JONATHAN CAWS-ELWITT, FREELANCE EDITOR
I am a small-time author: you’ve probably never heard of me or my work. Nonetheless, in the circles in which I travel, I’ve earned a bit of a reputation as a “writer’s writer” and an “editor’s editor.” For many years, I did freelance copyediting for a high-volume publishing group. Now I’m someone who is occasionally hired by highly skilled writers to edit and improve their work. They send me expertly crafted, beautifully written manuscripts, and I make them even better. They consider this service important enough to be worth paying for.
I do not edit full-time, and so I take on a small number of projects. I pick and choose based on content, length, time frame, and other considerations. I work with both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. On the whole, I am more likely to take on a shorter project (a manuscript of up to around 70,000 words) unless the topic or genre is of special interest to me. If I am interested in editing your manuscript, I will offer you an initial sample edit of your work, free of charge, to give you the most concrete idea possible of what I can do for your book in particular.
As noted above, I pick and choose projects—but I do not sit in judgment. If I decline to work on your book, this is not a “rejection.” It is simply a practical decision about how I want to use my time. Similarly, if you decide I’m not the right editor for you, I take no offense.
My expertise is in U.S. English. I usually rely on The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as my style and usage touchstones. My editing process depends on our both using the “tracked changes” features in Microsoft Word. I’m good with deadlines, and my hourly rates are very reasonable. I accept payment via personal check (if drawn on a U.S. bank) or PayPal.
You are an experienced professional-quality writer who could probably go straight from hard drive to bookshop without much embarrassment. You have drafted your latest manuscript, gone through it again and again to rewrite and revise, shown it to anyone whose feedback you desired, and made further revisions. You’re confident you could send it off to an agent or acquisitions editor—or format it for self-publication—today, in its present state, and it would compare favorably with most of what’s out there.
But you also know that if you send it to someone like me first, as polished as the book already is, I will probably find hundreds of little things to improve. And you’ve decided that’s what you want. Maybe you’re self-publishing, and you don’t wish to omit the copyediting step that a conventional publisher would have taken the manuscript through. Or maybe you have conventional publication in mind, but nonetheless you want an independent editor whose skills and judgment you trust to help you make sure the manuscript is the very best it can be before the agents and acquisition editors see it. This is what I’m here for.
I edit with an eagle eye, but this is not about unwarranted nit-picking, revisions for the sake of revisions, or gratuitously adulterating your stylistic choices with my own voice. I aim to change or question anything that looks possibly problematic to me, but only those things. My goal is to preserve as much of your writing as possible in the course of suggesting alterations. And since I am an independent editor engaged to work for you (rather than a house editor to whom you’re artistically accountable), naturally you’re not bound by any of my revisions.
I pride myself on being sensitive to nuances, to context, and to the importance of being flexible as we utilize the many tools offered by the English language. You will not find me making global changes based on oversimplified guidelines or overgeneralized rules—such as obliterating every instance of the passive voice, banishing every last sentence fragment, or insisting that every single dependent clause be terminated by a comma. I know the rules, but I know which ones need to be applied with discretion. I always try to be attentive to rhythm, pacing, and impact, and not mechanics alone. I believe that in this field, common sense and good judgment are as important as erudition. Moreover, I can recognize and respect the difference between a book written in a formal, scholarly manner and one that employs a more colloquial style (and, of course, I appreciate the difference in how an editor generally needs to approach fiction, as opposed to nonfiction).
I am not a crit partner, nor do I usually do developmental editing. If you’re looking for detailed feedback regarding the content, direction, structure, and feel of your manuscript, from someone who has a deep understanding of your content- and market-related goals, then you should pursue that process before approaching me. Though I will occasionally make small-scale comments on content, sequence, or tone, I am primarily here to help you add a little more polish, elegance, stylistic precision, and clarity throughout your nearly publisher-ready work, once you’re already satisfied you’ve written the book you intended to, in the way you intended to, for the audience it’s intended for.
Here's a “before, during, and after” simulation that encapsulates (in compressed form) the types of revisions and feedback you can expect from me.
(It turns out extraneous was indeed the word my bold, imaginary author intended to use—but it’s always good to check these things.)
Please e-mail me with a short description of your project (genre, topic, word count, and anything else you think it’s important for me to know at the outset) and a rough idea of when you would like an edit to be completed. I will respond promptly to let you know whether it sounds like something I’d be able to take on. If it does, I will quote rates and offer you a free sample edit. (If I feel I need a better idea of what the project looks like, I may first ask you if I might have a peek at the full manuscript.) The sample edit will allow you to assess how helpful I can be to you while allowing me to dip my toe into the work, before either of us commits to the full edit.
I used to be copy chief for a major magazine, so when I cowrote a book and needed a copy editor myself, my expectations were high. In Jonathan, I found someone who met my tough standards and added value to the book. He picked up on the errors, inconsistencies, and nuances that I knew had gotten by me during an intensive and sometimes exhausting writing process. His professionalism, precision, and considerable command of the language left me confident that the manuscript was ready for prime time.
—Laura MacKay, writer and editor
I feel so fortunate that I had the chance to work with Jonathan. He went
through my manuscripts with the eye of a surgeon and the heart of a
generous caretaker, carefully trimming, suggesting wonderful phrase
alternatives, while always staying true to the story. He has that rare
skill of being able to understand clearly the writer’s vision, which
allows him to suggest changes that are never imposing, but always
—Isabella Johns, author of the “My Hot...” series
Jonathan Caws-Elwitt is a joy to work with. He’s at the top of my list for editorial assistance, though technically there’s no number two. I seriously look forward to seeing his corrections of my writing. He handles his suggested changes with such finesse that I’m never mortified by an error. Frankly, Jonathan Caws-Elwitt makes me look like a smarter writer, and I’m comfortable with that; good writing is inseparable from good editing, and I’m wise enough to engage the best.
—Craig Conley, author of One-Letter Words: A Dictionary
Jonathan is my “go to” person for questions of grammar, punctuation, and style. He not only knows his stuff backwards and forwards, but he cares. He’s helped me puzzle out everything from tricky verb tense agreement questions to the most sensible spellings of author-created words. He has a faultless work ethic and no problem meeting deadlines. And to top it all off, he has a spontaneous sense of humor that makes him a true pleasure to work with. It’s a rare person who can be so exacting and still so pleasant.
—Dorothy Zemach, Senior Editor, Wayzgoose Press
Copyright © Jonathan Caws-Elwitt, 2014–2015.