Intentions don’t make a doctor, or an editor!

Let’s say someone comes to you and says, “I love serving human beings and I am hard working. I think I will make a great family doctor for you.” Would you hire him as your family doctor? In a sane state of mind, you would not unless he is a qualified doctor and has gone through the years of training and practice needed.

Point is that certain aptitudes and a certain kind of attitude may be necessary for you to enjoy your job, but they can not be a replacement for the skill that can only be acquired by training or practice. We often have people telling us that they have studied in English medium schools, are good with English, are avid readers and hence would make good editors. It may sound right to many of us, but trust me it does not make a good editor.

Good editing is an acquired skill and you need to work on learning and enhancing it. You may be good at English in general but when you start editing, you might suddenly find yourself wondering if there should be a ‘the’ here or not. It is not good enough for you to ‘think’ that a ‘the’ should be there because it sounds right that way. You have to know exactly whether it should be there or not.

That was an example of grammar part of the things. There is more. As writers or speakers of a language we all have our own style. But as an editor you have to have the ability to identify author’s style and make sure your editing does not destroy the style. We have seen people who replaced all the casual Hindi phrases from an Indian English novel while editing. Right thing to do as far as language in concerned, but just not the right thing to do as the editor of a fiction book. The Hindi phrases were a part of the style, the narration. Sometimes the style involves elements more subtle than this. If you have not understood the techniques involved in editing, you may end up returning a manuscript worse off than what it was when it came to you!

There is also a difference in editing content in different forms. A website article is not edited in the same way as a full length fiction novel, which in turn needs a different kind of editing than a STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) book.

Just like a person who has not studied medicine and does not know what treatment is right for a particular condition would do no good to the humanity with his intention to serve as a doctor, an editor who does not have the right skills would do no good to a manuscript. In fact, in both cases they may end up doing more harm than good.

However, one difference exists between editing and medicine. Getting trained in medicine without formal education in that area is close to impossible. With editing, however, you do not need corpses to experiment upon. You can go for self-training with the help of appropriate books, Internet resources and the Wren & Martin and equivalents from your school days. Then of course, practice makes a man (and woman) perfect. So, if this is the kind of job that interests you, start your self-training and practice right away.

So what does this mean for an aspiring author looking to self publish or may be just looking for feedback? Firstly it is important for any self publishing author to be aware of all the skills that are important for creating a good book. Editing is one of the most important ones without which your content may just not be up to the mark. If you are planning on self-editing your manuscript, you may need to go for some self-training here. Secondly, even if you are hiring someone to do the job for you, it is important for you to know what is expected of the editor, be able to choose the right editor and communicate effectively with him.

Let the best writer-editor pairs bloom!

Pothi.com provides book editing and proofreading services in India.

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3 thoughts on “Intentions don’t make a doctor, or an editor!

  1. Gopinath Mavinkurve December 3, 2009 at 12:41 pm Reply

    Interesting post! Never knew so much is involved in editing! Thanks!

  2. Manish December 9, 2009 at 9:54 am Reply

    Readable n very informative…

  3. Vivek December 13, 2009 at 5:24 pm Reply

    A very valid point.

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