A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine told me that he’d written a book. After congratulating him and asking for more details about his book, I told him that I’m a freelance copyeditor.
“No kidding! What exactly do you do?”
How do I say this nicely? I thought. I took a deep breath. “Well, I go over a manuscript, checking for everything from incorrect word usage and punctuation, improper tenses, misspelled words, and redundancies. I note if the text doesn’t flow logically and make suggestions for restructuring the piece so that it does. I reword sentences and paragraphs or eliminate them if that makes the piece read better. I also make sure that–”
“So, in other words, you go over a text with a fine-toothed comb and tear it to shreds,” he said with a smile in his voice.
I cringed. Being a writer myself, I’m hypersensitive to “tearing to shreds” another writer’s work. Yet as a copyeditor, I’m not serving the writer well if I don’t meticulously scrutinize every detail. “That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose,” I laughed. Having a sense of humor is vital for both writers and copyeditors.
“In all seriousness, you are an answer to prayer,” he said. “I’ve needed someone like you for a long time. I’d love for you to look over my book, and don’t worry about hurting my feelings either. I want your honest feedback, even if that means the entire book needs to be rewritten.”
He called me two weeks after he’d received my feedback on his manuscript. “You are too good at what you do,” he said.
I preferred to take that as a compliment–which he assured me it was.