How Can I Be an Editor Too? Part 6

My desktop

Yes, this is where I work every workday.

See Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

In previous posts I discussed various aspects of what is required to work from home as a freelance editor. In this post I discuss the nuts and bolts of what actual editing looks like (at least for me) with a focus on some of the tools and technology I use.

Tools and Technology

So let’s say that you’ve got a degree in communications—maybe even a BA in English—and you’re great at spotting typos. Are you ready to start editing? Maybe. But I recommend you become equipped with a few essential tools first.

Even though I had fourteen years of experience editing with two different companies, I wasn’t quite prepared when I made the leap from editing all sorts of stuff to book editing in particular. I knew how to spot typos and fix grammatical problems, but that’s only part of what you’ll need to know to get online work from mainstream publishers.

Tools You Will Need

When I began looking for editing jobs to do from home, I realized through a professional editing forum that I was lacking two essential tools in my toolbox:

1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (most recent edition—as of this writing, that’s the Eleventh Edition), and
2. The Chicago Manual of Style (most recent edition—as of this writing, that’s the 16th Edition).

Why are these tools essential? If you plan to do book editing, which will give you the best financial return for your time, these are the resources most book publishers prefer and will expect their editors to adhere to.

Though I have both books on my shelf, let me share a little secret. You’ll save tons of time by using the online versions of both resources. Here’s Merriam-Webster online. Here’s The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) online. When I’m editing a project, I keep both resources available in my brower’s tabs at all times (more about that later).

Why These Resources?

You may be scratching your head, wondering why you can’t use the The American Heritage Dictionary, for example. Again, most publishers I’ve worked for have told me they specifically prefer the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 

Why use only one dictionary? And why Webster’s? Not every dictionary lists every term the same way, and publishers seek to achieve uniformity and consistency in all the books they publish (consistency is critical in the editing business). The best way to reach that goal is for all their editors to use the same dictionary—and Webster’s is probably the best and most revered of the lot.

Why The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)? People ask me this a lot. I can only shrug and say that’s the source most publishers prefer. But sometimes they still have puzzled looks on their faces when I mention “style.” And that seems to be the problem—many folks don’t understand what style is.

Understanding Style

There are two different and separate world to consider when dealing with words. There are the hard-and-fast rules of grammar that rarely allow wiggle room. Then there’s the whole world of “Should I spell out numbers over ten?” or “If someone’s a pastor, should I put ‘Rev’ or ‘Reverend’ before his name?” or “How should I let readers know which Bible version I’m using?”

You see, when you get past grammar rules, there’s a whole world of possibilities, and it’s helpful to have one resource that points the way for the sake of consistency.

Does that mean the CMOS is the only right way? Of course not. If you’re a journalist and you’re writing news articles, you should probably refer to the Associated Press Stylebook. If you’re a college or university student writing a dissertation, you probably should be following the style guidelines in A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian.

This doesn’t mean the CMOS is the only way to edit or use words, but for the most part, it’s the resource—the bible, if you will—most book publishers prefer. So if book editing is your realm, you should purchase and become familiar with this resource. I refer to it constantly every day.

A Word about Technology

Though finding a quiet place to work (like a home office) and obtaining an ergonomically correct workstation are important considerations, I can’t speak highly enough of getting technologically prepared. Here’s what I mean.

1. Be sure to use Microsft Word for all your editing. Most clients and publishers will expect/prefer to receive edited files in this file format. Don’t try to cut corners and use OpenOffice. (I’m not saying OpenOffice isn’t a good product, but Microsoft Word is the industry standard, and you may avoid snags by using it.)

2. Unless a publisher or client tells you otherwise, use the Microsft Word “track changes” feature. (If you are unsure what this is, be sure to do a Google search of “Microsoft Word track changes.” Here’s a helpful introductory article.)

3. Use two screens. I use a Dell XPS laptop hooked to a second Dell flatscreen monitor (see the photo of my workstation above). I edit a document in my left screen and look up terms in Webster’s or the CMOS using my brower’s tabs in my right screen. I cannot speak more highly of how this setup saves me time. While I’m editing, if I find a word or expression I’m unsure of, I can simply go to my right screen and search Webster’s or the CMOS with ease.

4. Purchase a nice coffee warmer pad so you can sip some terrific joe while you work. Coffee always wakes up my brain in the morning.

5. Station a telephone within easy reach to accept calls when necessary. I make it a habit to accept calls on my feet. This is a good way to get out of that chair when you could possibly sit there all day.

That’s my talk on resources and my technological setup. If you have any questions, please send me a comment. Now it’s time to get to today’s editing.

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