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As An… Editor: Jay Arscott

This week Write On! interviews editor Jay Arscott.

A professional freelance editor since February 2018, Jay credits his background, and aphantasia for his eagle-eyed talent; spotting errors others simply don’t see. His work, and his affiliation with The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading are incredibly important to him but there, his serious streak ends.

Raised and educated in South Africa, Jay returned to the UK in ‘96 and had to learn the nuances of British English over again. This early education and bilingual background gave rise to a great love of the English language and, 30 years later, it remains a love that is yet to break his heart.

Jay is also a hobbyist writer and primarily enjoys reading sci-fi and fantasy. He lives in Bedfordshire with his fiancée, Tracy, and his cats, Bryony (originally Brian!) and Saphie.

WO: What genre/s or type of editing do you specialise in?

JA: I specialise in proof-reading and work with most fiction genres. I’ve been extremely lucky the past few years to work on sci-fi, comedy and fantasy, my favourite genres! That said, I’ve read for authors of horror, UK crime and the supernatural and enjoyed them all. You could say I’m open to most genres. Ultimately, it comes down to a love of the written word.

WO: What would a typical work day entail?

JA: My days are varied. Some days I read the text thoroughly, making notes as I go, before getting out the big guns of the various software I use. Other days, it is trying to figure out how to make and run a website, or just studying further.

There are a lot of aspects that go on behind the scenes for a freelance editor, or even writer, for that matter. It could be anything from networking (meetings in the local coffee shop), to research and personal development. I am in constant contact with my authors, to keep as up-to-date with their works in progress as possible, which helps with time management.

WO: Where does the majority of your work come from? Do you do anything else alongside being an editor?

JA: Most of my work has originated from word of mouth, or me contacting authors whose work I have read and spotted mistakes that were missed by their proof-reader. My current record is a mistake I found after a manuscript had been through six proofs already. This author is now a new client.

Recently, I had an opportunity to launch a new website helping prospective clients to find my services with more ease (thanks to a good friend; I will stick to editing)! I also use social media where I can, to put myself out there as much as possible. Word of mouth is most valuable, because a recommendation from a trusted friend or peer is easier to accept, and worth more than a faceless advert.

WO: What inspired you to become an editor?

JA: I was inspired to be a proof-reader a few years ago when I got back into reading after a long hiatus. I bought myself an electronic reader and started reading with a voracious appetite. The market is awash with e-books, which is glorious to see, but a high percentage of what I read had errors and typos. I found it near-impossible to just skip over them. I felt it was an awful shame for the Indy market, something I am a huge supporter of, so I contacted a few authors and shared my notes with them.

After a time, these authors proposed a trade: I got to read a book for free (who doesn’t love that?) in exchange for proofing it. Of course, this piqued my interest and I wanted to give it my all, so I took some courses with The Chartered Institute Of Editing And Proof-reading, of which I am a current member.

Now, (after further studies) I’m proof-editing, which is an intermediary between copy-editing and proof-reading, as I have found that, while proofing, I have suggestions and ideas the author may like to use. I just love the English language and all its little nuances, even down to the utter craziness some of the rules seem to hold.

WO: Do you consider yourself to be a storyteller, or is the editing work you do more of an analytic approach?

JA: Ooh, this is a difficult question!  I think of myself more as a narrator when reading, especially for work, but in an analytical way. I also have a natural ability to step outside the tale, checking the text as well as the relevance of the story.

I have discovered I have a condition known as Aphantasia, which is basically the lack of an inner eye. I can’t visualise and have discovered I read slightly differently to most people. I read every single word and so I notice those little inconsistencies. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading a good book. I most definitely do!

WO: What are the most frequent problems you see amongst submissions?

JA: By far the most frequent problem I find is missing words. It is amazing how many times there is a simple ‘of’  or ‘and’ missing. Most people would just skip over it, as the brain is already anticipating what should go there and therefore sees no fault – especially in the case of the author, who is too close to their own work. Some do notice, however, and even if this is on a subliminal level, it can pull the reader out of the tale, without them knowing why. This can ruin the experience for them.

The flow of a story is vital. When I go through a text, I imagine it as an audio-book, and how well would it come across in that format. I use this along with what I know about the author and their preferences, to advise where I feel it has gone off-track.

WO: Question from Twitter user: @MandyLeeber. Do you have any experience in editing cookbooks and do you work with a reference sheet of what you include in your editing process?

JA: I have no experience with cookbooks or anything non-fiction, in fact, as that takes a different skill set. There are a lot of facts to be checked and these need to be correlated with tables and graphics. I don’t think I’d  enjoy the task as much as I enjoy working with stories.

As for a reference sheet, that all depends on the type of task I have undertaken. If it is a final proof-read, I tend to do a simple read-through, marking anything untoward. If I am doing more developmental work,  I will make a style sheet according to the author’s requests. 

WO: Can you tell us something you would love to see?

JA: I would love to see more quality rather than quantity on the e-book market. I fully appreciate that not everyone can write the next ‘Discworld’ or ‘Game Of Thrones’ and be adored by the masses, but there is a significant movement that almost entirely focuses on output for the sake of making sales. I view books and the stories they hold as an art form, something to be truly admired and emotive, rather than a real money-spinner. I implore writers universally: please take your time. Allow yourself the space to create one great book, rather than four mediocre ones. In this way, you are far more likely to find true, steadfast fans who love your work. Take George R R Martin as a case in point. Typos and poor grammar permeate the e-book market and it makes me weep. 

WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?

JA: I am torn. I will be cheeky and name two, both from the same series, so they count! My first (heavily influenced by my fascination with Sir Terry Pratchett’s Reaperman) is the Death Of Rats or known by some as the Grim Squeeker. My second would be Scamp, a cat that Death saved from a fire and temporarily rehomed. I actually have a Paul Kidby image of Death sat at his desk with Scamp, which I have tattooed on my arm.

You can find out more about Jay Arscott and his work as an editor here:

 Don’t forget you can check out Issue 4 of Write On! magazine online by clicking here.

I’m proof editing, which is an intermediary between copyediting and proofreading, as I have found that while proofing I have suggestions and ideas that the author may like to use.