Aside: Protips on how to work with an editor

Sunday 4 March 2012, 11.00pm HKT


I have been involved in the faggotry called editorial work for a long time, and more’s the pity when it comes to the insane and pointless (and oftentimes insanely pointless) antics of various types of authors whom I’ve had the misfortune and displeasure of working with.

Which is one of the reasons why I switched over to the less profit-challenged (and less pretentious) line of printing. Now as a printbroker and financial printer, I can at least give two fingers up (AmE: the middle finger) to misbehaving clients and tell them, sorry, I’m in manufacturing, not in effing ‘services.’ Now piss off.

Okay, I’m not your typical-looking boss. I’m head of a 114-year-old printing firm, which is only 57 years younger than Hong Kong itself.

I have shoulder-length hair tied up in a ponytail by the grace of my passed-on mother.

I’ve recently donned semi-homoerotic whiskers just to scare off both the gays and the straights. I’m a chopper biker who wears cowboy boots almost daily.

Altogether, those things make me a shagging load more conservative than my architect father and fashion-designer mother, who, quite frankly, were a bunch of faggoty, ‘socially aware,’ liberal-leaning, freedom-lovin’ Liberal Democrat hippies. But Dad drew well even while totally brain-damaged and Mum had good colour sense even while in drunken state on 1963 vintage port, so all is forgiven.

(Get on with it.—Editor)

__________

1. Stop being a f@#king amateur!

The only way to look like an amateur, srsly

You’re just pretending to be a professional:—

  • if you don’t know the meaning of ‘pro bono’ while being at master’s or doctorate level
  • if you have a lawyer (practising or not) as your editor
  • if your editor (lawyer or not) has been ‘servicing’ practising lawyers, bankers and assorted government officials who do high-speed overnight markups on IPO documents for submission to the likes of NYSE, the SEC or various regulatory bodies around the globe
  • if you don’t know what blacklining is
  • if your editor has been doing editorial AND printwork longer than you’ve been born

— PLEASE DO AS THE EDITOR F@#KING ASK!

Fact: You are doing just one single publication for yourself. An averagely abled editor has on average around 30 publications in ongoing edits (much like an average litigation lawyer with 300 cases at any one time).

An ‘average’ editor has done lots more publications before for others, and have the added pressure of having to edit them in a way to make those publications sell. STFU.

__________

2. Write one thing, and one thing only.

Writing different versions of the same sentence to describe the same thing in the same copy is always, always the best way to jack up your editorial costs.

Self-explanatory, you sonofabitch, if you notice anything beyond your nose.

Like, man, those on my Job No. B08045 should learn this simple skill.

__________

3. Finish your draft first.

Never ever for as long as you live do ‘live’ drafting while editing is going on.

Drafting simply cannot be happening at the same time as editing.

Not unless you’re some kind of sado-masochist and prefer to be walloped with ghostwriting charges.

By the way, learn the goddamn difference between a draft and a manuscript. It could save your life.

__________

4. Not your flippin’ PA, RA or TA!

Please! An editor is not your personal or research or teaching assistant!

You know how these lazy buggers operate. It’s worse with the academics. Really. Srsly.

These tight-arsed, liberal-leaning maggots just dump virtually everything on these PAs, RAs, TAs or Whatever-As without so much as batting an eyelid. The As do their markups, their markings, their teaching, their admin, their ‘independent correspondence’ — whatever the hell’s supposed to be done.

Hello! An editor plainly (and plaintively) isn’t for you — more suitable would be a grovelling boyfriend waiting on your hand and foot to sort out your ‘drama.’

__________

5. ‘Polish up’ your derriere!

That phrase ‘polish up my English‘ (or anything else for that matter) does not exist in the professional world.

(It doesn’t exist in the ‘unprofessional’ world either.)

It’s schoolboy language, and exists only in an imaginary context.

Editing is editing is editing. And editing is billed work.

Stop being a bloody amateur for even five minutes in your miserable life.

Don’t say stupid things like:—

“The first draft was completed at … I sent it to …, with whom I was working on final polishing … This was the first time anyone had read the whole manuscript right through, apart from its author.”
— From an actual conversation with an author

That kind of language really scares the f@#kin’ daylights out of the most hardened editors.

That’s because language like that shows the author hasn’t got it together on three fronts:—

  1. not understanding the difference of draft vs. manuscript
  2. not understanding you (the author) need to f@#k around with the 1st to 5th drafts before you finalise it into a manuscript and send it off to the publisher or editor
  3. not understanding that even one single innocent use of the word “polishing” highly signifies the author (maybe you!) is still living in a dreamworld about what editing is all about

These kind of author-personages are often still stuck in a world of scissors-and-paste longhand typewriter writing mode.

If you’re normally an obsessive personality, there is one time you absolutely must NOT be one — when you’re writing stuff that you know eventually has to land on an editor’s lap. Let the editor develop obsessive personality and have his or her day.

