Horror projects

jack-o-lantern_1680We’ve all had them … For every bunch of perfectly pleasant, unremarkable, bread-and-butter editorial projects that keep us ticking over, there always seems to be the occasional one where all hell breaks loose. Happy Halloween!

The ghost
This project will come back to haunt you. It could be several months later … perhaps you’re taking a morning off in your favourite café, surfing the internet or reading the paper. (You don’t get time to do this either? Bear with me.) Suddenly you come across a particular name, or a fact, in whatever you are reading – and you think back to how it appeared in the project you signed off on all those weeks or even years ago. You have that sinking feeling that you did it differently. After mopping up the cappuccino you just spilled all over the laptop, you do a bit of feverish internet sleuthing. Sure enough, you definitely let an error through. Shaking and perspiring, you pack up your things, head to Waterstones, and find the offending error there in black and white on the page, on sale to the unsuspecting public, who will forever after be brought up to believe that South Africa has a Pacific coast. You sink to the floor in a dejected heap and wonder how you will ever be audacious enough to edit for money again.

The witch
This project casts a spell on you. It’s a small book, and you’re not being paid an awful lot for it, but it’s really sweet and just so, so interesting. Alongside it, you have various big projects from regular clients screaming for your attention … but the little book is just so fun, and editing it is so fulfilling. You end up spending all your days on the little book, and frantic coffee-fuelled nights catching up on everything else. Somehow you get through the nightmare of clashing deadlines and live to tell the tale; you don’t let the big books slip, and the little book is delivered on time too, in all its pristine beauty. Do you get paid on time for the little book? No. In fact you have to send fifteen increasingly firm emails before finally threatening to take the author to the Small Claims court. But it was just so, so lovely …

The vampire
This one will bleed you dry, pure and simple. A client who does not understand that their fee does not buy exclusivity when it comes to your time. A book that takes so much work you need a little lie-down after every page. A subject that is so mind-numbingly dull that not even coffee can keep you from nodding off mid-paragraph.

The werewolf
This one morphs into something else entirely at full moon. Everything seems to be going well; you’ve taken a lot of care over all the stages of the editing, but you’re still managing to earn a healthy rate. You’ve got a whole day left before the deadline, and you’re just preparing to send everything off with a carefully worded covering email. You’re feeling pretty chuffed with yourself. Being an editor is brilliant. You decide to take one last leisurely look at the brief, just because you can. But hang on a minute: what’s this? You didn’t notice that last page of the brief before. Or that extra file attached to that follow-up email from the client. Just what is this? A whole extra section of the book to edit? A whole extra section of the book to edit. And not just any old section. It’s a very long list of resources that will all need to be checked, including web links. And let’s just say it looks as if the author might have rushed this slightly, if not typed it in their sleep. You push aside the work you were looking forward to getting started on early, put the kettle on, and get back to the coalface with a deep sigh.

The skeleton
This one is more of a set of stream-of-consciousness notes than a book ready to be copy-edited. (The sample pages you saw when you agreed to the job sure didn’t look like this.) Even if you’re being paid sufficiently for the task of fleshing it out – and I hope you are! – this is a tough one. Lots of the sentences you have been provided with almost make sense – which is actually slightly worse than not making any sense at all – but they don’t hang together. You are going to have to try to conjure up some kind of narrative thrust for the whole thing, one painful spread at a time.

The zombie
This one just refuses to die. Long after your final invoice, there’ll be emails connected with it. Questions. More questions. Tiny bits of supplementary copy to edit. (OK, but it will cost you!) A few more last questions. Don’t fret, though – if correctly handled, you can be assured of work on the sequel.

Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She’s afraid … very afraid. 



  1. Brilliant, Liz! there’s also the Non-native English thesis, where each para takes about an hour to decipher. When you’re almost finished Client has ‘another little check’ and changes ‘one or two little bits’ and you have to do that whole section again. What don’t they understand about ‘don’t’ and ‘touch’.!
    On my way to council meeting – you’re probably still asleep!


  2. Ha ha! Had them all! And it’s not just the words – what about all the formatting and styles horrors where you shake your head and say, ‘I don’t even know how you did that!’


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