Getting into editing for fun and profit

red pen

I’ve been doing commercial editing work for a few years now. Mostly it’s been sporadic, just a few clients a year. Recently, however, I got a Big Score: I’ve been added to the approved copyeditors list of a significant name in the SFF field.

And it occurred to me: maybe you’d like to know how I did it? Not that I’m exactly sure myself, but if you’ve ever had the urge to go down this road, here’s my idiot’s guide (because I’m an idiot) to getting a toe into the editorial world:

  1. Get good at writing. Of course you’re all way along this step already. You’re reading this blog for a start, which suggests you’ve an interest in writing. That’s good. Keep it up. Read much, write much, practice, grow.You DO NOT need to know every single grammar term. You don’t need to have read English at university. Knowledge always helps – grammar-language is a shortcut for those in the know – but I struggle with anything beyond nouns. It’s not essential.  Similarly, most editing work these days is done with Track Changes on MS Word. You don’t need to know all the proofreading symbols, though they are fun.
  2. Join a writing group. Not only will this help with Point 1 but it’ll help you get used to taking and giving critiques. Start with critiques of manageable length and with giving feedback pitched at the level (and confidence) of the writer.
  3. Give full manuscript critiques. I did a lot – over a dozen – as part of a group who did reciprocal feedback – I’d read theirs, they’d read mine. Practice. Get used to going through a manuscript and seeing what strikes you as wrong and what works well. And listen to other people’s critiques too.
    If you can’t find people to exchange views with, look online. There’s always people looking for beta-readers.
  4. Be poor. I needed a way to monetise my skills, and, as these are limited, I was looking for a way to turn words into cash.
  5. Find a mentor. This isn’t essential but it does help. My writers’ group contained a retired proofreader who very generously offered to act as my guide. In practice I didn’t ask much of her, but she did put me in touch with my first paying customer, which is always a bonus.
  6. Find advice. Search Twitter for editors. Ask them for help. I was very lucky to stumble upon Dan Coxon of Momus Editorial; he gave me the names of two key reference works and was generally kind and encouraging. People – me included, though I’m mostly a doofus – are kind and will help if they can.
  7. Learn the differences between different kinds of editing. There are a lot of different terms – structural edit, proof-editing, developmental edit and so on – but the two main types are proofreading and copy-editing. See this guide for details, but bear in mind that each website you search will tell you something slightly different. Trust nobody! Especially not me!
  8. Do a course. Having decided that I wanted to go down this road, I decided to pay for membership of SfEP and to do their ‘Proofreading 1’ course. I’m not sure if it was entirely worth it – it was a little basic and I’ve not made much use of SfEP’s other services – but there are courses out there if you’re interested. At the very least it may give you some confidence and allows you to flash this handy logo sfep-badge-[entry-level-member]-normalat prospective clients. And there’s a pricing-guide to tell you how much to charge and fora upon which to ask questions.
  9. Be nice. Assuming you have a social media presence, use it for good, not evil. If you’ve been to one (or both) of my book signings you’ll know of my story: that the aforementioned Dan Coxon ended up proofreading Night Shift. Good relationships with people in the industry – built over months, not minutes – will eventually bring opportunities
  10. Advertise. Create a webpage or add a page to an existing blog. Get business cards (I didn’t do this until the night before Sledge-Lit and missed off half the necessary information) and look for conventions at which to hand them out.
  11. Email publishers. And this, folks, is how I got my business. I simply cold-called publishers until I got a break.What swung it was my knowledge of genre-fiction, and the fact that the publisher in question was kinda desperate. But until these people have heard of you there’s no way they can give you a chance.

There’s more, of course. There always is. You might be asked to do a test or trial, possibly for little or no money. I was lucky enough to get paid for my debut proofreading, upon which I was so anal that I was immediately shunted into the ‘copyeditors’ file.

literally

And this is only my experience. I’m sure there are many other ways of getting into the editorial field that I’m almost totally ignorant of.

But I can only speak for my experiences.

