4 Editing
Years editing: 14
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Academic manuscripts, web content

Do: Find an editorial niche that makes you happy, so you wake up every day actually looking forward to your workday.

Don’t: Treat grammar rules as immutable/unchanging. Language evolves constantly, so editors must keep themselves informed of new ways of using words and phrases. A prescriptivist attitude to editing suppresses creativity


Andrae D. Smith
Editor
Specialty: Primarily nonfiction
Type of material: Self-help and personal development books

Do: Know your reading and editing pace and plan accordingly. Check your availability and never be afraid to ask for a sample to see if you can reasonably take on a project.

Don’t: Rush or procrastinate. Take on more than you can handle. Overbook or book outside of your skill level, even if you need the money. The worst thing you can do for your reputation, your business, and your clients is take on so much that you’re rushing to get done and you do a bad job. Each project deserves your full attention.



Chris Obudho
Editor and proofreader, CJO Writing + Editing LLC
Years editing: 25
Specialty: Substantive editing
Type of material: Everything from digital ads to scientific journal articles

Do: Read everything you can. Of course, read books about the business, process, and art of editing and proofreading, to keep your skills sharp — but don’t neglect other forms of prose: cookbooks, catalogs, random websites, dictionaries, “junk” mail/sales letters, old textbooks, etc. These seemingly weird sources of information can give you great insight into how words are used and how sentences are formed. Reading broadly also helps hone your sense of curiosity, which can build knowledge. This knowledge base can then be used to help you better understand what you’re editing. The broader your knowledge about various topics (you don’t have to be an expert!), the more you’ll be able to help (1) your author express an idea and (2) your reader understand that idea.

Don’t: Never forget why you’re editing or proofreading a particular document. It’s not about your ability to redline a document so it looks like a crime scene. It’s not about showing how smart you are. It’s not about making the author’s work “better” by your standards. The editing or proofreading is about the reader.



Crystal Shelley
Editor and proofreader, Rabbit with a Red Pen
Years editing: 4
Specialty: Line editing, copyediting, proofreading, sensitivity reading
Type of material: Novels

Do: Don’t settle for the existing style guide. Style guides are meant to be a reference, to aid us in making decisions for consistency. Sometimes, following the style guide results in choices that don’t suit the circumstance. This is especially true given how quickly language evolves through the work of advocates and social justice movements. Style guides and dictionaries don’t always keep up with how to style terms related to social identities and human rights. If we come across a style guide that’s outdated, we can ask that it be updated to reflect current guidance.

Don’t: Never assume you know everything. The best editors are curious and recognize when they don’t know something or aren’t sure. We are trained to look things up so that the story or the copy is as accurate and clear as possible. If we have any doubt, it’s safer to double-check and be right than to assume and get it wrong.



Debbie Innes
Editor and proofreader, Debbie the Editor
Years editing: 10
Specialty: Copyediting, proofreading
Type of material: Annual reports, website content, corporate reports, nonfiction manuscripts, children’s books, newsletters, brochures, members’ magazines, university student handbooks, media advisories and news releases

Do: If you’re a freelance editor, don’t accept a project with a very low rate, if you can help it. Your skills and experience are worth more than that. Know your worth.

Don’t: Never stop learning. (Most editors know this, but I’m saying it anyway.)



Erica James
Editor, MasterPieces Writing and Editing LLC
Years editing: 6
Specialty: Book coaching (which includes developmental, line, and copyediting)
Type of material: Book manuscripts, academic papers, professional writing, business copy, social media content, website content, digital products

Do: Operate in your gifts both proudly and boldly. Regardless of how many other editors are making their mark on the literary world, no one is making their mark exactly the same. It’s important to know what you do best and to do it well, without fearing the outcome.

Don’t: Don’t take on projects without a clear game plan. To ensure your clients receive high- quality work, it’s best to implement a process that reduces stress and allows you to complete tasks within a reasonable time frame. Editing can be tedious at times; therefore, it’s crucial to know how much of your time and resources will be needed for each project and to plan accordingly. Also, be willing to say no if a project doesn’t align with your process.



Jessica LeeAnn
Editor, Chocolate Readings
Years editing: 14
Specialty: Developmental
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Be honest.
Don’t: Discount your rates.



