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Editing for Psychoanalysis

Eve Golden, M.D.




What's with this screwball website? Well, I'm a screwball, and it's better that people should know it sooner than later. Saves trouble for everybody. 

How much does editing cost? Are there rules of thumb? Not exactly, because every piece and every situation is different. You can gauge comparatively, though. The more discrete and superficial the necessary changes are, the less time they will take; interconnected or fundamental revisions take much longer. That is why abridging a compact and well-knit address is (this surprises many people) a very difficult job. Complete reorganization of a long and complex monograph will take very much longer than a similar job on a brief case study. The more you have to keep in mind at once the harder the work is, as authors of a first book quickly learn; no matter how many papers one has under one's belt, a book is different. When the editor sees your manuscript she tell you where time needs to be spent, and approximately how much of it she thinks will be needed. She will also be able to tell you if there are things you can do to make her job easier (i.e., shorter and therefore less expensive).

What's the most economical way to use an editor's time? There are two  principles. The first is to do the things you can yourself, and let the editor spend her time doing the things you can't. The second is to avoid wasted effort. People often don't format citations correctly, for example. This is time-consuming but simple work; when funds are limited you can do it yourself and let the editor concentrate on organization and clarity of prose. Similarly, if you make revisions in your copy of a file rather than the one the editor sent you, she has to make her changes all over again, and you pay for the same work twice. (This is a common and regrettable situation. It costs clients money, and it drives editors absolutely bonkers. Better for everybody not to let it happen.) The most efficient approach of all, if you're an autonomous type, is to figure out precisely where you feel stuck. If you can do this alone, great. If not, the editor will help. Then let her unstick you so that you can continue on by yourself. A good editor will provide the help you need, but she will try to do it in ways that increase your independence rather than diminish it.

How do you set your fees? Probably the same way you do. After all, I give my "patients" the same thingsótime, devotion, attention, patience, and the fruits of very long and arduous training. (The good news is that editing doesn't take as long.)

I modify my fees slightly from the psychotherapy baseline, however. This is because as a writer I no longer have to take the blame for my clients' sexual frustrations, get called at three in the morning, oróGod be praisedódeal with Blue Cross. (I still have a booming practice in angst, anaclisis, and narcissism, though. Vaulting ambition, too.) I adjust my fees to accommodate long and intricate projects, as you undoubtedly adjust yours to accommodate intensive or lengthy therapeutic work. I have a sliding scale for creative people who do not yet command the fees of established clinicians.

I choose my clients carefully, for their sake as well as my ownóthere's no reason for people to pay my fees or endure my waiting list if they are looking for primarily clerical editing. I am not a clerk. I'm a writer and stylist, and a consultant in the art of psychoanalytic prose, which I very much would like to see come to life again. The editing I do is a means to that end.

That's how I think about fees. Questions about any of this are fine, and I will listen (up to a point) to arguments, objections, or counterproposals. Feel free to get in touch.

Don't the most skilled editors work the fastest? Not necessarily; at least, you can't judge the skill of an editor by her timesheets any more than you can judge the skill of an analyst by the brevity (or length!) of his analyses. It's the results that count. Some work can be done quickly, but some requires experimentation, exploration, and sometimes even contemplation. An editor can do excellent technical work on prose and organization without knowing anything about the content of a piece. One who does know the subject, though, will naturally notice and take into account nuances of vocabulary and argument that a colleague working from a technical standpoint does not. To the extent that these fine points have to be dealt with, the work takes longer. An editor striving for beauty and elegance of style will work much more slowly than one whose only goals (very worthy but more limited) are correctness and clarity. 

So what kind of editor is indicated? Depends on what you want. If you just need a grammatical and comprehensible piece, any competent editor can do the job. If you are highly confident of your ability to marshal and present an argument, a general editor will fill the bill there, too, and probably faster than a subject specialist, who usually can't help engaging with the content even when the author would rather she didn't. (Let me say here once and for all that when a knowledgeable editor tells you that she doesn't understand what you are saying, pay attention, however perfect in lucidity you imagine your prose to be.) If you have concerns about the clarity of a complicated or subtle argument, a subject specialist is a good idea. If you want a piece of beautiful prose, the editor's skill as a stylist is what matters, and some editors are much better writers than others. General editing goes quickly; editing for organization and style takes longerósometimes much longer. 

What if I donít know what kind of help I need? Donít worry. You've got lots of company. A good editor can help you figure it out. She will assess your manuscript and tell you what she thinks it needs, and help you determine what you do and donít want to do by yourself.

Do editors charge for this kind of assessment? Some do and some donít. I donít.

Why not? Mostly because I like to get to know my clients while the stakes are low. It makes for a better working relationship, and I love the relationship part of this work. Some people are shy or hesitant about even investigating the possibility of help; itís more comfortable for them to inquire about it when they know they arenít risking anything in the query. I also believe that I learn enough in the process of the initial assessment that it pays for itself, whether I go on working with that client or not.

How do you work with clients? That depends on what they need and want. Sometimes I can fix a disorganized manuscript on my own. Sometimes the fixing requires input from the author; I specify whatís needed and we work together on that until I can finish the job. Sometimes the author wants to do the work, but needs moral support at the sticky places. Sometimes I revise one chapter of a book as an example, so the author can do the others himself. Sometimes people send me progressive revisions for comments and suggestions. Some folks like to work together on a piece, in person or on the phone, going over each sentence until itís just right. Sometimes we fiddle around for a while until we figure out what works. A good working relationship between client and editor should be fun for both. I like the collaborative efforts best, because over time they make for much more skilled and confident authors. And for very good friends.


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