Over my years as an editor, I’ve heard a lot of people state confidently that they could be editors because they’re always finding errors when they read. I always have a couple of internal reactions to this. One is humor at how easy people think it is to do my job, and another is to feel a little bit insulted. Outwardly, I simply smile and murmur something noncommital.
The truth is, editing is a service, just like waiting tables, and a good editor, like a good waiter or waitress, will make the job look a lot easier than it appears.
Being an editor isn’t as easy as it may appear at first blush, and I keep 6 main considerations in mind when hiring editors.
Error-free inquiry e-mail, cover letter, and/or resume. If I spot an error, I’m more likely to discount an applicant for an editing position. Sure, we all make mistakes, and I never expect an editor to be perfect, but when you want to make a living correcting other people’s mistakes, it’s vital that I can see that you can also catch your own (or have had the foresight to have other people help you catch and correct them). (If your resume or cover letter mentions a personal website, you’d better believe I’ll be reviewing that, too.)
Ability to improve text beyond surface errors. As many would-be editors have found, it is one thing to be able to spot glaring errors in a casual read and to actively look for and correct those errors. Beyond checking the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation, a good editor notices if a sentence can be misunderstood and then corrects to prevent any misreading. I assess skill at correcting errors at all levels with an editing test that includes both objective and subjective portions. An editor must score at least a 90% on the objective part of the test before I will even consider using his/her services.
Ability to use Word’s Track Changes and Comments features. This is one of the main tools of the editing trade in this age of electronic everything, and if you don’t know how to use it, you’re not getting a foot in my door; you might as well be a carpenter who doesn’t know how to use a hammer.
Knowledge of the Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). Again, this is a tool of the trade. Many style guides exist for professional editors, but this is the standard for most book publishing. If you don’t know this one, it’ll show in the test.
Customer-oriented personality. I gauge this from several things, including our e-mail and phone exhanges and the way you query/comment in the sample. I don’t care how good you are at catching errors and polishing text; if you can’t be polite or helpful, you are not going to do well in a service industry like editing for self-publishing authors.
Respect for the author’s voice and style. I’ve encountered a few editors who have rewritten text wholesale, but most authors don’t want that—they want help, enhancement. A good editor maintains the author’s voice and respects his/her word choices and tone. Just as skilled waitstaff enhance your meal with helpfulness and anticipating your needs without being intrusive, so a good editor will enhance a manuscript without inserting his or her personality in the finished product.
Like outstanding waitstaff, great editors make their mark by leaving customers satisfied, and that’s just the kind of experience I want you to create for me when I’m considering you. If you can do that for me, I know you can do that for a client.
(Bio: Stephanie R.S. Stringham is a freelance editor as well as managing editor for Dog Ear Publishing. As a child, she dreamed of both helping people and getting paid to read books. Editing is her avocation, a gift she uses to help other people share their own stories in exceptional ways. She feels her calling as an editor is not only to improve authors’ text but also to educate authors so they can constantly improve their writing, even without her presence.
When she is not editing or writing, she is planting, nurturing, and growing things on a small homestead in Indiana with her husband and two children. You can connect with her on Facebook or through her website.)