What Not to Ask an Editor Like Me

By Jaclyn DeVore

“Could you take a quick look at this?”

With all the love in my heart, no. But!  

I will read what you’ve written with all of my being. I don’t believe in skimming, or “quick look”-ing. If you’ve asked me to edit something for you, I’m all in. This means I’m going to tell you if the structure, logic, and grammar are sound, if the writing is tight, and if there are ways to strengthen your piece. I will also make sure that any of my suggestions stay true to your voice and your message. In other words, I listen deeply to what you’ve written to make sure it says what you want it to or what you think it does. Typos, misspellings, and subject-verb confusions are not my priority (though I’ll find those for you too!).

I didn’t become an editor to correct people. I know plenty of cranky copyeditors and proofreaders who seem to thrive on the joy they find in pointing out other people’s mistakes. Their red pen is a weapon, inked by the blood of their victims. They may make a few of their marks while laughing maniacally. These people, it turns out, make great error detectors. But sometimes they also make people cry.

While that may have been my approach to editing in my early years (Yikes! Sorry about that!), I’ve found that’s not what editing is really about. Editing is a collaborative process between the writer and the editor. In this relationship, the writer is the expert creator of the content while the editor is the expert super-reader and blind-spot identifier. It’s more important to me as an editor to help you say what you mean in the most accurate and effective way. And I want you to feel encouraged by the process so that you’re inspired to write more!

I became an editor to help make the world more beautiful. Groan at this if you want to (I’ll wait). But hear me out. Words are my favorite medium and I spend a lot of time thinking about and playing with them.

The kind of editing I do is an art. Yes, there are hard skills involved in being a capable editor, just as there are hard skills involved in learning how to create a sculpture. I can tell if a sentence is “right” or not, just as a sculpture artist can tell if your proportions are accurate. I can help you figure out where to put the commas and the hyphens—but it’s such a small part of what I do. I edit for the love the language and communication. While beauty may be subjective, my goal as an editor is to make sure that you, dear writer, believe that what you’ve created is beautiful.  

To conclude, and I say this as lovingly as possible: If you meant “Hey, will you check this for typos?” then you should probably hand your work to a different kind of editor. I’ll get my referral list for you.