Each month, the EFA’s Twitter team hosts Freelance Friday discussions focusing on different topics. All are welcome (including nonmembers)! Join us on August 27 at 3 p.m. ET for the next discussion (you can always check the Events Calendar on the EFA website for future dates). To participate, simply follow the #EFAchat hashtag on Twitter, and join the conversation! If you aren’t already following the EFA on Twitter, we encourage you to connect with us. Our handle is @EFAFreelancers.

Pam Eidson, EFA member and volunteer EFA tweeter for the month of July, led last month’s chat Determining Client Preferences in Copyediting Style. Participants shared anecdotes and tips for sussing out client preferences during intake and in the course of editing, whether about applying a specific style—CMOS, APA, AP, AMA, etc.—or having strong feelings about particular style points, such as series commas or citation methods.

We share highlights from that July 2021 chat here, but if you missed a chat or would like to revisit another one, you may find the full transcripts at our transcript host Wakelet.

First, how do you address any editing minutiae in your intake process? (e.g., commas or separating initials with a space?) Is agreeing on a style guide sufficient?

Most respondents indicated that they ask about style guide as well as house style preferences during the intake process. However, an #EFAchat participant noted that “a lot of my authors are first timers & don’t realize what they might have strong opinions about until after the fact.” To avoid this kind of scenario and “creating a ton more work down the road,” a few people advised

  • developing a query document for clients, asking their preferences for, e.g., British English or American English conventions, serial commas, style guides, personal style sheets or “story bibles,” etc.
  • querying the author as soon as they noticed “consistent deviation from [their preferred] style guide”
  • paying attention to earlier versions of manuscripts so they “have an idea of personal tics to watch out / ask for”
  • using tools like macros to find style guide deviations and project style sheets to capture clients’ deliberate deviations and style preferences

Another person thought it important to distinguish between “publishing houses [that] are usually ready with a list of preferences (both public guides and house style guides)” and independent authors who most often aren’t: “Learning *how* to ask indies what they prefer is essential.” Still another pointed out that “Many writers don’t have strong opinions about the mechanics. That’s one place where editors can really our value by guiding them on what’s most appropriate for their field/genre.”

Tell us about your favorite mechanical style points to work with: Are you an em dash aficionado? Do you love making lists parallel?

  • “I could spend all day happily considering the different effects readers perceive from ellipses, em dashes, and colons.”
  • “I have a special place in my heart for primes and the various dashes, since I learned about them during my very first proofreading project. Primes: They look like straight quotation marks and are used for foot and inch symbols.”

Participants also mentioned keeping track of style preferences using the specific Word macro tools FRedit (freely accessible) as well as Editors’ Toolkit (registration fee based on number of users). As one user explained, “I love setting up preferences in Editors’ Toolkit’s FileCleaner. I run it at the beginning of every project, and with a few clicks I can clean up all kinds of formatting and punctuation messes.”

How much fact checking do your clients want? Spelling of proper names? URL validity?

Respondents agreed that spelling [of proper nouns] and easy searches such as dates of major events are part of copyediting. Most advised that any expectations beyond that, e.g. in-depth fact-checking, must be “spelled out in the service agreement (and compensated).” One editor clarified that while they edit references, checking publisher names and “gut-check[ing] author names in fields I’m deeply familiar with,” validating each reference is ultimately the author’s job.

Working independently, we need to learn to “read the room.” Have you had experiences where you realized your expectations were different than the client’s?

An #EFAchat participant affirmed this: “Absolutely. We, as editors, tend to think certain ways, and both kinds of clients (houses and independent) also tend to think in particular ways, especially with independent authors.”

If you had formal training as a copyeditor, what has been different than what you were taught?

One respondent summed up the sentiments of most of the others: “Formal training focused so hard on drilling the rules so that we knew them and could enforce them. As copyeditors, though, we’re not enforcers ruling over grammar with an iron pen. Our job is just as much about knowing how to break the rules with consistency.” These additional observations were shared:

  • “There’s a steady mantra/question running through my mind as I work: ‘Does doing / not doing this help or hinder the author’s voice?’ … I work almost exclusively in fiction, where authorial voice reigns, and the rules of grammar there *must* serve voice, not the other way around.”
  • “I felt like a monster when I recently had to bend nonfiction writing to the rules of grammar to suit the publisher and audience.”
  • “We learned in my certificate course to perform quite a number of clean-up tasks before editing. Some of those have been done already—or will be done at a later stage—at publishing houses, before [copyediting].”

Have you gotten well into a project before finding out a client wanted it done very differently? How did you handle it?

  • “I didn’t learn about an AU’s strong preference until the cleanup round came back with stets and ALL CAPS in the comments and hours of reversing a global change I had made. Now I know to reach out in advance!”
  • “This is one of the reasons I vastly prefer having direct access to the author (some houses don’t like CE-author contact); when I see an emergent tendency and I’m unsure whether it’s preference or error, asking directly cuts a LOT of work out … it means I can adjust on the go for the rest of the ms, and that can mean the author doesn’t have to delete all the “Are you sure?” kinds of queries in the CEM. NB: this does take a heaping helping of judgement. You have to … [strike] a balance between verifying everything and not bugging a likely busy client.”

Do you enforce a clear definition between copyediting and developmental editing, or do the lines blur in your work? 

Most participants do make a distinction between copyediting and developmental editing:

  • “I am a developmental editor. I am not qualified to call myself a copyeditor. Some clients call my work copyediting, but what I do for them is really line editing or substantive editing … Of course, as DE I still do everything possible to keep the ms. clean so the CE will have an easy job. But CE does so much more than correct spelling, grammar, & punctuation, and many of those tasks are outside my expertise.”
  • “It’s much easier to keep dev edits distinct from the other types, for me, than it is to do a pure copy edit with no line/substantive work. I offer developmental critiques (just the Big Stuff, no grammar, usage, mechanics) as a separate service.”
  • “Copy editing while dev editing is akin to doing the painting at the same time as building the frame for a house; unhelpful and a waste of effort.”
  • “… clear #Communication leads to client satisfaction. e.g if the #client feels they need CE & your assessment reveals they will benefit frm DE, u must inform them even if they decide 2 not get DE or any work frm u. #Honesty matters more than mere #leadgeneration”

A few noted flexibility in their boundaries:

  • “When I do a DE, I can’t help but pick up on obvious things that I’d flag in a CE pass, so I usually do blur the lines, especially if what I’m seeing pulls me out of the narrative flow.”
  • “If I’m doing a line or copyedit and notice larger issues I do always say something; I’d feel not good if I didn’t.”

More than half said the line was blurrier between copyediting and line editing:

  • “… especially when I’m working with an indie author and have a good feel for their voice. It’s hard to resist the temptation. If the AU appreciates the result, how can you know you’ve gone too far?”
  • “If I’m hired to copyedit, and there’s room in the budget, I may address slightly bigger concerns, like how a sentence that undermines a scene’s suspense could be cut.”
  • “I keep a bright line between developmental edits and other kinds of editing, but line edits and copy edits are harder for me to separate. I often include line editing suggestions in copy editing projects.”

Office Closed Monday April 8.

The EFA Offices will be closed Monday, April 8, 2024. We will reopen on Tuesday, April 9. Job postings, discussion list subscriptions, and other customer service requests may not be responded to until then.

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