What You May Not Know About Your Editor

By Zoe Hale, Ventura’s Managing Editor

In the editorial industry there are a lot of common stereotypes you may have heard about – we’re often (but not always) female, we’re cat people, tea people, book people, and we’re cardigan wearing, glasses wearing grammar Nazis. And if we ever went to war, it would be over the oxford comma. A lot of those stereotypes prove true, while others, well ... we like to think of ourselves as a little more diverse.

That said, if you are new to publishing, a first-time author, or are about to engage an editor for the first time, here are some things you might not know about your editor.

1. We’re on the side of the reader

Editors read a manuscript with the end reader and target market in mind. They are constantly asking the question – will the reader understand this? And especially for fiction – will the reader believe this? An ego during the editorial process, from either the author or the editor, is the worst thing that can happen to a book. Each side must be prepared to let go of firmly held beliefs about the text and serve the potential of the work and reader, whether the reader is a 16-year-old girl browsing her school library, or a middle-aged father receiving a birthday gift.

2. We like collaboration

The editor is not out to get you, or itching to slash your work into a million pieces. Most editors, myself included, see the editorial process as a partnership, one that concentrates on bringing the book to its full potential. This means an editor won’t be rewriting passages that don’t work, but may make suggestions. It also means the author needs to take ownership of their work and consider each editorial suggestion seriously, before deciding whether to accept or reject that suggestion. Simply accepting or rejecting all suggestions without considering them, or asking the editor to write something else that works, is not collaborative and goes against the spirit of editing.

3. We can’t tell you if your book will sell millions

If we are working on your book it means we believe in it. We believe in the power of your story and the importance that your work goes out into the world. But we can’t tell you how many people will buy it, if it will be the next Harry Potter or if you will be the next Liane Moriarty. And if you are engaging us privately, we can’t tell you if it will be picked up by a publisher. How many sales a book will make is a task undertaken by the marketing and sales and PR teams of a publishing house, and for a self-published author, the author themselves. We are gradually reaching the point where there will be more writers than readers, and in an increasingly competitive market, excellent content or writing is not enough to make a book sell. Sales and marketing lie outside of the domain of the humble editor. We will help you craft the content to be the most compelling it can be. After that, the baton is passed to marketing.

4. It’s all about style

Sometimes whether or not to use that contentious piece of punctuation, the oxford comma, comes down to a matter of style. Style is the instituted punctuation and spelling decisions taken on a piece of writing. Every publishing house will have their own house style – a handbook that says whether it is ‘focused’ or ‘focussed’, ‘aging’ or ‘ageing’, oxford comma or no. Us editors love consistency in style; so much of our job at the microlevel will be to make sure the text conforms to the chosen style. Australian publishers and editors tend to prefer the Macquarie Dictionary spelling, but each publisher will have a slightly different style for how they prefer to list references, or whether or not to have a spaced en dash or unspaced em dash, and even whether or not to use the oxford comma.

5. Pet peeves

Every editor will have a grammatical or language usage error that sticks out to them and rubs them more than others. Mine is the use of eggcorns. What’s an eggcorn, you ask? An eggcorn is the misspelling or construction of a common idiom. A common one is ‘For all intensive purposes’, rather than ‘For all intents and purposes’. Or, ‘the crutch of the situation’, rather than ‘the crux of the situation’. I find these faults in language simultaneously fascinating and headache inducing. In my experience though, they aren’t too common – you might find only one or two in entire first draft. If you’re interested in finding out more about eggcorns, there’s a great database here: https://eggcorns.lascribe.net/