More catching up: why editing can be a real stimulus – and a joy

All right, it often isn’t. Like any professional editor, I edit manuscripts to earn money. Some manuscripts are okay to read and easy to edit, others (especially by inexperienced authors) take a great deal of work, and sometimes an editing job is sheer drudgery. My bread-and-butter comprises medical and scientific manuscripts written in English by authors who are native speakers of other languages. Some of them have to be almost entirely rewritten.

However, four or five weeks ago I received a 12,500 word children’s story by a new author, and it was a delight. Editing it took a lot of work, but it’s a cheerful story that will hold the attention and stir the imagination of an eight to ten year old reader. When I sent it back to the author, with a number of suggestions for redrafting, I’d reduced the word count to 10,500. A 20% length reduction is on the high side, but not unprecedented. Succinctness is a literary virtue. Reducing the word count – provided you don’t go crazy doing it – enhances readability.

As potential material for our long-planned compilation of medical anecdotes, I received a manuscript from a retired GP (the USA equivalent is ‘family doctor’). He said he wasn’t accustomed to writing, but it was a good piece of work, as indicated by the modest reduction of word count (6%) during editing… from 49,000 to 46,000. It took a few hours! In collaboration with the author we now need to select 15-20,000 words from his manuscript to add to the existing collection of anecdotes. The authors, including me, are due to meet in a fortnight to make a few decisions and start to prepare a final version for submission to a publisher. Overall, this has been a rewarding editing task; I’ve contributed as author, too, but that’s a minor part of the work.

However, the best editing job, and the biggest, that’s come to me this year is the autobiography of a businesswoman. I was approached about it in March, promptly took on the job, and started to hunt for a publisher. What a story it is! From rather poor and humble beginnings, and with minimal qualifications, Lorraine has not only built up a business single-handed, she’s rebuilt it more than once. She describes the disasters that have befallen her as the Seven Plagues of Egypt: her premises burned down, destroying all her equipment, and she’d been unable to obtain insurance; then she was prosecuted under Health and Safety for not having had the requisite safety measures in place before the fire; then she was hassled about planning permission; then the place was flooded – twice; then a swarm of bees settled in it and had to be removed by a specialist firm… The list goes on, but amazingly, so does she! In her spare time she works with rescue dogs, trying to get them re-homed, she’s worked with abused and injured elephants in the mountains of Thailand, she’s been to a wolf reservation in Oregon so she could make direct physical contact with wolves, she’s learned to fly and obtained a pilot’s licence… What an amazing life story! To be fair, the fact that she’s a professional dominatrix adds a certain dimension of interest to it.

That was what hooked the publisher I found! I’m delighted to say that Lorraine’s book is to be published next year by Stairwell Books. Three weeks ago I had the privilege of introducing Lorraine to the publisher’s CEO – in Lorraine’s place of work – in the presence of a Channel Five television crew. So I expect there’ll be a TV broadcast at some point, featuring me in conversation with author and publisher and answering questions about the editing work I did on the 93,000 word autobiography.

Yes, despite the humdrum nature of much editing work, there are times when it really is a stimulus and a joy; not to mention a surprise.

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