Vanessa Plaister

Vanessa Plaister

Vanessa Plaister

Advanced Professional Member

Conversation with an editor

interviewed by Amy Armitage-Reay

Variety and adaptability to the project in hand are essential to the work of a copyeditor. We asked Advanced Professional Member Vanessa Plaister to tell us how a professional editor can be integral to the process of quality control across a range of industry sectors.

Vanessa came to editing having worked in recruitment and HR, and then in production at the Institute of Financial Services (IFS). As well as project management, the IFS role required hands-on editing and proofreading, which prepared her well for the transition to freelancing.

Her recent work demonstrates how copyediting and proofreading can be applied to any subject area and any form of material – including a 500,000-word international law project, a book on bank lending, a short book on the gig economy and an HR manual for a nuclear laundry. A client of 10 years also recently booked her three months in advance to work on a 340,000-word project. The content she works on can range from 'well written and relatively light' to more time-consuming and complicated.

Vanessa has built a wide client base through her entry in the CIEP directory. 'I was able to take an entry in the directory immediately I turned freelance,' she says, adding that it has 'proven to be worth far more than my weight in gold.'

She comments that editorial freelancing can have its challenges, and gives an example of trying to convey the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in the language used. Despite her best efforts in this case, she had to accept the client's decision: 'The client dismissed my work as an editor as unnecessary and arbitrary.' But for every difficult client, she finds there are 10 more who fully understand the value an editor adds.

What does an editor actually do?

This is a question editors are asked frequently. As Vanessa puts it, 'The perennial favourite is always that we simply check spellings or that we're the "grammar police", imposing anachronistic rules in an effort to homogenise authorial voices and/or to stifle the democratisation and evolution of language. That's certainly not my approach. My approach to editing is keenly democratic when it comes to challenging equalities issues, and always focused on audience, to the extent that accessibility and inclusivity are commonly embedded in my work as an editor.'

Vanessa believes it is important that potential clients are aware that 'editing doesn't reinvent the wheel; it's right there, in the "4Cs" of marketing communications [customer value, cost, convenience and communication]. What we do is all about clarity and consistency – and thus credibility – all of which makes a business more competitive and impacts directly on the bottom line.'

She mentions the problems, especially in the traditional publishing sector, of low budgets, high word counts and short timescales, which combine to make projects extremely challenging – and how this in turn affects the quality of editorial work: 'I can't complete in one week a line edit of at least 70 hours … And if someone else says that they can, there will be consequences for the quality of that work.' 

Appealing to an audience outside publishing

Copyediting and proofreading are not restricted to the traditional publishing industry but, as Vanessa says, the challenge is to communicate outside of that sector what editorial freelancers do, to help clients understand the expertise an editor or proofreader can bring to a project: 'Words and phrases I use with publishers are understood quite differently outside of the industry. It can be easier to speak of editing as a form of quality control or audit.'

Vanessa's advice to clients

And her parting advice to clients, whether businesses, publishers or individuals? To put their trust in the editor: 'The editor's objective eye will recognise when what you want to say isn't quite what you've written – a good editor is your ally.'

The CIEP does not give any special endorsement to the members who appear in Meet our members. If you are looking for an editorial professional, we recommend you search the Directory of Editorial Services.