Open Thread: Research Question

Alright, you wonderful people, I need help with something.

I'm writing a secondary character right now set in our Real World, and I want them to have a "go to the office every day" job that revolves around editing other people's writing in exchange for money. I'd also like at least some of the editing to be basic typo-checking stuff that the character could charitably outsource to a working-from-home pregnant teen -- either above or below the table, but I'd prefer above.

Having had zero experience as a professional editor, I'm not sure what kind of job -- if any -- exists to fill this literary gap. Suggestions/help welcome.


Will Wildman said...

Our office has an official proofreader who checks basically every document we send out, catching things as big as 'these tables of numbers disagree about how much money was spent on this thing' and as small as 'you capitalised Board of Directors the first three times and the fifth time, but not the fourth; which should it be?' Since we often have more stuff going out than can be handled by one person, other admin staff or even research staff who aren't too busy may be called to look things over as well, including one part-time person who solely focuses on additional editing. Assuming the primary editor took full responsibility that everything would still be top quality, I think many offices would allow said primary editor to send some material to a stay-at-home part-timer, entirely officially and suchlike.

The only difficulty would be that, when the greatest workloads are coming in to be edited, that's also often when the shortest deadlines are on, so stay-at-home co-editor would still need to be able to respond very quickly to tasks and get them turned around in a matter of hours. That could be tricky for a new parent.

Short answer is that the job you are describing absolutely exists, and would probably just be called 'Editor' or 'Proofreader'.

Dav said...

There are quite a few companies that provide editing services (and often write-your-paper services) to students. Many of them contract out electronically, but I know some of them have brick-and-mortar offices. They often work on a pretty tight turn-around (hours or days), so I'm not sure how much official approval of outsourcing there would be, but I don't think it would be disapproved of necessarily, especially if secondary character is a manager and not an entry peon.

I'm sure there are more legit places where other sorts of proofing/editing happens, in addition to book publishers, but I don't know of any offhand.

Lonespark said...

Can you have the character run run their own business? Cuz then they could hire pretty much anybody as a contractor.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

Depending on how extensive "edit other people's writing" is, perhaps the office worker is a technical writer for a software company - someone who rewrites engineering-speak for non-technical end users. The rewriting is usually extensive enough that they might very well want to have someone else proofread their output.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you, all! I'm glad to hear such things do exist -- I may just stick to a vague "editor" title, but this gives me a lot to go on. And I like the idea of the technical editing work being edited for the editor by another editor checking for proof-reading. Thank you!

leely said...

One of my cousins is an assistant editor for Simon & Schuster. He does more read-the-slush-pile-and-report-back-to-his-superiors than actual "editing," but he did offer to outsource some basic proofreading/grammar correction to me when he was visiting for Christmas.

So yeah, totally done. :)

Jessica Lynn said...

We play games online for gift cards! I have my boys play on my account too to earn them quicker! spyware and kid friendly and FREE! We just got a $10 Amazon card!

Antigone10 said...

Fact checking.

cjmr said...

I have no real experience with editing other than proofing other people's papers for them in college and being the person in the store the managers brought memos to for editing when I worked retail. (True story, the sign on the door when I went to apply for a cashier job said "Applications now being excepted".)

However, I've read something like eight books since I got my Kindle for Christmas and something that seems to be in dire need right now is someone to go through and do the 'spell check won't catch these because they are words' typos in the e-book editions of things.

And then there was the author who used 'leverage' in an interesting way. "[protagonist name] leveraged himself up from the beach and set off back to town."

Lonespark said...

Agreed, cjmr.

Kit Whitfield said...

Depends what you want edited, and it's probably worth picking something specific because it'll play into your story. I've worked in an office as an editor; it involved dealing with authors, sorting out cover designs, writing jacket blurbs and sales copy, copy editing, proofing, dealing with typesetters and picking quotes from reviews, in various combinations. Also photocopying. There's always photocopying.

If you're outsourcing, there are a number of jobs you could do, and if the teen was old enough to be qualified and good at the job it's perfectly feasible. The main options are: readers' reports, where the freelance reads books submitted, writes a brief description of what the book's about and whether it's worth considering publishing; copy editing, in which you go through spotting factual mistakes, stylistic glitches, inconsistencies and general writing stuff - basically all the major fixes before it goes to the typesetter; and proof reading, where you're reading the proofs that have been typeset and you're just looking for small misprints and typos.

Of the three, proofing is probably the likeliest job for someone who doesn't have a degree, unless she has some serious contacts. She'd just need a very sharp eye, considerable patience, and knowledge of the standard proofing notation, which you can teach yourself out of a book.

Or, short version: there's a perfectly allowable version of this; it's just called 'hiring a freelance'. Proofing is often outsourced.

One point: pregnancies obviously vary from person to person, but a very common effect is that it plays merry hell with your short-term memory. I did a bit of temping when I was pregnant, and sitting at the reception desk, required to get two pieces of information - who they wanted to talk to and what their name was - I almost always had to ask one of the questions twice, and usually both. And then just take a guess because I still wasn't sure I had it right. It's common enough that midwives have a term for it; they call it 'baby brain'.

As an editor, I would therefore be a little careful about outsourcing anything too major to someone pregnant. Charity is fine, but if you're going to have to redo the job yourself, that's another issue. Proofing for typos sounds realistic because it can be done without engaging the memory, but copy editing is a tremendous feat of memory: the whole job depends on the ability spot the author contradicting on page 250 something they stated on page 27.

