Editing: Getting From There to Here

Proofreader, Copyeditor, Editor

Proofreader, Copyeditor, Editor

When Putt Putt Productions was first begun, I used to have “Writer, Proofreader, Copyeditor, Editor” on my business cards. I had experience with very detailed bookkeeping type work and had proofread for the periodical librarians back in college. In addition, at the time I filed the DBA for PPP, I’d been working for a company where I was speed proofing and formatting several documents a day (think double digits), sometimes having to change which style rules I was supposed to adhere to (APA, MLA, Harvard, Turabian…, or some variance in between) from one document to another, and also making sure everything was up to snuff with our own style/formatting code. And then sending the documents on to the clients after they were approved by the editors and my bosses.

Somewhere along the line, between proofreading the documents and passing along client order requests to our editors, and troubleshooting or passing along information from client to writer and back again, and generally running the office when my bosses and other editors were off doing other things, I began taking those orders myself, assigning writers, making decisions about content, sending along documents, and then advising my bosses and editors after the fact of what had been done. One editor I worked with pointed out I was, in effect, an assistant editor at that point.

Because of the extent to which I did all that work, and the freelance writing I did for this company after hours, I had no problem putting “Writer, Proofreader, Copyeditor, Editor” on my business cards.

But then something happened in cyberspace. I interacted with people, writers and editors, in the small speculative fiction community. I wasn’t diplomatic about something and didn’t behave well, and someone wrote that if I were a “real” editor, I would have known better. Paid better attention, understood the responsibility, etc.

After considering what I did and what they said, I realized they had a point. I took that bit, “editor,” off my business cards and have assiduously avoided being called an editor ever since. I wanted to be honest about what I could do for people. Some people use the term “edit” loosely and things can get messy when that happens, especially when we’re talking about paying for the service. I had experience with academic research documents, but relatively little in fiction or newspaper or magazine copy. I knew I would gain more experience in those areas, but until then, I didn’t want to promise more than I could deliver.

Well, that was back between 2000 and 2005. New Year’s Day this year, 2016, a friend of mine approached me about being a developmental editor for her piece of fiction, a novel-length work.

I had done some proofreading and copyediting work for her. I had helped her spruce up copy for letters she was sending, but editing — developmental editing — a full piece of fiction for her, I wasn’t sure I could do it. Even after over a decade of beta reading, proofreading, copyediting on stories, marketing documents, dissertations, theses, articles, and even at the paper, I still felt like a fraud in saying yes to her. However, she talked me into it.

This afternoon, I looked up from going through her book for the third time and realized that I was doing it. I felt like a kid learning to ride a bike who suddenly realizes her mom let go of the back end halfway down the block.


I’d been editing!

Time to put it back on the business cards…


Five tips on proofreading your own work

I and others have addressed this before, but I thought I would address it again as spring is coming, students are writing papers or theses or dissertations and writers are trying once again to pull out their manuscripts and do some writing whilst sitting incognito at the park or at least outside at their favorite cafe. So, below are five tips on how to proofread your own work.

1) Find someone else to read your work. I know, I said proofreading your own work, but having a fresh set of eyes to look over your work is truly the best thing you can do. It doesn’t have to be a paid proofreader. It can be a fellow writer or classmate. Trade papers or manuscripts with them. Determine what you want them to look for (just typos? awkward sentences? Inconsistencies?) and what you will be looking for in their writing. Stick to those objectives. It’s much easier to see something in someone else’s work than to see it in your own. Once you get your work back from your friend or classmate, thank them and go to your safe place and be prepared to see what you missed. (If your friend wandered off the instructions and wrote in editorial remarks then feel free to ignore those, or take them into consideration. This exercise is all about the proofreading.)

2) Put your work away for an extended period of time. This is called letting your manuscript “bake”. Students don’t always have this option as they have due dates and times – unless of course they’ve actually written their paper in a timely enough manner that this is possible. If you don’t have a due date, let the manuscript “bake” for a good month or so. If you are a student and the paper is due soon, then put the paper away and don’t look at it until after you’ve had a good night’s sleep, a good meal and have had time for your brain to hit “reset” – a good solid 12 hours if possible. Your brain is a very efficient machine and fills in where things may be missing or wrong in your copy. What you’re trying to do is give your brain a chance to “forget” the copy you’ve been working on and see it fresh. This way you have a better possibility of seeing clearly missed or misspelled words or rewritten sentences that haven’t quite been cleaned up, yet.

3) Go Old School and proofread the hard copy. Yes, you love your laptop. You curl up with it at night to watch movies and use it during the day to do homework or write your Greatest American Novel in between side trips to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. And yes, you’d rather save money and the environment by not using paper and ink on printing out what will be just another marked up copy. But your eyes see a computer screen differently than they do an actual piece of paper. The type on your computer screen is constantly moving, where the type on a piece of paper is still on the page. You may actually catch more mistakes on the hard copy because of this. So, print out your work, grab a favorite pencil or red pen (whatever you like working with best that you will see clearly), curl up in your safe place and read your piece, line by line.

