A person sits on their bed with their computer on their lap.

Platforms for Freelance Editors

There are many perks to being a freelance editor. You can set your own schedule, choose editorial tasks that suit you and play to your strengths, and you can often work from the comfort of your own home. But if you’re a new freelance editor on the scene, you might have some trouble breaking into the field and establishing yourself as an authority in your particular specialty. Whether you specialize in developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, or some combination of the three, there are a few great online platforms you can use to kickstart or revamp your career.
The first platform is great for editors who are just getting started and want to establish themselves in the field. Upwork is a platform that allows freelancers of all types to find remote work opportunities posted by companies and individuals looking for experts. All you need to do to get started is create a profile on their site, upload some personal information, and provide your past relevant work experience. Once your profile has been approved, you’re all set to start applying for jobs.
Reedsy is another great site for freelance editors to find work, and it has the added bonus of focusing specifically on the development and production of books. If you’re a freelance book editor looking to expand your client base and get more projects, this is a great place to start. As with most sites, it may take a little time to get fully established, and Reedsy is especially useful for editors who already have a portfolio of work they can showcase.
Another popular platform for freelancers that editors can make use of is Fiverr. While this particular site doesn’t focus exclusively on book production like Reedsy does, it still offers numerous opportunities for editors to find work, especially those who specialize in copyediting and proofreading. It also gives you the opportunity to curate your own presence on the site with images and work samples so you can attract the kind of editorial clients you’d ultimately like to work with.
These three sites are all great starting points for editors looking to find their first clients or for those looking to revamp their careers. They allow editors to start out and get some basic editorial experience, and your success on these sites will compound the more experience you get. Be sure to collect work samples from each project you complete, as well as testimonials from clients you work with so you can add them to your profile to attract future clients. There’s a lot of competition for editors out there, so it’s important to make yourself stand out and highlight what makes you unique.
When setting your rates, be sure to refer to the Editorial Freelancer’s Association and their editorial rates page as well as considering the going rates for comparable editors on the site you choose. Remember that one of the biggest mistakes new editors make is not charging enough for their services, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve! You want your rates to be competitive, but above all, to reflect your talent, expertise, and the value of your work.

old typewriter with words

Lies My Teachers Taught Me: The Evolution of the Writing Process

I want you to think back to your high school English classes. What was your biggest takeaway from those four years? For me, it was the basic writing process: find your topic, research it, organize your notes, create an outline, write a rough draft, revise it, proofread it, and submit. Every paper I wrote used this method.

My senior year, everything I learned about this process changed when my AP English teacher introduced us to a different way of thinking about revision. He argued that the writing process we had been taught underestimated the value of revision and its importance in the writing process. Writing should be 70 percent revision, 25 percent writing, and the rest minor editing. Writers should constantly be revising their work—looking at their work with fresh eyes and reimagining it until it reaches its full potential.

Writing has always been stressful for me, but this new mindset helped take away a lot of the pressure because it meant that I didn’t have to have everything written—I could start with the most critical elements and come back to it later. It revolutionized my writing process and I became a better writer because of it.

By the time I finished my bachelor’s degree, I had developed my own personal writing style that focused on revising my work in multiple rounds. It was a blend of everything I had been taught about writing and the “correct” processes. I thought I was set when it came to my writing and that this process would be my method for life.

Within two weeks of starting my master’s program, my writing world once again imploded on itself. While learning about the different stages of the editing process, I learned that revising is not actually revision—it’s the standard editing process.

Go back to high school English again, this time concentrating on what you were taught to look for when revising: big picture errors like inconsistencies in plot, character development, organization, and flow. In my own process, I reread my paper looking for inconsistencies, reorganizing sentences and paragraphs, and joining sentences together. In the editing world we call this developmental editing.

When we were asked to proofread our papers and look for errors in grammar, tone, verb tense, syntax, and voice, I obsessed over every word, every sentence, and every paragraph. I was line and copyediting without realizing it. The final read-through before turning in our papers is proofreading and typesetting.

