Featured From the Archives: The 10 Best Things About Being an Editor

The past couple weeks have been rough. Let’s just put that out there right now. The stress, the anger, the pain, and ultimately the tears have left me feeling battered, bruised, and downright defeated. And as I stand at the bottom of the avalanche, staring down a gauntlet of deadlines so insane it makes me want to throw in the towel and walk away, I can’t help but feel like I’m losing some of the reasons that made me want to become an editor in the first place.

I could have pulled one of my bleaker, exposé type articles detailing many of the things I’ve experienced yet again in the last fourteen days, but I don’t want to dwell on that. I’m already broken; I don’t need the reminder of how I got here. So instead, I’m gonna pull one of the happier posts, not because I feel like it necessarily deserved to make the rounds a second time, but because I need the reminder. I need to remember the good part of this editing life before the bad pushes me out of it completely.

And what better way to do that than to reexamine the best parts? So, for the second time, I give you:

The 10 Best Things About Being an Editor

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/12/15

There have been a lot of articles floating around the interwebs lately detailing the uglier side of editing, the harsh reality and bitter truth that publishing generally prefers to keep hidden. And I’d guess a lot of you are wondering why anyone would sign up for a job that clearly comes with a large side of misery. Or, if you’re a fledgling editor, you’re probably thinking it won’t happen to you, that those of us “griping” are just jaded old farts yelling “GET OFF MY LAWN!” at anyone who comes near. But trust me, you’re wrong. It will happen to you. I said I’d never fall prey to it either, and now look. I struggle daily to hold on to the passion and enthusiasm I started out with, to avoid turning into that hateful, jaded editor I said I’d never become. Because, you see, being an editor is a lot like being a statue in a sandstorm. Each stressful project wears down a little more of that initial optimism and joy, replacing it with marble-lined walls nothing can get through.

But it’s not all bad. And this isn’t going to be one of those bare-all-the-skeletons-in-the-closet type of articles (in case you didn’t glean that from the title above). No, to counter-act the very valid, albeit depressing, truth behind the editing life, I’m going to show you the good, the reasons we battle our way through the ugly, day after day after day. The reasons, when asked, we’ll still tell you we love it and it’s the best job on Earth.

I give you, the ten best things about being an editor, in no particular order and with just a touch of snark. 😉

1. Nerdery Welcome

If you’re an editor, you’re an avid reader. You have to be. It’s literally job requirement #1. Okay, proficiency in grammar is probably job requirement #1, but you know what I mean. You are a self-professed book nerd and you wear that label proudly.

But growing up, you were likely teased for it. A lot. While others spent their afternoons playing video games, sports, or lusting after the opposite sex, you were Belle from Beauty and the Beast, walking around with your nose stuck in a book. Admit it, this was you:

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Well, one of the best things about being an editor is that your unabashed love of all things books is returned and fed by others who also unabashedly love books. All those things that riddled your childhood with taunts are no longer a weak point. The fact that you’re a book nerd is par for the course, and in fact, nerdery in all forms is highly encouraged. They say that nothing beats finding your people, your tribe. Well, book nerds, the land of editing bears its nerd flag proudly, and if you have the skills, you’re more than welcome to add your sigil to our banner.

2. Buying Books Becomes a Business Expense

This is legit. Seriously. Part of an editor’s job (especially an acquisitions editor) is knowing the ins and outs of the book-buying market. And how do you accomplish this? By buying books. No joke. Therefore, those extensive receipts from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and whatever other book haven you haunt, become what is known as “market research” and according to my tax professional, that is a deduction. **Note: I’m not a tax professional and make no claims to be. Make sure you talk to someone who is before taking my word for it.

As if we needed another reason to buy books, right?

excited-baby

3. Hoarding Books No Longer = Mental Disorder

Ah, yes. This is probably one of my favorites. I am a book hoarder. There, I admitted it. My apartment is crammed to the gills with books, to the point that one of the first comments any visitor says when they walk inside is, “Man, that’s a lot of books!” The second is always “Cool weapons,” but that’s a story for another time.

The point is, I like books. No, scratch that, I LOVE them. I love their smell, their feel, their beautifully linear sqaureness (Don’t ask. It’s been noted before that I have a touch of OCD). And someday, I will own that library from Beauty and the Beast. I will!

