Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.
The Editorial Process
MelanieSpiller and Coloratura Consulting
When you send your precious text off to an editor, do you worry about what will happen to it? Here’s what to expect, as far as process. There are several kinds of editors who may be involved with your text. Most text passes through a developmental editor, a copyeditor, and a technical editor. Other flavors of editor have less impact on the actual text, so you need not feel anxious about them.First, let’s set the record straight: as the author, you are expected to be the technical expert. You may or may not write well about it; that’s irrelevant. You were asked to contribute your work because of your technicalexpertise. The technical editor has been asked to participate because his level of expertise meets or exceeds yours. In most cases, because it’s your name on the text, developmental and copy editors let your version stand if you and the technical editor disagree. A technical editor who works for the manufacturer gets to be right even if you’re absolutely certain that they’re not. Take up disagreements with the technical editor in such a case, and don’t make your poor editor into a mediator. Please be polite. It is not solely your income at stake. Please respect that the manufacturer’s technical expert has the reputation of the manufacturer hanging over him. You don’t have to accept non-technical changes from this person, though.Second, let’s continue to set the record straight: no matter how well you write, no matter how much you’ve written, and no matter how much work you’ve done as an editor, you are not the expert on grammar, style, punctuation, or word usage. Your developmental or copy editor is the expert on these things. It doesn’t even matter if you have more developmental editing experience than they do. You have been hired to write, and they have been hired to edit. Their role is to be your first objective reader and to impose some rules on your work that you may not always agree with or see because, as the author, you are very close to the work. Everyone needs an editor—even (maybe especially) an editor. Believe me; the scariest thing I do in my work is send these blogs out into the great blue nowhere without anybody else reading them first. (And some of you exhibit great glee in correcting me. Ahem. Happily, your corrections are not always accurate, proving my point about tech editors.)Let’s assume that you wrote your text using Microsoft Word. (I do most of my work in Word, and this is an Office blogger site, so…) Word has a lovely Track Changes feature that the editors turn on so that you can see who made what change. In some cases, usually to meet a stiff deadline, the editors accept their own changes and only show you controversial changes this way. Typically, editors don’t like to do that, because they may be changing the voice or meaning in a way that you might find objectionable, and that you might read past if it wasn’t in a pretty tracked-changes color.Typically, a developmental editor looks at the work first. (In the case of magazine publishing or Web publishing, most often you get a developmental editor and a copy editor rolled into one. If you are very unlucky, this person could also be your technical editor. This is unlucky because you lose an objective arbiter in the case of a disagreement.) The developmental editor may recommend changes in voice (whether you’re chatty, academic, very terse, or whatever), changes in structure, or help you focus your audience. You may get some suggestions on how to be clearer and you may get some fairly technical questions if your arguments are not linear. The developmental editor adds figure captions or points out that you need to, and corrects template usage in most cases. This editorial pass also looks at whether your images have inappropriate elements (like real phone numbers) and that they are images of what the text describes.Then, a technical editor looks at code, images, and step lists to make sure everything works the way you say it does. Sometimes the technical editor can see the developmental editor’s changes, and sometimes they can’t. The technical editor should not make text changes that do not correct technical issues. Making non-technical corrections creates work for the developmental or copyeditor, who is the actual expert on non-technical text. You (the author) don’t have to make non-technical text changes from the technical editor unless you like them. If they are not grammatically correct, of course, the copy editor won’t accept your change or the technical editor’s.In most cases, an editor of some sort combines the efforts of the developmental and technical editors so you only have to look at one corrected document. Then, the document, all marked up, is returned to you. Go through the returned document and respond to everything using the Track Changes feature. If you agree with the technical editor, you can just make a comment saying “yes” or “thank you” or something. Most likely, the technical editor won’t see these comments, but it’s a way of letting the next non-technical editor know that you concur. If you don’t concur, you need to be explicit in your comment about how you don’t agree so the non-technical editor can decide what action to take next. For the non-technical changes, not commenting is taken as agreement, but you want to comment if you disagree. Don’t just say no. Many editors can be reasonable if you make a good argument. Answer absolutely every asked question from any editor by adding or changing text. Add or change text to the document using Track Changes—don’t put it in a comment, or the editor will end up trying to figure out how to put it into text, and you may not like the results. When you return this document to the editor or the publishing entity, the next editor is probably a copyeditor. (If your work needs a lot of help, it may go back to the developmental editor first.) This editor examines the changes and accepts the ones that comply with standards of style, grammar, punctuation, and word usage. This editor examines any debates, makes a decision (based on who is the expert in the circumstance), cleans all the comments and changes out, and prepares the document for publication. That’s pretty much it. In a future blog or two, I’ll talk about what an editor does to your text and how to tell if you’ve got a bad editor.