Putting these pieces together blew my mind. But it makes sense when you take a step back and think about it in terms of the endgame. Editors want to ensure that a manuscript is the absolute best it can be so that it will be picked up by publishers and distributed into the world; authors have this same goal: to be published and get their work out there. In high school, and even in college, we wanted our work to be good enough to be accepted and approved by our teachers. The shared goal is to be accepted, and to be told that we produced quality work.

I wish I had learned about the connection between editing and revising sooner. I fell in love with revision and realized that my passion is in helping other writers create their best work. Revising helped me realize that I want to work in the publishing industry; I just wish these connections were made clearer in high school. I would have realized my passion much sooner.

Finding Joy in Freelance Copyediting

There are many challenges when it comes to freelancing. Finding clients, setting your rate, and navigating communication channels can be daunting. While most of these difficulties can’t be avoided, some of the stress they cause can be offset by making freelance work a joyful pursuit. Allow me to share what my part-time freelance copyediting experience over the past four years has taught me.

Communicate Clearly and Constantly

I don’t think there’s a limit to how much stress can be avoided by communicating clearly, both upfront and throughout your professional relationship with your writer. Things that are highly important to discuss initially include:

  • Your rate and payment method.
  • Time needed to complete the edits.
  • Type of edit desired and style guide preferred.
  • Means of delivering materials to one another.

I have also found it useful to ask my client questions early on about their familiarity with Track Changes and markup language, and there are some technical questions I ask as well, like whether they use a PC or a Mac computer, which helps me know how to respond should they have trouble with formatting after I’ve returned the draft.

Favor Compassion Within Professional Boundaries

Once you have parameters set and feel at ease about everyone’s expectations, it’s important to maintain a compassionate approach to the editing process and your relationship with your client. It is easy to grow annoyed when a writer “checks in” just a tad too often or if they continue reaching out with follow-up questions after your initial agreement has been met. But chances are your client, especially if they are debuting their first book, is just nervous, and that’s an opportunity for you to be a professional source of guidance and acceptance.

Pay attention to how you communicate in your comments and edits. Use uplifting language and ask questions rather than making assumptions. Cultivating your author-editor relationship takes constant care, but if you do it right, you may wind up with a lasting connection.

See Greater Returns on Your Investment Through Referrals

I’ll be honest. Before coming into the Ooligan program, I didn’t have a professional website or portfolio anywhere on the internet. I haven’t even marketed myself as a freelancer on social media. All of my business has come through the referrals of authors I have previously worked with in some capacity and their networks, and projects have varied from self-published novels and memoirs to children’s books, from essay anthologies to sales copy.

This has been successful through keeping up with former clients, following their book projects, and celebrating milestones alongside them. Because of our connection, when they go on to attend writing conferences and meet other aspiring authors, there is always a chance that could turn into more editing work for me.

(Disclaimer: I actually would recommend setting up a website or e-portfolio for yourself if you’re just starting out or want to freelance full-time. Do as I say, not as I do, eh?)

Play to Your Strengths and Passions

I believe that any job can be exciting if you can modify it to fit your personality. For me, as a former high school teacher and computer tutor, this looks like being intentional in my efforts to clear up any confusion my writers may be experiencing. Whether it’s providing insights into obscure grammar rules or showing them helpful tricks in Microsoft Word, I use my background in education to add an extra layer to the feedback I provide.

This doesn’t have to be a service you verbalize or explicitly include in your agreement with your client. Personally, going the extra mile by educating makes the task feel worthwhile, much like it did when I used to work in a classroom. You will need to think about the interests or experiences in your life outside of editing that made work joyful and get creative in how you can incorporate them in your freelance endeavors.

Don’t let freelancing just be something that has to be done to make ends meet. If you can add value to the work by following these tips and more, you may find that the money isn’t even the part that makes it worthwhile.

