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Editors Make Mistakes Too, and it is Okay

Editors Make Mistakes Too, and it is Okay

It is a lot of work to write a book, and authors and editor’s everywhere can never, no matter how hard they try, be perfect. It is a fool’s errand to consider perfection the goal. What ultimately matters is that the story shines through in 

So, You Want to be an Editor?

So, You Want to be an Editor?

People ask a lot of interesting questions of me. As an author and editor, it comes with the job. My favourite questions come from eager individuals genuinely impassioned by reading, writing, and editing. I’ve been asked, “how do you become an editor?”; often, this question comes from youth and adults looking to pursue an editing career. My short answer: it really depends. Here are some of the key things you are going to need if you want to be an editor.

Have a Passion for Words

If you can’t stand reading, writing, grammar, punctuation, spelling … don’t become an editor. Understanding meaning and etymology, syntax and grammar, communication theories (why and how we communicate), and unravelling the mystery and magic of words is an editor’s life. An editor knows a lot about words. If you don’t care about the oxford comma, this maybe isn’t the right job for you.

Value Precision

An editor’s life is words, their livelihood is precision. Editors are like policy makers; they decide what rules apply to their clients and guide their clients to a consistent, reliable, professional product. Editors rely on systems, ethics, principles, industry best practices, rules, and conventions, as well as experience. From these an editor makes deliberate decisions tailored to the industry, manuscript, paragraph, or even word they edit.

Editors rely on (and create) tools such as style guides, dictionaries, and media to polish content and assist creators and publishers reach readers. As an example, a fiction editor in the United States or Canada usually uses The Chicago Manual of Style to determine grammar and format. Someone writing in Europe may use the Oxford English Dictionary to determine spelling and meaning. A doctorate student in computer science would likely use the IEEE Computer Society Style Guide to format their thesis and cite their references.

A skilled editor navigates the world of rules, conventions, and guides, and is able to research, decide, and communicate those decisions to their clients.

Stop Being a Perfectionist

I’ll let you in on a secret. It took a really long time for me to figure this out. No one gets it right 100% of the time. Striving to get work completed precisely and consistently is more cost and time effective, lends to solid results, and ensures you don’t burn out. Panicking and driving yourself into a pit of despair over a comma splice isn’t going to make you a successful editor.

Editors need to be detailed. They need to be precise. They also need to accept perfection doesn’t exist. Accepting mistakes and issuing corrections when necessary is a huge part of an editor’s job. Newspaper editors issue corrections (and even apologies) when a story is found to be erroneous. New editions of books are published with errors and facts corrected.

Decide What Type

There are many types of editors. While it’s always a good idea to expand your knowledge and experience, you’ll need to be self-aware. Are you better at coaching and content development, or fact checking? Can you trump US English spelling bees, but don’t understand why it’s spelled honour in Canada? Do you love academics, but hate fiction? Do you prefer to read genre fiction, or, balk at the idea of vampires?

Answering these types of questions can help you determine what type of editor you’re going to become. Once you know that, you’ll be able to focus your education, understand your clients and audiences, and know which style guides and dictionaries you’re going to be sleeping beside for the rest of your life. (Yes, your style guide(s) and dictionary will become more important to you than your cat, well almost.)

Editor associations often have definitions of types of editors and what they do.

Get the Right Education

There are university certificates and degrees that focus on journalism, language history, business editing, publishing, non-fiction writing, fiction writing… the list is endless. If your passion is ecology and editing, you may want a university degree or even doctorate in ecology, and a certificate in publishing. Or, you may want to be a business editor and need to take a certificate or degree in business communications. Do you want to freelance or work for a big publishing firm? They both require different levels of experience and education.

Associations like Editors Canada also offer certification courses, which may be all you want to take for now. Deciding what type of content you love editing and knowing your strengths will help you pick the right education. Research what qualification companies and clients you want to work for expect you to have.

There are also webinars, books, videos, and community classes. Never stop learning no matter what type of editor you are. It comes down to: if you aren’t willing to do a little research and invest in learning, you won’t be effective in your career.

