The soft skills of editing

Editing is sensitive work

The relationship between the editor and the writer is as important as the work that needs an edit.  Editing is sensitive work: there is an editor and there is an author. And then there are all those words in between the two of them. Let’s also not forget the readers for whom the words are captured, ultimately.

Who is the author?

Authors are people. They come in all shapes and sizes. They might speak different languages and they certainly write in a range of styles and tone. Their needs are different but they know what they want from their writing and they know what they intend to say. They are the people whose words are edited.

Who is the editor?

Editors, too, are people. They range in type and temperament. Editors know what they need to do to improve writing and make the message clear. They have undergone training and developed skills in commitment to their profession. They have an objective eye that refines writing to both boost the author and please the reader.

What goes on between the editor and the author?

Ideally, the writer hands over a well-produced piece which the editor fine-tunes, and everyone is happy. In reality, we are all human. Like most people, editors and writers have delicate egos and are motivated by personal agendas and individual needs. Writers want their voices to be heard and enjoyed while editors need their expertise to be appreciated and implemented. Things become sensitive when each neglects the value of the other, undermines their respective skills, or dominates with an autocratic and non-negotiable style.

How do we keep an author-editor relationship healthy and beneficial?

  • Defined boundaries: confirm what service is being offered (structural or stylistic editing, light or heavy editing, proofreading).
  • Recognition of the author’s voice: what is the message, for whom is it intended and in what style is it to be presented (fiction, non-fiction, business, educational, marketing, narrative, creative, documentary, formal, informal, et al).
  • Clear communication: how will the editing process be facilitated, how will changes/edits be implemented, communicated and within what time frames.
  • Questions: editors should clarify what the author means rather than make changes without checking the author’s intent.
  • Regular contact: the editor and the author should keep contact about things that are not clear or could read better, and the editor should make suggestions for improvement. Writers need to hear this with an open mind, knowing it comes from a place of constructive engagement.
  • The author’s word is final: an editor can make suggestions, offer opinions and back this up with professional knowledge but the author has the last say about the final product and which changes will be accepted. The editor should be respectful and courteous in this regard.

Why should people skills matter in the world of wordsmiths?

Trust in the editor and confidence in the author work hand in hand. Authors capture the words but also recognise a need for a second eye. Editors work with words but must engage the people who write the words. There is room for a clash but far greater potential to develop a working relationship that keeps the writing as the centrepiece. It’s a gentle combination of clear boundaries and respectful engagement between the editor and the writer – two people both committed to producing the best word.

Leave a Comment