How to Build Community with Other Editors

Editing can be a lonely profession. The number of in-house editing positions has declined in recent years, and more and more editors are working as freelancers. This means editors spend a lot of time at home, toiling away in Track Changes with only Merriam-Webster and The Chicago Manual of Style for company. But although editors are a notoriously introverted bunch, we all stand to benefit from a little social connection. What happens when you run into a truly perplexing problem—be it a difficult client or a questionable comma—and you need to turn to other editors for advice? Where can editors go to receive mentoring and to swap war stories? This post outlines some of the ways in which editors can connect with each other—virtually as well as in person—in order to grow as professionals and build a sense of community.

Social Media
Unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to connect with other editors is through social media. Joining online editors’ groups will enable you to tap into vast networks of editors from all over the world—many of whom are sitting at home alone, faces illuminated by the bluish glow of their computer screens, just like you! There are various Facebook groups specifically for editors, the most prominent of which is probably the Editors’ Association of Earth. Boasting over ten thousand members, this robust online community includes various forums and subgroups where editors of all stripes come together to share tips and tools, ask each other for advice, vent their professional frustrations, and have a good chuckle over language-related jokes and memes.

It’s also a good idea to maintain an active presence on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, which allow you to follow other editors and publishing professionals and maintain a solid network. (It’s worth noting here that Merriam-Webster has an insightful, entertaining, and often combative Twitter presence—all editors should follow this sassy dictionary.)

Editors’ Associations and Guilds
While communities on social media are fun and free to take part in, editors should also consider joining professional associations. These usually cost money to join, but the benefits are often worth it. One of the major editors’ associations is ACES: The Society for Editing, which hosts an annual conference (although the 2020 conference was sadly canceled due to COVID-19) and offers membership benefits that include a free listing in a freelancer directory, access to the society’s quarterly journal, and discounts on editing-related conferences, publications, and tools. Membership costs $75 a year for regular members and $40 a year for students.

Another organization to consider joining is the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). The cost of membership with the EFA is steeper: $145 a year (or $260 for two years), plus an initial processing fee of $35. However, the EFA does offer some valuable perks, like discounts on editing courses, access to the EFA job list, and—in some regions—discounts on healthcare.

And then there are local editors’ associations, which offer more opportunities to get to know local editors and network face-to-face. For example, editors based in the Pacific Northwest might consider joining the Northwest Editors Guild. Membership costs $65 a year, and benefits include access to an online job board, local networking happy hours, and mentoring sessions with more experienced editors.

Another great way to meet editors, writers, and publishing professionals is to attend conferences. In addition to the annual ACES conference, there are a variety of editing- and publishing-related conferences held across the U.S. every year (pandemics notwithstanding). These include large-scale national conferences like AWP, along with smaller local conferences like those hosted by PubWest and Willamette Writers.

In Conclusion
No matter what kind of editor you are, you’re never alone! By reaching out to other editors through social media, professional associations, and conferences, you can grow your professional network and develop a support system of like-minded word nerds.

It Ain’t Just Grammar: Skills for Successful Copyediting

If you’re a writer or an English major who aced every spelling and grammar quiz in school, you might think to yourself, “Hey, I’m pretty good with words. I understand punctuation, possessives, and present participles. I would make a fantastic copyeditor!” And you could very well be right. But before you dive headfirst into this profession, it’s important to know that for a good copyeditor, grammatical know-how is just the tip of the iceberg; successful copyediting requires a number of additional skills that have nothing to do with whipping out that red pen to correct a dangling modifier. This post outlines some essential copyediting skills that are completely unrelated to grammar and spelling.

Technological Skills
It’s no secret that bookish types aren’t always the most tech-savvy people. But to make it as a copyeditor in today’s world, you need to be comfortable editing onscreen and using all the modern tools available to you. Microsoft Word is the software application most commonly used by copyeditors. You may think you’re an expert at Word because you’ve used it for schoolwork and basic word processing for your entire life, but once you dive into the “Track Changes” settings, you’ll find a whole world of editing tools that you might not be so familiar with. There are plenty of useful tutorials out there on how to use Track Changes in Word (this one, for example, provides a very basic introduction), and all copyeditors should spend some time poking around in Word and familiarizing themselves with all the features that might be helpful to them. These include the bookmarking feature, which makes long documents easier to navigate, and macros, which automate certain copyediting tasks to increase efficiency.

