Laurie Coulter

Q & A

What "word jobs" have you had?

I've worked as a copywriter, magazine writer, proofreader, copy editor, substantive editor, managing editor, indexer, ghostwriter and author.

Why do writers need an editor?

As a non-fiction book editor, I've worked with prime ministers, actors, artists, chefs, photographers, boat builders, doctors, biologists, accountants and historians, as well as journalists. Whatever their background, every writer needs a "second pair of eyes." In your case, it might be a teacher, parent or classmate.

When I'm editing a manuscript, my goal is to help the author produce a book that is clearly written and interesting to read. Sometimes non-fiction authors are so familiar with their subjects that they don't bother explaining terms or ideas. That's where an editor can come in handy. There are no "dumb questions" in my job. If I don't understand something an author has written, chances are other readers won't either. On the other hand, authors can sometimes write too much on a favorite topic and lose the reader's interest. In that case, I suggest a little "tightening" — in a tactful way, of course. (No one wants to be told they're boring!)

After I finish the substantive edit of a manuscript, a copy editor corrects any spelling or grammatical errors.

What was the first book you edited?

The first manuscript I edited was a book about arctic prehistory. It might sound a bit dull, but I found it fascinating.

Did you edit the manuscript on a computer?

No, this was in the days before personal computers. I corrected any mistakes the author had made using a mechanical pencil, which looks like a ballpoint pen but has sticks of lead in it instead of an ink cartridge. If I had a question or suggestion, I wrote it on a "pink slip" and attached it to the page. This was also in the days before Post-it notes, so you had to lick the glue on the edge of the slip and stick it onto the page. Yech!

What does a ghostwriter do?

If a person doesn't enjoy writing but has a good story to tell, a publisher will hire a professional writer to "ghostwrite" the book. I've ghostwritten books for psychiatrists, actors, photographers, and former White House employees.

Here I am on a visit to the British Museum in London, England. This carved stone Assyrian relief dates from the Iron Age, the period covered in my new book, Kings and Carpenters.

How do you research your own books?

I carry out my research in museums and in public and university libraries. Each book is given a number and listed on a master list of books. I can happily spend hours searching through old magazines and journals for interesting facts and figures; many are now online. Museum, government and university websites provide further information. After I have finished writing my manuscript, historians check it for accuracy.

Have you ever had a job that wasn't in publishing?

While I was going to university I worked as a bank teller. I come from a long line of bankers, including my father and my great-grandfather who opened this bank in Manitou, Manitoba, in the late 1800s.

Designed by Shinypaper