Tuesday, 02 June 2020

Expanding your Editorial Skills

Event report by Gill Box-Grainger, Marketing Manager of the Publishing Training Centre.

What essential skills should aspiring editors learn today?

This is what we aimed to discover in the first collaboration between the Bloomsbury Institute and the Publishing Training Centre (PTC). On 20 February 2020, a packed house of aspiring editors, editors and freelancers gathered in the impressive Bloomsbury Room at Bloomsbury Publishing’s head office, to hear a panel of highly experienced editorial experts in conversation about the key approaches that editors can use to build on their existing skills.


Meet the panelthumbnail 20200220 200003

Sara Helen Binney, managing editor of crime fiction at Bloomsbury Publishing, joined PTC tutors and professional freelance copy-editors, Caro Drake and Caroline Knight. Chaired by Jonathan Eyers, Bloomsbury commissioning editor (non-fiction), the panel revealed their own experiences of how they’ve made it to where they are now, through learning on the job, and elsewhere.

Here are the highlights of this informative and enlightening session, beginning with Jonathan’s first question to the panel.


What are the different types of editing?

We learnt that there are four types of editing, and that the boundaries between them can be blurred.

  1. Development editing: generally used in non-fiction, educational and technical publishing. A development editor understands their subject well, but not necessarily how to ‘bundle’ the copy. The amount of development editing generally depends on the editor’s relationship with the author.
  2. Structural editing begins when the decision has been made to publish. The book is still raw so it’s important to understand the skeleton structure, the driving force of the book and who the characters are before tightening up the middle. A copy-editor will do the structural edit, steering the author away from bad ideas and getting it right for the reader.
  3. Line editing is about the voice and detail. The editor should ask the right questions to enable the author to write the book. Sometimes a problem must be presented to the author to demonstrate why something isn’t working.
  4. Copy-editing is the nuts and bolts of editing. It requires time and relationship building. Sometimes a glaring error is detected at this stage but it’s difficult to address the issue at this point, bearing in mind the work that has been done previously.

Sara explained how she divides up the different editing types within her team, starting with development editing for non-fiction or for a series of related titles.

The first book in a series requires significant copy-editing, to set the pace and ensure the timelines work for subsequent titles. It’s vital to inspire the author at this stage too, as they will be expected to complete the rest of the series quickly.

After the structural edit, the book is passed on to a managing editor before handing over to the line editor and copy-editor. A proofreader is commissioned on completion of the copy-edit.

Non-fiction/academic publishing might not need a development or structural edit, just a copy-edit for house style.

The copy-edit can enter the realms of development editing, particularly for non-fiction and educational.

Interesting fact: did you know that of the 200,000 or so books published each year in the UK, 90% are non-fiction?


How do you build a strong author relationship?

“An editor builds a relationship with an author through the text and editorial process”, explained Sara.

Understanding the author’s view, their quirks and the driving force behind the text are key to an editor’s role. Excellent personal, or soft skills, are also vital to build a strong relationship with the author and gaining their trust.

All agreed on the art of convincing the author that you’re on their side and to saving them from embarrassing themselves. Be polite at all times and the best in treating others, including freelancers who are great ambassadors for the publisher. “Communication is at the heart of what we do”, said Caro.

Trust can be built through schedules, good pacing and communicating in a way that inspires the author.

“The author-editor relationship can be a very enriching experience”, added Caroline.

Author’s personalities are very different, some are precise and confident, others are anxious about potential negative feedback. Fiction authors sometimes can’t believe that their book is finally real. Whatever the situation, it’s crucial to keep the author informed at all stages and communicate constructively.

This isn’t always easy, however. One well-known author (who shall remain nameless!) expects editors, in no uncertain terms, to “go with the flow and always remember whose book it is – but you still need to communicate with them in the nicest possible way!”


Where do you start when editing a manuscript? Does it differ from book to book?

There’s a saying that if you have four editors in a room, you’ll get four different answers to a question. The panel did agree though, that it’s unwise to start reading a book in too much detail.

Sara ‘skim reads’ the whole book first to determine the flow and get a feel for the author’s voice and style. Whereas she’ll do the structural edit before the line edit, some editors will do the structural and line edits together. The copy-editing stage will often be done by a freelancer.

Being a copy-editor, Caroline assumes the structural edit has already been done, but will go back to the person who commissioned her if she feels there’s a structural problem.

She used the interesting analogy that “a copy-editor is like a window cleaner”. The reader is on one side, the author on the other. It’s the editor’s role to clean the glass!

Caroline also stressed the value of the style sheet – “it’s the single most important tool in an editor’s toolkit”.


Top tips for keeping editorial skills up-to-date

“Even the experts have to keep learning” declared Caro, who always has the most up-to-date grammar and reference guides to hand, and takes every opportunity to attend courses, leave her comfort zone and seek networking opportunities.

Caroline advocated continuing to read and, particularly for non-fiction, maintain a good knowledge and understanding of the subject.

Editors need to be open!


How do you find work as a freelance editor?

First, ensure you have a good relationship with your in-house editor, who will match the right freelancer with the author.

As a copy-editor, do you have the right knowledge and know your subject well? What kind of editor are you? Are you fast-paced? Will you gel with the author? Ensure you articulate your way of working in a way that works for the book.


Expanding your Editorial Skills was the first collaboration between the Bloomsbury Institute and the Publishing Training Centre.Blooms institute vertical colour

Follow the panel on Twitter:

Sara Helen Binney @SHBinney

Jonathan Eyers @EyersJonathan

Caroline Knight @chopsiek

To keep up to date with future events follow the Bloomsbury Institute @BloomsburyInst

Caroline Knight and Caro Drake tutor the popular virtual course Introduction to Editorial Skills, an essential course for those starting their editorial career.

Gain professional-level copy-editing skills and an industry-recognised qualification with Essential Copy-Editing, a self-study course for aspiring copy-editors.



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