Did you say Proofreader or Editor?

Picture 1Adrianna and I thought we might like to address something that almost all writers know something about, but a topic of which few emerging writers have a competent knowledge.  In fact, two distinctly different job titles that I perform work under on a daily basis, my primary source of income, are often confused and frequently interchanged by novice writers.  Both Adrianna and I offer ourselves out as both “proofreaders” and as “editors.”  They are not the same job, not by a long shot.  I will let my PITA explain things as she sees it and applies it to the jobs she does, but for myself, here is an easy summary.

When I proofread, I am looking for punctuation, dropped words, grammatical errors such as singular/plural usage, gender errors, homonyms, misspellings, etc.  The job of a proofreader is to NOT change or improve the language, just proof any errors.  I proofread a lot of research reports, medical dissertations, legal filings, and trial transcripts.  None of which do I have the privilege of altering outside of the basics.  The most I can do is highlight an area and suggest the author might consider a partial re-write.  This is NOT editing.

Editing, although it does in part consider all of the tasks of a proofreader, is reading for a much more complex series of correctable issues.  I will tell you here, that when someone sends me a project to edit, and it has not been proofread, I will send it back; I cannot be distracted by a thousand petty errors when looking at the bigger picture.  An editor is there to improve the author’s writing.  I am looking for plot structure, credibility, plausibility, continuity and readability.  I am studying word usage and coloration (where modifiers imply the same emotion), character development, scene placement, idiom, and depending on the genre, proper foreshadowing, literary layering, allusion opportunity, the subtle threads that weave a great story/novella/novel.  I don’t rewrite anything, but there will be tons of red ink throughout the pages with suggestive and constructive critiques.

An edit is not a single use read through, it is a back and forth relationship between a trusted advisor and a writer looking to improve their work. It is not for the ego of, “None of you know what you’re talking about, my story is perfect, just the way I wanted it.”  I won’t take work from people like that, the money I make is not worth the headache.  You don’t hire an editor to praise your work, an editor is there for one purpose: to find every flaw, every fault, everything you did wrong and show it to you so that you can fix it.  An editor does not necessarily have to be a better writer than the writer that is being improved.  A writer has conceived, gestated and given birth to their little progeny.  The editor is removed from all of the parental love and like a good pediatrician, isn’t captivated by the cuteness of the infant, but whether there is anything wrong.

Those who know me, know that I am always saying no piece of writing is ever “done.”  There comes a point when it is “ready,” but never is it done.  Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass in 1855; he was still rewriting and editing it until his death in 1892.  It was ready for publication SEVEN times (including the Death Bed Edition that was published two months after his passing). That being said, when you are through with an editor, your work will be ready for publication.

bae910b9-d3a9-482f-affe-8395e4f97ec3Hi everyone.  It’s the PITA—I mean, Adrianna.  David, seriously, I think we should just legally change my name to PITA since I sign all my mails that now. Also, I’m growing fond of my tiara.

Okay, back to the point of the post. Those of you who know me know that I’ve not been writing as long as some of you, but nothing gives more experience as an editor, proofreader and writer than rejections.  I’ve had editor after editor look at my work.  Out of my eagerness to learn more and more, I contacted people to help me find out what my writing was lacking.  How can I grow?  Along the way I began to learn what to look for in a story.  After many hours of reading and researching, I remembered what I was taught by my teachers about Literary Writing and the points of a good editor.  Along that journey, I’ve picked up some great concepts and rules to follow.  If I hadn’t sought out other editors during my journey to learning how to become a better writer, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  For those of you who think that this sounds easy, it’s not.  I’ve shed frustrating tears in my journey to where I am today.

What do I look for when I edit?  Well, whether you’re a client of mine or a friend whose work I’ve had the pleasure of editing, then you know that I do not joke around when I edit.  David and I even edit one another’s work (Yes, every editor needs an editor), and cringe when we know the other is about to open a file of corrections and/or suggestions.  It’s not always easy when it’s someone you know, but it has to be done.  If you care about the life of a story, no matter who wrote it, then honesty needs to play the major role here.

Once I open the book, I look at the first five paragraphs.  They alone will tell me what I need to know about the author.  I search for passive and active voice; excessive use of adverbs; are they not showing and only telling; sentence structure; repetition; do the sentences in the paragraph complement one another; punctuation; wordy sentences; lack of immediacy (in genres that call for this); and a few other small things.  When I edit someone’s work and they are willing to learn how to write, I will give them a few tips to go by, and then work on it one step at a time.  For some writers, too many corrections and lessons at once can be overwhelming.

