The Basics: How to Find a Mentor

For me, a mentor is basically Dumbledore: a wise, composed, compassionate teacher with a sense of humor who is somehow able to see a few steps ahead. (Note: the beard is optional.)

  • It’s the way she answers my questions, teaching me why and how.
  • It’s the challenges she presents, daring me to take that one extra action, because who knows? Something wonderful might happen.
  • It’s her calm demeanor, whatever the storm (including a corrupted file masquerading as a 200+ page manuscript).
  • It’s her words of encouragement, her gentle way of picking me up after a stumble, helping me shake off the dust, and then encouraging me to get back on track—never doing it for me, mind you, but instead making sure I know I’m supported through it all.
  • It’s her self-deprecation, her subtle way of reminding me that she’s a human being, too, rather than a superheroine (though I swear she needs a cape).
  • Most of all, it’s her belief in me, steadfast and nurturing without any condescension (even when I trip toward stupidity).

My mentor wants me to learn, grow, and figure things out on my own. But she’s there for it all, too: a steady, cheerleading force of nature. For me, that is the definition of a mentor.

So how do you find one? Chances are you already have; you just haven’t realized it.

  • Who is the first person you turn to when you have a problem you can’t seem to solve?
  • Who is the first person you think of when your career seems stalled and you don’t know the next move?
  • Who calms you down, lifts you up, and helps you get back on your feet?
  • Who has been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale?

You can always ask someone to be your mentor, but I don’t think that’s strictly necessary. What matters most is that you team up with someone you can learn from in a positive way who makes you want to keep pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone just enough to grow.

A true mentor wants you to succeed—not for selfish reasons but because they truly believe in your ability …

For me, what began as a mentor/mentee relationship has turned into a friendship, and I am now able to give back. She taught me that, too: reciprocation. For that—and for her—I am more grateful than I could ever say.

The Basics: Truths About Editing

There are certain realities about editing that you don’t learn until you’re knee-deep in the trenches. Today, I’d like to discuss a few.
  1. Most editors do not and cannot edit 8 hours a day. The editing process is incredibly taxing on the eyes, hands, bottom, and brain. Even if you take frequent breaks, you still hit a point where it becomes impossible to focus, and if you don’t walk away from the computer, you begin to make careless mistakes.
  2. Not every project is thrilling. In fact, many are downright dull. The way to get through those, especially in book publishing, is to remember that you’re holding someone’s dream in your hands and that it deserves your best. Corny? Yes. But true.
  3. There’s more to editing than spelling, punctuation, and grammar. I’m speaking, of course, about the joys of fact-checking, formatting citations, and captioning charts, tables, and illustrations.
  4. Different types of publications require different editorial strengths. News sites, for example, require a fast turn-around time and attention to SEO.
  5. You will come across plagiarism. How you handle it depends upon whether you work as a freelancer or for a company. Either way, try not to take it personally.
  6. There is no such thing as perfect. Editing choices can be quite subjective, and everyone makes mistakes. It wasn’t until I saw an error in an updated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that I finally let go of the idea of perfection in editing.

The Basics: Editing Tools

Must-Haves:

Suggested Reading:

Optionals:

Also check Copyediting.com for classes on editing for all skill levels!

The Basics: Becoming an Editor

Everyone comes to this career differently:

There are a few things, however, that all good editors-to-be have in common:

  • passion for detail
  • strong command of spelling, grammar, and punctuation
  • the drive, always, to learn more

Also, as Carol Fisher Saller writes in The Subversive Copy Editor, they are “liberally educated and culturally literate. They know a foreign language or two, are reasonably numerate, and have traveled a bit.”

Put simply, being well rounded will make you a better editor.

 

To be a successful editor, however, there are two more traits you’ll need, and they only come with time. Those traits are proficiency and experience. Or maybe that should read “proficiency through experience,” because really, that’s the only way to progress.

You start at the beginning with the most basic thing you can find—a friend’s term paper, a colleague’s PowerPoint presentation, a local nonprofit’s brochure—and you jump in with both feet. You make mistakes. You underestimate your timeline. You undercharge …

But you learn. You grow. And you begin to feel confident enough in your abilities to reach out to new prospective clients, introducing yourself and your skills, taking editing tests when needed, and generally expanding your business.

There’s no easy path. There’s no straight road. But believe me when I say that if can get there, so can you.

More to come on this subject in the days ahead …

 

The Basics: Citations.

Any time you use another person’s ideas or words (whether in direct quote or paraphrase), you must cite the source.

Why? Because it is illegal not to. And readers who like to read further need enough information to find what they’re looking for (author’s name, title of publication, page number, etc.).

While it might be tempting to leave the heavy work to your editor, we are only meant to help with citations—not write them for you. Here’s how to conquer them on your own:

  1. Choose a style guide. The style guide you choose will depend on the type of publication you’re targeting. If the publisher doesn’t recommend a guide, choose the one that best fits the medium (e.g., AP for news sites).
  2. Once you know the style guide, the next step is consistency. That means the formatting for each source should be the same (i.e., books formatted in book format; articles in article format; and so on).
  3. Footnotes should be in a consistent style as well.
  4. If footnotes are complete, there’s no need for endnotes.
  5. If all else fails, there is specialized software that can help.

One important thing to remember is that spell-check doesn’t work well on citations, thanks to the many abbreviations, strangely spelled names, etc. So take your time, and as always, just do your best.

The Basics: What Do Editors Want from Writers?

We want a good project. A diamond in the rough. Something we can really sink our teeth into and take from good to great. And we want writers who really, really want to see that happen.

Our favorite clients:

Most importantly, clients should understand that no editor anywhere in the entirety of the universe can make a book perfect. Why? Carol Fisher Saller (best-selling author of The Subversive Copy Editor) explains:

The manuscript doesn’t have to be perfect because perfect isn’t possible. There’s no Platonic ideal for that document, one ‘correct’ way for it to turn out, one perfect version hidden in the block of marble that it’s your job to discover by endless chipping away. It simply has to be the best you can make it in the time you’re given, free of true errors, rendered consistent in every way that the reader needs in order to understand and appreciate, and as close to your chosen style as is practical. (pg. 115)

The Basics: Why Are Editors So Expensive?

The above question is usually peppered with swearwords and followed by a frustrated sigh. But the question is a good one, and today, I’m going to answer it.

Facts About Editing Rates:

  1. While every freelance editor has the ability to set his or her rates, most rates fall within an accepted range and are updated yearly (due to inflation, the market, etc.).
  2. Whether hourly, by the word, or by the page, the rate editors charge should be based on both their skill level and the amount of work involved.
    • A young editor fresh out of college should charge less than an 20-year veteran with large publishing house experience.
    • If you’re only looking for help with the basics (i.e., spelling, punctuation, and grammar), the charge should be less than, say, a developmental edit.
    • If you haven’t run spell-check, proofread a few times, and done at least a bit of self-revision, expect to pay more.
    • Conversely, the more time you’ve taken with your work, the more an editor can help and the less you’ll be charged.
  3. After reviewing all the pieces of your project, an editor should offer a quote, along with a time frame for completion. You should then be asked to sign a basic contract. These details are crucial and help prevent miscommunication, protecting all involved.

Remember, anyone who works as a freelancer has to pay out of pocket for things like health insurance. And they deserve a living wage, just like everyone else.