There are plenty of stereotypes about editors (no, we don’t wear green eyeshades or cackle while we dissect your prose with a red pen). Separating truth from fiction can help find the right person to make your writing sparkle. Here are three myths about editors that we’re busting today:
We’re not silently judging your grammar. When I’m introduced to someone at a party, the first thing I hear is often: “Oooh, I’ll have to watch my grammar!” People often think that editors enjoy playing “gotcha” and being sticklers about everything you say. Although experienced editors are (ahem!) pretty savvy about a wide range of knowledge, no serious wordsmith is correcting anything you say, silently or otherwise. First of all, we’re probably much more interested in what you’re talking about! Second, our specialty is written language, not spoken. Third, what editors really care about is whether your writing is clear and appropriate for your audience. Stylebooks and standards are always changing, and sometimes being technically “wrong” grammatically is perfectly fine for the circumstances.
We don’t want to take over your project. We’ve all heard the saying “Those who can’t do, teach”—but editors aren’t frustrated writers! The goal of editing is to support writers and make them look good in print. A professional editor won’t just hand you an edited file and a bill, never to be seen again. Communication is key. Before starting to work with you, an editor should ask questions about your material, offer a short sample of their work, and begin a conversation about your expectations and goals. (And yes, fellow language enthusiasts, the singular “they/their” is considered acceptable nowadays!) There’s no such thing as the “best editor”—there’s only the best editor for you.
We’re not blasé about changing your words. I have only one inspirational sign on my desktop, and it reads, “First, do no harm.” Like a doctor, I’m mindful of how easy it can be to introduce a mistake where none exists. I have done it (and I’ve had it done to me), and there’s a good reason it’s viewed as a “never event” in the medical world. So how do we avoid this cardinal sin? The answer is (again!) communication. Editing is a back-and-forth process, not a single event. The more responsive you are to your editor’s work, the more on-target their edits will be. Even the best editor will get it wrong (or just not quite right) sometimes. Don’t be afraid to ask for explanations and request do-overs. We want you to be happy with our work.
What you say and how you say it is more art than science. There’s no “right” way to edit a book—or even this sentence! That’s doubly true for autobiographical writing, because voice is the crucial element that connects you with your readers. We at RLM are always happy to discuss what kind of editing makes sense for your project. Please take that first step and talk to us. No judgments, we promise!