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Barbara's Virtual Pen

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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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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