Kassel Pierre-Jean
Editor, Razorfish Health
Years editing: 15
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Print/digital ads, direct mailers, websites, banner ads, conference panels, white papers

Do: Find an editor who is better than you and learn from them. They don’t necessarily need to be a mentor. Just someone you feel has mastered the skill and craft of editing — someone you respect.

Don’t: Don’t be a narcissist. Never act like you know it all. There’s always more to learn, and language and grammar are always changing. Be humble.



Lakeisha Bell Cadogan
Editor, Freelancer
Years editing: 3
Specialty: Substantive
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Continuously strive to become a better editor. In the same way that writers should be consistently honing their craft, we, as editors, need to do the same. Taking courses is great, but there are other options too, like reading books and attending seminars (in -person or online). Also, join editing groups on social media. It’s a great way to make friends and learn from other people.

Don’t: A core principle in my business is: Do no harm. As editors, we should never remove the writer’s voice when editing their work. Yes, we can make changes, but that doesn’t mean we should impose our personal views on the writer’s work. The primary goal is to help the writer achieve their best work.



Lourdes Venard
Editor and instructor, University of California, San Diego’s Copyediting Program and Editorial Freelancers Association
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Fiction and nonfiction manuscripts

Do: Read, read, read — especially in the genre or subject area in which you edit or hope to edit. The late Amy Einsohn, who wrote The Copyeditor’s Handbook, said the novice should have a “well-tuned ear.” But this ear can be difficult to develop if you aren’t reading widely. And if you are editing fiction, join a book club. It forces you to read books you might not pick up, and it also is an education to hear how other readers feel about a book and the writing.

Don’t: Don’t be inflexible. Yes, there are grammar and style rules to be followed, but some of these are not set in stone. And even those set in stone can be broken at times. Novice editors often get so hung up on the “rules” that they miss what the writer is trying to achieve. Language can be playful; we, as editors, should allow for that and be open to how language is always changing.



Lyric Dodson
Editor, Editing by Lyric
Years editing: 6
Specialty: Copyediting
Type of material: Blog posts, nonfiction books

Do: If you’re working as a freelancer, get everything in writing! It can seem intimidating to write up a contract that hits all the important points, but it’s absolutely imperative that you do so. You most likely won’t encounter troublesome clients too often as you work, but there is a chance you will — and you want to be prepared if anything happens.

Don’t: Never undersell yourself! Setting your prices is one of the most important things you’ll do, so it’s incredibly important that you charge what you’re worth, no matter how “outrageous” you think your prices are. Remember, you’re charging not only for your time and expertise, but also for the potential return on investment your client can expect to gain in the long run. Don’t price gouge for the sake of making a few extra dollars, but don’t undercut yourself either.



Renee’ D. Campbell
Editor and proofreader, MyPen Syl Writes
Years editing: 15+
Specialty: Substantive editing
Type of material: Résumés, books (fiction, comedy, sci-fi, poetry), white papers, research papers, marketing material, presentations, infographics, websites

Do: Attention to detail is key when editing. Take the role of editor seriously, as the author is entrusting their words to you.
Don’t: Do not promise what you cannot deliver! Deadlines are key!



Taiia Smart Young
Editor, Smart Girl Media
Years editing: 26
Specialty: Developmental editing
Type of material: Self-help, memoir, personal development, spirituality

Do: Edit work that you have some experience with or connection to.
Don’t: Never be afraid to turn down a client.


CaTyra Polland, MA, is the CEO of Love for Words, an editing boutique. She is also a published author and the hostess/creator of Editor Knows Best Podcast. http://www.pollandllc.com.

Cynthia Williams is a department manager at Dragonfly Editorial and interviews editors of color at Outside-the-Book.com.

Michelle Pope

Years editing: 7
Job title: Creative writer/editor
Job description: Write and edit marketing communications (emails, brochures, flyers, and web copy) for health insurance company
Location: Indiana

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I’ve always wanted to be an editor, so I set up job board alerts for anything with “editor” in the title. I got the notification about an editor role at an insurance company and figured it would be a great challenge. I knew nothing about insurance, but I had over five years of experience editing copy for lots of other things I knew nothing about. I gave it a shot and applied.

What copyediting training have you had?
I guess my training began in school. In high school and college, I edited my friends’ essays and lab reports for fun. Then I volunteered to help copyedit things at work. It became part of my regular job duties. The copy director was an amazing mentor. She really showed me the ropes of research, review, style guides, negotiation . . . everything.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
I had to get very familiar with insurance and our company’s products. I signed up for every class I could find through our company’s learning platform. I also found external resources to get even more familiar with insurance.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I use Hemingway Editor to make sure the copy isn’t too advanced. Hemingway is a free online tool that displays the reading level of your material. 

