The lighter side of editing

The lighter side of editing

Thursday, August 25, 2016

5 Phrases Guaranteed to Raise Your Editor’s Blood Pressure

I have high blood pressure. It’s controlled with diet, exercise, medication, and attitude, meaning I try to avoid overloading myself with stress. Unfortunately, sometimes editing is stressful. Wait…that’s not quite right. Editing is a joy. I love editing. When you’re bookin’ along through a manuscript, checking the dictionary, poring over entries in Chicago, updating your style sheet, hitting your keyboard combinations to insert autotext…Oh, yeah. Ever heard of flow? Anyway, the stress in editing doesn’t come from editing; it comes from people.

Before I proceed, I want to state very clearly that most authors and other folks I encounter are a joy to work with. But...

Every once in a while, an editor will run into a client who is demanding, overbearing, and/or just plain rude. There’s even a specific term for this kind of client: pita (“pain in the ass”; not to be confused with the yummy flatbread that goes great with hummus). These clients seem not to understand—or care—that the person on the receiving end of their e-mail is, well, a person. From some of these unfortunate encounters, I have put together the following list of phrases guaranteed to upset an editor’s equilibrium.

1. You left an error on page 97.

Of course this client won’t bother to mention that the rest of the book is perfect…and there is usually a good chance that the “error” is not an error at all.

2. I don’t think you read my book. You just ran some kind of spellcheck on it.

A client actually said this to me in an e-mail once, and it absolutely sent me into orbit. Maybe I should have been more, um, diplomatic, but I severed our working relationship immediately. Some things I just don't put up with.

3. You ruined my masterpiece!

If by “ruined” you mean “corrected the atrocious spelling and put the commas in the correct places,” then yes, I did, thankyouverymuch. Thankfully, I’ve never been on the receiving end of this particular insult.

4. Why did you change X, Y, or Z???!!! I demand that you change it back!

This came from an author who was absolutely outraged that I corrected the improper use of “lie” and “lay” throughout her book. By the way, I did not change it back, but I was very diplomatic in explaining why.

5. You want how much to edit my book? Pretty good money for just reading.

Sigh…For the umpteenmillionth time, editing is not “just reading.” This little comment was especially annoying because it hit my in-box on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when I was stuck in my basement office—working, all the livelong day, after having worked all week and the previous weekend.

If you want to insult and/or anger an editor, try one of these phrases out on him/her. Or, if you would prefer to have a productive working relationship with your editor, try a different approach. There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with your editor or asking questions about something the editor changed or didn’t change. Just remember: Editors are people too, and some of them already have high blood pressure.

Photo credit: Stock image via Adobe Stock.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Editor Fails Grammar Quiz, Doesn’t Care

Several months ago, I—middle school grammar nerd, lifelong avid reader, editor for over a decade—failed a simple grammar quiz. And I don’t care.

What really happened

Okay, I did not “fail”; instead, I got what you might call an “interesting result.” And it wasn’t a grammar quiz, exactly. It was more of an “Are you a grammar nazi?”* quiz—you know, one of those things you stumble across on Facebook and click on because you think it’ll be an excellent way to waste ten minutes of your life? Yeah, you should just steer clear of those quizzes. Life is too short.

Anyway, the quiz comprised ten or so questions, each of which presented a sentence containing a possible error. The quiz taker’s task was to decide how to fix the sentence, or whether to fix it at all. The possible errors were things like use of ain’t in a sentence. They were things that, in the context of formal prose (e.g., for your dissertation), would be problematic. But in another context (e.g., fiction narrated by a character whose grammar is more, um, casual), they might be fine, and the suggested fixes would be stilted and would suck the author’s voice right out of the piece.

Ten out of ten, I chose “The sentence is fine as is.” The final result said something like this: “Your thoughts about grammar are basically, ‘Whatev’, dude.’”


After a moment’s panic over the future of my editing career, I took stock. I care about grammar. I love grammar. Diagramming sentences on the chalkboard with my eighth-grade English teacher remains one of my fondest memories. I impose strict rules of grammar and usage every day. My attitude toward grammar is hardly “Whatev’.”

An inaccurate representation of an editor at work.
See, the problem with the questions on that little quiz was, there was no context. And editing without consideration of context amounts to nothing more than a thoughtless application of rules that (in my humble opinion) are not necessarily about “right” and “wrong” to begin with. Grammar and usage guidelines exist to ease communication, to smooth the way between writer and reader, to ensure that the meaning of any given sentence is clear. They’re not commandments from on high, and the thoughtful editor’s job is not to impose them arbitrarily. The thoughtful editor considers both the guidelines and the context. My job is not to slash through sentences with a red pen, declaring with each stroke, “The rules say it must be done this way!” My job is to make sure that the author’s intent comes through clearly and the finished piece speaks in the author’s voice. Sometimes I let “wrong” things be because, in their context, they’re not wrong at all.

To the prescriptivists who get all stiff and sniffy over the mere thought of doing such a thing… Hey, like, whatev’, dude.

*Not the actual quiz title. And no, I can’t remember the actual quiz title. As I said, it’s been several months. The Internet has moved on.

Photo credits: Stock images view Adobe Stock.