Thursday, October 9, 2014

Guest Post: Why edit? by Amy Haagsma (EAC-BC)

 Because it matters. 
By Amy Haagsma 
on behalf of EAC-BC, the BC branch of the 
Editors’ Association of Canada

Who are editors?

Writers and editors share many traits, including a love of language and the desire to engage their audience through the written word. Although editors work alongside writers, they perform very different functions. On a basic level, editors help improve, clarify, and correct errors in written work. Their mediums may include book manuscripts, magazine and newspaper articles, technical documents, reports, speeches, press releases, and websites. Editors work in a variety of sectors, including publishing, corporate, government, and not-for-profit.

Editors are generally drawn to their profession by an interest in language and a passion for detail and accuracy. Editors delight in finding the perfect word, untangling a complex piece of prose, and smoothing language until it rolls effortlessly off the tongue. To call an editor a stickler is, in fact, a compliment. While generally mild-mannered, editors will not hesitate to fervently defend their position on important matters such as the Oxford comma. 

Most importantly, however, editors are advocates for the finished work and its intended audience. Often the first critical reader, an editor brings a second set of eyes and a different perspective. An editor is both an unbiased critic and an unwavering fan, helping you see what is succeeding in your work and what may warrant another look. Editors appreciate good writing and are content to take on the role of best supporting actor, casting the spotlight on the writer and their work.

What do editors do?

Editors work in partnership with writers to create documents that are clear, accurate, interesting, and engaging. Prior to publication, a written work will typically undergo four main stages of editing: structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, and proofreading. The following descriptions are from Professional Editorial Standards, produced by the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC): 

Structural editing is assessing and shaping material to improve its organization and content.

Stylistic editing is editing to clarify meaning, improve flow, and smooth language.

Copy editing is editing to ensure correctness, consistency, accuracy, and completeness.

Proofreading is examining material after layout to correct errors in textual and visual elements.

If you are not sure what type of editing you need, an editor can generally provide guidance in this area. Some editors offer multiple levels of editing, while others may specialize in one or two. However, even if a single editor is undertaking all four editing stages, they will be done separately (for the most part). Stylistic editing is commonly combined with either structural editing or copy editing, while allowing for at least two rounds of editing before design and layout. Proofreading is always undertaken as a separate task after design and layout. Editors may also provide additional services such as manuscript evaluation, developmental/project editing, rewriting, fact-checking, indexing, and more. For more information on many common editorial services, please see EAC’s Definitions of editorial skills.

Why do you need an editor?

Editors are invaluable to the writing process, and professional editing is essential to the success of your work. Many authors are now choosing self-publishing over traditional publishing, which means taking on many of the editorial tasks typically assumed by publishers. One of the most common themes in negative reviews of self-published works is a lack of editing. Even with traditional publishing, many agents will only accept a manuscript after it has been professionally edited. 

Self-editing is not advised: as a writer, you are too close to your own work to see it objectively. After months or even years of writing and rewriting, you will read the text according to its intended meaning. It is far more difficult to know how a reader would perceive it. You may be tempted to enlist the help of a friend, family member, or fellow author; however, there is no substitute for an editor’s trained eye.

How can you find an editor?

If you have not worked with an editor before, you may be wondering how to find one. A good starting point is to ask for referrals from other writers whom you know personally or through professional associations. The Internet can also be a valuable resource, as many editors have personal websites. EAC also provides a number of tools to help you find and hire an editor, including an online directory and a national job board. Individual branches also offer job announcement hotlines. 

When seeking an editor, you will want to consider the degree of editing needed as well as the genre. Look for someone who is professional, competent, and a good fit with your writing style and goals, and whose strengths complement your weaker areas. Membership in professional associations demonstrates that an editor is invested in the industry and committed to professional development. EAC has also recently introduced a certification process for structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, and proofreading. To become certified, editors undergo rigorous tests, which are based on EAC’s Professional Editorial Standards.

Once you have shortlisted one or more editors who you feel would be a good fit, contact them to discuss your project and their availability. Ask for references, work samples, and rates. Fees will vary based on the industry, the deadline, the type and complexity of editing required, and the editor’s experience and training. You can expect to pay between $35 and $100 per hour for a professional editor. The number of hours required can be estimated based on a representative sample to give you an idea of the total cost. 

What is the Editors’ Association of Canada?

 EAC is a federally incorporated, not-for-profit organization representing editorial professionals across Canada. EAC-BC, the BC branch, is one of 12 regional branches and twigs. EAC offers professional development opportunities for editors, provides resources to assist with hiring and working with an editor, and promotes and maintains high standards in editing and publishing.