Anyway, this habit to collect books in droves has long been considered strange, obsessive, and cause for concern for any who have to help me move. But guess what? No one bats an eye now that I’m an editor. All that judgment I used to have to fend off gets checked at the door. It’s considered normal and, apparently, is completely understandable now that I live my life surrounded by words and literature and the soothing smell of printed paper. Now my only problem is my lack of shelf space. (Thank God for Kindle!)

Books

4. You Become a Mystical Rainbow Unicorn with Super Powers

No, not really. But it will feel that way sometimes. I believe I wrote before about how I considered “Editor” to be an unattainable, near-mythical job title when I was younger. Well, apparently, I’m not alone in that. People seriously look at us like we’re some shimmery Fae creature that can’t possibly exist in real life. And I’m not talking about writers, whose reaction is usually more akin to the fangirl/fanboy response of a super-fan at a rock concert angling to get backstage. No, I’m talking about everyday people who have no affiliation to the publishing industry whatsoever. There’s an impressed awe that tends to come across someone’s face when I mention what I do for a living (no, not the Day Job of Doom part). And honestly, who doesn’t want to feel like a rock star, even the literary kind?

magic-unicorn-meme-generator-i-am-splendiferous-watch-me-sparkle-ae7515

5. Books! Books! Books!

read-all-the-books-meme

I think that’s self-explanatory, don’t you? Moving on . . .

6. It’s Intellectually Challenging

Now we’re starting to get into the more serious reasons editors become (and stay) editors. So I’ll try to hold the sarcasm in check.

This one in particular is probably one of the main things I find appealing. Editing is like Crossfit for your brain. It’s often mentally taxing and can leave you feeling like you’re seconds away from having your eyeballs abandon ship, but that’s also part of why it’s fun. Not the mutinous eyeballs part. The mental gymnastics.

The best editing projects are like a massive puzzle, requiring you to shift and move and tweak and tune things until, like a camera lens, the focus snaps into place and the picture becomes perfectly clear. I love that feeling, and for me, it is a visceral feeling. I know the rules and regulations, but honestly, I edit primarily by instinct. I’m lucky to have been born with an innate sense of storytelling (and yes, I have had people tell me its a superpower) and I can actually feel in my bones when a narrative clicks into place. That sensation alone makes all the hard work, all the sweat and blood and tears (because editors expend those just as much as the authors do in this process) worth it.

puma

7. Proud Teacher Moments

If the last point wasn’t enough to convince you that being an editor is awesome, this one should. Yes, I just said that feeling a story find its groove makes it all worth it. And it does, but this is the icing on the cake. Completing a project definitely feels good, I’m not going to lie. But there’s one thing that feels even better:

Watching your author step into the much-deserved spotlight, their polished, perfect new book-baby clutched in their hands.

I call it the Proud Teacher Moment, because that’s the only way I could think to describe it. I imagine it’s very similar to the swell of pride and emotion teachers feel when they watch their students graduate. It’s sort of a bittersweet sensation — one part love, one part pride, one part sadness. Most people don’t realize how invested editors become in the projects they work on. Yes, the author wrote the thing, but we helped train it, helped shape it into the perfect piece of literary brilliance flourishing out in the world. And that creates a special bond. We may be relegated to the shadowy corners of the hell writers call the Editing Cave, but we watch from those shadows, cheering our authors on with proud tears glittering in our eyes.

Make Good Choices

8. Discovering Hidden Gems of Awesome

Okay, now that we had our little moment of seriousness, back to the fun. This one is a perk that most people automatically know — we get to read (and find) awesome books before they’re published. Boom. Go ahead and be jealous. You know that’s totally awesome.

Bejealous

9. Creating Magic

Writing is a magical process. I mean, come on, authors paint fully-realized worlds, characters, and plots that elicit emotions in readers with words. Letters on a page. That’s pretty magical, if you ask me.

Editing may not seem all that magical — it’s more like polishing a car than say, painting one — but it has its own kind of magic. Especially in the developmental phase. Editors are like spirit guides, helping authors find their way when they get lost in a forest of words. The best ones can actually step into an author’s voice, mimicking their syntax, their style, with the efficiency of a Pooka. Which, come to think of it, may be the perfect analogy for editors in general, given the oft-touted love/hate relationship writers have with us.

DoctorWho

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that writers create magic, but editors help contain it. And for that, we need our own set of spells.

