On freelance editing

I was contacted recently by Nancy Strauss, a consultant who specialises in online communication. Nancy blogs for The WM Freelance Writers Connection, and in this capacity she asked if I would be interested in doing an interview about freelance editing. I was, and I did, and the interview was published in two parts over the holiday period.

In part 1, I describe some of the types of editing work I do, recommend some books for freelance editors, and offer advice to people considering a career in freelance editing. It’s very general advice, as you’ll see below, partly because I became an editor by an unorthodox route. Here’s an excerpt:

Read everything. Read dictionaries and detective novels, instruction manuals and old poetry. Read great writers especially. Be sensitive to narrative structure. Stories are everywhere, awaiting readers and listeners. We make worlds from tiny tales, and even the driest prose hinges on a ‘someone’ doing something (e.g., driest prose hinging). Whether you’re editing fiction or non-fiction, find the characters performing the actions and build paragraphs and plots around them. Readers will thank you for it.

In part 2 of the interview, I talk about training, marketing, blogging, and communicating with clients; I also discuss when and why a writer might want to hire an editor, and when they might not. In the former case, here are some thoughts on the ‘wood-for-trees’ problem:

If you write, you’ll recognise the difficulty of assessing your work accurately beyond a certain point. We end up too close to our text, emotionally and intellectually. Mistakes and weaknesses become invisible through overfamiliarity. If we abandon it for a while, we gain a measure of critical distance from it, but never quite enough; and taking breaks is time-consuming. An experienced pair of eyes, fresh to the text, will spot things the writer won’t.

I hope the interview is helpful and interesting to writers and general readers, and maybe even other editors. I must say I found it personally instructive and enjoyable. Nancy’s questions encouraged me to reflect in more detail on certain aspects of my work that I had previously thought about only infrequently.

You can read the full interview here: part 1; part 2.

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10 Responses to On freelance editing

  1. I read your interview at WM Freelance Writers Connection and found it very helpful. I’m just getting started in my freelance business, and while I’ve found quite a bit of online info for freelance writers, I’ve found hardly anything for freelance editors. I was beginning to think this might not be a viable option for me as a career, but after looking through your blog and website, I’m excited again about the possibilities. Thanks for these posts!

  2. Stan says:

    You’re very welcome, Rebecca! I’m glad you found the interview helpful, and I’m grateful that you took the time to let me know. Whatever path you take (or find) in freelance writing and editing, I wish you the best of luck.

  3. Interesting interview, Stan, and I take note in particular of your mention of editing theses. When I used to assess these, I always assumed that they were the author’s own work, editing and all, and I would have been dubious of outside involvement. I realise that the impact of editing may vary considerably from subject to subject, but isn’t there an argument that a student should be assessed on his or her own work, including the ability to self-edit? I’m probably being unrealistic here, and it’s certainly no criticism of your admirable self, but I’d be heartened to think that a student’s particularly well-placed semi-colon was his or her own doing.

  4. Stan says:

    PFW: I understand your concerns, and you make a reasonable point. On the other hand, students work tremendously hard assembling their research into a single document – more often than not under huge pressure – and it would be a shame if their efforts fell short of their potential because of modest shortcomings in, say, their command of syntax. Writing skills don’t come naturally, and I’ve yet to meet a student who had time to perfect theirs before submitting a thesis. Some students frankly acknowledge outside help, including editing and proofreading; others don’t. That’s not my call to make.

  5. Excellent interview Stan. I am sure that it will be of great use for people setting out.

  6. Stan says:

    Thanks very much, Jams. I appreciate your taking the time to read it.

  7. John Cowan says:

    Here’s my take on what kinds of help such as editing or uncited quotation are appropriate when. The tl;dr version is that help is impermissible if it would corrupt the evaluation process for the work, and permissible otherwise.

  8. John Cowan says:

    I just realized this is old; it popped up in my Feedly feed just now, though.

  9. Stan says:

    Thanks, John. It’s a very interesting discussion. Increasingly I find that students approach me to proofread or edit their theses because their supervisor advised them to. I think most writers evaluate each of my changes rather than automatically accepting them en masse.

    More than anything else, the work is about correcting basic errors, tweaking punctuation, and ensuring consistent style/vocab and formatting. Occasional lines I adjust for style to disentangle a knottily presented idea, but I wouldn’t say it amounts to rewriting.

    By the way, I expect Feedly fed you this post again because I updated it – the website hosting the interview disappeared, so I changed the links to the cached versions at the Internet Archive.

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