Tuesday, August 28, 2007

MWF - The Art of Editing

This was a packed session and should have been in a bigger theatre (and some air conditioning would have been nice too - never seen so many people in one place fanning themselves with all available pieces of paper).
First up was Sarah Brenan, who is an editor with Allen & Unwin. She talked about working on two different books - a nf book about schizophrenia (that in its original, submitted form was all pictures) that ended up being a book for adults, and a picture book. It was interesting to see all the changes that were made, especially to the nf book. The text for the pb was written by Margaret Wild who, as she said, is very experienced and willing to keep looking for the right or best words.
In her list of editor's qualities, she included: being first reader/audience and being able to diagnose what's not working, being able to imagine who the audience is, gardening (pruning), having Xray vision to see what's underneath, a policewoman of grammar and syntax, and a negotiator. She also said a good editor "tries to respond in such a way that the author is thrilled by the possibilities of their work."
Bryony Cosgrove has been a fiction editor for 30 years, and added more to Sarah's list. A good editor should read widely and know the market, and should also read an author's backlist before they work on the current manuscript. An editor should be invisible in the final book, should be able to work with the author's voice (she talked about the voice being what makes a work unique, and that you can bend the grammar/punctuation rules if it's necessary for the voice). She also talked about particular aspects - why isn't a character convincing, is the dialogue speeding up or slowing down the narrative, is the time and place/setting convincing, is it shown from the character's POV, has the research been done properly?
Janet McKenzie has written The Editor's Companion and worked for more than 30 years as a freelancer. She talked mostly about editing nonfiction, and pointed out that half of the books published each year are text books, so if you're freelancing there's a good chance that you end up working on one. She also talked about how many nonfiction writers are passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects, but often they are not good writers. Sometimes she ends up being a ghost writer. Another big issue in nf is illustrations, which included diagrams, maps, photos and captions.
She gave a lot of information on what it's like to be a freelancer (a no-collar worker), working from home, and how you need to set limits for both family and clients. These days, with all the overheads and need to maintain equipment etc, an experienced editor needs to charge a minimum of $60 an hour. It's also a danger when you underestimate how long a job might take, and end up working for a pittance. Publishers pay a pittance, and more editors are moving into the corporate world for better money.
She also mentioned a new national professional body for editors - the Institute of Professional Editors - which will mean all the state Societies of Editors will federate. IPED plans to offer professional accreditation and training, and will be working to enhance the work editors do. While there are a few courses where people can get basic editorial training (my course is one), the Grad Diploma at RMIT is only for people already working in the industry, so it's become a chicken-and-egg situation.
This was a session full of great information and advice - I wish it could have been videoed for all of our students.

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