where the writers are
What I Do

I was working as an apprentice at Yolla Bolly Press, the book packager and fine press publisher in Covelo, California, when it happened. A nonprofit organization wanted a broadside to promote a new program and my job consisted of setting the copy in lead type. As I filled the composing stick, I noticed a passive sentence, then another. No way should the eighty-year-old casting of Caslon be mistreated like this, I figured, and re-wrote, re-figured, and messed with the text until what the client wanted to say was said clearly. James Robertson took me aside after I showed him the proof and the corrections: “Well, hell. No one can make a living in fine printing. You should be an editor.”

Easier said than done, Jim. Editing is a craft, not a skill or art, that calls for constant learning. Every manuscript has different needs: proofreading (if spellcheck is so smart, why doesn’t it make coffee in the morning?), copyediting (syntax and sentence construction), and developmental editing (bringing out the story is the hardest of the bunch and most satisfying). Being attentive to the manuscript will show what it requires; the rest is research and work.

Many editors specialize in a certain field. I would if I could but I find too much interesting. I have edited cookbooks, memoirs, and fiction; books on business, the outdoors, and contemporary social issues; and self-help, history, and gardening. The strangest so far is a roadkill coloring and activity book. Every one belongs to the writer, not me.

For first time writers, I take them through the publishing process, what to expect from an agent and a publisher. For seasoned veterans, I do the same just in case we missed something the first time around. Working with writers is the most fun even when we get into squabbles over what chapter goes where and how many B-heads are necessary. One writer and I have been together for over a dozen books, and we always fight somewhere in the process for each. The issues are never the same. Since this makes for books that please readers, we accept our tiffs and can’t wait for the next project.

I also edit for the often-forgotten reader. In the current state of publishing with its gloomy pronouncements over how bad the next ten years will be, and ebooks and promotion through social networking, the reader often gets left behind. I edit manuscripts to be read as books, a page at a time. Clarity of thought and story are always watched. This does not mean editing down to the sixth-grade level, only that even the most challenging manuscript must welcome the reader.

Research and writing proposals are also part of my work, along with a fair amount of handholding. Making a book is a harsh gamble. You can write your best, be edited and published well, and still be trashed in reviews. Few understand what a writer goes through, except their editor and maybe another writer. Advice on developing a thick skin is not as helpful as having a telephone number to call at ten o’clock in the evening while in the throes of what someone said about your book on Amazon.com.

Being a freelance editor instead of in-house gives me the freedom to care about a writer’s manuscript and not worry about that marketing meeting. My hours are the writer’s hours. Since most have day jobs and other responsibilities, this means nights and weekends. So what? I’m in this for the joy of a new manuscript, the challenging of learning what I did not know before, and the pleasures of craft. Call me. The lines are open.