Who am I, and what’s so great about editing, anyway?

So my name is Jessie Sanders, and I am an editor.  Hopefully you have figured that out by now.  But what you may still be wondering is how I came to be an editor and what exactly it is that I do.  You weren’t?  Oh, well, you’re going to find out anyway!

My Editing Journey

photo credit Carlos Velez

photo credit Carlos Velez

When I was a senior in college, all I knew was that I was an English major and I didn’t want to be a teacher.  I knew that when I graduated I wanted to do something in my field, but I didn’t know what kind of options were really out there for me.  In my Senior English class, Dr. LaMascus was teaching us about different careers that an English major could choose, and I started getting freaked out that I had never done any internships related to my field.  What if I wanted to get my master’s degree?  Being an intern or tutoring in the writing center looked really good on an application.  I immediatly started looking for places to apply, but since it was already a couple weeks into the school year and I didn’t have my own car for commuting, options were limited. Somehow I managed to score an intership at the Christian Chronicle, the international church of Christ newspaper that circulates out of my own campus.  I only worked there for three months, but I learned some very important things in my time there:

  1. I don’t like the way newspaper smudges all over my hands.
  2. I don’t like writing non-fiction.
  3. I’m not very good at finding people to interview.
  4. I LOVE editing for grammar.

My favorite part of my job there was every month when they would put up the proofs of the pages and I could read them, red pen in hand.  The satisfaction I feel over striking out an unneeded commas is overwhelming compared to how small and unimportant a comma really is.  Since I had also realized that news stories were not for me, I quickly deduced that my calling was in the book publishing intudstry.

Unfortunately, I live in Oklahoma, not New York City.  We don’t exactly have a plethora of book publishers out here.  I won’t go into huge detail, but for about six moths I searched for an employer in vain.  I finally gave up looking and resigned myself to working at Sonic for the foreseeable future.  Then, when Sean and I moved to Mustang, I learned of Tate Publishing, an independently-owned publishing company that operated just a mile from my new home.  I knew that was where I wanted to be, but it appeared that they weren’t hiring at the time.  But then, after sending them my resume three times and waiting patiently for seven months, they offered me an internship in their editing department.  That grew to a part-time job as a copyeditor, which in turn has now become a full-time job as a concept editor. I love working here and I know that this is definitely the work that I was meant to do.

Today is my first day as a concept editor for Tate. What is the difference between copy and concept?  I am so glad you asked!  Let me tell you.

What is Copyediting?

Copyediting is all about the rules.  Primarily, the rules of grammar and formatting.  This is the job for someone like me, who can’t stand to see even the tiniest misplaced comma.  It’s more than just commas, though.  It’s spelling, parallel structure, misplaced modifiers, and making sure there’s no extra spaces between the quotation mark and the word it’s quoting.  Do copyeditors just sit and read all day?  Why yes, we do.  And if we’re reading a book that’s not in our genre of interest, it can get a bit tedious.  But there is always the reward at the end of the day, knowing that we have fought for the side of the English language and have won. If Strunk and White were still alive, they would applaud us. In case you were wondering, Tate uses the Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition for all grammar and style issues; in fact, most publishers in the United States do.

What is Conceptual Editing?

Conceptual editing is a little more tricky.  This is where we work directly with the author to help them make the book reach its full potential. We talk to them about things like narrative voice, plot holes, character development, and we make sure that they always stick to one tense.  This is based on preference and more on what has been proven to work for generations past.  Here you don’t always get to lay down the law. You can’t say, “The Chicago Manual of Style says that that paragraph does not need to be there.”   Concept editors rely heavily on advice from notable editors such as Sol Stein and William Zinsser.  We’re also always reading books to see what makes them work or not.  Sort of like what I’ve been trying to do here at Stormy Night Publishing.

I’ve been working in Copyediting for a while now, and while it will always be my first love, I’m really excited to get into the world of concept editing.  I’ve been filling both of these editing roles for the Consortium, and I love using my conceptual skills to see how to make a book even better than it already was.  Aaron Pogue and Courtney Cantrell have already talked about how I can be harsh in my criticism, but usually also correct.  I love not only identifying problems, but figuring out how to fix them and make them better. Some people, like Aaron and Courtney, get all the glory.  Their names are on the front covers of books; when people pick up their books, they will know what great authors they are.  My name’s not going to be on the cover of any of these books that I edit.  But you know what?  I’m really okay with that.  The author did the hard part, writing the novel, rewriting it like five times, and then having the courage to put it out there for everyone to read. And maybe soon my day will come for that.  But until then, I’m so grateful and happy to be able to do what I love best: helping others.

That’s really what it comes down to.  Editors are just helpers, giving authors the advice that their friends and family were either too nice or too inexperienced to say. And when their book hits the shelves, it will reach the most people possible, and all those readers won’t have to worry about whether that comma was supposed to be there or not.

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4 Responses to Who am I, and what’s so great about editing, anyway?

  1. Bailey says:

    Thanks for writing this out, Jessie. Definitely a good and informational refresher, as well as some new information. Great for someone getting ready to jump into the field 🙂 I hope everything is well!

  2. “When I was a senior in college, all I knew was that I was an English major and I didn’t want to be a teacher.” –> The story of my life!!!

    Harsh? Did I call you harsh? I don’t remember calling you harsh. Straightforward and no-nonsense maybe, but not harsh, I don’t think. 😉

    At any rate, whether harsh or not: knowledgeable, effective, fair, and most definitely helpful! I think you’re a great editor. : )

    • jessie says:

      I think Aaron either used the word “harsh” or “mean” to describe me, but I took it as a compliment, as I take your words. THanks!