So I'd say make her an editor of something specific, and have her hire the girl as a freelance proof reader.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you, Kit!

That sounds right -- I was thinking proofreading would fit her skills well, since she's an A+ student, but still a student with limited experience.

And thank you also for the pregnancy memory thing -- did not know that. This is going to be challenging to write. ;)

Deird said...

As Kit says, it depends on what you're editing.

I'm an editor for lots of things; my office job is working with engineering documents, letters from the company, memos for the CEO, and so forth. Some of it is highly involved, but I'll quite often have something land on my desk that requires nothing more than basic spelling/grammar checking. Those could easily be emailed to someone else whose language abilities I trusted.

Just about every possible field of work could potentially have an editor attached. Especially if they're a company that needs to apply for contracts; getting the (LONG) applications in good shape is hugely important.

cjmr said...

I'm still stuck on 'baby-brain' level of mental abilities right now and the 'baby' is three. No doctor will take this seriously, for some reason.

emjb said...

One job I had was freelance at home editing for a company that was basically a vanity press/self publishing outfit aimed at academics--in other words, a prof at a small college would write a book to be used in their own classroom. They were not terribly picky about credentials and paid a per-page rate, if I recall (normal is per word, so you could get screwed if someone used a small font).

Deird said...

(normal is per word, so you could get screwed if someone used a small font

Really? I've seen much more per page.

Personally, I use an hourly rate - quoted in advance.

chris the cynic said...

I know someone who works for a hedge fund (and is on her way to graduate school in classics) who gets stuck with writing everything that the hedge fund ever writes because no one else ever learned to write. This is actually such a big problem that on the opposite coast someone one of my teachers knows has started a lucrative business teaching people in business how to write. Apparently people keep on graduating with useless business majors when they would have been better off studying the humanities and as a result they suck at writing. (Apparently they needed more literary analysis in their education or something.)

So based on the situation in those two places it seems completely believable to me that someone might have a job of, "I've got this proposal/report/thingy/whatever and I want you to make it well written," and if there were ones that just needed to be proofread rather than rewritten I don't see why it couldn't be passed off to someone else who was qualified for that if not for the rewriting.

Mind you I've gotten distracted so much that much better things could have been said many times by now.

I don't know what the business was billing itself as, the point was to get various people in business to be able to write well on their own without someone doing the job. The woman at the hedge fund was stuck doing rewriting in addition to her regular duties. No idea what they'll do when she goes off to be a full time classicist. Maybe they'll have to hire someone to write because as I understand it every single thing they write for external consumption has to go through her as she's the only one who is good at it.

hapax said...

Well, "baby brain" happens a LOT, but it doesn't happen to everyone. I had practically every pregnancy-related side affect known to mankind (including some my OBGYNs had to look up), but nothing wonky with my memory.

That I remember.

Nina said...

I'm having baby brain right now, but for me it only seems to strike when I'm talking. So I'm blanking on words (especially names) a lot in conversation, but I don't have any trouble remembering that the author already established that character X knew about event Y at the beginning of the book, but now character X is acting like she has no idea what happened. For example.

Layla Heimlich said...

I worked as a editor for a pharmaceutical company for several years. I edited educational materials for health care professionals and for consumers, which included basic grammar issues, but also fact checking, of biology, medicine, legal and regulatory issues, etc. I agree with Kit that it would probably help to decide what the specific job is, since the actual content of what she's editing will play a part in the story. Doing the "editing" often requires a certain amount of background knowledge and experience in that particular field. Doing the proofreading generally doesn't - just a fanatic attention to detail. We outsourced some of our proofreading. I could send the job to whomever I liked, with the caveat, as others have pointed out, that I knew I was completely responsible for the end product. What did I push the hardest to outsource? The proofreading of the package inserts, where all one had to do was make sure that the latest printing of the 10 page, 8 point font document matched the last printing *exactly*. It didn't take much knowledge of the world, but, boy, I could have used some eighteen-year-old eyes for those jobs.

Also, I'm pretty sure that a per hour rate is standard among people who are full-time professional proofreaders and copyeditors, with someone who is inexperienced charging a lower rate at least partly because zie will be slower.

Lonespark said...

Well, "baby brain" happens a LOT, but it doesn't happen to everyone. I had practically every pregnancy-related side affect known to mankind (including some my OBGYNs had to look up), but nothing wonky with my memory.

That I remember.


I was not aware of any memory effects like that, either. It is, however, possible that I just didn't notice a difference because I had been struggling with severe anxiety and periodic depression (and OCD-like issues) for a few years before my pregnancy... but I was able to work up to labor in the first case and the induction date in the second in jobs that involved (technical) writing, making phone calls, driving/navigating, data entry, etc. On salary, though. The tiny bit of freelancing I've done does require really tight time management.

Timothy (TRiG) said...

Some of the types of editing mentioned here would include commercially sensitive information. That's perhaps something you should take into account.

I proofread everything that comes out of my workplace. There are only five of us in there, and I'm the only one who's comfortable with a semicolon.


leely said...

I didn't have wonky-memory issues while I was pregnant. The effect was after - I apparently had a lot of trouble forming long-term memories of things that my mind didn't consider important. Often my husband and friends will mention something like an event or a movie that I have absolutely no recollection of because it happened while I was pregnant.

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