Editors tend to be a friendly, helpful bunch, ready to share their successes and challenges, and give each other help and support. The global editorial community is what keeps a lot of us going. As part of this community I like to offer advice where I can, via this blog, sometimes via other blogs such as the SfEP’s, or through my work as a proofreading and copy-editing mentor for the SfEP.
One of the things I like about editorial mentoring, and indeed blogging, is that often when I write out a piece of advice for someone else, I end up thinking ‘mmm, I should do a bit more of that myself’. So in that spirit, here are a few pieces of advice I’ve given recently, which I hope might be as useful to you as they ended up being, indirectly, to me. And I’d be really interested in anything you can add in return in the comments!
Think about what the client actually needs you to do
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? The client’s asked for a ‘proofread’ or a ‘copy-edit’. But who is the client? Do they have the same understanding of these terms that you do? Perhaps they don’t use these terms at all. Think about where you fit into their process, how many other editorial professionals have already been involved and will be involved after you (it might be none!) and tailor your level of intervention accordingly. Don’t be afraid to check with the client if you’re not sure how far they want you to go, and what they expect.
If the budget is tiny and the deadline’s tomorrow, you can’t be expected to produce a Man Booker Prize-winning volume out of a stream-of-consciousness mess. (Actually, even if the budget is massive and you’ve got a year, it’s still a big ask.) Don’t feel bad about doing only what you reasonably can, given the parameters of the job. When you send the work back, focus on what you have been able to do and explain this to your client so they can appreciate how you’ve improved things.
When a brief is overwhelming and the size of a job is intimidating, break things down. Make notes on the brief or turn it into a checklist, and figure out what needs to be done and in what order, then tick it off as you go. Large jobs can’t possibly be tackled all at once. With briefing materials, bear in mind that some will be more relevant than others, so work out what you need to read in detail, what can be skimmed, and what you will need to return to later.
Resist the urge to be smart
It’s very tempting to get clever with author queries, flexing your editorial muscles and showing what you know. It can even be tempting to crack the odd joke at the expense of the text, or insert a pithy anecdote, riffing off some point contained within. Resist these urges! They are only going to slow everyone else down, and they could offend. There’s no need to explain how brilliant you are. Let your work quietly speak for itself.
Ask if you need help
If you’re stuck, ask friends and colleagues for advice. Or, ask the client – but try to make your queries efficient (send one email rather than fifty little ones). If you run into problems with a job it’s best to make these clear as soon as you can. The client might be able to extend the schedule, or the budget, or both. Or they might even decide they need to bring in other people to help. You might work alone – but you are not alone.
Don’t beat yourself up
We can aim for perfection, but it’s simply not possible to achieve it. We have to accept this, just as our clients do. What we should do, however, is the best job we can with the resources and time available. It’s very difficult to receive feedback that is less than positive, but it’s still better than not receiving any. And what matters is how we deal with it, move on from it, and do better in future.
Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She’s very grateful to be part of such a positive community of editors.