What do independent editors do?

Subject: What do independent editors do?
From: "Geoff Hart" <Geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999 12:52:40 -0400

Anthony Markatos <<...recently reviewed the STC
independent contractor salary survey. It says that the most
typical task performed by independents is editing. Who is
going to pay big bucks ($40 - 50 dollars/hour or more) to do
administrative assistant work? (That is who typically edits my

This kind of attitude is both intensely patronizing to
administrative assistants (several of whom now participate in
techwr-l, having used their linguistic expertise to move up to
work that earns them more money and more respect) and
demonstrative of enormous ignorance of the writing process.
Not that I'm surprised, mind you, but it's not the kind of
misstatement that should be allowed to stand unchallenged in
a public forum.

<<Am I missing something: a more sophisticated service that
editors provide?>>

Editors provide one crucial thing that writers cannot provide
for themselves: distance from the manuscript. Short of letting
a manuscript sit for several weeks so you can approach it with
a fresh eye, there's no way to attain that distance. Even if you
do let something sit that long, it still speaks in terms that are
intimately familiar to you, the author (since those thoughts
were born within your own head), and usually far less
familiar to the reader. The same rule applies to editors who
also write: they need editors too. Without that distance, every
writer assumes to a greater or lesser extent that readers share
theirr personal knowledge and see the world from their own
perspective, which is rarely the case.

Good editors also provide substantial additional value-added
by being able to analyze a manuscript to identify problems
that writers rarely spot on their own (e.g., omitted or incorrect
references and cross-references, use of language appropriate
to your audience, incorrect assumptions about the audience's
knowledge level, rewording complex phrases so they're
comprehensible to someone other than the author). Editors
also point out when authors are making an ass of themselves;
ordinarily, I'd charge $50/hour for the privelege, but let's
consider this message pro bono work.

And of course we also fix grammatical problems, but that's
the easy part of the job, and probably why Tony doesn't
consider the job worth $40-50 per hour: after all, Tony's oft-
stated opinion on techwr-l is that anyone can write
grammatically, and that anyways, grammar isn't all that
important in technical communication. I think those
sentiments speak quite eloquently for themselves, and
anything I could add to them would only be gilding the lily.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"Perhaps there is something deep and profound behind all those sevens, something just calling out for us to discover it. But I
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)

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