Though Word is the most common choice, copyeditors may be required to use other software—for example, they may need to edit PDFs using Adobe Acrobat. Copyeditors also need to know how to open, save, and back up different types of files and convert between file formats.

Organizational Skills
In order to stay on top of all the different files they work with, copyeditors need to be extremely organized. A huge part of the job is version control—a manuscript (or any other document subject to editing) needs to be saved at each stage of the editorial process, and these different versions need to be kept track of. To avoid mistakenly sending an out-of-date version to an author or designer, copyeditors need to develop a foolproof system of folders and file-naming conventions.

In addition to practicing file organization and version control, copyeditors also need to exercise strong organizational skills in other areas. For example, they must keep track of deadlines and production schedules (yes, this will likely involve spreadsheets), be methodical in their use of style sheets, and maintain an organized inbox for professional correspondence.

Communication and People Skills
Though copyediting might seem like a solitary endeavor for introverted bookworms, the truth is that it’s an inherently collaborative and social profession. You’re working on other people’s writing, after all. Being a good editor therefore requires effective communication with authors, whether that’s through queries, editorial notes, emails, or phone calls. Striking the right tone with a client—authoritative enough that they trust your judgment, but also sufficiently respectful and flexible—is practically an art form, and it can take years to develop one’s professional voice as a copyeditor.

In addition to being diplomatic in your interactions with clients, you may also need to navigate relationships with managing editors, other supervisors, and colleagues. Networking is a tremendous part of the work, especially if you’re a freelancer, and all copyeditors will need to have some tricky conversations about pay and other business matters from time to time. For these reasons, a certain amount of social aptitude and professional polish—in addition to technological proficiency and organizational skills—will likely be more helpful to an aspiring copyeditor than even the most impressive sentence-diagramming abilities.

So, word nerds and grammar gurus of the world—do you have what it takes?

A Writer’s Guide to Editing

Writing a story takes blood, sweat, and tears, and the process of revising one’s own work takes time and dedication. All this hard work culminates in a promising manuscript, but in order to achieve the most success, a manuscript needs the attention of a professional editor. Authors can hire freelance editors to work on their manuscripts, or they can go through the editing process with the publishing house that accepts their work. To receive the best editing, it’s important to know what to ask for—and that requires knowing the levels of editing offered. The most common types of editing fall into these four categories:

Developmental Editing
Also called substantive, structural, or content editing, developmental editing is big-picture editing. As Nancy S. Miller, the associate publisher and editorial director at Bloomsbury Publishing, says in her essay “The Book’s Journey” (published in the book What Editors Do), this form of editing addresses issues with “structure, focus, pacing, plotting, shaping an argument, gaps in the narrative, believability of characters, enhancing or cutting subplots, excising extraneous material, and interweaving strands into a cohesive whole,” which gets the book roughly into shape. Some books don’t need any developmental editing at all; some need five rounds. It’s done on a case-by-case basis, and many authors find it useful to begin developmental edits before the manuscript is complete to save time and money.

Line Editing
Also called stylistic editing, this is paragraph-level editing that focuses on sentence flow and structure. Editors at this stage ensure that the tone and writing style of the book remain consistent throughout by carefully evaluating the writer’s syntax, phrasing, transitions, and dialogue. They will often cut sections of paragraphs or move them around in order to achieve this. This level of editing often overlaps with developmental editing and can even be entirely included in the developmental edits.

Copyediting is sentence-level editing that ensures consistency and proper grammar. If a character’s name is spelled “Christina” in chapter three but “Kristina” in chapter seven, it is a copyeditor’s job to catch it. Copyeditors make sure that no one’s eyes suddenly change color, that the verb tenses are correct, and that there aren’t any spelling or punctuation errors. This level of editing should not include any substantial changes to the manuscript.

