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.

Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri

Years editing: 20 years
Job title: Self-employed book editor (indie fiction and narrative nonfiction, such as travel and memoir)
Job description:
Location: Camp (COVID-era): Durgapur, West Bengal, India; residence: New Delhi, India

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I have been working solo on books as an editor for five years now. Almost all the work has come from one agency, AuthorsUpFront (AU), besides a couple of individual clients. I first came in contact with AU when a book that I co-authored — Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambaniswas published by them in April 2014. This was a self-published project; the senior writer, Paranjoy Guha-Thakurta, a well-known independent journalist, financed it. The other writer was Subir Ghosh, also a journalist and copyeditor.

Paranjoy (with an eponymous imprint) and AU together would go on to publish a number of other books, and I was involved on the editorial side with almost all those books. At that point, I was on the staff of Mr. Guha-Thakurta, as an executive assistant, editorial assistant, office administrator, library custodian, researcher, writer, and copyeditor all rolled into one. In November 2016, this private office was dissolved, so the association with AU proved fortuitous. I was offered book editing projects by AU, and I segued into what today is termed the “new normal” — a work-from-home, primarily online mode of work.

What copyediting training have you had?
I trained on the job at my first job with the books team at the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, and later with their fortnightly science and environment publication and website “Down To Earth.” I had an excellent mentor in a senior on the copy team. I was introduced to the world of style guides and copy discipline. We had the house style, but I was also introduced to the Oxford Style Guide, The Chicago Manual of Style, and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. I have collected and used other style guides as necessary. Beyond this, I had, and have always, taught myself.

I studied in an English-language-dominated school system, gained an English literature degree in college, and had a penchant for research and an obsession for reference lists and spacing errors in printed volumes.

Quixotically, it is only this year — because of the COVID situation and my (heavy) online engagement with a copyeditors’ cohort, Indian Copyeditors Forum — that I was exposed to some incredible resources through webinars and information on training programs. And I do intend to pick up a fiction editing training course soon.

While I believe in the mentor-mentee training model of the shop floor, which translates into experience over the years, a formal training program in copyediting or specialization (such as fiction) can certainly fine-tune one’s discipline of work and refine one’s craftwork. In the early days, when I began my work life, I would have joined a formal training program if I had had the opportunity.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Since I am offering a skill-based independent service, all of the above training is important. Marketing and social media are musts, for marketing oneself as well as for guiding writers in choosing the right book marketers and an efficient outreach strategy. A sense of design and typography is useful when working on layouts of a book, aiding visualization. Especially when editing nonfiction, a familiarity with the subject being edited is a bonus for the editor.

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I do not. I tried using macros after attending a webinar. They were quite effective, but I still depend on a combination of a deep read, intuition, and “Find and Replace” in Word. I always check a dictionary, especially the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, when I need. I find it much easier to reach out to my bookshelf on the left of my desk and flip the pages, or go to the index in the style manual and read up.

Sometimes I use a website like Grammarly. And I do use online dictionaries — Webster’s, Lexico, and Collins — as well as Britannica.

I feel tools like macros and PerfectIt (which I downloaded and tested out) could be useful for nonfiction. I keep myself open to ideas and would board the tools ship if I need to.

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I work solo, so no department. However, I have networks of friends and colleagues (through the agencies who give me work) whom I may contact on a point of interest or to discuss a grammatical issue or the pricing of a service. I have formed a mastermind group this COVID season, but it is young and has yet to find its feet.

Editing, essentially is a lonely tread, and at the end of the day, it is one’s communion with the text on the desk that brings out the best in the product. Speaking to colleagues while on a project (about some query regarding the job) can sometimes bring in more confusion.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Yes. In fact, I’ve done more of that in the past year. Previously, I had mostly lived in my own silo, communing with books, work, and myself. And the engagement has been hugely beneficial, the weird year of 2020 turning into a period of conversations and learning.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Networking, yes, to stay updated, and get leads. But a solo worker like myself needs to strike a balance between the networking and the work. Actually, it is a tough call. The networking takes the “peace” out of the work. It can get a little crazy — especially within the social media buzz — if one does not strike a balance.

On the other hand, I believe, a publisher — or someone likely to farm out work, who is more of a businessperson than a craftsperson — could afford or need to network.

Regarding talking about what one does, yes, absolutely. It is good to let potential clients know about our processes and why hiring us will add value to their product. Editors are backroom people, but if we do not talk about our work, we will be a forgotten profession.

