November 28, 2011

Your Diamond in the Rough

When you ask someone what an Editor does, you can get a lot of varying responses.

The most common seems to be, "An Editor finds the errors in the book before it is published." Which, while not wrong, is also not entirely right. What most people are thinking of when they say this is actually the function of the Proofreader.

The Proofreader is usually the last person to get the book before it goes to print/gets published. They are the final set of eyes looking for typing errors, bad formatting, or other mistakes that may have crept into the manuscript. Whilst an Editor does look for errors throughout their interaction with the Writer, they actually have so much more to contribute to the process.

It doesnt help, when trying to pin an Editor's job down, that there are many different names for (and variations on) the roles that Editors play in the process. Without getting into all of those, I will simply say that an Editor is there to help make the book the best that it can be.

Think of it like a diamond.

A Writer brings the diamond to the Editor. The Editor has a look, notices the brightest facets of the stone, and suggests ways that the stone should be shaped. The writer then takes the stone away and refines it. When the Editor next sees the diamond, it has much of its final shape but needs a bit of cutting to make every face shine. The Editor cuts, polishes, and suggests any further refinements before giving the diamond back to the Writer. This process continues until both the Writer and Editor are happy that the diamond is in the best shape it can possibly be to catch the light and sparkle. At which point, it is placed in its setting and sent to the Proofreader for a final polish before going off to the store to be sold.

Although this is a highly simplified explanation of the Editor/Writer relationship, I think that it depicts it fairly well. There may be many more exchanges between the pair, other people involved, or sometimes the Editor and Proofreader are the same person - but there is definitely more to the relationship than simply catching errors before they go to print.

(Which is not to say proofreaders are not wonderfully important people too! Who would want to buy a diamond with dirt on it? ...There is a reason jewellry store clerks clean the merchandise before you try it on!)

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