Proofreading involves comparing the edited manuscript with the designed version. A proofreader catches errors that were introduced during the design process, as well as sneaky errors that weren’t caught during the copyedit. Proofreaders will also highlight any design issues, such as orphans and widows. If the book is to be published as an ebook, proofreaders will view it on an ereader to ensure that all the coding has been done correctly and everything appears as it should. Proofreading is a time-consuming process for an editor, as it requires a keen eye and several passes over a manuscript.

Though all this editing may seem like overkill to a new author having to go through the entire process, every editorial stage has its purpose. In fact, some books are able to skip the earlier steps if they have been sufficiently edited before reaching the publishing house’s inbox. In the end, the editing process is there to improve a text, not hack away at it needlessly. Editors are often the writer’s biggest fans, and their job is to elevate the text to the heights they know it can achieve.

Mind Your Style Sheet

I once took a class on book editing, and one of our assignments was to copyedit a section of a manuscript. When the instructor returned my graded assignment, she included the following comment: “I wish you had made more use of the style sheet.”

She was right—I hadn’t made good use of the style sheet, and that was because I didn’t fully understand what style sheets were or how best to use them. I knew the style sheet was a document where I was supposed to record all the editorial decisions I made while copyediting the manuscript, but I was fuzzy on the details.

It wasn’t until I started copyediting manuscripts for Ooligan that I really grasped the concept of the style sheet. I learned that while resources like CMOS, Merriam-Webster, and house style guides are extremely useful when it comes to general rules, there are always going to be exceptions. Every manuscript is different—perhaps you’re working on a book that uses terminology not found in Merriam-Webster, or perhaps the author has some strong stylistic preferences that differ from the publisher’s house style guidelines—and the copyeditor is going to have to make decisions. When this happens, these decisions need to be recorded in the manuscript’s individualized style sheet to ensure consistency.

Imagine this scenario: You’re copyediting a manuscript, and you notice that the author has used the word alright. You suspect that the correct spelling is all right, but when you look it up in Merriam-Webster, you find that both forms are acceptable. Now you have a decision to make. You search the manuscript and find that alright occurs five times, while all right occurs twice. Since the author has shown a slight preference for alright, you decide to go with that spelling. You then turn to the “word list” section of your style sheet, and under “A” (because style sheet entries should always be alphabetized), you type, “alright (not all right).” Now, as you continue the copyedit, every time you run into an alright or an all right, you can refer back to the style sheet to remind yourself of your decision. When you’ve completed this pass, you can search the manuscript for every term on the list to ensure that they’re all being treated consistently. If you didn’t keep a style sheet, maintaining consistency would be much harder.

In addition to word lists, style sheets also include rules for things like punctuation, the use of italics, and the treatment of numbers. For example, a style sheet might specify that all internal thoughts should be expressed in italics. Style sheets for fiction manuscripts should include lists of character names to ensure consistent spelling, and editors should also make note of some distinguishing features for each character. If you note that Billy is described as having blue eyes on page 4, then you’ll notice something is amiss when he suddenly has brown eyes on page 203.

It can be tricky to figure out what to put in a style sheet and what to leave out. You obviously don’t need to list every single rule in CMOS or make an entry for every typo. But what should you include? As Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz observe in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, it depends on the editor. On page 59 of the recently published fourth edition, they write, “Instead of listing every individual change and decision, experienced copyeditors reduce the work of recordkeeping by simply noting the style followed in certain well-defined categories (e.g., ‘Chicago numbers style throughout’) and then just recording exceptions.… But novice copyeditors should err on the side of overdocumentation until they master the intricacies of various editorial styles.” Include whatever you think might be helpful to you, your managing editor, and the author (who should receive a copy of the style sheet alongside the copyedited manuscript).

Though style sheets can seem confusing at first, they are among the most important tools at a copyeditor’s disposal. As long as you keep your style sheet organized and record all of your decisions related to mechanics and style, you should be all right. (Or is it alright? Better check the style sheet.)