4) Read it out of order. There’s an old adage that proofreaders read copy backwards to catch all the mistakes. That is only true some of the time, but it does help if you’re reading lists, figures or haven’t been able to get enough distance between you and your manuscript or paper. Grab a ruler, that usually helps. What you’re going to try to do is look at the copy as you would a math problem. You aren’t “reading” the copy – you are just looking at the copy as discrete symbols strung together in coherent single words and then sentences. This is a trick that’s only good for catching typos, though you might find the occasional awkward sentence (especially if your brain still remembers diagramming sentences from junior high).

5) Read it through one more time. You will never get all the mistakes. I work for a newspaper where writers, three editors, a proofreader and graphic designer all read through most of the monthly paper before it goes out, and we don’t always catch all the mistakes. But read it through one last time before hitting send. If there are important names or terms that you are using in your paper or manuscript, then make sure you have a list of them next to you and make sure all those are spelled correctly, if nothing else. Spot check for periods, especially at the end of paragraphs. If there are mistakes you make all the time (then vs. than vs. that, your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s, their, they’re and there, etc.) then use the Control F (Find) function to go through and look for those places where you may have used one or the other.

In the end, you may just end up finding that one glaring mistake AFTER you hit send, but at least you know went through and found all the others. Or, at least MOST of all the others. Well, at least you gave it the old college try. But hopefully these tips will help you produce a cleaner and more professional document than you would have otherwise produced on your own.

But if you’d like help proofreading and copyediting your dissertation, thesis, paper or book, please make sure to keep Putt Putt Productions in mind.

Knowing when you need a proofreader/copyeditor, an editor, or simply want a ghostwriter…

Previously Published on Blogetary 1.0 March 2013.

Many times I am contacted by people who are working on their novel and looking more for an editor than they are a proofread or copyeditor. They have finished their baby and are tired and want to give it to someone who will make it “publishable” and “better.” Like going to a super star’s salon, they want the manuscript to go in and come out with a whole new look.

But that isn’t how it works.

Writing is a commitment. Writing a novel – or even a short story or poem – means that a writer will come back to the same piece over and over again trying to make it better. It’s a lot of work and it’s up to the writer to be responsible for that work. However, sometimes writers employ helpers – people outside the usual friends, family and critique partners/groups who offer to help a writer with their work.

I have worked with and learned from editors when it comes to research papers and articles, but I haven’t worked with and learned from editors who edit fiction on a regular basis, so I try to steer those seeking editors elsewhere to people more experienced with editing fiction. Or, I tell them what exactly I can do and about how much it will cost. A proofreader and copyeditor will do their best to find most of the spelling, grammar, syntax, etc. mistakes in a manuscript. And he or she will point out awkward sentences and maybe come back with notes of things they noticed while going through the work. Think of us (proofreaders and copyeditors) as those people who make the small adjustments to your clothes at the dry cleaners. We take up or let out the hems, take in or let out the waists, fix buttons and buttonholes, brush it, press it, and all those other little things to make your existing clothes a little bit better.

An editor – a trained and experienced editor – looks at continuity, pacing, logic and readability based on their experience with a known audience (academics, newspaper/magazine readers, YA readers, etc.), as well as the grammar, syntax and all that. They’ll take their red pen and advise you to cut paragraphs or pages, move chapters or ditch one of the characters or subplots and possibly rewrite a few things (subject to the author’s approval, of course). They are, like the proofreader and copyeditor (and unlike your friends and family), an objective reader. Unlike the proofreader/copyeditor, however, it is the editor’s job to be more like a very talented tailor/seamstress who can take your clothes and totally make them over for you into something even better. The knowledgeable editor can take your manuscript, take it apart and put it back together, all while maintaining the integrity of the story and your writing style. Yet, a good editor is not to be mistaken for a ghostwriter, because the editor will come back to the writer to make the changes, to rework, revise and rewrite things. The editor does not do that work. Oh no, the writer does the work that the editor has suggested (sometimes very strongly) with all those red pen marks. Being a fiction editor is a specific skill set and costs a whole bunch more than $25-30 an hour.

And none of the above is to be mistaken for a ghostwriter. The ghostwriter takes the subject (say a celebrity’s autobiography) and does a bulk of the work, such as research, interviews, writing, revising, etc., signing all sorts of non-disclosure agreements, as well as contracts with advances attached (they get paid up front and no you can’t just promise them a “cut”). This is another specific skill set. And again, costs way above and beyond the proofreader/copyeditor’s typical fee.

If you have a manuscript you are working on and would like an objective eye, then sit down and consider what you want that objective eye to do first. Do you want it to find errors you missed? Do you want critical feedback? Or do you want to just take the facts and give it to someone else to do? Each consideration comes with a different price tag and a different system. And each one also requires you to be prepared. For the two former needs, you need to make sure your manuscript is not only finished, but also is in at least it’s third or fourth draft. For the latter, the ghostwriting, you need to make sure you have a specific topic proposal in hand. With all three of them, you need to be willing and able to pay for the services upfront.