A note from Louise: Sound author/editor relationships, based on respect and sensitivity, are the key to good editorial practice, argues my colleague Jennifer Hinchliffe in this latest guest spotlight ...
I am a writer! I've been writing now, for, mmm let’s see, compared with all the other writers and authors in this world, it would have to be, oh, ten minutes?! (By the way, that bit at the end is called an "interrobang” – I learnt that yesterday.)
I think I have just started to like the sound of my own voice, on paper. Maybe that’s what a writer is. Anyway, this is my third offering, and I hope not my last.
During the start of my literary journey, I asked someone to look over my words, and two were changed for me. Just changed. No suggestion, no explanation. Well, I took umbrage. I took severe umbrage! I had so much umbrage, I had no room for any other emotion. How dare they presume to do that?! (Another interrobang!) OK, I know what you’re thinking – “It’s just two words for goodness sake. Get a grip.”
But with that interference, I was catapulted, in no uncertain terms, into the well-worn shoes of the author and now I know how authors and writers must feel … words are so personal, they come from your mind after all, and you and only you have put them in that order, worked hard to get your soul on paper (or your knowledge or opinions, anyway). I read a lot of research and analysis books, and the work that goes into producing them is astounding. Months, sometimes years, of research go into the books that end up on our desks in manuscript form. It is very easy to forget this, very easy to just receive, read, return (the three Rs of proofreading?).
There have never been more authors than there are today, particularly with the advent of the internet, e-books and blogs. More and more ordinary, everyday people are turning their hand to the written word, even if it isn't written at all, just pounded out on a keyboard.
So the need for proofreaders and copy-editors is increasing, even if these authors don't realize they need them. The truth of the matter is, literature needs to be literate. Although new businesses think they don't need their advertising brochures proofread, in not doing so they give the impression of being cowboys, coming across as unprofessional – and not caring that they look so will not result in clients hammering down their doors. More and more students are looking to the proofreader to make their final document, (be it a PhD thesis, or Master’s dissertation) look as professionally put together as it can be. It is a difficult battle, but it is up to us to keep up the fight and show authors and writers how necessary we are.
But I digress. The purpose of this article is to promote copy-editor/author and proofreader/author relationships. It can be a tortuous road, the road to publication, and if we as copy-editors and proofreaders can make this road easier to traverse, then that is what we should do. After all, that is basically why we exist, isn't it? To help create the final product?
Writers and authors, quite rightly, fiercely protect their words and styles. It is up to us to make our part of it as painless as possible for them. They have done all the hard work; it is now our job to deal with the fine-tuning. It is a very difficult relationship because we never get to meet them. They are just names, and our relationship is often with a production editor, so it is easy to forget that those authors are people with feelings and emotions, and that they basically “own” their words, and have entrusted them to perfect strangers.
Occasionally, we are asked to deal directly with the author if there are any major concerns. It requires careful attention, and, as I said before, difficult when you have never met them. However, I am reminded of one of the very particular rules I was taught when learning to be a copy-editor, and that was to respect the author, respect their words, and the amount of effort that has gone into the manuscript. Load your suggestions with “perhaps this” and “maybe that” and don't alter their words unless it is a massively obvious mistake. Query, and only change what is necessary. Follow your queries with the reasons for them, to back up your suggestions. Put those reasons clearly, succinctly and your author will thank you for them rather than object to them.
And the most important thing of all – remember that without authors, we wouldn't have a job.
Copyright 2012 Jennifer Hinchliffe, copy-editor and proofreader
About Jennifer Hinchliffe: I have been a freelance copy-editor and proofreader for the last 15 years. I studied for and achieved my Diploma in Copy-Editing and Proofreading at the Australian College of Journalism and also have a Diploma in Freelance Journalism. I am a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). I have proofread or copy-edited more than 150 books on various subjects under the umbrella of the social sciences.
I would like to thank Louise Harnby, who is not only a colleague and friend but has been almost like a mentor to me. Without Louise I would not be inspired to put these thoughts into words.
Contact me via my website An Eye for Perfection, on LinkedIn, or through my SfEP Directory of Editorial Services listing.
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I'm an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
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