10. For the Love of All Things Books

When it really comes down to it, there’s only one true reason someone decides to pursue editing: a genuine, deep-rooted for all things books. The reasons listed above are great, but if I lost all of them tomorrow, I know I’d still have a love for books. Because nothing beats the ability to escape into a million other lives and worlds. It’s even been scientifically proven that reading enhances our ability to empathize. It’s a fundamental human gift, storytelling, and it’s one I will always cherish.

And that, my friends, is why I adore being an editor. Why I strive to look past the gritty, harsh truth of an editing life. I love storytelling. Plain and simple. And I love editing because it lets me pursue that love of storytelling. I enjoy the process, as painful as it may be sometimes, because I love the challenge, and I love helping others achieve their literary dreams. And best of all, I love that I get to spend my days surrounded with all things books.

I can’t sum up this last point any better than with this quote:

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Happy reading!

What’s That You Say? (One Editor’s Definition of “Voice”)

Well, here it is — the infamous “voice” post you’ve all been waiting for. I’ll admit, I’m more than a little concerned about it living up to expectations, but I guess we’ll wait and see. (Also, for those who missed my warning on Twitter earlier in the week, get ready for quite a lot of snark.)

Before we dive into the meat of it though, I’d like to provide a little context. Recently, I’ve noticed a distinct lack of understanding regarding this concept. Not just in the rightly confused writers, but in my fellow editors, in beta readers, and even in critique partners (not mine, I should note. Mine are awesome). And since my mission is often to help provide those looking for answers with a new, probably somewhat unconventional avenue for finding perspective on all things literary, I decided it was time to tackle the hydra known as “voice.”

Normally, I like to focus on the fundamental mechanics of storytelling, the foundation beneath the words. And if you’ve spent any time here, you’ll know that I usually advocate for seeing beyond the letters printed on the page. Not today. Today, we’re going to pay attention to the actual words. This one, in particular:

“Voice”

How many of you shuddered as you read that just now? My guess would be several. Because “voice” is one of those literary terms that quickly becomes the bane of a writer’s existence. It floats around the outskirts of Pretentious-ville, trying too hard to fit in with the cool kids and avoid being “defined.” Which is why you end up with a plethora of obfuscated explanations and half-assed deflections that leave you feeling just as lost as when you started. Am I right? Not even the industry pros can always define it. (Which, by the way, is a great test for choosing who you work with.) So then, if it’s so hard to explain, what the heck is it?

The short answer is that there are at least two layers to voice: author and character. (And, if you really get the wrong industry pro, editor. But that’s bad. You should never hear us in your  work.) Still with me? Good. Now, let’s define those a little more.

  • Author Voice = the particular way an author weaves together a narrative. It’s one part style, one part storytelling sense, and one part personal experience.
  • Character Voice = the specific filter an author puts over the story to create a unique persona, otherwise known as character. (Why, thank you, Captain Obvious.)
  • Editor Voice = what happens when you get either a Grammarian editor, who then strips both of the above from your work, or what I call a Personal Preference Editor, who morphs your voice to fit their own perceptions and style. Hence why I said this category was bad.

Now, if you’re at all like me, your brain is probably slamming on the brakes with the same effort it does when faced with math. Which is to say, an all-out, mind-numbing denial topped with a resounding “huh?” Don’t worry, though. I’m gonna fix that.

This is the point where most conversations on “voice” wander away from the topic, letting it drop quickly and with as much recognition as one would give that weird fourth cousin everyone avoids at the wedding because they can’t possibly be from your family. Why? Because this is where someone either proves they understand the concept or steps royally in the massive steaming pile of road apples.

(Please, God, let me avoid the road apples.)

All right, so, the formal definition of “voice” is this: “a combination of common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc.” Right, so that encompasses pretty much everything. Helpful. (See? I told you the industry pros couldn’t always define it.)

My definition of voice is a little different, probably because I, myself, am a little different. Anyway, I define it like this:

Author Voice = the camera we view the story through.

Character Voice = the lens used to alter the way we perceive it.

I’m about to mix some crazy metaphors, so bear with me. Basically, I view an author like a director. Every single decision they make is made with a conscious intent to convey something, from the way they build the scenes, to the angles they show the action from, to the perceptions of the characters and their individual motivations. Regardless of how the story is presented in terms of point-of-view, narrative tense, etc, the author’s consciousness pervades the entire thing.