Editing for Grammarians and Grammarphobes

When you work as an editor, you become familiar with a veritable library full of texts to help you hone your craft and sharpen your expertise. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of Strunk and White’s classic Elements of Style or whether you prefer a more modern approach to the field like that of Carol Fisher Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor, you will have no trouble finding the right title for your skill level and preferences.

But what if you’re not an editor and you want to learn about editing anyway? Maybe you’re looking to polish your resume or cover letter. Maybe you want to brush up on all the grammar you forgot from elementary or high school. Maybe you just like learning about English, and that’s that. If this sounds like you, the aforementioned texts might not quite fit the bill.

Not to fear! For grammar experts and novices alike, compiled here is a short list of books dedicated to presenting the particulars of the English language in an accessible, engaging, and fun (yes, fun!) way. The following books are written by experts who can appeal to both seasoned editors and to a more general audience who wants to get better at writing on a technical level without falling asleep in the process.

  1. Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

    A copyeditor and proofreader at the New Yorker since 1978, Mary Norris has certainly earned the title of comma queen. This book, published in 2015, suits novice editors particularly well because Norris takes a distinctly kind and humble approach to edifying her audience. Rather than feeling like an academic text, this book reads like a memoir full of funny personal stories from Norris’s career with short, grammatical lessons interwoven with subtlety and care. Most importantly, Norris’s tone is sympathetic rather than pedantic so as not to exclude any potential readers, no matter how much experience with grammar they may have. To entice the more experienced grammarian, she takes a critical and fresh approach to some long-held grammatical rules (e.g., arguing that “between you and I” is, in fact, never correct—between you and me, I think she’s right).
  2. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

    For those of us looking for something slightly more academic but no less entertaining, this book is just the thing. As the copy chief and managing editor at Random House since 2008, Dreyer has copyedited numerous titles and has perfected the distillation of some of language’s most complex concepts into short, engaging tidbits. In this book, published in 2019, he uses personal stories, current events, and useful examples to illustrate his points. One such example is his suggestion to plug the phrase “by zombies” into the end of a sentence to determine whether it is in the active or passive voice. If it sounds like the zombies did it, it’s passive. The takeaway from this one is that the true aim of correct grammar is clarity of meaning, not being a snob.
  3. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner

    The final title in this list is a classic that has demystified English grammar in a super engaging and entertaining way since the publication of its first edition in 1996. O’Conner’s Woe Is I was perhaps one of the first of its kind, a brave renegade seeking to bring the joys of correct spelling and punctuation to the masses. In it, O’Conner both coins the glorious term “grammarphobe” and seeks to make the minutiae of English something even grammarphobes themselves can enjoy.

What all these books have in common (aside from the use of colons in their extra-long titles) is their dedication to making the traditionally stuffy or elitist world of editing accessible to anyone interested in it. So whether you are an experienced editor or just someone looking for a fun, educational read about language, these titles are a great place to start.

How You Approach Editing a Manuscript

There are many moments to stop and appreciate in the editing process: cracking open a Google Doc; diving into a brand-new word document; lining up fancy red-ink pens and curling up on the couch with The Chicago Manual of Style. Or maybe you prefer the middle of the editing process, when you’re halfway through the manuscript and you can finally start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Or perhaps you crave the every end, when you’ve completed an editorial note that leaves you and your author emotional and weak in the knees.

Yes, there are so many moments to take in during the editing process, but perhaps one of the most basic considerations is how it all happens. There are certain things that have to happen, but they might not always happen in the right order or in the same way for everyone. If they happen and they happen well, is the how really that important? Maybe. Maybe not.

There are different schools of thought—at times, it seems like working in the book-publishing industry consists entirely of navigating different schools of thought. There are some folks who take at least one or two passes over a manuscript before even starting the developmental edit. There are some who read the manuscript once, take notes, and then reread sections as the edit unfolds. There are some managing editors who edit alongside their team, while others wait until the teamwork is completed and edit the manuscript as they compile. There is a lot of variation in personal preference and style, and there is likely some amount of superstition involved too: wearing red socks during the editing process; starting immediately on a fresh new manuscript while the editing fever is hot and heavy; working on only one edit at a time; bouncing between multiple edits for short time periods.

