Today is a twin post to last week’s instalment, because there are two monkeys at opposite ends of the keyboard. Today I’m going to be talking to the one who’s holding the red pen: the editor.
Editors bear the not-inconsiderable task of rendering writing into something that is not barfed upon. Editors defend writers from accusations of sloppy grammar and structure. Editors catch double-ups and inconsistencies. Editors also routinely consume far more caffeine than is healthy and keep hours that would better suit a neurotic fruitbat.
Some tips to being a good editor are also tips to help survive being an editor at all.
Tip 1) Budget your time.
You have an epic to read, whether it’s an epic in terms of length or sheer amount of tracked changes you’re going to have to make, so prepare yourself ahead of time. Sort out how long you can commit to each chapter, section and page before moving on. Even if some writers are precious about deadlines, that doesn’t mean that you need to stoop to their level. Treat editing like a job, even if you aren’t being paid, and set out a timesheet. This will stop you from going insane, losing track of meals, or just skimming work and letting embarrassing mistakes get published.
Tip 2) Be realistic about what changes can be made.
Let’s be honest: is the work fixable? Writers can be fickle and sensitive. One day they’re begging for feedback, the next they’re cursing you out and mailing you razorblades with their latest print. Don’t take it personally. Or at least, don’t make it obvious that you’re taking it personally. That’s how we get charged with felonies. Assess the work in percentages, for example: this story is 10% drivel, 30% incomprehensible, 20% miscellaneous boring descriptions, and 40% decent plot and development. Do you really want to rewrite more than half a story? Examine the good parts, highlight them, and send them back to the author with a request to do over. Brace for impact. Consider changing address.
Tip 3) Read widely and keep an open mind.
The author may have said that they’re writing a historical fiction, but does it read more like science fiction? Read outside your comfort zone so that you can recognise (and help) with a broader range of texts. Wait til you’re rich, famous and employed as a highly respected editor before getting picky about what you will or won’t read. Fishing around in different genres is a great way to boost your value as an editor, and also to give you no end of horror stories to share about terrible books that you’ve found along the way. You never know, it could even introduce you to your new favourite genre. Or alternatively, remind you why you love your pet genre so much.
Tip 4) Check your freaking grammar.
Some editors can’t use grammar correctly, but are completely convinced otherwise. They spread hate and disease wherever they go, abusing poor apostrophes and ending sentences on prepositions without due cause. They are a plague, and an insult to everyone who can construct a sentence. Study the damn subject before professing to teach it. Mistakes and slips happen, but please at least check.
Tip 5) Talk to other editors.
Sounds simple, but it doesn’t happen nearly enough. Don’t just try to out-swot each other with tales of fantastically dreadful texts, your vast employability and billions of awards (they’ll know you’re lying). Share strategies and compare approaches. Learn diplomacy and different tips and tricks that other editors use to get stuff published, changes accepted, and sanity restored. Collaboration is your friend!
To finish up, here are some places currently accepting writing. No entry fees, print and online publication available. Go forth and get published! Trove in particular is very accepting of all kinds and levels of writing.