All About That Tech Editor, Part 1

What is a tech editor? What do they do and why do I need one? Why can't I just use test knitters? I'm just starting out, what if I don't have the money to afford a tech editor?

These are the questions I hear asked over and over again.

It turns out that a lot of knitters, and designers too, have no idea what a tech editor is, what they do, or how valuable one can be. They don't know what it means when a designer says "this pattern has been tech edited" and why they should take that to mean "this is a good quality pattern that you won't have problems with".

So what is a tech(nical) editor? A tech editor is the writing editor equivalent for knitting patterns. A tech editor goes through a pattern top to bottom, line by line, checking for errors, inconsistencies, problems, better ways of writing things, and so on. They meticulously go through the pattern with a fine tooth comb; checking stitch counts, making sure the gauge gives the right measurements, looking at wording, looking for deviations from the style sheet. I made a checklist that just covers the preliminaries of what a tech editor looks at. It's a lot of work and a good tech editor does this quickly and efficiently. Contrary to what it seems people think based on the number of times I get asked about it -- a tech editor does not knit the item. They don't need to in order to check it. Is test knitting better than tech editing because they actually knit the item? I don't think so. I know of patterns that have been knit thousands of times and suddenly a knitter will find an error. 

Test knitters are great for many things. It's helpful to have more than one person looking at your pattern and giving you feedback. As a tech editor I like to preserve the designers voice. If they like to write "[k2, p2] to end" and I like "*k2, p2; rep from * to end", I'm not going to force them to change to my way (I just make loose suggestions). But test knitters might help a designer refine and perfect their voice through their feedback. Designers also use test knitters as sort of beta-testers and as a way of getting projects up as soon as the pattern is released. This irons out last minute bugs and helps with sales. By "bugs" I mean anything that was out of the realm of the tech editor -- the pattern prints wonky (probably not your issue), your testers are having trouble getting your gauge (don't change your listed gauge if that was what you actually got but do double check your gauge before and after blocking to help them troubleshoot, and make sure they are swatching properly in the round if necessary), half of them ran out of yarn (you might need to list the exact amount you used but add a note that some testers needed an extra skein), etc. But for all their wonderful qualities, test knitters should not be the be all and end all for catching errors. If for no other reason then these people are usually testing for free and it would really suck for them if you gave them a pattern full of errors to test. That's going to result in a lot of ripping out and wasted time. Not good.

Are tech editors perfect? No. Will tech editors miss errors? Occasionally. Will tech editors worry and stress relentlessly about each error they miss? I can pretty much guarantee it. I've had reoccurring nightmares in which I dream about errors being found in patterns I've edited. And I'm not alone in this. Tech editors are perfectionists. Our job is to make patterns perfect. And if we mess up, if we are not perfect, then we've failed to do our job. It's an impossible standard to live up to. But we love our work and so we keep going, trying, and doing our best. But know that when you hire a tech editor, you are hiring someone who wants your pattern to be perfect probably more than you do. You don't get that with your average test knitter.

Why do you need a tech editor? Well, which pattern do you want to buy? One that reads:

Cast on 100 stitches. Rnd 1: K2, p2 to end. Round 2: Knit. Continue this way until work measures 60 inches. CO all sts.

Or do you want one that reads:

Cast on 100 stitches. Join to work in the round, being careful not to twist stitches. Rnd 1: *K2, p2; repeat from * to end. Rnd 2: Knit. Repeat Rnds 1 & 2 until work measures 60" / 152.5 cm from cast on or until desired length for scarf. Cast off all stitches.

The first could have very well made it through test knitting, but no good tech editor would let it go like that. They would guide you (whilst still maintaining your voice and style) through rewriting and getting something much more like the second which is clearer, more consistent in style, and least likely to cause problems for the knitter. 

What if you don't have money to get a tech editor?
Well first off, a tech editor is simply part of the cost of doing business as a designer. But I completely get that it can be hard to dish out money that you don't know for sure you will get back. Here's what I recommend doing before giving up on the idea ---
1. Get a really clear idea of how much it will cost first. Contact a few tech editors that you would love to work with and explain to them exactly what your pattern is (i.e. a cowl worked in the round with cables and a chart but no written instructions for the chart) and ask if they could give an estimate of how much it would cost to have it tech edited. Any good tech editor should give you a range and they all should be able to agree on an upper limit that they won't go over (i.e. they may have to stop the tech edit early and contact you if they feel it will need more time than quoted, but they won't spend 4 hours on a project that they quoted you as taking 1-1.5 hours.)
2. If that seems a reasonable price to you, the other thing to check is when do you have to pay their invoice? As an example, I usually set my invoices to be due 30 days after I send it and I don't send it until after the job is complete. So if you publish it as soon as I finish the editing then you have 30 days to get enough sales to cover the editing. Let's continue with a cowl example. This would cost you maybe $30 to have edited. You sell it for $5. That means you have 30 days to get 6 sales. Totally doable. But every sale is bringing down the out of pocket costs for you.
3. If it doesn't seem reasonable, advertise for a newer tech editor looking to build a relationship with a newer designer. A newer tech editor needs to build up their portfolio and experience and you need a reduced rate because you're starting out. If you talk it out you should be able to come up with a solution that works for the two of you. (Note: I believe tech editors deserved to be paid. I believe people that are earning a wage have more of a commitment to doing work that is worthy of that wage.)

Lastly, think about this -- if you put out a pattern that you haven't had tech edited and people find errors in it, how many of them will want to buy another pattern from you? How much have you lost by not using a tech editor? 

Coming up in Part 2: How do I become a tech editor? How do I find a good tech editor? What skills does someone need to call themselves a tech editor? 

If you are very curious about becoming a tech editor I have a class here (you can sign up for the mailing list if spots are closed).