This article is based on responses from clients asked to describe what problem an editor had solved for them. Given the multitude of clients who use editing services it is no surprise that the problems that need solving are as legion, but a common theme across them all is trust: ‘I do feel that for any problems to be solved the writer has to trust the editor’; ‘if they are lucky, editor and author will grow to trust each other, and even achieve a mutual admiration’.
‘We were up against a tight deadline’
Business clients are driven strongly by time constraints, so a freelance editor’s flexibility and the speed with which they can do a job (given their knowledge and their use of handy tools that speed up mundane tasks) help clients achieve ‘a very tight turnaround with limited time for our internal quality checks to be implemented’ (in this case a market research report that had to conform to the client’s style sheet).
Time pressures have a habit of cascading down the workstream, as acknowledged by a design company:
As such a significant part of our schedule is devoted to an ongoing series of projects which come either on a drip feed or as a gushing torrent, it can be problematic for us to manage the annual schedule. The ability of freelance editors to promptly react to changing circumstances and lack of warning on our part about upcoming projects is vital to the smooth running of our business.
Time can also chase more traditional academic tomes, particularly those with multiple authors:
Having an editor on board taking care of the copyediting not only ensured we met the deadline with a clean manuscript but it also created vital headspace for us to keep the overall intellectual project in sight, and spend time finessing.
Lumberjack or editor?
Business clients often have to deal with a logjam caused by a range of internal viewpoints. Access to a trusted freelancer ‘meant the job got done, when it otherwise would have just sat there until an entire team had the time to agree on what wording to use’ (where a company needed all their communications to be in plain English to help their clients understand the complexities of owning and leasing property).
But not all organisations are aware of how their language obfuscates their message (in a multinational world where English is the main common language, but in which it is not the first language for many writers, I might suggest using obscures). There is a trick to making a document ‘stand out, but yet be easily comprehensible to the target audience of people with English as a second language’. Many an EU department uses ‘a fresh, outsider’s look – not just at the use of words and their context but also at the layout’. This same client pointed out:
I suggest that often clients are not fully aware of how much an editor can do for them … A good editor working closely with their client can really add value – and at reasonable cost.
‘An editor carries a first-time author across the threshold from school-taught theory to book-form execution.’
This brings me to self-publishers, particularly first-time authors who discover that the main benefit of using a professional editor is clearing the fog:
First-time authors, until then, have read as consumers, oblivious to the conventions of publishing. Who had noticed that the first paragraph of a chapter is not indented, or that century is not capitalised? Who knew the flexibilities of convention? What first-time author comes with a clear idea of their own style sheet?
An editor can be pretty useful quite early in the writing journey to help a writer see the wood through the forest of their plot:
The developmental edit helped me to grow the important characters and see how the whole story fitted together. This then led me to evolve the story and complete the jigsaw.
Even when the bones of the story have been fleshed out there is usually plenty for an editor to sort out so that the author can present as coherent and publication-ready a manuscript as possible.
A good editor also knows how to avoid problems through ‘diplomacy and tact’ by ‘inviting me to consider what might be expressed better and bringing sense to some of my more chaotic ideas’. And not only for first-time authors:
I’ve always believed that every book should benefit from a professional edit. Sadly, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule in these times of self-publishing and print-on-demand.
Finally, proper preparation for self-publishing is another area where editors can help avoid problems, or present solutions:
solving all the finicky problems associated with formatting, design, registry, accounts, etc., that I am either too busy, too confused, or too lazy to do myself.
Alison Shakspeare came to editing after a career in arts marketing and research for leading national and regional organisations. Her client base has expanded as her skillset has grown from basic copy editing to offering design and layout services. She truly enjoys the CPD she gains from working with academics, business organisations and a growing number of self-publishing authors.
Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
Photo credits: jigsaw – Gabriel Crismariu on Unsplash; trees – Sebastian Unrau on Unsplash.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.
Originally published November 2019; updated May 2021.
I really enjoyed reading this, Alison, and I feel like we should keep it on hand somehow, to trot it out to people who aren’t even sure whether they need an editor. (They do. Oh, they do.)
CIEP, can someone please fix all the random and outsized paragraph spacing in this piece so we have a nicely laid-out article. How the words look on the page also matters, as you all know. Please feel eminently free to delete or edit my comment here at your whim.
Oh Robin, I wish I could amend the paragraph spacing – it’s the way our WordPress template likes to display quotes and my WordPressFu isn’t at the template-tinkering level yet!