Okay, David, I think I’ve said enough. I could go on and on and on, but I don’t want their eyes to bleed.  Not tonight.  Maybe tomorrow. 😛

(Ironically, this post is still up for editing LOL–too be continued)

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About David Kent

I promote and encourage the advancement and education of writers everywhere. I dream of a society that once again incorporated literature into the acculturation of their children, replacing the empty calories of 22 minute sitcoms and mindless reality TV. But first we write, then prod them to read, and finally hope for the best. Read more at http://writerinthemountains.blogspot.com/

12 thoughts on “Did you say Proofreader or Editor?

  1. As a beginner in the world of writing, these posts are incredibly helpful to me. The writing/publishing world is becoming less and less scary, and with each post or article I read, I become more convinced that this is something I can tackle. Thank you for your site and all of the contributions!

    • Thank you for the wonderful comment, Nicki. Please spread the word everywhere you can, this is a site for all writers; everyone helping everyone.

    • Nicki,
      I’m thrilled that we can provide a place for you to come and feel relaxed. The world of writing can be intimidating to say the least, but the more we immerse ourselves in it, the more we begin to understand and feel at home. 🙂 Feel free to ask us any questions you may have, and thank you for the wonderful compliment.

  2. Best info I really needed to know. Thanks for making it crystal clear! Helped me in understanding the differences and the reasons behind it. Stops me along the lines of thinking my writing is being criticized. I am a beginner and haven’t really started writing and you’re article clears up the thoughts of criticism.

  3. I am in a special place on this one. Editing as a labor of love seems well worth it when the “AHA” moment appears in the eyes of the person I am working for. Granted, the bouts of, “You just don’t understand me! YOU SUCK!!!” are a little less enjoyable. It brings up a very important observation that both editor and author must embrace. An editor must remember that it is NOT one’s job to “blaspheme” the creative intelligence, voice and effort that has poured forth from the author’s head. Creative suggestions must be in step with the artistry that has been presented, no matter how rough. At the same time, it is IMPERATIVE that the writer open the shutters of the mind to accept the suggestions put forth by the editor, and at least try to understand why these suggestions have been given. It is a delicate balance between both parties that promises greatness if each does the proper part, even if it means a few grumpy exchanges. 😉 Thank you David and PITA (lol!) for making this site possible to help young writers, and not-so-young, too. Bright blessings to all your future endeavors. “Hiccups” and all, it is a noble enterprise. 🙂

    • Stacy, Thank you for the nice comments. Since this started out just to do some comparative displays, it turned into something much bigger and more important than I had conceived. I want this to be a real reference/tool/showcase for writers everywhere. I have put the word out that Adrianna and I are looking for contributions in every aspect of writing. If anything on ANY topic inspires you to write something (especially, since it is kind of your blog-type-of-thing, on anything to do with non-fiction /theme /periodical type writing rather than just story telling), please use the email on the home page and send it in (we do give full credit), and if there is ANYTHING you (or Dallas) would like to see included, send us that suggestion also. This site, although moderated by Adrianna and I, is really everyone’s site, and we want everybody’s participation. (BTW: I am working with some “real” publishers (the paper kind) with standing invitations to come by [when we have enough content], to explore the emerging talents we are showcasing.)
      Thanks again (I’m glad I met Dallas, she came with you as a perk!)

    • Dear Stacy,

      Thank you for your very encouraging response. You’ve made us smile with your enthusiasm and understanding. To me, it is very important for a writer to find that editor that they can have a relationship with. Not every writer/author finds that ”special editor” that will help evoke progress in their creativity, but it is possible. An editor that will not step over the boundaries of the writer’s creativity is also very important. I could chat with you all day about this topic. Lol. Thank you so much, again, for writing us. You are welcome here anytime.


  4. Great blog, you two. David, I also do editing, and you are 100% right about the money being a headache when it comes from an author who doesn’t want honest feedback on how to improve their story.

    So, I wonder where would you guys categorize beta-readers in that whole muddle. I belong to a few groups, and many authors in them don’t bother with editors, but rely on the free advice given by their beta-readers. Many of them want beta-readers to do the work of an editor, but without having to go that extra (often expensive,) mile to pay someone to do a thorough job. The thing about that is how much attention is a non-paid friend, who really just wants you to be happy, going to pay to important things like character development, strength of story, continuity, etc.? They aren’t. Most of them just know what they like to read, and it tends to stop there.

    Again, great blog! I enjoyed reading both of your perspectives.

  5. Rated four stars for its information and humour. However, I wouldn’t want you to proofread my writing.
    In the last paragraph, “genres” doesn’t require an apostrophe.
    In the second paragraph, “proofread” is put as two words. Which is it?
    In the fourth paragraph, there needs to be a punctuation mark after “purpose”. I suggest a colon.

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