Character voice, on the other hand, is used to create a specific interpretation, like placing a fish-eye lens on a camera or a filter that paints everything with a red tint. Character voice is a costume placed on top of the author’s natural one, creating something completely separate and yet still intrinsically part of the author. Think actors in a play. Same underlying person, different “personas.”

Both types of voice rely on things like syntax, cadence, diction, personality, emotion, and motivation, but they use them in distinctly different ways. The best analogy is music. (I told you I was going to be jumping around in my metaphors.) Think about the vast difference between a rock song, a folk/acoustic song, and a country song. Same basic instruments — guitars, drums, vocals, maybe some strings — but entirely different effects. Which leads me to the point that spawned this whole article:

“Voice” can (and should) be literally heard while reading.

This is the key to a brilliant editor, beta reader, or CP, and it’s the thing I’ve noticed many missing lately. Editors MUST be able to distinguish not only the author’s voice, but the character’s as well. Which is a skill that goes way beyond simply understanding the rules of grammar. Good editors have ears as finely tuned as a musician’s; it’s how we identify areas that need to be fixed. We literally “hear” it.

(I’m not talking about structural development here, just to be clear. Structural/Developmental editing is an entirely different beast, and is much more visually oriented. In my opinion, “voice” falls within the realm of line/copy editing, because that’s where most of the problems lie, line by line.)

What does “voice” sound like to an editor? Well, ideally, it sounds like someone sitting there and telling us the story. We hear their accents, the cadence and rhythm to their voice, the unique way they spin a sentence, the word choices they make, all the things you would notice if you were talking to someone face to face. Which makes it super obvious when you come across the written equivalent of someone stumbling over their words, or a character suddenly using a word that’s so outside their normal vocabulary its painful. It’s jarring. In its most minor form, it’s like hearing an off note in an otherwise rockin’ song. At its worst, it makes your character suddenly sound like a completely different person.

I even have the perfect example for you: (Oh, don’t scoff. We all know you’ve secretly sung along to this in your car at least once.)
 

 
Okay, did you hear it? Cookies to whoever guesses where I’m going with this first. 😉

If you didn’t catch it, play it again; only this time, don’t watch the video, just listen. Notice how that final line suddenly sounds like a completely different person? It isn’t; it’s still Idina Menzel, but her voice shifts completely, to the point that I had to look up whether the speaking-voice actress and singing-voice actress were the same. (It’s common in animation for them to be different people.) Anyway, that’s what it sounds like to an editor when there’s a problem with “voice” in a manuscript.

But identifying it is the easy part. Even normal readers can do that. It’s what comes next that requires real skill.

See, once the problem has been identified, the editor has to make suggestions for how to fix it. And that brings us back to my initial comment on the importance of them understanding voice. An effective editor will provide the exact suggestion to fit a) the author’s underlying voice, and b) the character’s. It should fit seamlessly into the overall style of the manuscript, stay true to the speech patterns established for the characters, and feel like a natural extension of the author’s thought, be it the placement of punctuation, the overall clarification and flow of the sentence, or finding the correct word choice to substitute and/or encompass what the author was trying to say. It should never — let me repeat that, NEVER — sound like the editor’s voice or personal preference.

For example, my own writing tends to avoid using “that,” as I often find it to be extraneous. But in a recent project, I found myself putting those back in after someone else had stripped them out. Why? Because the character involved was kind of a formal person, prone to highly intelligent word choices, refined sentence structures, and an overall tone that simply required a more formal approach. In essence, I stepped into that author’s (and character’s) voice and mimicked their syntax, diction, and rhythm like a parrot. This is what good editors do.

The take-away from this, authors, is not that I’m the world’s greatest editor and you should only ever hire me. There are plenty of brilliant editors in the world (and I may or may not count myself among them). No, the point was to give you a way to assess your potential assessor. Any decent editor, agent, or critique partner should be able to answer this one simple question: “How do you define voice?” If they can’t or they offer one of the vague, half-assed, standard responses and then quickly change the subject, run. They just stepped in the road apples.