Decide You Are a Professional

You are a professional editor. Act like one. Present yourself well, research and follow the industry and audience you serve, and get organized. Act like an entrepreneur if you’re freelancing. Choose the right education, understand billing and invoicing (and taxes), keep records of clients and their projects. Consult with lawyers. Understand contracts, copyrights and trademarks, political climates, and laws which affect content you edit. Protect yourself with the right insurance, contracts, and agreements.

Join editing and writing associations, take continuing education seriously, and network. Understand the ethics and what it means to be an editor who interacts with clients. Associations for editors and writers often outline expected ethics, and have disciplinary boards for members who violate these ethics. If you’re robbing your clients by only running their work through a spell-checker, you’re not going to have a good professional reputation.


Getting experience is difficult. Employers are searching for unicorns with decades of experience and multiple degrees of education. While that’s fine for someone who has been working in one industry for the last fifteen or twenty years, it’s not so fine if you’re trying to gain meaningful employment without those things. Thankfully, you can start getting editing experience right now.

Offer to edit for organizations you volunteer for, or join clubs or associations where you can act as a junior editor on a volunteer basis. Start beta/alpha reading to help authors in the industry you hope to edit in. Keep track of who you edit for and ask them to be references. Keep samples of your work (with the author’s permission), and build a portfolio. Everywhere you are there is an opportunity to develop your skills. Keep your eyes and ears open and don’t be afraid to pitch an idea to your manager or point out a key error (professionally) in a friend’s blog.


Suggested Reading

The New Oxford Style Manual by The University of Oxford

The Canadian Press Stylebook by The Canadian Press

The Copy Editor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn

The Chicago Manual of Style by The University of Chicago

Editing Canadian English by Editors Association of Canada

Gendered Talk at Work by Janet Holmes

Language and Gender by Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnel-Ginet

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus

Before You Get Published

Before You Get Published

Write Your Manuscript to the End Without a manuscript completed, it is impractical to begin the publishing journey. But, you’re eager to get the book to readers. That’s understandable. Creativity spirals out from you, encouraging you to craft your art and reach across the noise 

Active vs. Passive Voice and When to Use Them in Your Manuscript

Active vs. Passive Voice and When to Use Them in Your Manuscript

Using the passive voice in your novel is not the end of the world. It isn’t grammatically incorrect, and, it is quite common. There are times when a passive voice is necessary, or, as a writer’s convention or style choice. However, your manuscript’s magic may 

Thirteen Rules of an Editor

Thirteen Rules of an Editor

Misconceptions of #writerslife

Misconceptions of #writerslife

People have funny ideas about what it means to be a writer. Here are some common ones I’ve heard from fellow authors, publishers, editors, and professionals in the field. 1) You must be rich if you published a book The chance to make money and 

The Many Faces of Editing

The Many Faces of Editing

Authors seeking an editor can find themselves in a world of possibilities to bring magic to their manuscripts. The difficulty lies in knowing what type of editing is needed when and for what manuscript. It’s important to clarify the type of editing you require and 

Alpha – Beta You’re Confused about Readers

Alpha – Beta You’re Confused about Readers

Okay, maybe you aren’t all that confused about Alpha and Beta Readers. Maybe you’ve got an awesome team behind you. Great! But a quick internet survey clearly indicates there is confusion abundant for new and veteran authors and those readers who might be interested in such a role.

What is an Alpha or a Beta Reader?

Well, the short of it is:

  • Alpha Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript after an initial draft. The manuscript often has not been edited. It’s not uncommon for an Alpha to read before the author edits the first draft.

  • Beta Readers assist writers by offering a reader’s perspective for a manuscript which has been edited and is shortly due for publication.


What do they do?

They read. The main goal is to provide feedback to the author to help them gauge audience reception, improve and catch last-minute plot/story holes, and catch embarrassing errors that can easily occur after review after review and hour after hour an author and their professional editor put into a work.


How are they different?

Alphas look at a book for general issues in the story, they don’t concentrate on grammar or punctuation or syntax. They do focus on abhorrent characterization, missing dialogue, missing description and general appeal of the work.

Betas look at a book for appeal to an audience, they catch plot holes, grammar, punctuation, spelling issues, characterization issues, and focus on reader experience including why they loved sections or were thrown out of the book by something.


What’s so great about them?

For the Readers

Alpha/Beta Reading offers the reader sneak peaks into upcoming books, or gives them an opportunity to get goodies from the writers they love before anyone else does (alphas usually get the work even before the editor). It’s a pretty awesome gig for the bibliophile.

