Editor Interview Number Three – Jessie Hale

Hi, welcome to the Library of Erana and thank you for talking to us today. Thanks very much for having me!

Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your editing experience. My name is Jessie Hale and I’ve been editing, in some capacity, for about four years. I currently freelance and work as a project manager with a media publications company, where I edit and proofread a large variety of materials. I was also a non-fiction editor with The Editing Company in Toronto, Canada, until October 2013, and I copy edit and proofread a feminist magazine for young women and trans youth on a volunteer basis. I’ve worked on YA fantasy novels, academic textbooks, magazines, self-help books, website copy, memoirs, some erotic fiction, and many dissertations and theses.

How did you get into this line of work?  I completed a publishing certificate in 2010, which included courses in copy editing and substantive editing, and then began working in the marketing department of an academic publishing company. I took on some freelance editorial projects over the years, but began editing more seriously at the beginning of 2013, when I started working as a non-fiction editor with The Editing Company.

Are there genres you refuse, if so why is that? I don’t edit anything in the STEM field, simply because I don’t have the knowledge base that would qualify me to do so. For the same reason, I don’t edit high-level legal writing. Other than that, I’m open to pretty much everything!

Are you also a writer?  If so do you self-edit or do you use the services of another editor?  I am not a writer, except for the occasional blog entry!

What are your opinions of self-edited work by authors? I think that every piece of writing, no matter how short or long, could use another set of eyes. I wrote The Editing Company’s newsletter, for example, and even though I’m a trained editor, I never sent it out without having at least one of my colleagues look it over. So, while I think that self-editing is a very important and necessary step, I would not advise an author to rely on it alone. When you’re that close to the material, it’s very easy to miss plot holes and typos and all kinds of other errors.

Please could you tell us about the process involved with editing for, say, a 100k word manuscript. That’s a hard question to answer because it depends so much on what kind of edit you’re doing and what kind of manuscript it is. When I’m doing a substantive (or content) edit, I usually start by reading the manuscript once through, not trying to take notes or think too deeply about my reactions, just reading it as I would read any novel. Then I read it again more carefully, this time taking notes about the content and characters and so on. Then it becomes a back-and-forth process with the author, allowing him or her to take my feedback into consideration and revise. The manuscript will usually go back and forth at least twice, sometimes much more. The whole process takes at least three months, and sometimes a year or more.

With a copy edit, usually I start by looking over the style sheet (if there is one) and making note of what the author or publisher prefers. Then I start reading the manuscript very carefully, correcting any spelling and grammatical errors and occasionally reworking sentences to make them clearer. For a 100,000-word manuscript, that will usually take about 80 hours. I like to give the manuscript two passes, if there’s time, but of course there isn’t always.

What is the difference between proofreading and editing?  Proofreading means different things to different people, but generally it happens much later in the process than editing. When you’re proofreading, you’re looking for very small, last-minute mistakes; typos, dropped letters, that kind of thing. It’s often done after the book has already been laid out and typeset. Editing, again, can mean many different things, but it starts much earlier in the process and focuses on a much bigger picture — does the plot make sense? Do the characters behave naturally? Is the language clear and readable? Copy editing falls somewhere in between; you’re looking for bigger errors than in a proofread and applying a consistent style, and so on, and you also might be changing sentences to make them clearer and checking that facts are consistent (e.g., that a character with blonde hair in chapter 2 doesn’t have red hair in chapter 5!).

Do you have part of the process you really enjoy? Is there a part you don’t?Whenever I get to proofread on paper, that’s a big pleasure. Most editing is done onscreen nowadays but there’s something that feels very precise and elegant about working on paper. I don’t think there’s anything about editing that I actively dislike, but probably my least favourite task is editing a bibliography, especially when it’s big and complicated. It can be quite headache inducing.

Outside of your work as an editor do you read for pleasure? Absolutely!

If so do you find yourself editing the work as you go or are you able to “switch off?”  I definitely notice mistakes more often now than I did before I started working as an editor. Mostly what I notice is decisions that other editors have made; I might think, “Oh, that’s interesting, I probably would have taken out that comma,” and that kind of thing. It’s interesting because when you work as an editor you become better able to “see” the editorial work that someone else has done.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as an editor? I think taking some kind of editorial course is really invaluable. Copy editing, especially, involves much more than most people realize, and it’s important to be familiar with the different types of editing and what they entail. The other piece of advice I would give is to read as widely as possible in as many different genres and styles as possible, so that you can familiarize yourself with different writing conventions. Also, every written document could use an editor. Offer to edit documents for your current company or look over your friends’ cover letters, or perhaps volunteer as an editor for a non-profit. The best way to learn editing is to edit, so you should get as much practice as you can.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to self edit? Give yourself space from the material. Don’t edit the day after you’ve finished writing. Take some time off and return with a fresh perspective. Try not to edit as you write — better to get your words out on paper first and refine them later. Even if you don’t want to get your manuscript professionally edited, it might still be worthwhile to pay to have one or two chapters looked at by a professional. At the very least, you’ll be able to see what a trained editor would pick up on, and that might help you as you edit the rest of the text.

What are the necessary writing guides you would recommend? I’m not a writer, so I rely mainly on the Chicago Manual of Style and the dictionary! But there is a great book called The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner that is very informative and readable. It offers a great perspective on what editors and agents are looking for and provides insight into their thought processes, which will help writers learn how to pique their interest.

Please add website/blog etc. www.marginaliaeditorial.com


2 thoughts on “Editor Interview Number Three – Jessie Hale

  1. Wow, I am impressed as hell by Jessie Hale’s process–reading a 100K word ms. three times! I would SO love to read through the first time before editing, but I’ve never been paid enough to take that much time. I hope Jessie is—she sounds like a fantastic editor!


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