In a previous article we looked at generalisation as opposed to specialising in specific subject matter. We looked at the pros and cons of each, and it provoked a lot of feedback from our readers.
One question that popped up involved the amount of knowledge one should attain in order to be considered a qualified expert on a topic. There are several routes that may be considered here.
The first is via education, and the attainment of a recognised qualification. If you, as a freelance writer, followed the route of further education, whether straight from school or as a mature student, you may consider yourself knowledgeable in the theory of your subject. I say knowledgeable because in most cases what you have learned from the books hasn’t been put into practice in any real shape or form.
For example, a student who went to university to learn about accounting may gain a Degree from their studies, but as most students find out when they start employment, it is not until they have to apply what they have learnt that they discover much of it wass only needed to pass the exams and get you in the door; the real stuff is learnt on the job.
And it is here the term “expertly qualified” is truly gained. Being awarded a qualification is one thing, but having ten years hands on experience in the industry will truly make you an expert.
If your field happens to be in something more vocational, fly fishing for instance, gaining expert status is not as clear cut as it is in the academic world. Expert status could be claimed after many years of reading, studying, and absorbing the sport in every way possible; learning how to tie flies, the mechanics of casting, or the biology of fish. This is something that requires real devotion and a real love for the subject. In this respect, expert status is less arguable because it has been done willingly outside of a person’s need to survive.
An editor who has someone like this on their books will do well. One thing all experts must have in common is the ability to write about their topics well, and write about them regularly. So it’s one thing being able to talk about your subject over and over, but writing new and unique articles every week or month requires a different set of abilities.
In the life of the freelance writer though, nothing is as clear-cut as academic qualifications or vocational activities. In order to survive, the ability to turn your hand to new topics confidently and accurately is a valuable skill that most editors crave.
One day you may be writing reviews on some books you have recently read, the next you may be asked to write about something you know nothing about. By the time you have researched the article through interviews, phone calls, gaining real-life experience of your own, cross-checked your information, written the first draft, researched it some more, and handed in the finished article, you may well find you can easily consider yourself an expert in that particular field.
Carrying out solid research will not only gain you expert status, but it is also the route to longevity, well-paying writing gigs, and fruitful long term relationships with editors.
Working with Editors
Another question that popped up involved the question of the relationship between editors and writers, that is, who takes the credit for a book that has been heavily edited, and how much of the editor’s work finds its way into the text?
Under normal circumstances the person who writes a book will be credited with the work, and have the copyright and moral rights assigned to them. An editor would not normally get any credit, unless for example, the book was an anthology or an auto-biography in which the editor helped to ghost write the book or play a large part in its writing.
How much of an editor’s work finds its way into a book or article would depend on the individual editor’s style, and how much input is required. If a book or article requires a lot of editing, though, a writer should expect to be dropped from the payroll forthwith. It is up to the writer to create the work in the manner in which the editor has specified at the outset; major reworks at the editorial stage are not generally acceptable.
There is a long standing argument in publishing about where the best books come from; a good editor or a good writer? The answer lies somewhere between, because a good editor should be able to get the best out of a writer without displacing their style. They should bond together and hit the same wavelength from concept to production.
If a change of editor between book number one and the sequel occurs, one may end up with an entirely different book in style and format that may not sell as much as the first, assuming of course, that it did.