April Michelle Davis edits for a living. She reads lots of books and each one at least three times as part of her editing process.
She identified two types of editors – developmental and copy. A developmental editor focuses on themes, jargon and the big picture she explained at the Virginia Press Women (now Virginia Professional Communicators) spring conference.
A copy editor often is a free-lance editor. She focuses on spelling, style, capitalization and changing passive to active voice. In other words, all the things our English and journalism professors tried to teach us, and that we resisted.
“The author may not care about it, but they know they need it to be published,” she said.
She uses many style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition is the current one) and Associated Press, but noted that a house style manual will override these.
As Davis reads the book, she’ll also insert style marks, which she said she can do more easily than the designer because she has read the book.
When she edits a book, she does so in track change mode and then locks the changes. The author can then review the changes and note any additional ones or ones that he doesn’t agree to. Keeping track changes locked ensures that the author will complete the process with her.
Davis said a good editor must have experience, be trustworthy and know about technology. “There are no tests to prove you are a qualified editor,” she said.
She gained her experience slowly over time. Payment for early jobs often came in the form of breakfast. As she continued to do a good job, she was able to start getting paid in dollars.
Over time, she gained the trust of authors. Each time she works with an author, she strives to understand what they mean. “I need to be careful to not misinterpret what they want,” she said. For example, if an author tells her to “go at it,” she will probe until she understands what the author’s expectations are for editing.
“You don’t want the relationship to be adversarial,” she said. “Communication is key.”
Davis also ensures that all of the systems she and the author use are compatible to ensure that editing changes are not lost.