This month, the New Blue Pencil underscores Embark editor extraordinaire, Shayna K, who tells us why she's passionate about the copyediting craft.
I’m an editor. I’ve worked on a variety of things from book-length manuscripts to content marketing emails to blog posts.
But I’m also a writer who thinks faster than I type and constantly uses spell check, which means I make mistakes in pretty much everything I write. So, though I’ve read the Chicago Manual of Style front to back and occasionally peruse grammar forums to get a kick, even I have used “there” instead of “their” and been the subject of scorn from strangers on the internet.
It’s not a writer’s job
Why do the best of us still make such obvious mistakes in areas that we are supposedly expert? It’s because we’re too close to our material. We need to let go, move on, and let someone else take over; even editors can’t edit their own writing. Everyone who writes, whether writing is their sole profession or if it is just another function of their job, needs to call in someone with fresh eyes and an open mind, and that’s where editors come in.
A writer’s first responsibility should be to compose a message; only later should mechanical accuracy be considered. Our job as writers is to perfectly translate an idea into language; often, this is an idea that we conceived ourselves. It is not always our job to then ensure that the phrases, symbols, and clauses fit within a semi-defined structure. That’s sometimes best left to someone else.
Everyone makes mistakes
Writers make mistakes for various reasons. Maybe the writer is too familiar with the material and can’t give it a fair glance. They’ve played with the message in their head for hours and made dozens of micro-edits as the content evolved. At this point, the writer probably doesn’t want to look at whatever they wrote for a good long time.
Another reason writers make mistakes is that they often work on a tight deadline. Journalists, copywriters, marketers, and public relations professionals usually have just a few days to thoroughly research and compose a killer article or content offering. Authors and academic writers, though they may have a longer time to condense months of research and exposition work into a full-length piece, may still operate under a publisher’s timeline. And all writers eventually face difficult or technical subject matter that is challenging to express: How can we shorten this necessary but tedious seven-line sentence without losing any of the meaning?
Mistakes make a difference
And if you had any doubt, yes, it does matter if your work has mistakes. Most of the errors writers make are minor, like my “their” and “there” mishap, but other mistakes could have more dire consequences.
Let’s say you work for an environmental nonprofit and are writing an email to all of your newsletter subscribers letting them know about a fundraising campaign you’re running to increase access to food in isolated communities. You finish the newsletter, read through it a few times, and you’re ready to press send. But the website link you included is missing a character! You typed http:/savetheworld.com instead of http://savetheworld.com. Now the hyperlink won’t work and fewer people will participate in your campaign. An editor might have fixed hunger!
Can an editor really do all that?
Okay, so maybe that editor wouldn’t have fixed hunger. But editors can still do a lot. A good editor can make sure that links work, ideas flow coherently, definitions make sense, the message is clear, and that your words sound good. At most, this can help you build relationships, write exciting prose, attract and retain clients, tell better stories, and gain credibility. And error free, well structured writing will always shine, giving your idea the spotlight it deserves.
Editors aren’t just for professional authors—they’re for anyone who writes, including lawyers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and more. So, if you ever write anything that needs to get a message across, think about getting an editor.
And now, it’s time for me to send this document over to mine.
Shayna Keyles, a founding member of the Embark Editorial Agency, is a content strategist, writer, and editor. She is currently taking on freelance copyediting contracts. For more information, contact her at skeylesATgmail.com.
“I’m a copyeditor, not a copywriter, so what would be the point of attending a writers conference?”
It’s always worth going to a copyeditors conference, as Carol Fisher Saller, the author of The Subversive Copy Editor, makes clear in her most recent CMS Shop Talk blog. But, based on my experience at this year's Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, here are the reasons I would consider making the trip to Washington DC to attend the event in 2017.
1. The opportunity to learn
This year’s AWP program included sessions such as Think Like an Editor; Women Who Edit Literary Journals; What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Redline (a session about the book and magazine editing process); Revising Nonfiction; and Writing and Editing Sex. Although not exclusive to copyediting, these sessions illuminated the editorial process as a whole, and copyeditors who understand their place within the process have an advantage over those who work in a bubble. I also think it behooves smart editors to consider increasing their earning potential by adding more strings to their bows, so to speak: the different types of editors at AWP certainly inspired me to further develop my skills in substantive and line editing.
2. For the love of literature
Whether being writers of fiction or nonfiction makes us better editors is a moot point, but this much I believe is true: good editors are prolific readers. The more we consume quality writing, the better we understand the art of effective wordsmithing. The brutal truth is that if you are not a voracious consumer of language, editing may be the wrong profession for you (ouch!). But if you’re out of the reading habit, there’s nothing like a writers conference to rekindle your passion for the written word and remind you why you went into editing in the first place.
3. For insights into publishing
For those of us on the outside looking in, the publishing industry is a mystery, but many of the AWP conference sessions highlight what’s hot and what’s not in the world of publishing. Understanding the latest trends will make you a particularly valuable resource to the writers you work with.
The AWP also hosts a gigantic book fair that would take three whole days to cover thoroughly. The fair is a chance to meet a range of small presses and journal publishers...all of which may be in the market for a professional copyeditor. The fair directory is a great resource, and at some point this year, I will get around to contacting as many of the fair exhibitors as I can. I was also greatly encouraged by seeing the number of independent presses and bookshops represented at the fair: I’m happy to report that traditional and digital publishing in the US is alive and well!
4. For the chance to connect
Networking at the book fair was easy because exhibitors are specifically there to talk to attendees. Once outside the exhibition hall, however, it became more challenging. I always find it difficult to strike up conversations when the goal is self-promotion, but I enjoy getting to know people. My only advice on this subject is “Be yourself.” Cliched, perhaps, but true. Let conversations begin naturally so that, if you make a connection, it’s easy to exchange contact details. Although I made only one significant connection at the conference this year, it’s the quality of the connection that counts. That one person taught me a lot about writing and publishing and introduced me to a wealth of useful resources—and we’ve become the best of friends to boot!
Read the first AWP blog post, “Editors and Writers: Are They On the Same Page?”