At the end of the day, it’s your work, your voice, that needs to shine through. And without someone who truly understands exactly what that means, there’s a very real chance that won’t happen. So proceed with caution, writers. Find someone who can break down, like I just did, the definition of voice. It may not be the way I said it, but it should be obvious that they get it. And hopefully, after reading this, some of you now have a better understanding as well. 🙂

The 10 Best Things About Being an Editor

There have been a lot of articles floating around the interwebs lately detailing the uglier side of editing, the harsh reality and bitter truth that publishing generally prefers to keep hidden. And I’d guess a lot of you are wondering why anyone would sign up for a job that clearly comes with a large side of misery. Or, if you’re a fledgling editor, you’re probably thinking it won’t happen to you, that those of us “griping” are just jaded old farts yelling “GET OFF MY LAWN!” at anyone who comes near. But trust me, you’re wrong. It will happen to you. I said I’d never fall prey to it either, and now look. I struggle daily to hold on to the passion and enthusiasm I started out with, to avoid turning into that hateful, jaded editor I said I’d never become. Because, you see, being an editor is a lot like being a statue in a sandstorm. Each stressful project wears down a little more of that initial optimism and joy, replacing it with marble-lined walls nothing can get through.

But it’s not all bad. And this isn’t going to be one of those bare-all-the-skeletons-in-the-closet type of articles (in case you didn’t glean that from the title above). No, to counter-act the very valid, albeit depressing, truth behind the editing life, I’m going to show you the good, the reasons we battle our way through the ugly, day after day after day. The reasons, when asked, we’ll still tell you we love it and it’s the best job on Earth.

I give you, the ten best things about being an editor, in no particular order and with just a touch of snark. 😉
 

1. Nerdery Welcome

If you’re an editor, you’re an avid reader. You have to be. It’s literally job requirement #1. Okay, proficiency in grammar is probably job requirement #1, but you know what I mean. You are a self-professed book nerd and you wear that label proudly.

But growing up, you were likely teased for it. A lot. While others spent their afternoons playing video games, sports, or lusting after the opposite sex, you were Belle from Beauty and the Beast, walking around with your nose stuck in a book. Admit it, this was you:

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Well, one of the best things about being an editor is that your unabashed love of all things books is returned and fed by others who also unabashedly love books. All those things that riddled your childhood with taunts are no longer a weak point. The fact that you’re a book nerd is par for the course, and in fact, nerdery in all forms is highly encouraged. They say that nothing beats finding your people, your tribe. Well, book nerds, the land of editing bears its nerd flag proudly, and if you have the skills, you’re more than welcome to add your sigil to our banner.
 

2. Buying Books Becomes a Business Expense

This is legit. Seriously. Part of an editor’s job (especially an acquisitions editor) is knowing the ins and outs of the book-buying market. And how do you accomplish this? By buying books. No joke. Therefore, those extensive receipts from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and whatever other book haven you haunt, become what is known as “market research” and according to my tax professional, that is a deduction. **Note: I’m not a tax professional and make no claims to be. Make sure you talk to someone who is before taking my word for it.

As if we needed another reason to buy books, right?

excited-baby
 

3. Hoarding Books No Longer = Mental Disorder

Ah, yes. This is probably one of my favorites. I am a book hoarder. There, I admitted it. My apartment is crammed to the gills with books, to the point that one of the first comments any visitor says when they walk inside is, “Man, that’s a lot of books!” The second is always “Cool weapons,” but that’s a story for another time.

The point is, I like books. No, scratch that, I LOVE them. I love their smell, their feel, their beautifully linear sqaureness (Don’t ask. It’s been noted before that I have a touch of OCD). And someday, I will own that library from Beauty and the Beast. I will!

Anyway, this habit to collect books in droves has long been considered strange, obsessive, and cause for concern for any who have to help me move. But guess what? No one bats an eye now that I’m an editor. All that judgment I used to have to fend off gets checked at the door. It’s considered normal and, apparently, is completely understandable now that I live my life surrounded by words and literature and the soothing smell of printed paper. Now my only problem is my lack of shelf space. (Thank God for Kindle!)

Books
 

4. You Become a Mystical Rainbow Unicorn with Super Powers

No, not really. But it will feel that way sometimes. I believe I wrote before about how I considered “Editor” to be an unattainable, near-mythical job title when I was younger. Well, apparently, I’m not alone in that. People seriously look at us like we’re some shimmery Fae creature that can’t possibly exist in real life. And I’m not talking about writers, whose reaction is usually more akin to the fangirl/fanboy response of a super-fan at a rock concert angling to get backstage. No, I’m talking about everyday people who have no affiliation to the publishing industry whatsoever. There’s an impressed awe that tends to come across someone’s face when I mention what I do for a living (no, not the Day Job of Doom part). And honestly, who doesn’t want to feel like a rock star, even the literary kind?

magic-unicorn-meme-generator-i-am-splendiferous-watch-me-sparkle-ae7515
 

5. Books! Books! Books!

read-all-the-books-meme

I think that’s self-explanatory, don’t you? Moving on . . .
 

