Writing requires a set of skills that took you years to perfect. Many skills I use in my work as a freelance editor are skills I have honed over the years, too. In Part I of this series, I discussed Research, Observation, and Brevity as they relate to the editing work I do for authors. Today I’ll like to talk about Accuracy and Honesty, two personal attributes that I consider important skills when writing and editing.
Many people don’t realize how much background work is involved in bringing a manuscript to publication. Copyediting (sometimes called line editing) includes fact checking, which can be a time-consuming process, especially for nonfiction work. Even works of fiction require fact checking; for example, if one of your characters plays basketball, I’ll check the spelling of terminology—three pointer or three-pointer? Consistency matters, too: If that character was 6’1” in one chapter and 5’11’ in a later chapter, I’ll bring that to your attention. As a freelance editor, I work diligently to be sure my client doesn’t publish inaccurate or inconsistent information, and that includes everything from the spelling of a corporate name (Wal-Mart or Walmart?) to correct citations (Wikipedia is not considered a reliable source for citations, by the way).
Fitting hand-in-glove with accuracy is honesty. Sadly, sometimes writers don’t understand their obligation to cite an idea that came from somewhere else, and instead they write as though a concept is their own, original idea, or worse, they copy a phrase or paragraph and change a few words here and there to “make it their own.” If you don’t know how to properly present someone else’s words or ideas, I can help you do so.
Many nonfiction authors use chapter opening quotations in their books, so I verify the accuracy of those wordings—and the spelling of the contributor’s name—whenever possible. (If I had a dollar for every time I saw Mother Teresa’s name spelled Mother Theresa . . .)
I want my clients to be proud of the work they produce, so I edit with accuracy and ethics in mind.I want my clients to be proud of the work they produce, so I edit with accuracy and ethics in… Click To Tweet
Honesty with an Author
I’d like to address a different type of honesty here—my responsibility as I see it to be honest with my client. I try to be an honest and ethical person in everything I do, and because my business is also my livelihood (and affects my personal and professional reputations), honesty is huge for me.
- I don’t have the answer to every question, and I don’t pretend to by making things up.
- If I underbid a job, I complete it for the quoted fee and take the financial hit (I figure the responsibility for understanding the scope of a job is mine, so if I don’t ask enough or the right questions, shame on me).
- I don’t discuss specific details about a writer’s work without his or her permission.
- I treat my clients the way I would expect to be treated if I were the client.
I always try to communicate in an honest and forthright manner. I understand just how difficult it is for an author to send his or her “baby” off to a complete stranger and then pay to have that person judge it, and I keep that in mind as I edit. To use a sports analogy, I see myself as a coach during the editing process; sometimes the coach has to make unpopular decisions or share information that’s difficult to hear, but the coach always has the team’s best interest in mind.
I turn down editing work when I believe the writer would be wasting hard-earned money by paying for professional editing before spending more time of revising and self-editing. It isn’t easy to say that to an author who thinks he or she is one step away from publishing a masterpiece, but I want every author I work with to be as successful as possible, and that just won’t happen if a first draft is published as a completed book. This is another case where the maxim “Honesty is the best policy” rings true.
In Part III of this series, I’ll discuss Handling Feedback, another skill in a writer’s toolbox, and how it relates to editing.
Images courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer, ghostwriter, and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining an author’s unique voice while helping him or her create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.
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