How Shall I Edit Thee? Let Me Count the Ways….

There’s a common misconception that editors are a malcontent bunch, holed up in their musty cramped offices with their red pens, ready to pounce on the first misplaced comma that crosses their paths.

While those criticism-oriented folks do exist (and I’ve met some of them), a truly excellent editor is a different breed altogether.

Editing is a delicate business, and it requires a very specific combination of skills. While that may eventually include wielding a red pen to enforce the “rules” of grammar and composition and apply them as appropriate, that’s just the beginning– or, more accurately– the ending.

At the beginning of a project, a good editor will ask questions and listen carefully to what the writer wants. Even before looking at the writing, she’ll seek to understand the writer’s intent (what he’s trying to convey) and his audience (who’s reading it, under what circumstances, and for what purpose).  And when she edits the writing, she’s working with– not against– the writer, as a both a collaborator and coach as well as a rhetorician and grammarian. She’ll provide feedback to the writer over multiple revisions of the text, each revision targeting a different aspect: content, organization, style, and then grammar, roughly in that order. (So the red pen only comes out at the very end of the process, when the writing is ready for the final edits.) And the project’s not finished until the writer is satisfied that final draft articulates his thoughts in a well-organized, clear, engaging and intelligent manner.

There are various levels of editing, ranging from light proofreading (for example, a text with only minor grammatical errors) to intensive editing (such as a text with major conceptual or organizational flaws). Editing rates likewise vary based on the duration and intensity of the project, so your quote will explain both the level of editing needed and the rate for that type of work, as well as the expected timeline for completion.