If you’re looking to develop your skills as a writer, one of the most important resources to have is an editor — but when are they vital, and what do they really, truly do? If you’d like to learn more about the editors working in the ACT, the Writers Centre is hosting a Writers and Editors evening on Friday May 31st. For more details, visit our Facebook event.
As a famous folk singer once said, “The times, they are a-changing”. Not only have new technologies given rise to ebooks, but they have also offered us new ways of doing old things – such as editing. Evana Ho spoke to two people who are at the forefront of this brave new world – Charlotte Harper, founder of the digital publishing business Editia, and Anna Maguire, the author of Editia’s first book.
Evana: How would each of you describe the role and function of an editor?
Charlotte: There are three main functions of an editor. The first is structural, which is big picture stuff; moving chapters around, requesting additions or major cuts. And then there are copyeditors, who work on a sentence-by-sentence level, looking at grammar, style and spelling; perhaps rewriting to avoid repetition or clunky or long sentences. They also keep an eye out for ambiguity and defamation. The third type of editing is proofreading ; that final check over. A good editor would do all three and leave the work in a state so when the reader’s reading, they’re not really aware of the words but the ideas that are contained within those words.
Anna: I think of editors as invisible menders. Generally, unless you compare what was first received, you might not even be able to see their work. And they can take a roughly formed manuscript and work with the author to make it the best work possible.
Evana: Anna, can you describe what your book is about?
Anna: Crowdfund It! is about the growing global phenomenon where people donate quite often small amounts to a project on a crowdfunding website in exchange for a reward. It’s estimated that crowdfunding will raise $3 billion worldwide this year. Crowdfund It! details a dozen of the most interesting sites globally and presents a successful case study for each. It also has a chapter on how you can maximise your success at crowdfunding, because around 50% of projects on crowdfunding sites are not achieving their funding target.
Evana: Your book was edited by both Charlotte Harper and Sarah Hazelton . What was it that each of them did?
Anna: Charlotte and I had talked a lot about the development of the manuscript initially so she was very familiar with the content and outline of the book. She did the initial copyedit of Crowdfund It! and some of the rewriting and then we passed it over to Sarah who is a professional book editor.
Sarah ensured things like consistency of style and clarity of communication. She also suggested improved wording in a number of places. The story I often tell to explain what a great job Sarah did was even in the acknowledgements where I thanked her, she managed to suggest better wording to make it clearer about her input!
Evana: (To Charlotte) And what happened during the pre-editing process?
Charlotte: I was really lucky to have Anna as the author of Editia’s first book. She already had a publishing background and she’s very clever, so the manuscript was already in good shape when it reached us – particularly structurally. I worked with Anna to ensure consistency in the way each profile was presented and to chase up some extra details I thought readers might need. I gave some suggestions to make the introduction a bit more compelling, particularly by introducing some big crowdfunding success stories like the Pebble watch early on. How much money did they raise again, Anna?
Anna: They set out to raise $100,000 and they ended up raising $US10 million.
Charlotte: Incredible. And that’s the kind of story where, if you bring it right to the beginning, it draws the reader in, and that was one of my recommendations. Look, Anna writes really well. The changes I made were the kinds of things business journalists would know, but which Anna (as a first-time author) didn’t know. Most of my edits were the kinds of things I would change in a newspaper or magazine article, which is my background.
I brought Sarah in because she’s a professional book editor. I lacked experience editing longer form works; previously, the longest work I’d ever edited was 5,000 words, and Crowdfund It! came in at 25,000 words. Consistency of style is much harder to implement as an editor at that length.
Evana: Crowdfund It! is 97 pages long – how long did it take to edit?
Charlotte: A lot longer than I thought it would! Anna would probably agree. I spent about 20 hours on the structure and copyedit, and another five hours on proofreading. I handed it on to Sarah, and she spent that same amount again. That was spread out over about five weeks, giving us time to liaise with Anna so she could check our suggested changes and make any additions herself as requested.
Evana: Is that a typical length of time to spend editing, in proportion to the amount of text involved?
Charlotte: It’s a bit like, ‘How long is a piece of string?’. You could, if you wanted to, and if your budget was tight, get it done more quickly – but you wouldn’t have a product that was as well edited. Or you could spend a lot more time and just keep perfecting it and perfecting it.
Evana: Charlotte, you’re based in Canberra while Anna lives and works in Sydney. How did the two of you overcome the tyranny of distance?
Charlotte: Mostly through the use of fabulous digital technologies. We made great use of Skype. We also emailed constantly; sometimes dozens of times a day. And also direct messaging on Twitter, Facebook messaging, and we used a program called Dropbox, which I thoroughly recommend for anyone who wants to share a file with anyone else.
Anna: From my point of view, I’d say geography wasn’t an issue at all. We were constantly available to each other. We could’ve been in the next room, really, at times, with the amount of communication we had. Because of the file sharing and communication, where we were situated didn’t matter. Sarah was in Sydney, but I communicated with her exactly the same way as I did with Charlotte.
And I think that’s the world we live in today – you can still do the work you need to do remotely.
– Evana Ho is a regular contributor to ACT Write, moonlights as a producer for ArtSound FM and is in a corporate-creative role in the APS.