6. It’s Intellectually Challenging

Now we’re starting to get into the more serious reasons editors become (and stay) editors. So I’ll try to hold the sarcasm in check.

This one in particular is probably one of the main things I find appealing. Editing is like Crossfit for your brain. It’s often mentally taxing and can leave you feeling like you’re seconds away from having your eyeballs abandon ship, but that’s also part of why it’s fun. Not the mutinous eyeballs part. The mental gymnastics.

The best editing projects are like a massive puzzle, requiring you to shift and move and tweak and tune things until, like a camera lens, the focus snaps into place and the picture becomes perfectly clear. I love that feeling, and for me, it is a visceral feeling. I know the rules and regulations, but honestly, I edit primarily by instinct. I’m lucky to have been born with an innate sense of storytelling (and yes, I have had people tell me its a super-power) and I can actually feel in my bones when a narrative clicks into place. That sensation alone makes all the hard work, all the sweat and blood and tears (because editors expend those just as much as the authors do in this process) worth it.

puma
 

7. Proud Teacher Moments

If the last point wasn’t enough to convince you that being an editor is awesome, this one should. Yes, I just said that feeling a story find its groove makes it all worth it. And it does, but this is the icing on the cake. Completing a project definitely feels good, I’m not going to lie. But there’s one thing that feels even better:

Watching your author step into the much-deserved spotlight, their polished, perfect new book-baby clutched in their hands.

I call it the Proud Teacher Moment, because that’s the only way I could think to describe it. I imagine it’s very similar to the swell of pride and emotion teachers feel when they watch their students graduate. It’s sort of a bittersweet sensation — one part love, one part pride, one part sadness. Most people don’t realize how invested editors become in the projects they work on. Yes, the author wrote the thing, but we helped train it, helped shape it into the perfect piece of literary brilliance flourishing out in the world. And that creates a special bond. We may be relegated to the shadowy corners of Hell writers call the Editing Cave, but we watch from those shadows, cheering our authors on with proud tears glittering in our eyes.

Make Good Choices
 

8. Discovering Hidden Gems of Awesome

Okay, now that we had our little moment of seriousness, back to the fun. This one is a perk that most people automatically know — we get to read (and find) awesome books before they’re published. Boom. Go ahead and be jealous. You know that’s totally awesome.

Bejealous
 

9. Creating Magic

Writing is a magical process. I mean, come on, authors paint fully-realized worlds, characters, and plots that elicit emotions in readers with words. Letters on a page. That’s pretty magical, if you ask me.

Editing may not seem all that magical — it’s more like polishing a car than say, painting one — but it has its own kind of magic. Especially in the developmental phase. Editors are like spirit guides, helping authors find their way when they get lost in a forest of words. The best ones can actually step into an author’s voice, mimicking their syntax, their style, with the efficiency of a Pooka. Which, come to think of it, may be the perfect analogy for editors in general, given the oft touted love/hate relationship writers have with us.

DoctorWho

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that writers create magic, but editors help contain it. And for that, we need our set of spells.
 

10. For the Love of All Things Books

When it really comes down to it, there’s only one true reason someone decides to pursue editing: a genuine, deep-rooted for all things books. The reasons listed above are great, but if I lost all of them tomorrow, I know I’d still have a love for books. Because nothing beats the ability to escape into a million other lives and worlds. It’s even been scientifically proven that reading enhances our ability to empathize. It’s a fundamental human gift, storytelling, and it’s one I will always cherish.

And that, my friends, is why I adore being an editor. Why I strive to look past the gritty, harsh truth of an editing life. I love storytelling. Plain and simple. And I love editing because it lets me pursue that love of storytelling. I enjoy the process, as painful as it may be sometimes, because I love the challenge, and I love helping others achieve their literary dreams. And best of all, I love that I get to spend my days surrounded with all things books.

I can’t sum up this last point any better than with this quote:

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Happy reading!

The Editing Life Laid Bare: A Brutal Look at the Statistics

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for weeks now, but true to The Editing Life, I simply haven’t been able to find the time. Or the brain cells, for that matter. But today, I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to show you exactly what it looks like to be an editor, not with words, which would perhaps be the obvious choice, but with numbers. Why numbers? Well, nothing puts things into perspective quite like seeing the break-down of exactly what goes into something. Or so I’ve heard.