If you’re thinking of getting into proofreading or copyediting, it’s only fair that I give you a few harsh truths before we part. Because it’s not the land of milk and honey that you may be thinking:

    1. You will not get rich. Publishers, especially the smaller ones who are more likely to take you on, count every penny. You may well be paid by the job rather than by the hour. My first job for a publisher (as opposed to dealing with the author directly) saw me work for around £5.30 per hour – way below minimum wage and certainly not enough to live on.
    2. You will have to work to deadlines.
    3. You will be a freelancer. You will not have a pension, holiday or sick-pay. You will have periods where you have too much work and – more likely – you’ll have periods where you have nothing on at all.
    4. This means that you will, at least at first, need another source on income. You also have to be ready to put your real life on hold. You may have to work evenings and weekends to get things done.
    5. You will need to have a few basic business competencies: time management, producing invoices, keeping accounts and so on.
    6. You’ll also need to register as self-employed with the government and be prepared to pay tax on your earnings.

 

This is a lot of info and I’m sure I’ve left reams out. And, I stress again, this is a story of how I did it; it’s not the only way, and I very much doubt it’s the best way. Hopefully it will give you at least a rough idea of how to go about it. If you have any questions I’ll do my very best to answer them.

I’ve been lucky. I look around and see where I am and I blink in astonishment.

Phoney war

I am redrafting. Specifically, I am doing my third draft of Oneiromancer, and things are quiet, calm, and sedate. The phoney war is underway.

The first draft was the initial creation: nine or so months of blood, sweat and metaphors. Then came a quick(ish) four-month canter through the text to smooth out the kinks: to eliminate underdeveloped ideas and massage out the obvious imprecisions. Then came the beta-feedback, which was then combined into a new Masterscript (a physical printout much abused and bescribbled). Now I am back at the computer trying to turn all this information into a coherent story.

Editorium End

The Masterscript. Actually an old version as I’m too incompetent to access fresh files

It is slow, steady work. I suppose technically speaking it’s a copy-edit: scenes are being moved, split, merged, rewritten. Points-of-view are changing. Structural changes are afoot. But I am incapable of doing a pass-over without a little bit of line-editation in the margins. Typos – bane of my existence – are being squished and the odd clumsy line rewritten.

This is a dangerous time. Neither fish-nor-fowl, I risk missing big things for the sake of the little and little things for the sake of the big. I guess it’s worth saying that I don’t see this as my final rewrite. This is, after all, only my third draft. Every other piece I’ve completed has gone through at least seven run-throughs. Bitter experience has taught me that a novel is only finished once you’ve released or abandoned it. Five years ago I could think ‘yeah, this is it, this is nigh-on perfect.’ No more.

But back to Oneiromancer. I call this stage the phoney war because I’m still marshalling my troops, assigning reinforcements and strengthening the line. Because I’m still in a state of uncertainty. Aside from a few simplifications to my earliest scenes (removing aliases and a POV that prevented immediate graspage of characters) the changes have so far been small and unthreatening. I’ve decided to ignore calls for more description because I’m not that sort of novelist. Small changes.

(Possibly too small: there is still information that I may want to go back and squeeze within the introduction. But I’ve left this because a) I can’t find the places to put it in and b) I’m unsure whether it’s really necessary. I’ll need another round of feedback to decide me.)

Ahead, though, lurk the greatest changes. There is one particular scene that my betas all demand be moved. Were that it so simple. Moving one scene requires fairly wholesale changes: a flank withdrawn, the cavalry force-marched across bitter terrain to open up a whole new salient. Injuries must be bandaged, wounds cauterised and peg-legs installed. The real work lies before me.

And that’s just this draft. Every change risks an epidemic of blood-sucking typos, of vampiric continuity-errors, of characters suddenly lacking motivation and depth. Every copy-edit requires its own line-edit.

Worse: every draft requires a new phalanx of test-readers. I want to get this novel published. This is perhaps the most commercial work I’ve ever done. I want to find an agent. I want to see this on the shelves.

But you only get one shot with every agent/publisher. This is why beta-readers are so important. You’re never been the best judge of your work and an outside opinion is essential. My team have done a superb job of highlighting the many sins I’ve committed. Now I have to take my time and get this damn thing right.

It might take another year – longer – before I dare launch my assault on the bastions of respectability. The work I’m doing now is essential. The furnaces are burning, the mill-wheel is grinding. Progress is slow, controlled.

Soon the guns will be firing in earnest. But only when I’m ready.