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Q&A on the editing process with Dietmar Sternad

A couple of months ago, I copyedited a brilliant textbook called Developing Coaching Skills: A Concise Introduction, which has just been published (see here for more details). Its author, Dietmar Sternad, very kindly answered some questions for me on writing the book and working with an editor. I hope that this might in some small way help to demystify the editing process (and make it seem less daunting).

What’s Developing Coaching Skills about? And why did you decide to write it?

Developing Coaching Skills is a brief practice-oriented textbook that provides a compact overview of how coaching works. It also includes a lot of practical exercises, best-practice examples and over 200 coaching questions. The purpose of the book is to enable students and leaders to quickly learn the main principles and tools of executive coaching and life coaching. As a management professor, I’m passionate about creating the best possible learning experience for my students – and that also includes providing them with engaging learning materials. I can actually sense a need among both lecturers and students for brief textbooks that are ‘hands-on’ and easily accessible. That’s why I founded my own new publishing house, econcise, which specialises in publishing concise, approachable, and affordable textbooks and ebooks for smart learners. Developing Coaching Skills is the first book to be published by econcise.

How long did it take you to write Developing Coaching Skills? How did you find the motivation (and time!) to write the book?

It took me around three to four months to write the book. This is also one of the advantages of the concise format. With no more than 30,000 words, it not only helps students and leaders to learn about a new topic in a short time – it also doesn’t take too long to write. My main motivation is always my own students. I just want them to get a great coaching skills course, and that should also include great learning materials.

How do I find the time? I write a lot in the mornings – before my teaching and research work starts at the university. If you write just half an hour to an hour a day – but very regularly on a day-by-day basis – the words quickly accumulate and you also have that good feeling of making progress every day.

How did you go about finding an editor for your book?

I used three main criteria when I was looking for an editor for my book: first, a specialisation and prior experience in the genre – in my case, management and leadership textbooks. I actually also looked for an editor who had not only worked with textbook authors but also with nonfiction authors before, as I envisioned my textbook to be less ‘academic’ in style. It should be as easy to read as a nonfiction book.

My second criterion was actually the quality of text on the editor’s website. If it’s written in an engaging way and in an elegant and concise style, that’s a great indication for an editor who really cares about their craft. Finally, I was also looking for social proof – what did others say about working with the editor? Did they see them as reliable? Were they satisfied with their editorial work?

Applying these three criteria – prior experience in the genre, excellently crafted texts on the editor’s website, and social proof – helped me to find the perfect editor for my book.

What were your expectations of working with an editor, and did the whole process meet these or not?

My main expectation was that I would get my manuscript edited in a way that meant every sentence would be written in proper English (I’m not a native speaker, that’s why this aspect is particularly important for me), and in a concise and easily readable way. As a reader, I would like to be able to say: this is a really well-written text that is easy to read! Did the process meet these expectations? Absolutely! Every single edit and tweak that Harriet suggested improved the flow and readability of the text.

What was the most valuable thing about working with an editor?

In addition to getting a much better text, there’s so much to learn from an editor, too! Harriet, for example, pointed out that I use the word ‘also’ way too often. That’s something that I’ll definitely keep in mind for my future texts.

What was the most difficult thing about working with an editor?

The only difficult part in the process was the identification of the right editor. Once you have a great editor, it’s not difficult at all. It is just wonderful to have a professional ‘sparring partner’ who helps you create a better text and become a better writer.

Did you feel (understandably!) nervous or defensive about your book being edited? How did you manage to get over that?

I would not say I was nervous – but that might result from my decades of experience as both an author and a publisher. I would rather call it a positive excitement to work with someone who improves my text with every stroke of their keyboard. It is such a joy to sit down with a cup of coffee and read a much better text when you get it back from your editor!

What advice would you give to authors on how to approach the editing process and get the most out of it?

First of all, know what you want. There’s a big difference in whether you are hiring an editor for the purpose of development editing, copy editing, or proofreading.

Second, take enough time to choose a really good editor. Finding the right editing partner makes all the difference.

And finally, once you have found a really good editor, try to learn from the edits – ask yourself why the editor made them, and what that can teach you about the deficiencies that you still have in your writing. Being edited by someone who understands their craft well is an extremely valuable learning journey for an author.

Do you think it’s worth paying to work with a professional editor?

Absolutely. Hiring a good editor is by far the best investment that you can make as an author or publisher!


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