Now, I’ll be the first to claim that numbers are not my friend, so these “statistics” I’m about to lay down are only about as accurate as my math. And sometimes, that’s not terribly accurate at all. But even though it’s not going to be an exact science, it should still give you a snapshot of what my life as an editor truly looks like. The key words there are “snapshot” and “my,” meaning that this is in no way a comprehensive look at all the various things I work on as an editor, nor is it all inclusive for every editor. Others will be different. But based on experiences I’ve heard recounted from fellow editor friends, this is pretty close to what it looks like more often than not.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

How many of you have heard us (us = editors) say that we work on multiple projects at once? Most, if not all, right? It’s a pretty common fact. But what does “multiple” truly mean? Well, cast your eyes over that photo at the top of the post. That’s my actual desk. No comments on the content/mess, please. 😉

See the lines of pink around the edges? Those are post-it notes. And yes, I realize it looks like an exercise in insanity, but trust me, it’s actually a very efficient method. Now, count them. How many did you get? Here’s the thing, each one of those post-its represents a project in various stages of completion. Not the stages, the project. I purposely kept it distant so you can’t see the names, but yeah, that’s what it means when editors say they’re working on multiple projects at once. Daunting, isn’t it?

On top of constantly being buried up to our eyeballs in work, we’re also generally underpaid. I’ve featured an article on this before, written by the lovely Cait Spivey, which can be found here. But let’s actually turn the microscope on it and dissect what that means in terms of my life.

On average, a manuscript clocks in somewhere around 75,000 words. Some will be more, some less, but that’s a good solid representative of a standard novel. Every editor has a different way they figure out what to charge. Common methods are by page, by hour, or by word. If you’ve looked at my freelance editing page, you know I charge by the word. So a full edit on that 75,000 word manuscript runs $1500. Ouch, right? That’s a hard number to stomach for most authors, and I get it. It seems really expensive. Until you break it down to see what you’re actually paying me for.

75,000 words is roughly 300 pages (according to the age-old school-paper formula of 250 words = a page). Most editors I know that are worth their salt average a pace of about 6-7 pages an hour for line edits. (I’ll cover why it takes this long in a future post.) So 300 pages equates 50 hours of work. If we take that $1500 fee from above and divide it by 50 hours, you get about $30 an hour. That seems like good money, doesn’t it? And in fact, that’s considered average for a professional freelance editor according to the Freelance Editor’s Association.

But we’re not done yet.

That 50 hours is solely what I spend during one round of line edits. There are things that happen before and after that stage. Remember, I said that $1500 rate was for a full edit, which consists of structural edits, line edits, and proofreading. So let’s factor in those things.

Structural editing is the process of reading a manuscript, analyzing it, and then diagnosing and finding solutions to any problems that are weakening the overall story. Tell me, does that sound like an especially fast process to you? It shouldn’t. If an editor is actually qualified and trained to do this (and not all of them are), it looks like this: reading — not just speed-reading, but really truly reading and seeing every letter and space and punctuation mark on the page — and analyzing 300 pages takes me approximately 2-3 full days, so, at 8 hours per day, that’s 24 hours of reading time, give or take. Figuring out what, exactly, is affecting the manuscript and how to deal with it will vary, but let’s say another 3-ish hours is spent on the mental gymnastics of curing an ailing story, and then another 2-3 are spent compiling all my notes and thoughts into an edit letter explaining all that to the author. These are super rough, ball-parky type figures because I don’t think I’ve ever truly tracked this part of the process. Anyway, when it’s all said and done, that’s about 30 hours invested into just the structural edits. And that’s without any follow-up discussion or brainstorming with the author, things that often occur after I hand them the aforementioned edit letter.

Proofreading is the last step and is probably the fastest portion of the process for me. Most projects, I can average 10-15 pages per hour. So if the manuscript is in good condition, that’s only about 20 more hours of work. However, that’s for a base proofread. If I have to do an editorial proofread (which is somewhere between a line edit and a proofread) the pace drops dramatically.

So, where are we at with our project overall? We have 30 hours for structural edits, 50 hours for line edits, and 20 for proofreading. That’s 100 hours of effort from start to finish, bare minimum. Suddenly, that $1500 flat fee isn’t looking so grand, is it? That’s only $15 an hour. Minimum wage in many larger cities.

