Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Worst of Being an Editor

This post was first published here on January 5, 2009.


Surrounded by all the best of/worst of lists monopolizing magazines and news programs, I couldn’t resist compiling a short list of the best and worst things about being an editor. To start, here are the five “worst” things about being editor, with input from fellow Blood-Red Pencil members, including Dani Greer.
  1. Family members won't send email because they are afraid all you’ll see is their grammar mistakes
  2. Reading the same novel for the third time in the same week
  3. It’s hard to decide what you want to eat when you’re distracted by misspelled words on the menu
  4. The urge to pick up a red pencil when you spot a typo in the book you’re reading for pleasure
  5. When clients consider corrections in grammar as “optional” or as “your opinion”
What about you? Share your “worst” in the comments.


A born storyteller with a gift for engaging audiences, Jesaka Long has helped authors (and companies) craft their stories for more than 12 years. A full-time freelancer and owner of a.k.a writer in Denver, she works her word magic for small publishing houses and authors, especially non-fiction writers and memoirists. For more information about her background and writing, editing and proofreading services, visit

Bookmark and Share


  1. Absolutely all of the above. It's like a little demon inside, this need to be right. Those little errors, tiny semi-colons, wrong apostrophes, drive us crazy.

    I haven't been a paid editor for over 20 years, but it never goes away.

    In my own writing, now that I'm revising a 450 page novel, the critters are still turning up, no matter how many times I've tweaked it. So much for flow in writing.

  2. Sort of an extension of your list, I find it hard to read for pleasure. First off, you have to find time. When I'm editing a manuscript, I read it at least three times. That sort of cuts into the available pleasure reading time. And second, as you said, it's difficult to turn off the editor when you do get to read for pleasure. You pick up on, not just grammar errors, but plot glitches and things where an editor should have said, wait a minute here, let's work on this.

    But on the plus side, there's nothing more joyful than seeing a client's book get published!

  3. I'm convinced that we need roving editors correcting the spelling and punctuation of everything. Everything. Tip cups labelled "tip's" drive me eight kinds of nuts.

  4. Great comments, especially for a Monday morning!

    @Fran: I love your description of this need to be right as a little demon.

    @Helen: I couldn't agree more with it being hard to read for pleasure. A new editor I was mentoring cursed me for ruining her ability to read for fun ... but she said it with a smile.

    @Heidi: AGREED!

  5. #5, especially



  6. Oh, this is very funny! Yes, all the folks who don't want to share ANY of their writing because they're afraid of THE EDITOR.

  7. Although I agree with most of #5, obviously, I think there are some cases where two educated people can have a disagreement--particularly where commas, semi-colons, and dashes are concerned. My favorite anecdote in regards to this was when I read how Julian Barnes--Julian Barnes!--used to wait with dismay while New Yorker "grammar minions" marked up his Letter from London columns. He said something like, "I would soon know how many infinitives I'd split. Where I'd used 'that' where I should have used 'which.' Where I'd used 'which' where I should have used 'that.' Look here, my philosophy on it has always been that if there's a 'which' doing business nearby, use 'that.' The grammar minions didn't see it as such..."


  8. The more you learn about how to write books properly the more you notice it when authors don't. It does take away from some of the enjoyment.

    Morgan Mandel

  9. Great list!
    My kids, especially, hide my red pencil and red pens. When I changed them to purple, it worked for a while since that was a different color than the red from their teachers. Now my college age daughter *delights* in correcting my grammar, especially when I'm lazy in speaking at home to her.

    I do need to stop myself from offering corrections on anyone's written work who is not soliciting help, like blogs. Oh, the errors in the newspaper, magazines, or books "grind my grits."

    In personal emails, I'm kind. I make typos. It's the professional email that I am sure to edit (and still some slip by), but recently I'm about to go nuts that a professional correspondent repeatedly makes the same error which is neither spelling nor grammar; it's simply the wrong word; it's a word similar to a common word he means to use. I look at it and want to fix it!-

  10. I freelance edit and proof for a couple of companies and I too agree with that list. It got so automatic to look for mistakes that I once found one on a poster in the hospital emergency room I was in with my husband! He laughed at me over that one for a long time. One good thing, my kids (who write fanfics) come to me for revisions and edits before they publish.

    I have done or do do all of those things. I've had to teach myself not to when I'm reading for pleasure.


  11. Yeah, I used to carry various Sharpies with me for sign corrections (not that I ever did correct anything). Grocery store signs proclaiming "Apple's $1/lb." still drive me absolutely crazy.

    Over the past few weeks, the CBC's been airing a commercial that uses "much" instead of the proper "many" (and possibly "less" instead of "fewer"). I don't know what the product being advertised is because I'm so distracted by the grammar.

  12. Hi All,

    Great list and comments. I can definitely relate and add one of my "worsts."

    A friend and I started a menu, sign, website editing business here in Puerto Rico. She pestered me for some time about doing it, but it wasn't until she shoved a promotional flier for a new cafe under my nose, that I agreed. It started off with "MEET BALLS" and ended with "CRAP CAKES." And there was a whole slew of goodies in between.

    So, we came up with a great name, catchy slogan, perfect logo, and a gazillion promotional fliers of our own. We then went to one town's tourism website (businesses have to pay to be listed there) and copied/corrected/printed off all of the blurbs they had for the restaurants and hotels in the area. We then made the rounds to those businesses, giving them the corrected copy in the hopes that they would hire us to correct their own websites. We also visited and promoted to many businesses in other towns in western PR. And we followed up by email, phone, or in person.

    Okay, all this to add to the list of worsts that it is quite demoralizing to talk to business owners and managers who heartily agree that their menu/signage/etc. is in need, at times sore need, of an English overhaul, but then none of them follow through with having it done.

    Crap cake, anyone? :-)


  13. That's hilarious, Alison. And what a great way to promote your editing services. I'm sure you got a lot of work by showing potential clients what you could do for them.

  14. Well, actually, Elle, we didn't get any clients that way. Crazy, right? We thought it was a great plan. Even crazier is that most of those businesses didn't make the effort to pass the corrected version of their blurb to the appropriate website person. We finally figured out that if we couldn't assure these business owners that correcting their English would raise their bottom line, it wouldn't be that important to them. And that was an assurance we couldn't reasonable give, especially when we've had "gringos" here telling us that they like laughing at the mistakes on the menus. sigh.

    On the positive side of that went-nowhere-fast venture, we had a good time, and it resulted in a few word related jobs for me--translating deeds and other documents from Spanish to English for local lawyers. And I've got enough brightly colored 1/4 page backs of fliers to use as scrap paper until the next (just as bright) idea comes along.

  15. That certainly is crazy, Alison. Especially not taking advantage of a freebie! Oh, well, maybe humour is more important than correct grammar...


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.