For the Authors

Alpha and Beta Readers offer invaluable perspectives from different walks of life.  Some authors seek out Alpha and Beta Readers for their experience, cultural awareness, profession, and genre likes to ensure their work is on the mark with facts, industry, and reader perspectives. They’re a first or last line of defense against the never-ending edit stream, helping to stop major problems and minor annoyances.


What isn’t so great about them?

For the Readers

Good Alpha and Beta Readers can also end up spending time on a manuscript they despise or by an author who is ‘precious’ about their work – as my communications consultant has described. Authors who are precious about their work, who struggle with criticism can be a big turn-off for great readers. As with all art, which is a very personal creative endeavor, it makes sense for authors to hold their works close to their hearts. As a professional artist who seeks to make a living off of their talent, it doesn’t make sense to let that care and investment create a barrier to growth and connection with fans. The impact on reputation is strong. Adam Dreece offers a great example for how to handle criticism point blank from a fan (and Alpha and Beta Readers are fans).


For the Authors

Good Alpha and Beta Readers are hard to find. Authors need constructive criticism, keen eyes, and willing hearts. The reader who just reads works to offer an ‘it’s good’ or ‘it was okay’ is a hindrance on a team of professionals. This is why I advocate that Alpha and Beta Readers be compensated for their time. Good ones are working for the author. They deserve to be paid or somehow appreciated for the time and energy they’re going to put into a work.

There is a great deal of contention in the community about this. Some readers and authors believe whole-heartedly they should not charge or pay for these services. Others won’t waste the time on readers who aren’t professionals. Why? Professional Beta Readers tend to offer higher quality works, are often other authors and editors and reviewers with industry experience, and can deliver constructive criticism. But not always. There can be a great number of fee charging individuals who also just don’t cut it.


How Do I Become an Alpha or Beta Reader?

It’s all about networking, and how you present yourself.  But first, you have to decide if you’re going to do it for free, or professionally. If professionally, you may have to set up an actual business. Check with your local municipal, provincial/state, and federal offices regarding a home-based business.

You’ll need to decide if you’re Alpha or Beta Reading or both.

Next, decide how much time you’re willing to dedicate. Make sure you’re willing to offer constructive feedback by deadlines. A little research can go a long way – find question sheets or checklists online to help identify key issues to look for.

Know any authors? Ask them if they need one.

Another great resource is There are many groups set up just for readers and authors to connect. Find an author’s post seeking a reader, or put a post in the right group/topic indicating your favorite genres, themes, topics and authors and that you’re available to Alpha or Beta Read.

There are some online groups and community groups set up as well. Check your local library, writing association and guilds to see if they have any connections you can tap into.

Not a professional? Don’t worry. Audience readers who enjoy the genres they read in still have a lot to offer. If there are sections you hate or love, the authors need to know that.


How Do I Get an Alpha or Beta Reader on My Team?

Ask supportive friends and family who can offer truthful, constructive feedback. Or check out (which you should be on already if you’re a published author). There are many groups set up just for readers and authors to connect.

A google search or inquiry to your author community might yield professional reader groups or editors willing to Alpha or Beta read for a nominal fee. An editor Alpha/Beta reader is good, they’ll catch a lot of things audience readers won’t. Have both on your team, audience and professionals, but make sure you offer compensation to both. You’ll create a team of loyal supporters who can help bring magic to your manuscripts for years to come. Not to mention, you have a small group to tap into for reviews. I recommend you have no less than 5 and no more than 15 for a manuscript. Integrating comments can be a real challenge from more than 15. If you have more than 15, split the group. Have two phases of read through with two different Alpha/Beta teams. Alternatively, ask some to offer reviews online shortly after/before the book is published and some to Alpha or Beta Read. While reading the reviews, you should take notes on areas for improvement and success.


Want to know more or want Catherine on your team (she’s an editor/Alpha/Beta Reader too!)? Contact her.


An Editor’s Contention

An Editor’s Contention

Writer’s Digest(WD) is a great resource for authors, editors, and writers at any stage in their journey. I see WD advice and articles Tweeted, posted on social media, and referred to across writing and editing blogs. It’s one of my favorite go-to places when I