One of the best tricks a writer can learn is how to make the research they have done for one specific book or article work for a completely different publication. An even better trick is to figure out a way to make that research work for several different pieces.
One of the keys to working this out is understanding the audience for the text you’re writing so you can identify the best way to present your words. The slant, style and content of a piece may suit one publication but be completely inappropriate for another, leaving you with perhaps pages of research and hours of interview recording left unused.
If you can identify a fresh angle or approach to this same information, your otherwise wasted notes can easily become the makings of a completely different piece that you can send elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, editors need pretty much the same skill set.
The editor needs to be just as aware of audience (though perhaps this seems obvious, given that I’ve said before the editor is there to ensure a written piece works for the reader and the publisher as well as conveying the author’s message).
But this goes further.
Freelance editors for example, like many freelance writers, often work for multiple publications and need to be aware of the different requirements of each editor*, each publication (or publishing house)** and, of course, the audience. They need to take care that the approach of the text they are working on suits the reader and the publication not just when it arrives fresh from the writer, but also once it has been edited.
Subediting magazines or newspapers, often the editor will be required not only to edit, but to cut – sometimes substantially – a piece of writing to fit a layout. This might mean cutting a 1500-word piece down to 500 words, all while keeping the soul and voice of the piece intact. While this involves some rewriting on the editor’s part (hopefully without it being noticeable) the editor must always keep in mind the audience for whom the piece is intended.
One thousand words is a lot to cut from any piece and so the editor must get into much the same mindset to subedit as the writer did in order to write it in the first place.
They need to consider the angle and approach of the piece.
It becomes a precision procedure. That travel story, told from a personal perspective, may contain all sorts of amusing details. So what do you cut and what do you keep? You can change the slant of the whole story, without any rewrites, just by cutting those thousand words.
If, for example, you’re subediting for a travel magazine, you need to keep in mind that the reader might want to recreate the author’s journey and would be more interested in the facts and figures of the trip than the amusing asides.
But the same story in the lifestyle section of a newspaper might be intended as light Sunday brunch reading, for which the entertaining, relatable stories about other hotel guests and getting lost in a foreign city are more suited.
In effect, the subeditor repeats the story distilling process that the writer did at the start.
For each piece, a subeditor needs to determine the most salient details to keep; those most relevant to that particular publication and its readers, discarding spare text that doesn’t fit either stylistically or thematically. At the same time, the editor needs to weave the remainder together, hiding any gaps and reworking the text so it appears this is how it was written in the first place.
This is the invisible craft at work once more.
What are the most pieces you have ever got from a single piece of research? Have you ever been mis-edited (rather like being misquoted)?
*Different editors have different, personal style preferences. (Usually comma-related.) It’s worth finding out what these are before you start marking up pages. While every editor knows that even venturing the word “comma” in an editorial department is a bit like yelling “fire”, I once worked for two different magazines in the same publishing house at the same time. The two editors had completely opposing views on comma usage. Fun times.
** Beyond content, you, as editor, need to know what the “house rules” are for that publication or publishing house. Em-dash or en-dash? And would that be with or without spaces? What’s the general feeling on ellipses? Which dictionary do they use? Which style guide? Do they have a house
style guide? ***
*** Don’t be fooled by these last trick questions. Of course you also need to know if the editorial department actually uses and adheres to these guides. Including the house style. Rather than, say, some alternative style a particularly scary chief editor once implemented that everyone has since soaked up by osmosis or passed on with secret, trembling handshakes…