I should also point out that most projects take at least two rounds of line edits to truly shine, which, if you’re lucky, is only an additional 30 hours of labor, and there are probably easily 20 hours of time invested in various discussions and emails and hand-holding with the author. Making the total time expended on any full project easily 150 hours. Honest to God. What does that make my hourly wage? $10 an hour. You can flip burgers in some states for more than that.

Now, maybe that doesn’t seem so bad to you. $10 an hour is a livable wage, barely. Until you realize this: normal people work 40 hours a week. Even doctors and lawyers (who make a hell of a lot more money than editors) will only clock 70-80. So how many projects do you think we can realistically fit into a month? The answer is one. From start to finish, with no other obligations, family or social life, etc. an editor can comfortably complete one project in a month’s time. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? And we rarely get the luxury of only working on that one project and nothing else. (Photo of project management via post-it being exhibit A.) We also don’t get paid everything up front. So, if we only schedule that one project in a month, because 150 hours equals 3.75 weeks of normal human work-time, that’s a grand income of $750. For the month. I’ll let you do that math. Is that a living wage in your book? Because that barely covers my car payment.

Are you completely depressed now? Because I am. But the point of this post was not to whine, or complain, or guilt-trip anyone. I simply wanted to show you exactly what life as an editor looks like. It’s not sitting around and reading all day. It’s arduous, mentally-taxing, long hours for very little pay and often even less appreciation. It’s not a life that will lead to riches, or fame, or maybe even a full-time income. Which begs the question, why would anyone do it?

The answer is easy — love. Editors truly love what they do. But the sad truth is that editors also have one of the highest burn-out rates of any career. The average life-span of an editor is only 2 years, and now you see why. In an industry that refuses to pay a living wage (freelance editors who charge less than $500 for a full edit and indie presses that offer $350 for two rounds of full edits, I’m looking at you), we’re required to go to super-human levels in order to stay afloat. We take on burdens that would make Atlas tired, and we do it all for you guys, the authors. Because we truly want to help you produce fantastic, beautiful pieces of art. We’d just kind of like not to starve while doing it.

So, there you have it. That’s what the editing life looks like in all it’s stress-filled, brutal glory. I hope it’s been enlightening and that you take away three key things:

1. If you’re looking to hire an editor, please consider what their rate actually means. As in every industry, you get what you pay for.

2. If you’re already working with an editor, try to remember that they may have a desk covered in post-its too, and that your project is not the only one on their plate.

3. If you are an editor, set your rates appropriately. When you charge less than $500, you harm not just yourself, but the rest of the industry. You deserve to eat. You deserve to have a roof over your head.

That is all. Thanks for reading! 🙂

 

An Index of Editing Posts

I’m not feeling especially well this week, so the post I had planned will have to be postponed until next Friday, unfortunately. But I did manage to do some minor reorganizing in the various categories available here at Nightwolf’s Corner. Given my new (this is a relative term, since obviously, it’s been about two years now) identity as Editorial Director for REUTS Publications, as well as my freelance editing career, I’ll be focusing more on posts pertaining to that — tips, tricks, life as an editor snark-fests, that sort of thing. Which means, I’ve now created a special category dedicated to all things editing. (Next week’s post will fall under this new header, actually, and will feature a break-down of the various editorial jobs in the world of fiction publishing.)

In case you’re curious as to what I currently offer by way of editing-related posts, here’s a quick index:

The second new category, for those of you astute enough to notice, is for the contests. I have two annual giveaways I like to do, and rather than clog up the previous category they were under, they’ll now be available under their own heading. Most of them will be closed by the time you peruse them, but they will at least give you a sense of when I do them, and what I tend to giveaway.

Speaking of contests though, there is actually a pretty exciting one currently available. If you missed last week’s announcement, Ashley Ruggirello of Cardboard Monet and I have teamed up to offer a self-publishing author’s dream, for free:

  • A comprehensive, top-to-bottom, full manuscript edit (including structural & line edits)
  • A polished, publish-ready eBook cover design
  • Assistance creating the all-important book blurb
  • A final proofread of the type-set, ready-for-print galley (typesetting/formatting itself is not included though)

Make sure you read the rules posted in last’s week announcement, and then enter via the form! Good luck to everyone participating. 🙂