How to Measure the Value of Editors
“Those who devalue the work of editors ought to consider history,” says James Mathewson, editor of ibm.com. “Perhaps the greatest single contribution of an editor to a written work can be found in The Declaration of Independence. “Thomas Jefferson had a venerable editorial committee: John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, who wrote extensive comments in the margins. “In a crucial draft of the Declaration, Jefferson smudged out the word subjects in favor of the word citizens. Archivists have the technology to see the change for the first time, using special spectral technology to decipher the intent of manuscript authors. “Imagine if Jefferson had used the word subjects rather than citizens. For many, it would seem that the United States was merely replacing one tyranny with another, rather than crafting a system of government ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ It seems plausible that this one edit changed the course of history. Not all edits have the same effect, of course. But as an IBM study suggests, their value can be measured. “ Mathewson goes on to explain how IBM conducted a study to demonstrate the value of editing their marketing text, by taking a sample of unedited pages from across their various business units and had them edited. When they served the unedited versions to a random sample of users and the edited versions to the rest of the users, “the results were astonishing.” “The mean difference in engagement was 30 percent across the set of pages. And the standard deviation was one percent–we got a 30 percent improvement on the desired call to action for the pages across the board. “What would 30 percent better engagement do to your bottom line? I’m going to let you draw your own conclusions about how 30 percent better engagement might affect your business. But let’s put an end to all the talk about editors being unnecessary.” Read the entire article at DigitalBookWorld.com.
I Resolve to Write Much More Betterer by Skillful Rewriting in the New YearActually we make this resolve every time we polish our first drafts. Improving our writing doesn’t just mean editing to the best of our ability, though this is definitely part of it. Honing our rewriting skill is vital to sculpting the work into literary art no matter the genre.
None of us are professional editors or grammar professors, but as writers we know, or make sure we learn, the basics. Then we hire (or submit our work to) the pros to make sure it is publishable quality.
But there is so much more we can do before submitting to the professionals. We can rewrite until it sparkles like a gem. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it does require some easy-to-learn rewriting skills.
Personally, in the beginning some shaking up had to happen before I took the responsibility for writing quality upon myself. Listening to writers and editors admonish: write, write, and rewrite. I heard and obeyed, but my final work was not much better than my rough draft. I soon discovered the reason. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t understand the purpose of rewriting.
The basic purpose of each rewrite is to clarify & organize, cut rambling and verbosity, switch from passive to active voice everywhere possible and always use exactly the right word, which is overlooked more often than thought.
When I got serious about studying the craft of writing I was shocked by what I didn’t know. Reading books on editing I found them lofty, using grammar terms that college level English students would have a hard time following.
So I did exactly what I do with the examples in my new handbook, The Rewritten Word : How to Sculpt Literary Art No Matter The Genre -- I took the sentences and paragraphs that were unclear to me and clarified, simplified and shortened, rewriting until they to made sense to me.
This often meant translating into sentences I could understand, and eliminating what didn’t relate. At times that meant searching grammar books to find out what the heck the author had said.
Unfortunately scholars tend to ramble and write passive, hard to follow wordy sentences, such as this one I changed years ago for my own better understanding:
Humanity is conceived here exclusively in terms of ritual function — man is made in order to offer sacrifices to the gods — and so the highly differentiated realms of history and moral action are not intimated in the account of man’s creation.
Wouldn’t it make more sense like this?
According to this account of man’s creation, our only function is to sacrifice to the gods. The many facets of our purpose, such as our varied history and morality, are not even hinted at.
Which did you understand better and more quickly? That’s exactly what we want for our READER. Everything we write is for their benefit. Rewriting skills help us help them understand and enjoy our writing smoothly with no effort on their part.
I rewrote the above on many levels; wordiness, switching to a slightly more active voice, shortening and clarifying. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was inadvertently learning the craft of rewriting, and with advanced applications.
Verbosity is one of my major writing sins. Here is a sentence as it was originally written for my book, The Rewritten Word:
That is a vital subject to writers, but I am writing a book about rewriting, and though I did tie in the need for excellent quality writing, my main recourse must be the specific area of perfecting our work: rewriting.
The same sentence after the knife:
That is a critical subject, but mine is rewriting.
What a difference one rewrite can make. I cut the sentence from 40 words to nine without losing any meaning. Most of the words were repeats. If you lean towards verbosity, as I do, this phase of the rewriting craft is imperative.
This year I resolve to write, write and rewrite until my work sparkles. I know you will too. Our readers thank us.
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If you’d like to learn more about the art of rewriting you can purchase The Rewritten Word: How to Sculpt Literary Art, No Matter the Genre at Amazon in both print and Kindle format.
Aggie Villanueva is the best-selling author of Chase the Wind and Rightfully Mine, both published by Thomas Nelson in the 1980s. She founded Visual Arts Junction blog Feb. 2009, and by the end of the year it was voted #5 at Predators & Editors in the category “Writers’ Resource, Information & News Source” for 2009. Aggie is founder of Promotion á la Carte, author promotional services. She is also a critically acclaimed photographic artist represented by galleries nationwide, including Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.