What Makes a Good Editor?

When we pick up a textbook or novel, few of us think about the extreme measures the publisher has taken to ensure perfection in the book in our hands. After the author has revised until the cows come home, the manuscript goes to the copy editor (yours truly) who searches for every possible error. Like the Highlights magazine game you may have enjoyed as a kid, an editor must find the hidden errors in the author’s picture, picking each page apart, adding comments and questions to further clarify the finer points. The edited text is then returned to the project manager for review, and the queries are passed on to the author, who is expected to reject or respond to the changes. After that, the refined finished product is put into galleys and turned over to the proofreader, who must catch every little thing that either the editor missed or that could only be discovered upon perusal of a finished galley.

A good editor is expected to know the entire contents of the big, fat, orange bible of publishing: the infamous Chicago Manual of Style. In addition, depending on what sort of work is being edited, she may also need to know APA or AMA guidelines and all the e-I-e-I-o’s of Word and Acrobat. Add to that customer templates and guidelines, and we quickly see that a copy editor cannot be a normal person. A normal person would never enjoy such a thing: a good copy editor lives for it. There is no joy greater than a comprehensive style sheet that reflects the editor’s understanding that much about printed English is neither black nor white. These shades of gray (or is it grey?) must be addressed, word by word, to ensure consistency above all things and to guide the proofreader and future editors of future editions toward her noble vision of printed perfection.

What a good copy editor will not do is rewrite the entire text: a good substantive editor, on the other hand, may do exactly that. Both kinds of editors must do all of their hacking and slicing with the tenderest sensitivity to what is known as the author’s voice, lest they find that voice screaming at them for ruining their labor of love.

In short, a good editor goes out looking for trouble in an effort to bring to the surface all the rough spots to be smoothed out for the manuscript to truly shine. To find out more about me or my skills, please check out my resumé and take a look at the before-and-after samples of my work. If you still have questions, feel free to contact me.