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I’m the only one with “editor” in their title, but a few people on my team edit copy. We have Webex meetings about edits, and we share thoughts in tracked changes.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I’m a member of ACES: The Society for Editing (American Copy Editors Society).

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
NETWORK! I’ve gotten amazing tips, tricks, and resources from my network (not from books). It’s also very useful to have a network of others in your field so that you can help each other find jobs and clients.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Tell the author how it benefits them. With an editor, they get a higher-quality product without having to do any of the work themselves. Having an editor is like going to a hairstylist for a haircut. You could cut your own hair, but it’s usually better to hire a person who has training. Copyeditors are trained to perfect copy. An author could do it, but they’re too close to their work to be objective. They’re probably not going to see what the reader sees.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
Our company is very diverse, but I’m the only person of color on my team.

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? Or have you observed such barriers for others? 
I haven’t faced any barriers due to race. In my previous role, I worked with a few editors of color, so that was great to see.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
I think companies would increase diversity if they knew the benefit. A copyeditor of color might catch something (coded language, outdated labeling) that another editor might not see. Companies could probably find more diverse candidates just by looking for people who have practical skills for the job.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of. 
I’m proud of the work I’m doing now. In about three months, I went from not knowing anything about insurance to optimizing copy for multiple audiences and purposes.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us? 
I love reading. I’m also a “planner gal.” (Google “the planner community.”)

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Fellow editors really are the best resource. There are so many amazing copyeditors on LinkedIn and Twitter. @WritersOfColor is a good source for discussions and job listings.

Kassel Pierre-Jean

Years editing: 15
Job title: Senior managing editor, Digitas Health
Job description: Edits medical and pharmaceutical materials; oversees team of editors
Location: Pennsylvania

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I freelanced as an editor and proofreader for seven years, and the recruiting department of my current job contacted me in 2012 to freelance for them. After I had my son, I mentioned to the recruiting department that I’d be interested in any full-time positions they had open. In 2016, a full-time position opened up, and I’ve been there ever since.

I was recently promoted to senior managing editor. I now oversee editors in New York, on the West Coast, and in the European Union. But my daily job hasn’t changed. It’s a lot of editing, status meetings to learn what’s coming my way, and priority juggling. There’s definitely a project management aspect to the job.

What copyediting training have you had, and what positions have you held?
I graduated from Hofstra University with a degree in communications (print journalism) and a minor in English. I worked as chief copyeditor for my college newspaper then interned at Black Enterprise as a copyeditor. I briefly worked as a copyeditor/page designer for a daily paper in Kentucky, then moved to Pennsylvania and worked as an editorial assistant at a medical test development agency. 

That last position exposed me to medical terminology and the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style. After two years, I decided to strike out on my own and freelance as Stylo Rouge (French for “red pen”) Editorial Services. I did that for about seven years before taking on a full-time job as an editor and proofreader for a veterinary health ad agency. 

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Copyeditors aren’t really required to have design skills, but having a good eye for design, consistency and what helps readability is important — for example, making sure the same design treatment is consistently applied throughout a brochure, making sure paragraphs or text is aligned, and making sure the same kinds of graphics are consistent across related pieces. 

Basic social media skills have helped too, for example, knowing my way around Facebook and Instagram — so that I can view ads in staging environments (the state of viewing an ad on the platform before it’s published live) — and knowing the difference between paid and organic (unpaid) ads. 

A lot of this experience has come through osmosis — just being immersed in it. I’ve also been exposed to different subject matter, such as virology and oncology. When I first started, I knew a little bit about some of the disease states, such as HIV and breast cancer. As I continued to work on those topics, I would look up HIV and cancer terminology to make sure they were spelled correctly or being used in the proper context. Informing myself like this slowed my editing down a bit at first, but now I know enough to identify when something may not be accurate.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
One of the most important tools we use daily at my job is Workfront Proof (formerly ProofHQ). It’s basically an online version of Adobe Acrobat. It allows you to mark up documents on the web in real time, with other collaborators. For example, as I’m making edits to a document, the copywriter is able to go through my comments at the same time, accepting or stetting edits as necessary. Sometimes the whole team (usually editing, writing, art, and project management) can review and make comments in the document at the same time.  

