I get that a lot. Usually followed, after a polite moment or two, by So, what do you do, exactly?
I know there are people who think I have a cushy job reading novels and finding spelling errors. By the fire. With chocolate.
Some of the time, that is even true.
But what does a typical day look like in the world of a freelance editor? In any given week I might do some or all of the following:
- Read manuscripts from a slush pile - I do this in batches of ten, reading as much as I need to decide whether to read more or reject, or recommend to another editor (sometimes I see something that is good, just not my taste).
- Do full reads on any manuscripts (ms) I am interested in- yes, that means reading the entire ms, determining if it is something I would like to work with, and doing a full book report/marketing analysis on it.
- Substantive editing: this is the part writers sometimes fear. It's where I go through and make comments and ask questions, and recommend things based on my reading of the ms. Does this makes sense? Is the heroine/hero strong enough? Is there enough motive provided? Are the character arcs developed? Does the author create a pull? Do the setting/characters/plot points work together? How is the pacing? Is the dialogue realistic? Is there enough? Is there too much? Are there weak areas? Is there action and is it in the right place? Can we strenthen the ms by moving things around? By adding something? By taking something away? Does the author give too much away too quickly? Or do we need more than we have? What makes these characters tick? Etcetera, etcetera. But all of these things really add up to one overriding question that the editor is trying to answer - with the help of the author: How can we make this better?
- I should note that substantive editing takes a long time. And we do it more than once, looking at changes to see if they need tweaking. Sometimes deciding that the original was better, and reverting. Often changing the changes again. And again. Until it's right. Until it's the best book it can be. By which time we have read it so often, we know the story by heart. Which is why I only recommend books I think I will want to read more than once.
- I should also note that no matter how good a writer you are, editing your own work only ever gets you so far. Not that you shouldn't polish a ms as much as possible, but you will never see your own work in as clear a light as an unbiased third party. Having said that, working with an editor is not the torture some people think. We are not out to get authors. Just here to help.
- Line Editing. I usually do this in conjunction with substantive editing, but at the end, I still go through one final time before sending it off to the copy editor.
- Work with writers to fine-tune their work.
- Look at technical documents and make sure the formatting is correct, the writing is clear and concise, and that when a Figure refers to Para 22.214.171.124.2, that it really does refer to Para 126.96.36.199.2.
- Turn a government document into plain English.
- Take a draft document and check grammar, syntax, spelling.