There is no right or wrong way to approach editing a manuscript if the edit itself is done well. There are people who swear by certain techniques, but those techniques are not always going to work for every person. Nor should they. And let’s face it: some of them are just plain weird and would only work for a specific individual anyway.

One of the steepest learning curves for editors who’ve just started out in the publishing world is learning how they approach editing—what works best for them. And the only way to discover this about yourself is to edit. It’s to dive in with both feet (and, of course, some education and guidance) and see where the editing stream takes you.

Your approach to an edit is going to be different and look different from the approaches of the editors around you, but there is one essential element that remains the same: you should always be willing to point out the error, suggest ways to fix it, and accept when you need to step back. There are so many things you can do in an edit. But just because you can make a certain edit doesn’t always mean you should.

In that way, editing is less an exercise in practice and more an exercise in philosophy. And along with the practical decisions (e.g., reading a manuscript twice, reading once while taking copious notes, editing a paper copy with a pen and transferring your edits to a digital format later, reading on a Kindle, etc.), one of the most important elements to consider is your approach as an editor—what you will do, and why you will do it. What is your editing goal?

Knowing yourself as an editor, as a reader, and as a writer is going to shape how you approach a manuscript. That kind of knowledge can’t be taught in a classroom or at a job. It’s deeply personal and something only you can figure out. Good luck out there.

The Merits of Hand Marking in the Modern Era

When I was ten years old, adults in my life made a big deal about public schools no longer teaching cursive. “How are you going to pass your SATs without cursive?!” they’d cry, while I would cry over sheets of dotted lines and swirly words. While they were right about needing it for the SATs, I have since retained only enough cursive to spell my name for legal documents. Like many other millennials, I felt my time was wasted learning an archaic skill instead of something more contemporary and more applicable to day-to-day life. It would be another two years before I learned typing, a skill I employ daily at Ooligan.

People my age have been fed the “old way” with the expectation that we’ll need to write everything by hand, that we won’t have a calculator in our pockets every day (in the form of phone apps), and that we’ll need to memorize every phone number and address we ever encounter. Is it really that surprising that our generation is cynical about any analogue workflows when we’ve seen several outmoded in our lifetimes? Unfortunately, it is that exact disillusionment that causes some genuinely useful pre-Y2K skills to be overlooked. Case in point: hand-marked editing.

Undeniably, digital copyediting has its benefits: more room to comment, capacity to share work instantaneously, automatic spell-check. But you lose things, particularly the readability that comes with line editing in the margins of a printed copy. Jason Fried succinctly described this digital fog in his article “Copyediting: Man vs. Machine”:

For example, to suggest a capitalized “A,” you’d triple-underline the letter by hand. But on a computer you’d actually replace the lowercase “a” with an uppercase “A,” but the remnant “a” would remain. Over the course of many sentences and many changes, the machine-made track changes edits blend in too much with the original text. It becomes hard to quickly spot changes. And it becomes hard to actually read the original to the changes.

This added readability is helpful not only for the author receiving the edited manuscript back, but also for the editor’s chances of catching mistakes in the first place. How often is it that you print out an important term paper thinking it’s totally fine while it’s on the word processor of your choice, only to find you used the wrong version of “there” or typed “form” instead of “from” in a crucial sentence? If you were paying someone to catch those sorts of mistakes, you would not be happy if they missed them for the exact same reason you did.

Finally, there’s the simple fact that certain writers (and, indeed, entire presses) are, and will continue to be, Luddites. Whether they were raised in the age of typewriters and never had time to learn other ways or are rightly skeptical of the privacy afforded to modern word processors, changing their minds on the matter isn’t easy, and attempting to do so can be unprofessional. In those cases, editing by hand is really the only option, even if the idea of the author painstakingly inputting your edits and essentially writing the manuscript twice makes you cringe. Our place as good editors is to be rigid about grammar, not the form in which we deliver our edits.