As copyeditors in an ad agency, we mark up layouts a lot, so we don’t use Microsoft Word as frequently anymore. (The copywriters do.) The fast pace of the job now requires us to edit designs or mock-ups, so that’s usually done in Workfront Proof or Adobe Acrobat. 

Another great tool that we’ve used is Infix PDF Editor. It’s helped us to spell-check text-readable PDFs.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I am one of six editors in my department, and we are currently looking for another. Pre-COVID, most of the copyeditors sat near each other in a hallway that we dubbed “Copy Editors Extraordinaire.” This allowed us to easily discuss projects, collaborate, and bounce questions off each other. 

Now, with everyone working remotely, we use Microsoft Teams to message each other to ask questions. We have a central Editorial channel, sort of like a message board, to post announcements or work-related questions to the team. We can post messages in the channel or we can privately message individuals.

While I miss the back-and-forth of in-person discussions, using Microsoft Teams to communicate with my colleagues seems to be working well. We previously used Skype for Business before transitioning to Teams.  

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
I am a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and certified by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I think hard work is important, but networking is also important. Editors are naturally behind-the-scenes people, so we’re not really putting ourselves out there for promotion or recognition. 

But to be successful, we need to have other people recognize how good we are. In freelancing, networking gets you the referrals you need. In your job, it’s how you advance within a company.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
In my industry, a lot of the concepts and wording are set in stone by the time the copy gets to me. Copywriters have the final say over what stays or what goes. I’m pretty flexible with what they want to convey, especially when it comes to consumer materials.

Formal writing and proper grammar can sound stilted, and marketing materials need to have a conversational tone. I try to collaborate with copywriters to help them express their ideas in a way that will better impact the consumer.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse is your office? 
Within the Copyediting Department, four out of the six editors are women; I am the only Black person. Within the larger department I work in, Science & Medicine, there are maybe 20 of us, with two or three of us being racial minorities.

Have you faced any hurdles in getting into/advancing in the copyediting profession because you are a person of color? (These can be systemic, personal, environmental.) Or have you observed such barriers for others? Tell us about that.
I’ve experienced microaggressions in corporate America, slight things people don’t realize are offensive. But there’s reluctance to speak up because it’s possible it could cost you your job.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement began, I’ve encouraged my employer to be more intentional in recruiting efforts, including working with recent college grads from historically black colleges and universities or considering job fairs at schools with a multicultural population. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I have worked on materials raising awareness about HIV and steps to take to help prevent its spread. I really enjoy working on those campaigns because I lost my uncle to AIDS and I feel like I’m doing something to make a difference in the lives of others.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I’m extremely boring. I spend a lot of my time on Twitter, but I also read steampunk novels.

My favorite thing to do is to attempt writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I do enjoy writing fiction, and I don’t get to do it very much. So doing it once a year in November gives me the extra oomph I need.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
I use a lot of different medical editing resources. I’m particularly fond of the AMA Manual of Style website, Dorland’s for looking up medical terminology, and PubMed for styling references per AMA style. 

To lighten things up for myself and others, I use a meme generator to come up with horrible puns, like a picture of an otter to tell a colleague that they’re “otterly” amazing.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
The advertising industry needs more faces of color! It’s tough being the token person. I sometimes feel like I have to be perfect and “always on my game” as a representative of my race. Failing as an editor, in a sense, feels like failing other editors of color. By succeeding, I want to make the path in advertising easier for them.

Maisha Maurant

  • Years editing: 20
  • Job title: Chief corporate editor at Health Alliance Plan of Michigan
    (last editing role)
  • Location: Michigan

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your last editing job?
My last full-time editing role was chief corporate editor at Health Alliance Plan (HAP). I had previously worked with HAP’s vice president of marketing and community outreach. He encouraged me to apply. It was a great opportunity for me to move into a management role while being a hands-on editor. I looked forward to developing other writers and editors. It was a new function for the company, so it was also exciting to be responsible for implementing it. 

What other positions have you held?
Most recently, I was manager of culture and engagement at Beaumont Health, the largest health system in Michigan. Because of the impact of COVID-19, my position was eliminated in April.

