A Line Editor’s Mission Statement
by Amanda Ching
Hello, my name is Amanda, and I will be your line editor today.
Let me be frank: I came to editing from teaching English at the high school level, and so I missed all those line editing classes with notations. Editing for students is more like teaching and less like correcting, as every note should be explained in some way. My job as a teacher is to make students learn from past mistakes and avoid new ones. In tandem with teaching, I have been active with online fanfiction editing for about fifteen years. Much like editing in the classroom, my approach has not been to simply read through a story for typos, but to correct mistakes in style and grammar as well.
Because I don’t come from a traditional editing background, I approach my job in my own way, and to this day, I am not sure how much it resembles a traditional line editor’s performance. My job, as I see it, is to fix errors in the most educational way possible so that you, the writer, can avoid them in the future. I want your style to work better, flow easier, and yet still be your voice. The end result that we both should desire is one in which the reader never once stops in the middle of a paragraph, or anywhere and says, “I don’t understand this”, or, “Oh that sounds like crap.”
It is never my job to pass judgement on your work as a whole just because it is something that I do not like to read personally. Occasionally, I have plot or character issues, at which point I might speak up about how I feel. But in the end, as brash as this sounds, I don’t care about your manuscript as in what it can do for me, but rather what I can do for it. I am here to be your tool. Har har.
I confess I do like a great deal of the work I read. And I check reviews for things that I edit, and I always feel a little spike of pride when that review is positive.
Despite being your “tool”, as a non-traditional line editor, I use notations that are not standard, and I thought I’d take a moment to define what I mean by these.
Amongst the many things that I might say to you, I have three major comments that pop up in my edits. The most common is “s/b”, which simply translates to “should be”. These are changes that are not, for the most part, optional—verb tense changes, typos, punctuation errors. When a s/b is in place, something must be changed, and in almost all of these cases, the s/b I have supplied is the only correct option.
The second most common notation I make is “Suggest __________”. Like the command behind s/b, suggest means that something should be changed to improve the text. Usually, there are multiple ways to fix the problem, and so my suggestion is merely one of them. If you can think of another way to fix the text (like say, with a different word, or a rewrite), then that will work for me, too. You could also always choose to ignore my comment, but honestly, I don’t put these things in for fun. I am loathe to touch your work because I am eager to preserve your style as much as possible, so chances are if I have left a comment, then something doesn’t read well.
Occasionally, I might comment that, “I am content to be overruled.” This means that I have issues with something personally as a reader that I want you to fix, but it is entirely optional. I keep these down to a minimum, and most of you whose work I edit will rarely, if ever, see one.
Lastly, is the horrific “rewrite”. Sometimes, sentences are just… no. It could be anything—awkward phrasing, lack of parallelism, repetition, verb tenses that just don’t fly, or pronoun references errors. In all of these cases, and with about 85% of my rewrite, I suggest an alternate way to rewrite the sentence. You can take this carte blanche, pop it right in there, or you can rewrite the sentence yourself. I have found that sometimes reading a sentence written another way can jog a writer to improve their work. But I want to stress that I am not trying to write over your style.
One of the nice things about Storm Moon Press and small presses in general, from what I have heard from various writers, is the willingness to turn editing into a learning process. It’s important to me that the manuscript that I have in front of me is well done, but also that the manuscript the author comes up with next is even better. When I first started writing, my understanding of certain grammatical construction was extremely poor, but teaching editors worked me through it. Errors that a writer makes in a first book can be completely eradicated in his or her style by the second book. It makes everyone’s life easier.
With that in mind, I want to end with an emphasis on my open door policy—any issue you might ever have about an edit that I do for you, I want to talk about. I want to answer questions, or reconsider a change I suggested if you have an issue with it. I’m not perfect either (though I fake it very well in cyberspace), and sometimes I could stand to be clearer. Just because someone has trained for a job doesn’t mean they are the epitome of that profession.
My job is to fix and teach, and I’ll be your line editor today.
Amanda Ching has taught high school English, worked as an associate director of education at a popular tutoring chain, raised goats and sheep and dry cleaned more clothes than she would ever wear in her lifetime. She also writes genre fiction under her own name and aliases that will never see the light of day. Lately, she has turned her hand to professional editing, which she finds challenging and inspiring. Though she proofs mostly academic papers, Storm Moon Press is her first official retainer. She looks forward to working with any author and manuscript that comes her way. You can follow her exploits as cerebralcutlass on Twitter, stalk her goodreads page, or read her blog, Panda-monium.