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Author editing, authors' editors and the perils of what to call ourselves

Posted on 28th October 2016

For an industry focused on words and ensuring clarity of meaning, it is perhaps a bit of a surprise that there is often so much confusion about what different names for different editors mean. When I am asked what I do, I say I am a proofreader and copy-editor. If the enquirer then gives me a blank look, I add to this by saying something along the lines of "I check English language texts and improve and correct them." It's basic but it tends to do the trick, at least for people just interested in what I do and not wanting the details.

I (perhaps naively) thought things had been cleared up fairly well with the somewhat simplified concepts of developmental editor or sub-editor (people who make extensive changes), copy-editor (people who deal with style, grammar and formatting but not bigger plot or structural issues) and proofreader (people who check the final file for minor errors that have slipped through). I'll not go into desk editor, commissioning editor and other types more commonly found in in-house positions.

At a recent conference, though, there was a presentation about author editing, which is done by an authors' editor (sometimes called author's editor but the plural is becoming more common as so many articles are written by multiple authors). This brings in the dimension to address the circumstances where editors (and proofreaders, so maybe they can be called an author's proofreader?) work directly with authors, which is where this concept of author editing fits in: where an editor or copy-editor might work for the publisher, ensuring house style is followed and texts conform to what the publisher wants to print, an authors' editor is firmly on the side of the author(s), working to their brief and their style. The authors' editor will help make sure the manuscript will get through the submission process, but their allegiance will be to the author and not to the publisher.

Though the conference session focused on academic editing, I think the same term would apply to editors working with independent authors looking to self-publish or in the pre-submission phase hoping to get accepted by an agent or publisher.

It might be that the terminology is irrelevant and it's best if I stick with making my services clear, regardless of what they might be called in the publishing industry, but it is probably worth staying abreast of these developments because if clients start looking for authors' editors, I certainly want to be findable.

If you are interested in finding out more about this, the conference speaker, Valerie Matarese, has written a book about author editing: "The Author Editing Approach to Providing Effective Support to Writers of Research Papers". This author editing Wikipedia page also has some interesting information as well as references for further reading.

For those editors and proofreaders reading this, I would be interested to hear what you think and what terminology and descriptions you use for your work. I'll aim to start a discussion on my Facebook page...

Written by Kate Haigh.