I started out as a newspaper journalist. I left journalism to work in community development at  Focus: HOPE, a civil rights organization. After that, I was a project manager on the philanthropy team at the communications firm Williams Group, public affairs and events associate at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, communication coordinator at the Michigan Community Service Commission, and senior communications specialist at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

In addition to being chief corporate editor at HAP, I was also the manager of communication and creative services. I led a team of writers, graphic artists, and strategists. We worked on external marketing communications as well as internal communications. The latter included supporting corporatewide culture, engagement, and continuous improvement initiatives.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that were important in your jobs?
When I first joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, I knew very little about the healthcare industry. I had to get up to speed quickly.

At HAP, I learned a lot more about developing online content from working with our social media team. I also had a great opportunity to build skills in user interface and user experience design when I led the content teams for our website and intranet redesign projects. 

Because I was also responsible for internal communications, my team worked collaboratively with the Human Resources Team. That work included a focus on workplace culture and employee engagement. 

Together, all these experiences have also made me a better leader, facilitator, and educator. 

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I use the online version of the AP Stylebook the most. I love the Ask the Editor feature. It’s likely that someone has already asked the question you have. I also consult Grammar Girl, The Chicago Manual of Style, and Grammarly

Conscious Style Guide is another important resource I use. You’ll find style guides and articles that cover a wide spectrum of topics that include age, ability/disability, gender/sex/sexuality, ethnicity, religion/spirituality, and plain language. The Conscious Style Guide is a great technical resource, but the other great value it provides is discussion of how language evolves and why conscious language matters. 

And, when I was working in healthcare, I found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a robust tool kit of plain language resources. Communicators have a critical responsibility to help individuals understand and navigate the healthcare system, so it’s encouraging that the CDC takes it so seriously. 

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How did you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I was fortunate to collaborate with a great team of editors with diverse backgrounds. We learned a lot from each other, whether it was in a formal editorial meeting or just a stand-up conversation. As a result, we all contributed to evolving our style guide and editing approach. 

I remember there being a discussion about if we should capitalize “Deaf” in a publication. It turned out that someone on our team had worked at an organization that supports the Deaf community. He shared his insight from that experience and also did some additional research. It led to us capitalizing Deaf when discussing the community and including that in our style guide.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors? 
I am a member of ACES: The Society for Editing, and I’m on its Executive Committee. It is a great community of all types of editors. Our members work at newspapers, magazines, book publishers, corporations, colleges and universities, and other types of institutions. They also own freelance businesses. We learn a lot from each other. 

Editors of Color is another fantastic means of connecting with other editors.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I think it’s extremely important to promote and share your expertise. This can be done by educating internal audiences, presenting at conferences, or consulting for individuals and organizations that can benefit from editing support.  

Networking is critical to an editor’s growth and development — and not just from a business standpoint. It helps us become better editors to engage with others who are passionate about this craft and adept at it. I highly recommend either joining an organization that supports editors or simply participating in events and activities with other editors. I’ve benefited so much from learning from editors, particularly those whose work is different from my own. 

Any advice for editors on getting buy-in from the non-editor colleagues with whom they work?
My primary tip is to explain your editing approach. I have had great success in getting support from non-editors when I’ve taken the time to talk about the edits or style choices I’ve made. It gives them a chance to learn, ask questions, and provide feedback. And once you start to do that, these colleagues often become your advocates with others in the organization. 

BUILDING DIVERSITY

How diverse was your office? Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? 
In my department at HAP, our team was diverse in race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and work experience. 

I think that recruitment and career advancement are key areas that greatly affect whether a team is diverse. Those in a position to hire and promote for editing positions should consider candidates who may not reflect the status quo. It is also important to have a diverse leadership team. They are in positions to ensure that diversity and inclusion are values inherent to all aspects of the organization. It’s also key that the environment supports team members having a voice and holding each other accountable for living up to those values. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I have really enjoyed being a member of the Executive Committee of ACES. I’ve had the opportunity to work on initiatives that support our members and contribute to the field of editing. 

One example is the launch of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee in 2018. I currently chair the committee. It’s been great to work with the ACES leadership team and our members to ensure our programs, training, conference, and other activities reflect and support the diversity of our membership. 

I’m also proud that ACES continually creates new opportunities to promote the expertise of the editors in our organization. 

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I love movies and books. When theatres were open, I went to the movies almost every weekend. I also read a lot across a variety of genres. I completed a master’s degree last year, so my reading was devoted to school for quite some time. I have a backlog of books and TV shows to catch up on. That’s the only upside to recent events: I now have more time to get through the list. Lol.