Interview with Susan Ferguson Part Two
Susan Ferguson, editor and writer
You were telling us about your experiences as an editor.
I find editing deeply engaging and enlightening. While some parts of it -- the reviews of spelling, punctuation and grammar -- must certainly satisfy the English instructor in me, I also find that I love tracking and analyzing how other writers assemble their work. When I edit a manuscript, I feel like I am journeying on a path created by the writer and that I must observe and remember everything along the way in order to learn something from the journey -- and the writer. I feel like I am the first one who has ventured on the path since the writer created it, and seeing that new world is a delightful experience. If I can make recommendations that will help the writer help the reader better appreciate the new world the writer has created, I feel like I will have made a significant contribution not just to the writer's work but also to the reader's understanding of the work.
When I read your work I find I am quickly engaged in the story on a sensory and emotional level. What are some of the ways you do that?
I have always been a details person. Since I was a little kid, I have engaged my sensory skills and my memory to "record" the objective elements of a place or event. My mind is cluttered with "images" of places, people and things that I want to believe will be useful someday -- in conversation, in writing, in other creative endeavors. More importantly, however, is the way I reflect on and analyze an event after I have experienced it in order to understand how the elements of the event influenced my emotional reaction to it. Being able to tie together the sensory elements of a situation with the emotions that resulted from it is my way of reaching some sort of conclusion about and coming to terms with the experience. This combination of sensory detail and emotional connection is strongly linked in my writing.
Are there different types or levels of editing?
Most definitely. On a fundamental level, there is copyediting or line editing, which focuses on the identification and correction of spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. It may include a basic analysis of style and format for consistency. Some editors will include basic fact-checking at this level. Some writers (and editors) may refer to basic copyediting as proofreading, although proofreading generally doesn't take place until printers' "proofs" have been created and a manuscript is on the cusp of becoming a printed book.
As we move up the editorial complexity ladder, we find substantive editing, which focuses on matters of clarity, organization and consistency of style and content. Editors who provide substantive editing services are looking at content, form, style, voice and structure; at this level, fact-checking is definitely included. Modification of content and/or reorganization of sentences, paragraphs or sometimes whole sections of the manuscript may be necessary to achieve a more effective manuscript. Any questions that arise during this level of editing are usually directed back to the writer for clarification or correction, so it is important that the editor and writer have a good working relationship. There are different levels of substantive editing; again, it is important that the editor and writer have a solid working relationship in order for the editor to understand what steps she can take to improve the work independently and what steps require the involvement of the writer.
Some editors specialize in permissions editing -- contacting sources (particularly in nonfiction works) to seek authorization or permission to use specific materials. Other editors focus on index editing -- creating an effective list of contents so that the text can be used as a reference work or textbook. Some editors specialize in fact checking and research -- reviewing factual references for accuracy and attribution. Other editors specialize in a topic or field, using their professional expertise to help writers with accuracy and correctness. I am a generalist, with specialized skills in writing development, teaching and editing.
Developmental editing can be complex or simple. Many developmental editors work with writers to generate the theme and content of a manuscript when the writer has an idea but may be having trouble focusing on a specific aspect.
Other developmental editors work with writers' early drafts and recommend changes to organization and style in order to help the writer develop content. Still other developmental editors may concentrate on research and revision as a way of helping writers expand content. Developmental editing requires a good working relationship between writer and editor.
In the years I have been editing manuscripts, I have met and worked with at least two types of writers: those who believe that every word they have written is sacred and cannot be deleted without much angst and debate, and those who trust the judgment of an editor who says, "This word/phrase/sentence/paragraph/section about ___________ is not relevant to the passage/work and can be changed or deleted." I want to believe that a writer who hires an editor is doing so because he or she trusts the judgment of the editor, not because he or she wants to engage in a power struggle over the suitability of a nonsensical cliché in the middle of an otherwise well-written passage. The writer who hires an editor just to get someone to oooh and ahhh over every word might as well save his or her money; a good editor will make recommendations to improve a work.
I had some great help with my writing but your comments and suggestions sound most like I made them myself. How do you capture another writer's voice?
Maybe this is the result of all those years of being a journalist and listening to the different "voices" of interview subjects. As a journalist, I believed it was important to acknowledge the unique style of speech, word choice, sentence structure and overall organizational system of each person I interviewed so that I could convey the source's style in the articles I wrote. As an editor, I "listen" for these same elements in the writer's voice; when the style changes for whatever reason, I try to recapture the writer's original voice in the recommendations I make to the writer.
--Ferguson Editorial and Design at www.fergusoneditorialanddesign.com
--Ninth Month Publishing at www.ninthmonthpublishing.com
Inquiries about editing services can be made by dropping me an email at email@example.com or filling out the contact form at
Thanks for inviting me to Writer Who Kill, Warren,
Thanks for sharing so much information about your writing editing, Susan.