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
Have empathy for the writer. An editor can never forget that a manuscript, however awkward in their professional estimation, is sacred to the writer. So calmly take the author through your argument, and stand your ground. If an author understands that you are there for the project, they mostly see reason.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

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? 
In India, the question of color probably needs to be explained in a different way than, say, in the US. There is a tilt toward someone who is “fair” rather than “dark,” but that is to do with beauty. As far as I know, that is not carried over into employment and merit. But I am always circumspect on issues like this, because it is also true that Africans have sometimes faced harassment in India — for example, in 2017.

The real barriers here often come down to issues of caste. (Let me just go by the Britannica note on this dark marker of social differentiation.) I have personally never faced or seen the effects of this stratification in the publishing sector, but that is because English-language publishing in India is extremely privileged and the staffers doubly so. There are indie publishing houses that focus on Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi literature, though trade publishing is dominated by an English-language educated elite.

These two paragraphs are at best a pixellated snapshot, let us just say barriers remain at different levels.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing? 
Editors— especially commissioning editors from Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi, and Muslim communities — need to be given opportunities in trade publishing. There is also room for a lot more translation activity within the Indian languages, an area that is already quite powerful.

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis — without a doubt. This book brought my research, writing, and editing skills into play. This was quite a large project, and I was also deeply involved in the copy coordination at the publishing stage.

Also Grit, Gravel and Gear, a travel narrative I edited in 2018-19. It is about the solo cycling trip of Dhruv Bogra, the author, from the Canadian Arctic to the Andes. I do not think I have ever been as deeply connected to a book as I was to this one. The pleasure of traveling along with the author’s sublime narrative was unparalleled and inspiring.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
My hobbies have never been clearly defined and sustained, except for books and reading. I was excited about yoga for a few years but could not keep up with the rigor. In 2020, I began to pay attention to plants, as I have had a garden around me for a few months in the town where I am shacking up with my parents to stay away from the big city in the COVID season. I was introduced to composting by a friend recently, and I intend to generate compost.

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
The volumes I regularly use: Oxford Style Guide/New Hart’s Rules, New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I have begun blogging on LinkedIn and also at (the currently rudimentary) JC Edits. I invite visitors to these spaces and hope to continue the conversations that became the hallmark of my life in COVID 2020. Conversations, collaborations, and learnings will keep us going.

Otito Frances Iwuchukwu

Years editing: 8 years
Job title: Pharmacist-educator (day job), consultant
Job description: Teaches and conducts research in the life sciences; edits technical writing in the life and social sciences, business writing, narrative nonfiction, and children’s books
Location: New Jersey

EXPERIENCE

How did you get your current job?
I got my current job through a job board posting. I get freelance editing projects through marketing on social media and through client referrals, for the most part.

What training do you have in copyediting and what positions have you held? 
I have the Poynter ACES Certificate in Editing and have taken a plethora of self-directed courses from the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) and ACES: The Society for Editing. I get on-the-job learning with every project.

DOING THE JOB

Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job?
Subject matter expertise is the basis of what I do. Because we’re in a digitally driven economy, though, social media and technology skills are more important now than they have ever been, no matter your area of work. 

Also, a skill that has helped me a lot is reflective listening, hearing what the client is not saying directly in the consultation and being able to reframe their focus and move them along the path to their desired outcomes. 

Do you use any editing tools to get the job done (e.g., PerfectIt, Adobe stamps)? 
I use Paul Beverley’s suite of macros (and have gone through his training as well), in addition to PerfectIt. I do the majority of my work in Microsoft Word, so I find PerfectIt and a set of shortcut keys with the macros to be most useful right now. 

I do a general document analysis with Paul’s macros, to look for things such as treatment of numerals and the serial comma, curly and straight quotes, line and page breaks, UK versus US spelling, and em and en dashes. I follow that with a general cleanup before I start working on the finer details of structure, syntax, and context. I use PerfectIt at the end for a final consistency check and a final check for US or UK spelling. 

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS

How do you and your colleagues talk about editing with each other?
I am the sole consultant editor for my clients at the moment, but there is future likelihood of a partnership to serve more clients in the humanities and law.

Do you participate in a community (or communities) that supports editors?
Oh, yes. I am a member of ACES and the Council of Science Editors. For support groups, I am in the smaller spin-off groups within the Editors’ Association of Earth (EAE) Facebook group: the EAE Backroom and the Business and Professional Development groups. I also recently found the Black Editors Network through an Outside-the-Book.com profile on the founder, Tia Ross.

