#FreelancerFriday #8 - Ellie Clarke, Editor
“For a first-time author the process can be quite illuminating. For the author to have given you their work, and for you to have made alterations and made sure that they’re happy about it, you’re the second-closest person to their project. It can be quite great – especially if you know you’ve done a good job and that the client is happy.”
Ellie Clarke is an editor based in the south-east UK. Ellie is something of a polymath, offering services for every step in the process, from ghostwriting through to proofreading. You can enjoy our conversation below.
What kind of services do you offer as an editor?
I do a wide range of editing and editorial work. I do everything from development editing all the way down to proofreading – light copy edits, heavy copy-edits, structural edits. I also ghostwrite, doing things from the other side.
Basically, all the things.
I used to work in-house as a project editor. I had to manage everything from end-to-end. That meant organising other people to do the different stages, and sometimes doing it myself. I’ve carried on with that approach – to be able to put myself forward for any type of editing. Once you’ve got the skills it’s important to keep practicing them.
Do you often do multiple types of edit for a single client? Like a developmental edit, and then a copy edit as well?
For larger clients, publishers and so on, I might do a variety of different types of editorial work on different projects. So for one I’ll be structurally editing, another will be a copy-edit, and another will be a proofread. Private clients sometimes ask for a combined service, and I’m happy to offer it, but usually I would recommend that if someone wants, say, a copy-edit and a proofread, I often think its better to go to someone else for the proofread. A fresh pair of eyes can really help.
Then again, it depends on the project – if someone has specific knowledge that they’ll need in order to do the proof properly, getting the original copy-editor to proofread it is a good idea.
Having a fresh pair of eyes is good, but then also familiarity with a project has its own benefits. What do you think those benefits are, in your experience?
One of the main ones would be if a new copy-editor comes in after a development edit has happened, they might reverse some stylistic choices previously made – especially if there isn’t a good style sheet for the project. It could be any decision, even down to using double or single quotation marks. That sort of thing can end up being lost unless it’s been written down – but you also can’t write down every single decision – otherwise you’d end up with the Guardian style guide.
Does the relationship between the author and the editor change over the course of a project?
For a first-time author the process can be quite illuminating. For the author to have given you their work, and for you to have made alterations and made sure that they’re happy about it, you’re the second-closest person to their project. It can be quite great – especially if you know you’ve done a good job and that the client is happy.
It can be difficult as well. Sometimes people think of an edit as a friend looking through your book and looking for typos. It’s important to be diplomatic and understand that the project is their baby. The dynamic changes over time. At first people can be defensive. As they realise that you have their project’s best interests at heart it gets a lot easier. This is especially true when you’re working directly with an author – it’s very different to when you’re working through a publishing house or a project management company.
Is there a difference between working directly with a publishing house verses working with the author directly?
Certainly. It can be beneficial, especially if you’re thinking about self-publishing, in that the author retains a lot more creative control. The benefit of having direct contact with your editor is that you can feed, as we were saying, information about creative elements that you want a certain way directly to the editor. Otherwise that can sometimes get lost in translation.
How does thinking about the reader affect how you work, how you set objectives for when you’re editing a piece?
I think personally I’m working for the reader. I want the reader to get a book that works for them, that they enjoy, and that is high quality.
When you’re editing, what are you looking at? The flow of the prose, the expression of the idea?
It depends on the subject matter. For fiction editing, you’re certainly looking at the flow of the story, you’re looking at character development, at whether the text is too long or too short. Line editing and copy-editing is more practical – grammar, typos, for example.
When in the writing process should an author approach an editor?
You should definitely have a draft ready. Contacting someone when you’ve got a few chapters and a synopsis can be a good idea, and people out there are happy to look at what you’ve got so far to let you know if they think it’ll be worthwhile. In terms of actually getting into the nitty-gritty of the editorial process, you should have a draft and you should have reread that draft yourself.
Some people, quite a lot of people, recommend that before you’re ready to have someone else look at your manuscript you should have gone over somewhere between three and ten times. I would say be as happy as you can be with the manuscript before you send it to an editor. The better shape the manuscript is in, the less editing it will tend to need, which makes it a faster process and a cheaper process – obviously good if you’re an indie author.
What makes a project great to work on?
Having a shared interest definitely helps. For authors it’s important to find an editor who’s interested in what you’re writing. If you’ve written a sci-fi novel and you approach someone who generally edits gardening textbooks they’re probably not the best person. Maybe they are! Maybe they also have a secret interest in sci-fi!
It’s good when an author is ready for the process. Some people sometimes think they’re ready, but still find it quite difficult. When you’re being edited the fact is that some of your text will be changed. Working with someone who’s easy-going and open to talking about change is good. It’s about being able to have those conversations and say “I would recommend this, what do you think?” The author can say “Yes, I agree,” or “No, I don’t agree, and this is why.” Being able to have that flow of ideas with someone really helps
It’s also good to be clear about the expectations you have from each other. The author should know what you need from them – in terms of the manuscript, in terms of how much time you need. As the editor, you should know what the author needs – how heavily they want the text edited, how long they have, if they have a specific deadline, if there are certain things they don’t want to change.
Do you dialogue with authors as well as marking up the text?
In developmental editing there’s often more dialogue – you might come across something where you need to know what the author wants to do before you can really proceed. That can come up in other forms of editing as well. I’ve known people who prefer to be presented with the edit and just go through the comments, and I’ve also known people who want to be consulted at every stage. It’s usually better if the author’s prepared to not have every change discussed – that can take a very long time, which isn’t useful for them.
Is there anything about working with a publisher that’s impossible to match working freelance?
I don’t know that you’d match it exactly – it would still be a different experience. Unless you hire a project manager as well, which you can do, you end up being the project manager for your own book… which can be quite stressful. But in terms of the book doing well, in terms of getting a good quality of finished project, I think you probably can match it.
As long as you’re willing to take the time with it and understand that you probably do need at least an edit and a proofread – generally one stage isn’t enough to get it as a finished product – then I think you can end up with a very good end product. Obviously, some people do very well indeed from publishing on Amazon, for example. Whether it will be different to a traditionally published book depends on what you as the author are happy to do with the book, and how many stages you’re happy to go through.
Thank you for your time Ellie.