Last weekend I attended my second PENCON – Proofreaders and Editors Network Conference. Billed as the only such conference for editors in Christian publishing, the conference is an opportunity to network and hone our editing skills. By our own admission, many editors are introverts, so you may be surprised that we’re into networking. Despite my own preference for anonymity, connecting with others who share my interest in accurate punctuation, grammar, and usage energizes me. It’s always reassuring to know that other editors struggle with the same insecurities and uncertainties that I do.
Permit me to share a few of my takeaways from the conference—things that authors might not know about the folks they hire to edit their books.
- Editing is more subjective than you think. You thought we are all about strict adherence to the rules, didn’t you? You imagine us gleefully marking every error with our red pen. Not so. An editor’s primary goal is to help an author communicate with clarity and consistency. Click To Tweet If adhering rigidly to a rule alters the author’s voice, an editor will disregard the rule. After all, ... preserving the author’s unique point of view and style are paramount. Click To Tweet
- We don’t know everything. Oh, we may like to pass ourselves off as a master of the manual—the Chicago Manual of Style—the “Bible” of the publishing industry. But the 17th edition, which came out last fall, numbers more than 1000 pages and introduced numerous additions and clarifications from the previous edition. Because language is dynamic and ever-changing the guidelines governing it must also adapt. Conscientious editors develop ways of staying current on the changes taking place in the lexicon and help their authors do the same, but no one, not even the most experienced editor ought to claim to know everything. The beauty of editing with the technology available today is that the answers to many of the questions that come up in the process of editing can be answered with a few keystrokes.
- Editors are not infallible. Editing is one of the few remaining jobs that can be done most effectively by a human. Tools like Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar check, Grammarly, and other grammar-checking software are a good place to begin. But they do not catch all the nuances of style, punctuation, and spelling that a well-trained and conscientious editor will. Many traditionally-published books go through two or three proofreadings after they’ve been through several levels of editing. Yet, despite our commitment to be the best we can be, because we are human, some errors slip in. It’s our humanness.
And wouldn’t you really prefer to have a human ensuring that your writing communicates your passion rather than a robot? I promise my feedback will be much more user-friendly and encouraging than a Siri.