Random person: Oh you’re an editor? That means you correct mistakes, right? Can’t a spell-checker do that? I read a book and spotted a typo once; maybe I should be an editor! *chortle, guffaw, splutter*
Me: *pleasant smile while my soul is dying*
Sure, when I edit something, I correct mistakes. However, that’s a very small part of what I do. In fact, it probably makes up the smallest percentage of the time I spend on a job. That might seem surprising, but an editor is concerned with far more than just typos and grammar snafus.
The easiest way to show what I mean is to use an example.
Here’s a random passage of fiction, which is unedited.
Lucy spun on her bar stool, and thought for a moment. Work had been rubbish that day. something caught her eye from across the room and she saw Mike, his emerald-eyes sparkling as he waved to her. Be cool Lucy, she said to herself. As Mike came closer, she gave him a big grin. “Why don’t you sit here Mike,” she instructed, pointing at the seat next to her. “Don’t mind if I do, Mike grinned, pulling a chair from under the table and sitting down opposite her.
You’ve probably noticed a few things up with it already.
Let’s take a look at it with just the ‘mistakes’ corrected.
That looks a lot better, doesn’t it? But what if I did some more editing after the mistakes were corrected?
That second screenshot is what takes up a huge amount of my time. And depending on the brief and how interventionist a client wanted me to be, there’s more I could do to that passage. Some of those things might seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how often inconsistencies or funny chronology pops up in books and goes unnoticed. And, of course, those examples don’t touch on a myriad other things editors must look out for: better word choice, convoluted sentences, offensive words or phrases, dangling modifiers, etc. The list is extensive. Perhaps many readers wouldn’t notice Mike’s changing eyes or barstool being styled differently throughout the novel – but some would. And those are things that need ironed out for a piece of writing to be professionally polished and presented.
So, perhaps I should print those examples out and hand them out to the next person who makes a spell-check quip! Although I think I’d soon stop being invited to things. . .