1. There are many types of editors
People often assume that ALL editors perform the same role, but there is an abundance of roles that editors take on that require different skill sets and experience. The most common types of editors that you may come across are structural editors, copyeditors and proofreaders. As a general rule, structural editors look at content and structure (the big picture), copyeditors deal with language and style (the details), and proofreaders check that the document is ready for publication following layout (the final gatekeeper). Sometimes, an editor can specialise in one or two roles, and occasionally even all of them; however, don’t assume that a copyeditor is also a proofreader or that a proofreader is also a structural editor. Additionally, editors can specialise in different genres: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, educational textbooks, legal texts, cookbooks, the list goes on. The moral of the story? Don’t lump ALL editors into one basket—we are all unique snowflakes (or so we like to believe).
2. Editing involves a lifetime of learning
The world of editing can seem daunting for new editors entering the field, but fear not: you’re not expected to know everything…and, in fact, you never will. Far from knowing everything about the English language—and let’s face it, there’s a lot to know—editors recognise when there is potential for errors to occur in texts and will check (and re-check) their trusted resources—aka dictionaries, house and style manuals—accordingly. Language is not static, which doesn’t always sit well with editors given our penchant for hard and fast rules; nevertheless, editors need to embrace the fluidity of language and continually evolve their skills and keep up to date with trends in language and new words that have entered the general lexicon.
3. Even editors disagree about grammar and grammar rules
Think about this: the Editors’ Association of Canada sent 101 of its members a series of sentences to edit; one particular sentence was sent back with 100 different edits—only one pair of editors had made the same corrections. And almost all of the corrections were correct! Although there are some strict grammar rules to follow (and even then, sometimes grammar rules are thrown out the window, particularly in fiction editing), there are other elements that are more a matter of style, and most of the time editors are required to base their editorial decisions on a particular house or style manual, or to make an author’s preferred style consistent. There is rarely ever ONE right way.
4. There will be errors left in a manuscript…even though editors don’t like to admit this
Sometimes you may spot an error in a book and think that the editor didn’t do a thorough job (please don’t point out any errors in this post to me). However, a 100 per cent accuracy rate is not realistic, nor should it be expected. Other factors such as resources, budget and the original state of a manuscript need to be taken into account, not to mention our old friend/foe: TIME. Editing a manuscript takes a lot of time (even manuscripts with small word counts can take a lot of time to edit) and extended periods of concentration (often editors prefer not to work more than 4 to 5 hours a day for this reason). If pressed for time, an editor’s main objective should be to catch the errors that ordinary readers would pick up on, such as obvious spelling mistakes and poorly constructed sentences—even if we do shudder at the thought of misplaced hyphens, en dashes and em dashes.
5. Editors are here to help you
People, and writers in particular, often have this image of editors in tortoise-shell glasses circling typos with a red pen and slashing out great slabs of text while shrieking maniacally. Yes, editors do get a somewhat perverse pleasure in picking up errors in writing, but this is more to do with the fact that editors want to help writers develop their manuscript into its best possible form. Corrections aren’t meant to make you feel as if you’ve failed; in fact, editors are in awe of writers’ abilities and feel privileged to be part of the process of bringing a manuscript to life.
Camha Pham is a freelance editor and proofreader, and has worked across a broad range of materials including educational textbooks, and non-fiction and fiction titles. She was formerly a Development Editor at Oxford University Press, Melbourne, and has a Master of Publishing and Editing from Monash University. Her website is www.camhapham.com