Editor Interview Number Six – Bret James Stewart

Hi, welcome to the Library of Erana and thank you for talking to us today. Thank you for having me.  I am honoured to talk with you.

Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your editing experience. My name is Bret James Stewart, and I have been editing for around 10 years.  I work on a freelance basis, primarily on the Elance platform.  I have edited a number of books in a variety of genres.  My favourites are fantasy and poetry, but I edit pretty much everything except very technical writing and erotica.  I also edit non-fiction, largely academic and scholarly work.  I have also done a lot of work on role-playing games, which are rather like a mix of fiction and non-fiction:  fiction as they are invented; non-fiction in that they have rules and other information that provide parameters and need to be accurate in much the same way a non-fiction needs to be factually accurate.

How did you get into this line of work? I originally entered this line of work dealing with my own writings, which I had to self-edit before sending them out to other editors prior to sending them to potential publishers.  I have a degree in English and the skills necessary for this sort of work, so, when I decided to work from home, I opted to stick with what I knew.  I have always loved books, been an avid reader, and adored anything related to books in any way.  I have also taught college-level English and Composition and related courses.  I have graded hundreds of college papers, which is a type of editing.

Are there genres you refuse, if so why is that? I avoid erotica and books with excessive language and violence, though I acknowledge the latter is not a genre.  I am a Christian minister, so I don’t like to have my name attached to these types of books. I also avoid technical books I am not qualified to edit factually such as legal advice or, say, computer manuals.  I will still work on this type of book if it does not require this level of expertise and only needs regular editing work such as grammar and punctuation.  I am pretty open.

Are you also a writer?  If so do you self-edit or do you use the services of another editor? Indeed, I am.  I write in a wide variety of genres and both fiction and non-fiction.  I self-edit as I write, and I carefully self-edit after I have completed the work.  Still, self-editing is not adequate for substantial works by anyone as the author’s eye skips over errors and makes conceptual, non-extant connexions a new reader will catch.  Therefore, I always use the services of an editor for medium-sized and longer works and shorter works that are important such as book synopses.  I will usually not bother to use another editor for very short works.  In any case, it is important to let a work sit for a few days before editing so the text can be viewed by fresher eyes.

What are your opinions of self-edited work by authors? I am assuming this question is asking if I think authors should self-edit.  Absolutely.  The practice benefits the author and the book.  The cleaner the manuscript, the easier the other editor’s job.  Also, if a manuscript has relatively few lower order concerns, the other editor can better focus on the higher order concerns, which are, as the name implies, more important in the sense they require more work and talent.  Pretty much anyone can learn how to edit for grammar and spelling.  It takes a certain degree of talent and intuition for higher order stuff such as characterization and tone.

Please could you tell us about the process involved with editing for, say, a 100k word manuscript. The processes differ, especially between fiction and non-fiction as the latter can include additional elements such as fact-checking and verifying citations.  Also, depending on the individual work, layout is important, so a lot of time is spent formatting.  This aside, the process is much the same.  My default process is to read through the book twice.  In the first run, I handle the lower order concerns and take notes regarding what I feel may be major issues for higher order concerns.  While editing for the lower order concerns, I get a feel for the higher order issues such as the plot and characterization.  Once I have gone through the novel once, I like to take a week or so away from it so I can approach it with “fresh eyes.”  The second run-through, I fix any lower order things I missed the first time, and comment and/or change things (depending upon the parameters of the job—I sometimes ghost write) regarding plot, theme, consistency, and the other higher order concerns.  If I have time, I will let the book sit for another week, give it a final proofread, and return it to the author.  If he has any questions, I answer those.

What is the difference between proof-reading and editing? I have found that many people use these terms interchangeably.  However, traditionally and how I view it, editing deals with lower order concerns such as grammar, syntax, and punctuation.  Proofreading is focused upon higher order concerns such as voice, style, and segues.  Any glaring lower order concerns, though, should be caught in the proofreading.  Many people view proofreading as the final read-through of a book before it is published or submitted for publication.

Do you have part of the process you really enjoy? Is there a part you don’t? I love to read books before anyone else.  Being a part of the process in bringing a book to publication is satisfying and enjoyable work.  There really isn’t any part of the work I do not inherently like.  Depending on the manuscript, it sometimes is rough slogging through a poorly-written work or one containing the same errors over and over.

Outside of your work as an editor do you read for pleasure? Sure.  I read a wide variety of books.  I read a poem a day.  I also read for school (I am currently earning my Masters of Divinity, so I read a lot of religious books).  I read the Bible and The Lord of the Rings every year.  I research for my non-fiction work, which requires a lot of reading.  I read role-playing game material.  I like all types of reading, so I can read throwaway fiction to academic articles to classics.  I am currently reading The French Broad by Wilma Dykeman, The New Perspective on Paul by James Dunn, and The Riverside Shakespeare in addition to a smattering of role-playing works I dip into on occasion.

If so do you find yourself editing the work as you go or are you able to “switch off?” I am trained to catch errors, so I do sometimes “edit” in my mind, meaning I notice errors.  This is especially true with non-fiction.  For example, I would put a comma after “If so” in the question J.  As I am reading for pleasure, though, I generally acknowledge it and move on unless the error prevents clear understanding of what I am reading.

What advice would you give to someone starting out as an editor? I would urge him to specialize in something, hopefully something he is particularly good at.  It is easier to claim part of a niche market rather than trying to do everything.  Of course, I recommend taking pretty much everything that comes along, especially while establishing himself, but marketing should be somewhat narrow.  Edit everything he can.  The more experience and the more varied experience he has will aid him in landing jobs.  Consider using some sort of freelance platform if freelance is the way he wants to go.  If he is seeking an in-house editing position, of course, he should look for those jobs and apply for internships, apprenticeships, and/or junior positions.  Sometimes, freelancing will work toward this end, too, as freelance positions can sometimes lead to in-house positions.  Treat editing as a business.  He should expect to take some low paying jobs at first in order to “prove” himself.  Market like crazy.  If he intends to edit as a career, he should consider earning editing credentials and/or joining professional editing organizations.  These will boost his reputation and indicate a certain skill level.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to self edit? I recommend that everyone self-edit as it will make him a better writer.  As I mentioned above, I do not recommend that an important work be solely self-edited.  I edit as I write; some people do not like this because they feel it interferes with the flow of writing.  Both ways are okay, but I would urge the author to at least try it.  Correcting errors as he goes will result in making fewer errors.  Regardless of whether or not an author self-edits as he writes, he certainly want to self-edit later, whether it is by the chapter or the full manuscript or some other marker.  Let the material sit for a day or two—I think a week is better—to allow distance from the work.  I recommend doing this twice.  If the author has self-edited as he wrote, probably a proofread is okay; if he has not, I recommend the first editing session be for lower order concerns and the second for higher order.  I would then give it a final proof before turning it over to another editor.

What are the necessary writing guides you would recommend? For this question, I am assuming you are referring to the technical aspects of writing.  My answer is none-to-various depending upon the individual’s capabilities and type of writing.  An intelligent and careful reader/author is going to generally be familiar enough with his own language to not need a manual.  Still, for those times when things are questionable—and those times do occur—The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is essential.  Other things are vital for specific work, e.g. editing role-playing game material will require the game’s guidebook(s).

Please add website/blog etc. I have a Goodreads account in my name, Bret James Stewart.  My Elance profile can be viewed at:  https://www.elance.com/s/edit/bretjamesstewart/


Thank you for allowing me to share!


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