10 top tips for rookie editors


At a recent Editors’ Circle meeting, we discussed what advice we would give to a rookie editor starting out as a freelancer. These were the top ten tips:


  1. From Day 1 start your own style sheet and discuss your style decisions with other editors.
  2. Clients often don’t know what editing means, or the process involved, so be clear about what level of editing you are offering and where you fit in to the process. If necessary, ask another editor to explain the publishing industry to you.
  3. If you can, find a mentor especially for the first couple of jobs. Or ask an experienced editor for some advice and feedback.
  4. Learn how to accept feedback and take all criticism as constructive criticism.
  5. Learn to let go – do a thorough edit but don’t spend unnecessary time.
  6. Develop a network and be brave enough to ask people for work. Pick up that phone and cold call publishers. Offer to do a short edit/proofread for free as a way to get your foot in the door.
  7. Keep a sense of humour and don’t become a wingeing grammarian.
  8. Communicate with your client! If running late, tell the client and if necessary send off the work done so far, even if unfinished.
  9. Learn to manage your time and be self-disciplined. Get into a routine that works for you. Don’t allow people to ‘pop in’ unannounced just because you are working from home.
  10. Don’t be afraid to ask for money upfront, e.g. deposit of 30% to 50% or part payments, depending on the length of the project.

What tips would you give a rookie editor?


Who’s your audience?

Oh joy! On 17th February 2012, The Economist’s Style Guide came back online, in a browsable alphabetised format.

I think this style guide should be manadatory reading for all writers, especially in business and government.

Here’s one piece of essential advice:
Readers are primarily interested in what you have to say. By the way in which you say it you may encourage them either to read on or to give up.

Too often writers focus on crafting a fine piece of prose instead of thinking about who’s  going to read it. That’s why we include the concept of audience in the first two modules of our Professional Writing Course.

If you want people to read your writing, following these hints from The Economist is a good start:

  • Don’t be stuffy. Avoid showing off and using pompous and obscure words.
  • Use everyday language. Don’t sound like a lawyer or a civil servant!
  • Don’t be arrogant and tell the reader what to think. Instead persuade them (and avoid too many ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts’).
  • Don’t be pleased with yourself, unless you want to irritate your readers.
  • Be clear, which means use simple sentences and avoid complicated constructions.

Communication is about other people hearing your message.

So, before writing anything, ask yourself this simple question. Who is going to read this?

Between or among?

At our last Editors’ Circle, we discussed some common grammar mistakes that almost everyone gets wrong, using this list as a starting point. Someone raised the issue of  when to use ‘between’ and ‘among’, which is not on the list.

The common rule is that  ‘between’ is used for two choices and ‘among’ for more than two.
For example: he is between two jobs; she divided the cake among the six of us.

However, it’s not simple as that.

You can also use ‘between’ when talking about distinct items even if they are more than two.
For example: The negotiations between the United Kingdom, Germany and France were going well.
But, The negotiations among the countries were going well.

As an aside, we all agreed that amongst should never be used in place of among – it’s just too old-fashioned. Similarly, we decided that ‘whom’ should be avoided at all costs. With whom did you meet? sounds old-fashioned. Rather simplify the sentence: Who did you meet?

The Four Ps of Presenting

On the subject of public speaking, Franklin D. Roosevelt said “Be sincere, be brief, be seated”. I say use the Four Ps:

1. Be Positive
Our thoughts dictate our behaviour. So use positive self-talk (“I am going to give a powerful presentation”) and visualisation (imaging applauding audiences) to prepare yourself mentally.

2. Prepare
Preparation is key! Spend time identifying the purpose of your presentation, as well as your audience. Will they be receptive to your topic? Who are they? (eg: experience, knowledge, age, background).

3. Plan
What is the topic of your presentation? What are the key ideas? (Between 3 and 7 key ideas, depending on the length of your presentation.)  What are the supporting points for each key idea? How will you link the points/ideas (transitions)? Is your opening (introduction) clear and closing (conclusion) strong?

4. Practise
This doesn’t mean learning your speech off by heart – use key phrases and your slides to guide you. Practice the pace and tone of your voice, and where to pause and where to emphasis a point. Time your presentation so you don’t go over your allotted slot.

A final thought
To add power to your word, use the rule of three (eg: one main idea and three supporting points).Some of the most memorable historic phrases use this rule:

“Liberté, égalité, fraternité”
“Of the people, by the people and for the people.”
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”