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Barbara's Virtual Pen

In Response to a Student's Wondering about her Career Choice

One of my students in my UC Berkeley Grammar Course sent me an e-mail asking me whether I thought she should become an editor. She was feeling very insecure about everything that day. Here is what I wrote to her.

I don't know whether you, or anyone, should be an editor. That is a personal choice as well as a professional one. But I cannot say you shouldn't. But consider this: when someone begins training to become a doctor, the first-year medical student cannot be expected to treat people. Neither can the first law student. Why should you, after several assignments, be ready to edit for Knopf?

Years ago, becoming an editor was a different process. At least for most editors I know. We went to work for a major publisher (or even a small independent press) as an editorial assistant, and basically learned "on the job." Every project taught you something new. I also found that working at several different places offered the opportunity to work under people who could give me something different.

The point at which you feel "I am really an editor" happens when somebody has given you editorial work, and they are very happy with it. When I first graduated college, and someone gave me something to edit, I felt totally at sea, and I had studied linguistics and gone to schools where they taught a great deal of grammar. I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do with what I was holding in my hands. I needed to go through at least some apprenticeship; at that point, I didn't even know how to mark up a manuscript!

These certificate programs are a wonderful thing. Not just because everyone cannot come to New York and work for a publisher, but because very few people in New York can do that any more. It's a different world. This is the apprenticeship. And at this moment, you have unrealistic expectations. There are a few people in the course who can edit right now. But they have been working at it for some years (we’ll keep that secret). But I’m glad they are conscientious enough to want to make their work even better. That’s dedication.

Don’t think about whether you should be an editor. Think about learning grammar. You see, learning grammar can do amazing things for you even if you become a lawyer, a community organizer, a teacher, or even an architect. That’s one of the great things about this program. It is actually useful to people in all occupations.

But what I love most about being an editor is that I am always learning.  Read More 
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Tests Are for Students, not Professional Editors and Writers

It's becoming too depressing to hear about the increasing number of people out there in cyberspace ready to offer phony freelance work. At this point I have received so many e-mails regarding scams I think I see a pattern. There appear to be two types, and some people who are scammed are well aware of it while others actually may not be.

The first, and more obvious, one is an offer of work, an inquiry in very poor English. Often, too much money is offered, particularly in light of no vetting. You can almost do no wrong, as they keep assuring you, "I want you.” It would be more accurate to say, "I want your money" because that's what they're after, and those of you who have been approached may know by now that the game is to declare they are sending you a very large check, and you need to send part of it to someone else, since it is more than the "agreed upon" fee for the gig. Some people believe the check they've been sent is good because it looks very good. In fact, it would take weeks to bounce because it has a legitimate bank routing number as well as a real account number. Not theirs. People get taken as soon as they send out that requested check---the good one!

The more subtle scam is to seek writers or editors (as many as possible), informing them all they must first write a two-page article or edit a chapter. The point is that the work is divvied up among the many people who have responded or who are contacted. If you agree to do the "sample, that is the work. I know of several people who actually kept contacting the person about the "real" work that was supposed to be coming. But they already did it! Just this morning someone contacted me out of the blue to write an article. I was asked to select from a list, given guidelines, etc., and they told me that regular work would then flow in. I was feeling kind of annoyed, so I responded that I was a professional writer and as such always worked for a fee.

The point is that in today's world most of us are "out there." We have social media pages, Web sites, blogs, and certainly sample work that can be shown. There is no reason for an experienced writer or editor to do a "test" or a "sample." Even in legitimate companies I believe only someone who doesn't know how to hire would dream of asking for such a thing. I have to say that in thirty years of doing this, I have never been asked to do freebies for any project. Long ago, sometimes we were told the work was conditional. But all the writers (or editors) were paid for all work done, even when it was unacceptable. When I was a project editor in several places, that was always the way it was. If the work of one of the writers or editors was unsatisfactory, that writer or editor was still paid but never used again. We always felt it was unfair to not pay them for their time, no matter what we thought of their work.  Read More 
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Working on a Manuscript

Unless other preferences are indicated, my editorial references are: Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. and Merriam Webster’s Collegiate, 11th ed. All manuscripts should be in a 12-point font, double spaced with all margins at least one inch. The manuscript should be electronically transmitted. If a manuscript is submitted with chapters in separate files, the final edited manuscript will be one file with consecutive page numbering. Front and back matter may be included, or in separate file, as preferred. Scholarly works are the exception, as separate files for each chapter, title page, front matter, back matter, bibliography, etc. are mandatory in some cases. Nonetheless, even in scholarly works, page numbers for the entire work run consecutively although citations and illustrations renumber with each chapter.

If a book has been signed for publication, and I’m dealing with an in-house editor, it is up to that editor as to the level of author contact. However, since it is becoming increasingly more common to have manuscripts edited before being submitted, the issue of an in-house editor as liaison has become more common for proofreading. When an agent is hiring the editor, the specific roles are stipulated in each case by the agent.

