Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wanna Be an Editor?

Has some small print publication flattered you by asking you to be an editor? Well, when you see the pay, you see why.

Even editors who know what they’re doing get their behinds chewed by authors. Editors who don’t know what they’re doing have a short life expectancy.

Wanna be an editor? Then learn the trade.

No, straight A’s through four years of an Ivy League major in English doesn’t qualify you. In fact, chances are that it has left you without a clue as to what professional writing is all about. Indeed, those “soulless” and “robotic” inferior intellects of the science majors probably know better than you.

Because it’s all about the reader, you see. Communication. Not self expression. Not for attention. Publication isn’t a public address system: it’s a service industry.

If you want to succeed in this business, as in any business, you must make your product as user friendly as possible. In other words, quit showing off and be considerate of your reader by not making your writing one bit denser than necessary. And if that seems some sort of comedown for you, you aren’t cut out for the job.

So get The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. Read it. Learn it. Do it. Then get Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing by Claire Kehrwald Cook. Read it. Learn it. Do it. Then get a guide to writing in plain English. You can even get some in PDF format free online. Read it. Learn it. Do it.

Now you know a thing or two about professional writing.

I am assuming that you already know standard English grammar and usage, but that isn’t guaranteed by a degree these days either. So, if you don’t know standard English grammar and usage, learn it. Everybody makes occasional mistakes – usually through accident more than ignorance. But when several of your edits introduce grammatical errors into a piece, you look bad.

Next, pa-LEEZE learn how to use the frickin’ software! Click “Tools.” Then in the menu click “Track Changes.” Turn on this editing function and use it.

I know it’s a close encounter with science, but that isn’t asking too much of an artist, is it?

The author has a right to see every change you SUGGEST clearly marked beside original language.

When you sneak your changes through by making it all but impossible for the author to catch them all, you greatly increase the odds of errors (both you and the author have made) getting all the way through the editing process and into print. Not the way to impress your readership.

And work from the original document through File > Save As… so that the author’s name remains as the author of that document and isn’t replaced by yours.

Be able to justify every suggestion you make. Use the Comments function to explain when necessary.

So what if you think struck sounds better than hit. Write your own article then. Because that’s an arbitrary change that can’t be justified.

Never, never, never change the meaning. The author is the expert writing this article, not you.

And don’t think that people in technical fields like sports or science are ignorami who can’t write as pretty as you do and need you to make their writing sound more high falutin.’ You are just asking to get embarrassed by people whose writing is strong, clear, and concise -- a breeze to edit by editors who know what they’re doing.

And once you've learned to edit like a professional, find a position at a publication that pays a decent salary.

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