Taking a philosophical turn on the editing and proofreading thing today. There are all kinds of tools that editors use to find inconsistencies in word usage or capitalization, punctuation, etc. that make a proofreading pass, for example, go faster. Since most of these tools are not available for the Mac operating system (the one I use), I’ve found that I rely on keeping an old-fashioned style sheet (recording how a term was spelled or capitalized or hyphenated, etc., and then doing search). But these are all mechanical helpers, and in the end, the editor has something a bit more subjective to do as a service to the author: searching for interruptions in a smooth read.
That’s how I personally approach the editing task (proofreading itself is a bit more mechanical since you’re not rephrasing unless it’s egregiously bad grammar-wise). I see my job as being a stand-in for the “end reader,” which is not the same as the friends and relations that authors normally give their books to for preliminary review. Friends and relations are cool, but they tend to be a) biased emotionally to praise rather than critique, and b) normally without a professional grounding in effective writing techniques for the type (fiction or nonfiction) or genre (academic, memoir, fantasy, romance, etc.) of writing.
Because I do this type of critical reading for a living, I have a broad exposure to different writers and can put the current writer’s effort into a context. I know pretty much what to expect from effective writing on accounting, science fiction, sociology, and inspirational non-fiction, for example. All of these writing contexts have a different look and feel, a different flow to the text. Knowing this gives me the ultimate tool to do an effective editing job; the ability to find the places where I have to stop and scratch my head, go back a few sentences and come up with a smoother way of expressing something that works for that “story’s” context.
I get to smooth out the bumps and fill in the literary potholes in the narrative, thus serving not just the author’s writing purpose, but more importantly, the reader’s desire for a positive experience.
So, even though the immediate client is the writer/author, I see myself as ultimately the servant of the reader, to add value to their experience of a book. And in this way, I also become a partner to the writer in providing that reader experience.