|Perry with Doris, the Jack Russell.|
Perry Iles is a freelance proofreader and editor, working from home in a small Scottish town where he lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs, a cat and a lizard. He has worked as a writer for many years now, and believes that it’s good for the soul, if not the pocket. He likes his job because there’s no commuting and he doesn’t have to wash, and after a hard week of strenuous mental activity, he enjoys sleeping and watching anything with Ant and Dec in it. Contact Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org. One day he will build a proper website, but is currently too busy working to do so. He considers this a good sign…
Let’s start with you. How did you become an editor?
I was recommended to a German translator who wanted book catalogue blurbs knocked into a more alluring shape for potential buyers at bookfairs. We got on well, she liked what I did and I’ve worked on speeches, instruction pamphlets and novels, and I’m now attempting to do some of the translations myself using Babelfish and schoolboy German, with occasionally amusing results.
What kind of editing do you do?
How much money have you got? I’m an editorial slut that way. Seriously though, I look after the small stuff. It’s more proofreading than editing, so I’m less of an editor and more of a proofreader with attitude. Typos, spelling, consistency, layout, basic grammar and common sense. I often find myself making suggestions on word-choice and smoothing sentences off a little, but large scale structure, characterization and narrative arc are not my areas. I’m the guy who polishes what Stephen King would call your little red wagon before you drive it home.
How do you approach working with a client on a manuscript?
I tell them what I do, what I don’t do and how much I want. I give them some background about me and invite them to email me a sample manuscript to look at if they need further convincing. I seldom meet clients face to face, and usually do my work using MS Track Changes on the documents they send me. If people don’t like Track Changes I mark suggestions and alterations in a different colour on their manuscript.
How would you describe a successful author/editor relationship?
Keeping to deadlines, not overstepping the mark, charging people what I say I’m going to charge them and making sure they understand what I do and equally importantly what I don’t do.
How does the situation differ when you’re editing non-fiction?
Non-fiction is very different. For one thing it’s usually less entertaining and has to be approached a bit at a time to avoid skimming. Non-fiction writers (I deal a lot with academics whose first language isn’t English) have less of an idea about how to tell a story – and an academic essay needs to tell a story too, so for academic work I charge more because it takes much, much longer and is far more intensive. My goal is firstly to stick to the facts (I use Wiki a lot, but don’t tell anyone), and secondly to make it approachable; readable by all. This is often the hardest part, especially when tackling subjects like the philosophical approach to neo-Confucianism in eighth-century Korea or Marxist-Leninist dialectical analyses of post-war economic theory in the Middle East (don’t laugh, I really have done this. It was hard.)
What kind of genres do you prefer to work on?
In the light of what I’ve said above, fiction is more fun. Any type, because I’m so involved in the words that the story doesn’t matter. I’m not there to judge, I’m there to work, so it can be chicklit or science fiction, it’s not important to me. It can even have dragons in it if it wants. The blurbs I do for the German publisher vary wildly from bunny-books for five-year-olds to 700-page treatises on European philosophy through the ages.
I’m intrigued to know how you get into the writers voice, how you know what kind of words might work, what sort of sentence rhythm will fit and how you know it will still sound like the author, not the editor.
An editor’s job is to make the author sound like the author on a good day. A bad editor turns the author’s work into something they wish they’d written themselves, or something they’d want to read themselves. I’ve given up peer-review sites for that very reason. To get into the author’s head, I read a few chapters of the work, or I read the essay to take notice of things like voice, tone and style. This is very important, especially in fiction, because the editor should preserve these aspects even at the expense of grammar, spelling or common sense. Otherwise where would James Joyce or Cormac McCarthy be? Nobody wants to sound like everybody else.
Robert Gottlieb says the editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one. Do you agree?
It should appear to be invisible, at least, but given the quality of most self-published work out there that screams out for editorial intervention, it’s a vital relationship. Like I said earlier, my job is to turn you into you, but on a really good day. As I tell my daughter, I don’t want you going out looking like that.
In the age of independent publishing and authors doing it for themselves, does the future look rosy for editors such as yourself?
Very much so – but only as long as writers know how necessary we are, and are willing to fork out a few quid to get their little red wagon polished. Writers need to realize that their job is to write, and other people’s job is to make it look nice. I’m the bloke who has to stick his nose two inches from the tree and say “Oooh, what a lovely forest!” Writers can plot, characterize, invent and sail away on the fluffy clouds of their own imaginations, but the world of self-publishing should tell anyone with any sense of discernment that sometimes writers don’t know where the apostrophes go, can’t tell a dash from an ellipsis and often miss things that the spellcheck doesn’t pick up (form/from, of/if, that kind of thing).
Writers often agonise over blurbs and synopses. Would you be the kind of person who could help a writer distil the essence of a story?
No, because I’m so busy fannying about with the details that as often as not I don’t connect with the story. But I could turn a bad synopsis into a good one and distil a blurb from it – simply because experience has taught me what those things should look like and what they should say.
What do you write?
I once wrote novels, but they were very bad. I wrote some short stories that were good, and they’ve done the rounds and got published in a few fairly low-key places. Nowadays I write a bi-monthly article for Words with Jam magazine, scathing remarks on Facebook and scurrilous, unpalatable, irreverent and often downright filthy definitions for words that don’t exist. You can read these in a book called A Dictionary of Linguistic Absurdities, which you can buy here http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Dictionary-Linguistic-Absurdities-ebook/dp/B009ZLRYDQ