The editing process begins with an initial reading of the entire manuscript. The preliminary reading is necessary to note organization and content as well as elements that may require special attention such as footnotes, bibliography, images. Global problems may be noted at this time (for example, spelling inconsistencies). The second reading is the major editing read, and this is the slowest read in which anything (and everything) is looked up, confirmed, changed or queried. The final reading is to resolve any unanswered queries and to catch any discrepancies that may have been missed on the first pass. Ideally, this is done reading straight through. Inconsistencies are more clearly discerned if there is no interruption in the reading. The Style Sheet created during the first read is most useful at this time.

While working on the manuscript on the first editing pass, a Style Sheet is created, to note consistency on usage, punctuation, spelling, etc., as for example, whether to use the final series comma, capitalize certain words, hyphenate others, and so on. The Style Sheet, in the case of a novel or nonfiction story, is used to keep track of characters and events. In a work of nonfiction, it may also keep track of figures, tables, charts, illustrations as well as citations. Sometimes a time chart is kept, or even a map, depending on the material.

During the editing process, I may insert Comments. The Comments tool is on the drop down menu under Insert, and are usually transmitted with the manuscript. In order to view Comments, you can put the manuscript into Print Preview and go from comment to comment and accept each change or not. The process can be done manually by putting the cursor on each comment, and right click the mouse for a drop down menu and click on Edit to read and then Delete. But please do not answer with another comment! It will only have to be deleted later. Some clients prefer to have all Comments written right in the text, highlighted in yellow. That also works.

At the beginning of the editing process, the author will be sent a few pages for examination in order to ascertain that author and editor are “on the same page.” The Track Changes element in Word may be used for these few pages. Some clients want all the editing to be done in Track Changes. I can do that although I find it distracting to use Track Changes for an entire manuscript. However, the same result can be achieved by doing a “Compare Documents,” available in the Tools menu, between the original and final edited version. On the other hand, if you read through the edited version and you “don’t miss anything,” it is probably all right. If a question arises, you can always check the redlined version at that point or go back to the original to note whether it is as remembered, and whether there was a good reason to make any change. And I am always available for questions.

Publishers usually want a completed, edited manuscript sent on a CD. I can send the client the edited manuscript on CD, as well as electronically, or some authors prefer to do it themselves after a final reading.

The author is responsible for the content and its accuracy, originality of ideas and use of language as well as fair use of published material or trademarks. For nonfiction works, the publisher must determine the integrity of a manuscript. As an editor, any available backup is often helpful in working with the text.  Read More 
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The Writer and the Editor

It is clear that writers sometimes have bad experiences with editors and others good experiences. I have had both. First, let me make it clear that I am both a published writer and a professional editor—a trained professional editor, not someone who decided she could edit because she was a writer or had been an English teacher. But although I am now freelance—and a great many of the best editors today are freelance—I also worked at major publishing houses, starting as an editorial assistant. I also studied linguistics. But for the most part publishing houses in recent years, in their restructuring and acquisition phases, streamlined editorial departments to a bare minimum, if even that.

Thus, most freelance work is better than what you may find working in-house today since publishers think bottom line these days, being managed by marketing and not editorial. That usually means that they hire young inexperienced people and unfortunately often do not bother to train them. As one young thing said to me one day while I was working on-site, “Oh, I am so excited to do this, it’s my first real editing, and I am so nervous because grammar is my weak area.” And she became an editor? I was dumbfounded, and still wonder about that.

But for many, there is also the confusion of what an editor does. Many people are not aware that some editors do only copyediting while others are primarily involved in line editing or developmental editing. The first thing a writer has to know is what his or needs are in terms of the manuscript, or at least seek advice. Many seasoned writers turn in manuscripts that only need copyediting, and don’t need developmental work. But that may also be because it has become customary these days to have a manuscript edited before submission, and I wonder if that began as a result of the dearth of real editors in-house these days. Most first-time authors absolutely need to work with a developmental editor.

That thought reminds me of another misconception. I still recall one writer handing in a manuscript, assuring the editor that the “book needed no editing because he had already edited it.” A writer cannot “edit” his own book, he can only revise it. We all need editing. Maybe some more than others, but generally we become so lost in the thought that we often forget the mechanics, and words we expect to be on the page appear before us whether they’re there or not. We become mired in using the same words repeatedly in the effort to get the ideas out, and that fresh, professional eye catches what we missed. It is true that a bad editor can make a mess of good writing but, on the other hand, a good editor can add that final polish that gives the work that professional quality. The critical goal of the editor is to make the writer look good.

In today’s market many agents and publishers insist that an author have the manuscript edited before submission. They may even indicate that developmental editing is called for. Publishing has changed greatly from the days of Bennett Cerf, who kept a well-staffed company and proved you could make money publishing literature.  Read More 
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