When editors get together, we often talk about process. We ask questions like: What does your onboard process look like? How can you generate metadata that’s helpful to clients? Why are projects successful or unsuccessful? Philosophically, we regard process as the foundation of all successful edits. A cleanly edited document is the result of a clear and consistent process, executed by an experienced editor familiar with certain genres of writing. Budget editors, by contrast, throw themselves into edits without thinking through how to meet their clients expectations.
Yet I’ve noticed that clients tend to not have thought as much about the editing process. If they haven’t worked with an editor before, they might even think of editing simply as “copy editing”—email an editor the draft, and they work their magic. This makes sense to me. When I hire a plumber, I have no idea of the steps to diagnose my malfunctioning drain. They work with pipes all day; I just know that water stagnates in my sink and I don’t want my kitchen flooded. Similarly, I work with words all day, whereas my clients’ time is typically filled with teaching and administration. Sensibly enough, they may not have thought about editing process until they realize they need an editor.
Last week I realized that I was being a “bad plumber”—I hadn’t ever blogged about my editing process! This blog post hopefully rectifies this shortcoming, and shows potential clients what a smooth editing process looks like.
The first step is I determine whether a project is what I call a “simple edit.” Simple edits have clearly defined goals, such as text reduction (e.g., cutting 20% of the manuscript), reference conversion (e.g., APA to Chicago, or Chicago “Notes” style to “Author-Date” style), or line editing only. Simple edits are often are performed for clients I’ve worked with before, meaning I know their preferred working style. If the editing job is a simple edit, I can usually jump ahead to the editing stage.
For other clients and types of projects, I typically start by briefly evaluating the manuscript and meeting with them. Put simply, a manuscript evaluation involves skimming the document to see what issues I notice in the text. After five years of editing academic book and article manuscripts, I can quickly flag issues in the text to discuss with the client. Evaluating a manuscript also helps me realistically anticipate how much time it will take me to edit the text. A manuscript with more pre-existing problems or ambitious goals will take more time than one that is already in a fairly good state. More complex manuscripts may take me the same amount of time, but I need to edit when my mind is freshest, like in the morning after a cup of coffee.
Next, in our first editorial meeting—which is free for new clients—I want to understand the client’s vision for their writing project. What does a successful outcome look like to them? Why do particular academic authors inspire them? This meeting also serves to set shared goals and how I touch (as we editors say) the text. Some clients prefer frequent meetings, while others like me to be more hands-on with edits. We can also take care of financial questions (e.g., producing an estimate for an academic institution) and set future regular meetings. All these discussions ensure a smooth edit that a client will be satisfied with. After this meeting, a client can make an informed decision about whether I’m the right editor for their project.
Finally, I move into working with the text—what most people think of as “editing.” I have a set of macros and programs to automate cleaning a manuscript to address common issues, such as duplicate spaces and international spelling conventions (e.g., “flavour” in the UK vs. “flavor” in the US). Then comes the bulk of my editing work in the form of developmental and line editing. Developmental editing works on the level of paragraphs, removing or re-organizing sections of a writing project to ensure a clear and compelling argument. Line editing involves changing sentences so they read more smoothly. I can do developmental and line edits simultaneously at around 2500 words per hour. All told, the text editing process takes around two weeks, unless a client prefers an expedited service (typically 2-3 working days).
When editing concludes, if a client wishes, I spend 30-60 minutes writing up 500-1000 words of developmental feedback for my client. This feedback diagnoses problems in the text and offers actionable suggestions to improve its chance of being accepted for publication. Optionally, I can meet with a client to discuss developmental suggestions, rather than putting it in an email. Once this step is completed and the client is satisfied with the edit, the project is done!
I hope this blog post reveals the process that supports my editing practice and has resulted in over 100 successful book manuscript, conference paper manuscript, and journal manuscript edits. As always, if you’re interested in working together, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Dr. Aure / Andrew Schrock is the Senior Editor at Indelible Voice, an editing service for academic book proposals, book manuscripts, and journal article manuscripts. You can find them on Twitter at @aschrock.