Readers vs. editors

Every writer can benefit from the services of an editor, but professional editors are expensive. If you have an article accepted for publication in the Register, your article will have the benefit of being edited by Henry Hoff, FASG, free of charge. You won’t be paid anything for the article, but Henry will assure that it is in proper form to do both you and the Register proud.

An editor’s job ranges from assuring that the article as a whole makes sense and proves its point to setting up the format, footnotes, and other fiddly things to match the publication’s style rules. Trust me, it’s the fiddly things that usually count the most!

With your family genealogies, you are probably unlikely to be able to afford a professional editor, but there is another level of expertise that you might be able to find. A reader.

A reader does not adjust the manuscript. The reader’s job is to read, as your ultimate audience will be reading, cold turkey, and then to ask questions: What does that mean? Are you sure about…? I don’t follow your argument. I don’t agree with that conclusion. What is the source for this? As well as, of course, to note typos and the like along the way.

The reader’s job is to read, as your ultimate audience will be reading, cold turkey, and then to ask questions…

A good reader can quickly pick out knots that you don’t see because you’ve been looking at the manuscript for so long. It can be quite humbling after you’ve composed a long chapter about why one John Smith in Connecticut is the same as the John Smith in New York only to have your reader comment that they don’t see the reasoning as clearly as you. Just remember, if your target reader doesn’t understand what you are trying to say, it is your fault, not theirs.

If you have a relative or two willing and capable of reading for free, take advantage, but also consider hiring a professional genealogist to read all or part of your manuscript. This can be well worth the expense if it saves you from publishing a flawed or incomplete account and, in turn, you avoid that review in the Register that starts out, “This book has so many flaws, I don’t know where to start.”

A reader isn’t going to do the work of fixing the manuscript for you, as would an editor, but having it held up to a reader’s “mirror” gives you a fresh view of straggling hairs and smudged lipstick. Each reader also brings different talents to the table. My readers are usually better at math than I. At least it seems they are always spotting 8-year-old brides and 70-year-old mothers that fly right over my head.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia is the lead genealogist on the new NEHGS study project, Early New England Families, 1641-1700. Prior to joining the NEHGS staff, she compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant, the Alden Family Five Generations project, and the Harlow Family : Descendants of Sgt. William Harlow (1624/5-1691) of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University. In October 2016, Alicia was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists.

9 thoughts on “Readers vs. editors

  1. Hear, hear! Thank you, Alicia, for pointing out the importance of editing and of editors. Genealogical editing is one of the most difficult types of editing I have ever done. When editing a family history, I figure on making at least five passes through a manuscript: one for general sense, one for grammar and spelling, one to check sources, one to check numbering, and one to check what I call “continuity”: do you say the same thing about a person here as you did earlier? And then there’s that check of dates you mention. OK, six times through!

  2. Excellent point. Excellent advice. Always have someone read your article before submitting it.

  3. Speaking of proofreading, ensure and ensuring would have been better choices than “assure” and “assuring.” But I definitely like “fiddly things.”

  4. Seems you are describing a “proof-reader” (as if it were a new or unheard of profession). Having been an editor of books and various publications (both digital and printed) for more than 20 years, I have often taken on both tasks of proof-reading and editing. I can assure you proof-reading can be every bit as challenging as editing. The difference being that the editor would actually change the text, while the proof-reader would simply point out potential errors for the author to change or rewrite themselves. Additionally, besides editing or proofing the content, both proof-reader and editor take on the important task of “fact-checking”, which can be one of the most time consuming parts of the process. A good proof-reader will charge slightly less than an editor, however either professional assistance is well worth the price.

    1. Hi Rocky, For the purposes of this post, I put professional proof readers in with the editors. Anyone who needs professional experience and who “checks” or amends the manuscript. The average genealogical author may not have thought about seeking a reader of any kind. The more eyes the better never hurts.

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