Jacob took one look at our dying tree and agreed, it had to come down.
As cottagers, we’re always in that delicate balance between celebrating the beauty of nature and needing to keep it manageable. On two acres of riverside property, we have a lovely mix of conifers (majestic white pine, balsam, spruce and fir trees) and deciduous (delicate birch, maples, black cherry, poplar, beech and a few I-Don’t-Know-Whats.) Safety is always a consideration, as in “If that 30′ spruce fell on the cottage, it wouldn’t be pretty.”
So bringing in Jacob Outram and his tree service was the right thing to do. The spruce had to go.
Jacob wasn’t finished. He listened to us and our concerns about another tree. And then, like the certified arborist he is, Jacob walked the property.
“One half of this birch is dead. It’s next to the gazebo. The dead part has to go.” Check.
“Those branches are over the roof. Winter snow weighs them down, right?” Check.
“This one is losing its needles on the lower branches from lack of light. Trim here and it will be fine.” Check.
By the time he was finished, our one dead tree wasn’t the only one slated for removal or trimming. And as he pointed out the issue with each one, I thought how is it he saw so much of what we didn’t? Then one second later, I thought, Jacob is my tree editor!
Trim Trees, Tighten Text
Think about it. We love our forest (manuscript) so much and look at it so often that we failed to notice pressing issues (spelling, grammar, plot, pacing) and future issues (reader expectations, marketability) that Jacob (editor) saw with his fresh eyes and professional experience. His assessment (feedback) gave us insights to our surrounding forest. And while we will pay for his expertise and work, I don’t begrudge a cent of it. We’ll sleep better at night.
A good editor does for your manuscript what a good arborist is doing for my cottage property. We found Jacob through recommendations. But how do you know when an editor is the right one for you?
I asked professional editor Frances Peck of West Coast Editorial Associates in B.C. about qualities of a good editor.
“For many people, the qualities that first spring to mind are things like meticulousness and perfectionism, being detail-oriented and able to memorize spellings and grammar rules, having the kind of eye that jumps to the error on the page. While those are certainly desirable qualities for the copyeditors and proofreaders of the world, they carry with them the sharp, unpleasant whiff of negativity.
Good editors must recognize the risks of being forever in critique-and-correction mode, and must balance that orientation with healthy doses of understanding, patience, diplomacy and—yes—empathy.
In the Editors Canada document Professional Editorial Standards, the “hard” skills and practices for each level are always accompanied by softer skills related to communication and judgment. All the knowledge and critical skills in the world won’t help an editor who takes an “I’m right and you’re wrong” approach to a project. We must be collaborators, not antagonists.
The editor as midwife has become a favourite metaphor in Canadian editing circles. We are there to advise and prepare, to smooth and reassure, to massage and adjust, so that authors can deliver the healthiest, most nearly perfect offspring that they’re capable of producing.”
Frances gave a Writescape workshop a few years ago on editing and it was a smashing success. It might be a good time to invite her back.
Editing Skills Checklist
Next, I turned to a local colleague and professional editor, Sherry Hinman of The Write Angle, for her opinion on what skills a good editor needs. Sherry works with a variety of writers and corporate clients, and she says:
Editing skills do relate to the kind of job an editor is working on. No matter what the task, there are Seven Must Haves for any editor:
- Author/Editor relationship: The connection between you and the editor should feel respectful and collaborative. (This one’s #1 for good reason.)
- Knowledge of the process: The editor should have a good understanding of the steps involved in editing your project, and preferably beyond that.
- Style guides: The editor should have access to a variety of style guides and know how to use them.
- Technology: The editor should be able to explain what program(s) will be used to edit your project (editing is almost always done on screen) and how you will exchange versions of your document.
- Types of editing: The editor should be able to speak easily about the different types of editing (though not necessarily offer services in them all) and to describe what each type includes.
- Understanding of your needs: The editor should know what type(s) of editing your project requires and either offer to edit your work or suggest you seek an editor that offers that type of editing.
- References: The editor should be prepared to provide references, preferably from clients with similar projects.
So writer, now you have some ideas about what to expect from a professional editor and what you need to look for. But have you thought about what you, as the writer, need to offer an editor?
Hold that thought. I’ll be exploring your role in all that next week.
Did You Know?
Writescape’s Ruth E. Walker and Gwynn Scheltema have happily served as editors for both fiction and non-fiction writers. They honed their editing skills as senior editors/writers for the Ontario government and as founding editors for the Canadian literary journal, LICHEN Arts & Letters Preview
It’s been their pleasure to work with writers at all stages of the editing process: from a general reader’s report and feedback to copyediting, and intensive, substantive editing. They are also excellent coaches for writers who need support on their way to a polished manuscript.
Both Gwynn and Ruth benefited from having an excellent editor at various times in their writing lives.