Do you have any thoughts on the need for editors to network and talk about what they do?
Hard work is critical. Editing is hard work and requires a level of attention to detail that may not be required of some jobs. However, if you are a freelancer or a consultant, then you have to work to get chargeable work. Networking, getting to know people, and having them get to know you and what you do are crucial elements to moving the field forward. I am so glad that there are now more virtual opportunities to meet up and network that do not necessarily involve showing up for face-to-face meetings. 

It seems like introversion comes with many editor territories, but if people don’t know you, how can they work with you? (This coming from a person who would rather curl up with a good book at home any day than spend that time at a meet and greet.) 

How might we get buy-in during the editing process from authors who may not be receptive to changes?
I always tell my clients to imagine life from their readers’ perspectives: They should want to make the reading of their written work as smooth as possible for the audience. And since we all get so attached to our work, it pays (even though it may be uncomfortable) to sit back and consider the editor’s suggestions. Because in the long run, if you didn’t think there was any value to having a second or third pair of eyes on your work, then we would not be collaborating on your project.

BUILDING DIVERSITY

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 think the issue of structural racism has no bounds — cutting across all professions, really — and copyediting would be no exception. However, a peculiar issue for me is that akin to the sour cherry on the cake: people questioning your perceived command or mastery of the English language due to your name. They assume you cannot speak or write English, and so you can’t possibly edit their work. 

I always laugh those comments off, because I frankly feel my time could be better spent defending other issues. I would not want to work closely (by choice) with anyone who doubts my competence. Although I am multilingual, speaking and writing in four languages, I think in English. That was the first language I spoke, and British English is the official language of the country I was born in. Needless to say, I am always puzzled when people talk about native and non-native English speakers, as though being native in and of itself gives one a pass on English mastery, talk less of editing skills.

Any suggestions on what offices/employers could do to increase diversity in your field of editing?
Increasing diversity is not a “nice to have” component of an organization. It’s necessary, especially in the “reproductive” work that is publishing (“reproductive” in that writing and publishing are huge ways that writers get to put parts of themselves out in the world for posterity). “Hire, support, retain” should be an aspiration. And support looks different for different people. We need to see people who look like us all through the publishing chain, from acquisition to the final published work. As an editor, I am happy to be contributing to getting diverse books out there. 

THE PERSONAL

Tell us about a project that you’re proud of.
I work with a lot of authors who are physicians and educators and choose to be independently published. One of my favorite projects in the children’s book genre is a series on Mia, a little girl who has big dreams and a village of people supporting her and helping her find her voice. This project resonated so much with my background growing up in a more collectivist society, where everyone had a hand in helping raise a child and ensuring they were successful at what they wanted to do or be. And the author is an educator, like me.

In the adult genre, one of my favorites was a self-help book for physicians (Physician Heal Yourself) written by a physician, author, and coach. The writer wanted to continue the work of helping physicians defeat burnout on the job with strategies that had worked for her and her clients over her many years in the personal and professional development field.

Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?
I am a self-confessed bibliophile. Curiosity and a love of learning are two of my top strengths on the VIA character strengths survey. I love books, reading them and collecting them. I think reading widely and avidly is a gift we give ourselves, as we get to expand our world so much more and help contribute to increased diversity. 

A huge part of my collection includes cookbooks, because I consider myself a professional home cook, if such a thing exists. Mixing, matching, and creating new recipes in the kitchen bring me so much joy. And because way back in graduate school I worked in an organic chemistry lab synthesizing new molecules from various reactants, I like to use the analogy that my kitchen is my home lab, where I synthesize new ready-to-eat products using naturally sourced ingredients. 

RESOURCES

What resources would you share with fellow editors?
Oh, my — too many to mention. The relevant style guides that apply to one’s field are indispensable. For books, I would recommend The Subversive Copyeditor, by Carol Saller, and What Editors Do, edited by Peter Ginna. The Copyeditor’s Handbook, by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz, is almost like a style guide. For associations, I have found ACES and the EFA to be really good resources. 

On an individual level, I recommend editors whose labor of love in doing their own work has contributed to my growth in this field: Katharine O’Moore-Klopf (KOK Edit), Erin Brenner (Right Touch Editing), Louise Harnby (The Editing Blog), and Jake Poinier (Dr. Freelance). 

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or about diversity in the profession?
I am so happy to be doing this work and contributing to elevating the voices of writers of color. I believe everyone has a voice, and for many, writing is the best form of expression. While some are born into the English language, others are raised and rise into it. Either way, we all get to use this amazing language to impact our world.  

I can be reached at editor@getfabediting.com.