Did I ever mention that I love editing? Some people (apparently) love ironing, and it’s probably for similar reasons: the satisfaction in taking something a bit rough and crumpled and smoothing it out until it’s clean and beautiful.
A couple of days ago, someone asked me how I could bear to spend ‘all that time immersed in an author’s creativity whilst using none of your own’?' That’s a very interesting premise, one that’s stayed in my mind, because I think editing – development or structural editing, for sure, and yes, even line editing (honestly) – really is creative. It’s about tuning in to the author’s intentions, the novel’s intention, and creating an end product. An end product that’s often quite different to the original.
That aside, it got me thinking about the times I haven’t tuned in very well with potential clients – mercifully few, and I hope, not at all with actual clients. And that got me thinking about the more … unusual … editing requests I’ve had from authors. To be fair, most of them aren’t about the editing per se, but about the process.
And because I love lists as much as I love editing, here are the strangest:
- The person who asked me how many awards had I got for editing. Did they mean my qualifications, I asked? No, they meant what prizes had I won for my work…? Um, none, I said. I didn’t even know there were awards for editing (Are there, anyone?) There was a derisive snort and I never heard from them again.
- ‘I haven’t got any money but I need an editor for my fantasy trilogy. Do you do swaps?’ Now, I’m not averse to skill-exchanges, in fact I’d like to do more of it, and I always try to Pay It Forward when appropriate. But in this instance, the possible ‘swaps’ weren’t that useful to me: a wedding dress, a lifetime supply of rhubarb – if I collected it, from an allotment in the south of England – or beer mats, a big collection of. Hmm. Certainly a fantasy trilogy in there somewhere.
- I’m the first to admit it’s a tricky process finding an editor who suits you, and this writer had developed an application process – I was ‘one of a pool of possibles’ invited to write 200 words on why she should pick me. She’d then critique all submissions and choose accordingly. Now, I’m happy to provide detailed sample edits, obviously, but write an essay for a job I didn't seek? Call me churlish but I declined.
- Then there was the person who wanted me to close read the manuscript to see if I could decipher the hidden message in the text. What if I couldn’t, I asked. But that was the point, apparently; I shouldn’t be able to. It was a secret message for someone in particular and it had to remain hidden. Now, intriguing as that was, I passed on that too. I was afraid I’d inadvertently be an accessory to bringing down a government or something, somewhere. I still think it’s a great novel premise in itself though!
- Last but not least is the time I was asked to look over a short story. It had to be done the next day, to meet the deadline for a competition, and the author was very organised: if I was just to read it, develop it, line edit it and proofread, I could send it directly in to the comp, and then deduct the entry fee from my fee. Sorted.
What’s that saying about truth being stranger than fiction?
However, I should add, I don’t actually know any of the above people; maybe they were all having me on. I should further add, that all ‘my’ authors are perfectly reasonable, lovely-sounding people, and jolly good writers into the bargaining. Let’s hope they think the same about my editing…
*I do know how to spell 'editing'. This is meant to be a joke... but given the people who have pointed out (often gleefully) my mistake, I see it's not a very good one.