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.

Kaitlin Littlechild

  • Years editing: 6
  • Job title: Editor, owner of Kaitlin Littlechild Editing
  • Job description: Edits reports, business and health publications, marketing material, web content, and academic work
  • Location: New Brunswick, Canada

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I currently work for two different companies and run my own editing business. Networking played a pivotal role in securing the positions at both companies. In one case, someone who worked there learned of my skills and my areas of expertise. They suggested that my services would be beneficial for the company and arranged for me to have an interview. 

I learned about the second company through a friend. She pointed out that my skill set was a great fit for the company, and she encouraged me to reach out to them. Shortly after I contacted them about potential freelance work, they posted an in-house position and encouraged me to apply for that as well.

What copyediting training have you had?
I completed a certificate in editing from Simon Fraser University.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
I work quite a bit on communications and marketing material. Understanding the basics of business communication and marketing strategies — as well as social media best practices and trends — has been important. Having education and experience in my areas of specialty (business and health) has opened doors for me to work on some exciting projects as well.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I use PerfectIt for long documents. When I start work on a document, I run it through PerfectIt to clean up many of the inconsistencies. Often, this initial run allows me to create a list of decisions that I will need to make and things I need to watch for as I edit. When my editing is complete, I will run it through PerfectIt one more time to make sure that nothing was missed.

I also use macros, especially for repetitive tasks like fixing recurring punctuation errors. I recommend editors take the time to learn about the use of macros for editing.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing?
In my freelance work, I am the only editor. In my other role, I am one of two editors. I work remotely, and so we communicate virtually. We message back and forth throughout the day to ask questions, bounce ideas off each other, and communicate scheduling and workload needs. 

We worked together to create a style guide for the company, to make sure we apply the same editing decisions consistently. To create the style guide, we worked collaboratively to review existing written material to identify how things were currently being done. We also reviewed the company’s preferred standard style guide and adapted necessary style points to fit the needs of the type of work being done.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Yes, I am a member of Editors Canada and the Indigenous Editors Association.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
I absolutely believe that networking and marketing are important for advancing the career of an editor. You have to put in the work to let people know that you are out there and what you have to offer. This can be difficult for many. I struggled with it in the beginning, but it pays off. It’s so important to network and tell others about editing and the value of editors.

Any advice for editors on getting buy-in from the non-editor colleagues with whom they work?
Show them the value of not only having a second set of eyes on a document, but a second set of trained eyes. I find that many reports and other documents produced by a company are written by several people. Having an editor do a final pass will not only catch any grammatical and spelling errors but also smooth out any differences in writing style so that the final product is consistent, clean, and professional.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada by Samir Shaheen-Hussain. The topic required the careful consideration of every word, not just an edit for grammar and spelling. The author and I worked together to ensure that the word choice was deliberate, accurate, and authentic. 

This is a notable project for me because it was the first with subject matter that required self-care and attention to my own emotions and reactions. Working through my reactions to the stories in this book was both challenging and rewarding.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
When I’m not working, I can be found playing with my kids, tending to my garden, working on my latest crochet project, or reading a book just for fun.