When writers edit another’s work, objectivity remains key in the hierarchy from proofreading to copyediting and rewriting.
For writers hired to edit someone else’s work, I have one word of recommendation: objectivity.
When just out of uni I hired a freelance writer whose work I took a sledgehammer to. It didn’t need it; my but ego thought the articles were improved with my thick pen. It wasn’t my writing, therefore it must surely need a lot of work. Fifteen years later,
I now use a chisel, not a sledge-hammer when editing guest posts for my blogzine or books of a few hundred pages. Run-on sentences of 76 words I sculpt to a more manageable 24 or so. I wipe away mispunctuation, misspellings, malapropos with a soft brush.
People who’ve already written their book prove a somewhat converse situation. Admittedly the projects I’ve edited— books on sports psychology, an Indian man’s autobiographical story of business in China, a couple’s reversal of drowning debt, and a photojournalistic book of a former Peace Corps member’s life-altering work in Peru— would never interest me enough to even open. The knowledge they imparted, however, was priceless, therefore quelling my building frustration at the author’s literary inabilities. Authors I’ve worked with aren’t writers and are definitely not literary, but while they’re first to admit that, they’re also squeamish to even the omission of a comma.
Tips for writers who lend their editing services.
• Ask the author what he thinks is necessary: proofreading, copyediting, rewrites, actual ghostwriting. Read the piece— but don’t take your editing wrench to it and don’t give a quote yet.
• Break the book into sections, just as you break your writing into processes. This helps to more approximately estimate your time expenditure and give a more accurate pricing quote. One page needs significant rewrites, a chapter needs little more than polishing, or perhaps the overall manuscript lacks cohesiveness and requires some interview time to procure the insulation to close the gaps.
• Meet again with the author, this time with a one-page report that explains what you’ll do, why, and how, citing brief examples. Insist on milestones so you’re both satisfied with the process and you’re paid for work thus far accomplished.
Now commence the actual editing. This part should now closely mirror your own writing process.
Set up a hierarchy of processes. Your interviews with the author should glean necessary material to spackle sections with rewrites and cohesion. After which, depending on the project, this may be the time for the author to check the manuscript for accuracy. Authors will usually cry and scream, but remain objectivity. The more changes you allow, the more time it takes, yet don’t fight him on everything; it’s his work, overall.
Don’t go through each page of the manuscript. He will fight over almost every change from syntax to lengthening to shortening parts. If you cannot avoid it, though, be sure to include these extra hours in your rate.
You can avoid this potential danger altogether. Make a list of questions per page. Send them the author to fill in the gaps. Implement those on your own, remembering to incorporate his voice, not your own.
Complete the process by copyediting then proofreading. If you do it on actual paper, use colored pencils, never a red pen.