My First Editing Experience

· The 21st Century Text

Bonnie Weinberg

Six months after receiving my certificate in Editing and Editorial Analysis from the David Yellin College of Education, an optimistic author contacted me and asked if I would edit his book. My friend, who is also an editor, had recommended me as she was not available – fortunately for me!

My initial reaction was excitement. I would finally be able to put the skills I learned to use! But then I became worried. What if I didn’t do a thorough enough job? What if the author wasn’t pleased with my work? What if I overlooked a spelling error or a comma? What was the first step of the process? Unlike homework assignments in which the instructor comments and corrects your work, this was the real thing. I was the professional, the one who is supposed to know the nitty-gritty details of the language. 

What made me even more nervous was that this was a first-time author looking to me for guidance. I tried to express confidence, to show that I can embark on this project and that he would be able to rely on my expertise. Moreover, I didn’t want him to know that I was a novice editor, and this was my first project! Luckily, the topic of the book wasn’t too esoteric. It was a self-help book about personal relationships, a topic that I was familiar with, and I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I ended the conversation by thanking the author for contacting me and requested a sample of the manuscript in order to assess whether it would need light, medium, or heavy editing. Only then would I be able to guess how much work would be involved and offer a price quote. After I spoke with the author I called my editor friend to thank her for the reference and to get advice as to how to proceed. She encouraged me to go ahead with the project, despite my reservations, and she guided me throughout. In retrospect, I realized that it was very important for me to have a mentor until I felt confident to work independently. 

Pre-editing: Assessment

Even though the author didn’t give me deadlines, I decided to go chapter by chapter.  The first step I took was to assess how much work was involved based on the sample the author had sent me. I told him that this was just an estimate: While one chapter might be more coherent, others might not be and therefore could require more work. Some authors might nitpick about every comment while others may give you a free hand to make changes. If there’s a lot of back-and-forth, it prolongs the process and thus, the final product. As a result, the finished project will cost more than the initial price quote. 

Week 1: Queries and Editing

The skills we learned in class came in very handy. The first question I asked was, “Who is your readership?” to identify the type of person who will read the book. For example, in one paragraph he quotes the phrase: “Some brides travel from all over the country to New York just for the fitting of a Christina Wu dress.” However, based on the reader profile, probably most of his readers might not be familiar with this famous designer. 

The most important skill I used was checking for consistency.  Thus, when mentioning Hebrew words, sometimes he used different spelling of the word, “Shabbat” or the English equivalent, “Sabbath”. Additionally, I checked on Google the spelling of the names of the other authors quoted in the book. Sometimes the author went off on a tangent and I had to condense large sections to maintain the logical flow. There were places where I needed to reorganize and clarify his message because the writing was convoluted. 

Weeks 2-6: Editing and Proofreading

The author was very involved in the editing process. Usually, he appreciated my comments and suggestions. I was his test audience; if the text was unclear to me, it would be unclear to his readers as well.  However, there were times when I suggested removing certain segments and he refused because he felt differently. So, I deferred to him, because in the end, his name will be on the book, not mine.      

We worked chapter-by-chapter.  After editing a chapter, I sent him my comments and he responded very quickly because he was interested in completing the project. Sometimes the back-and-forth took a while until we were both satisfied with the results. Once I completed all ten chapters, I arranged them into a book, looked over the entire manuscript one final time, and added a table of contents and a cover page.

New Meaning to the Editing Process

This first experience became a blueprint for my future editing work. I approach editing like a jigsaw puzzle. I enjoy the challenge of polishing someone’s rough draft and relish the excitement in the authors’ eyes when they see their manuscript coming together.

The author planned to self-publish the book on Amazon. He asked me for publishing advice, but I told him that it was not my domain. Subsequently, a book designer formatted the manuscript to look attractive for purchasing. Later on it appeared online.  I had no further contact with the author.

An editor expands and sharpens the ideas the authors convey in their manuscript. An editor can improve poor writing and ultimately their job is to make the text the best it can possibly be.

This first book took six weeks to complete. Luckily, I started editing right at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when the entire country was under lockdown. I was housebound and had very few outside commitments, so I was able to work non-stop. The advantage of editing is flexibility: it can be done at home and in your own time. And the extra income really came in handy, since our day jobs were on hold. 

After completing this first project, I gained the confidence I needed to work independently in the future. My editor friend has since sent two more authors my way and I have edited another two books. Now I’m working on a fourth book, which was also written by a first-time author. This time I feel like an experienced and qualified editor, so the process flows much more smoothly. It’s clear to me that work comes by word-of-mouth. I just had to get past that first editing job!

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