So many times I find young authors (not necessarily in age) who think their agent or publisher will ‘fix’ every ‘mistake.’ Therefore they submit subpar work. Often with disastrous results (and shocking editorial invoices). I’ve been trying to tell these young authors that they get only one chance with each reader at a publishing firm, so they must — absolutely must — submit their very best work.

What to do?

Nurses do triage. Learn to do the same for your copy.

Treat your writing (or the author’s) like a scene of a natural disaster. Good but failed intentions amid disorganisation. It IS natural to have an emotional reaction to such a situation after the first reading of the document

Set it aside and re-read it later. Then you’ll begin to evaluate it more objectively (or at least less emotionally, though it is hard for some manuscripts).

After a couple of more spins at editing work, you’ll be able to separate your personal reaction (hah!) from your professional goal — to help the undeserving author communicate with the uncaring reader.

Editing is an instinctive and instinctual job. You have to rely on your ‘well-readedness’ and your instincts to produce copy that the sales agent next door could sell, and what your publisher tells you (which is often more right than wrong). The copy has to sell, or you won’t get paid. End of discussion.

Plenty of BAs and MAs in Journalism or (Un)Creative Writing are f@#king disastrous editors and have caused publishers and sales agents to lose lots of money. I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve worked with some of the best in the editing/publishing business and, trust humble me, many solid editors are well read and highly literate but have no more than secondary education. A good editor has a sales instinct usually stronger than your pushy sales agent. If it doesn’t sell, you don’t get to edit the second edition. End of discussion.

I’m reminded of the time way back in my primordial youth of a business letter distributed by my father’s architectural practice. I was around 12 at the time and Dad just got me started drafting business correspondence, about two years ahead of my taking secretarial classes.

Anyway, this particular letter wasn’t written by me. Everyone in the office saw all of the faults and problems in the letter. They didn’t panic, give up on it or fetch out the editorial chainsaw. They determined the letter-writer’s intentions, got at the underlying meaning, and came up with more suitable words to convey the letter-writer’s meaning.

If the job of writing something even a little bit original is too much of a hassle for you (or for everybody else around you), consider getting a ghostwriter to do it for you. All round, it usually works out cheaper and more efficient for you.

(A ghostwriter produces books and articles on behalf of someone else, without their name appearing in the credits. If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know I’ve moonlighted as one.)

__________

6. ‘Drama’ muscle ranking.

Trust me, this muscle ranking of who has the most ‘drama’ comes from years and years of suffering being in the publishing business.

Metallic, but muscles all the same

Those with the highest levels of ‘drama’ in wordswork are:—

  1. Grammarfreaks (who, incidentally, are terrible at organising the running order of their copy)
  2. Most academics are full of ‘drama.’ Fact. Should be self-evident if you’re over 16.
  3. Most ‘intellectual’ types or those in the more ‘intellectual’ disciplines (see below)
  4. Mostly academics or academicky types in liberal studies (who are not especially ‘liberal’), such as linguistics, sociology, philosophy, psychology, politics and languages (in that order)
  5. Educationists (who are not necessarily teachers or even educated themselves)
  6. People whose mother tongue isn’t the ‘target’ language — and the further the mother tongue is from the target language, the more ‘drama’ (so, say, a Chinese speaker is more melodramatic in English-language editorial work than would be a Polish speaker in the same)
  7. Marketing types
  8. MBAs (but not MAs in Finance and Banking)
  9. Hospital administrators
  10. Social workers

And the least dramatic (in decreasing order):—

  1. Medicine and related disciplines
  2. Mathematics nerds, geeks and weirdos
  3. Biology (botanists are less tight-arsed than zoologists, broadly speaking)
  4. Physics people (whose vocabulary are 95% terms of art, which helps)
  5. Chemistry people (whose vocabulary are 90% terms of art, which helps)
  6. Unpublished authors
  7. Published authors
  8. Editors and similar

Do you realise how goddamn long it took me in my miserable life to gem up that muscle ranking list?

Can you even imagine how much all this stuff here came from actual nightly sufferingly hands-on experience paid for in pittance?

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012.

Images: I Quit via c4c | Girls via c4c | Editing markup via afmarcom | Can’t Relate via Mauradat | Tired of doing it yourself via Write Essentials | Robot Maria from Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ (1927) via Jeffbots.

One Response to “Aside: Protips on how to work with an editor”

  1. Ed Hurst said

    When I was still teaching, I recall thinking the most important advantage I had was remembering what it was like not to know the stuff I was teaching. What I could not teach them, though, is the sense of embarrassment at presenting something which was not up to par. Typos and missing words is one thing, and sometimes I’m too subtle making connections between ideas, but I would rather die than present something unreadable. Isn’t the whole point putting ideas where people could examine them? Seems I could never teach that.

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