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Expert editors hone everything from novels to business reports

Everybody is a writer. Businessmen and women write important letters to clients. Educators author grant requests.Some people compose letters to the editor or club news reports. And others have journals; they dream of someday writing books.

But as you write that business letter, grant proposal, or future best-seller, do you find yourself in fear that you will misspell or misuse words? In your haste, do you forget where the commas and semicolons belong? Do you write things you would never say in person, such as "I acknowledge the receipt of your letter?"

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You are not alone. In fact, a whole industry waits ready to wipe out unfocused writing, improper English, inflated language, and incorrect spelling.

"The Literary Market Place" lists over 300 editorial consultant firms. Large ads tout Time-Life's video program titled "Effective Writing for Executives." Colleges offer courses in both business and creative writing. All for a good reason, say editors at Editorial Consultants Inc. (ECI) here in Seattle. Dorothy Bestor, Sharon Tighe, and Jerrie Kennedy, three ECI members, see a great need for people today who can read and write the English language. ECI markets these skills.

The 12 ECI members, all women, do much more than proofread or type. They have savvy in editing everything from grant proposals and business brochures to fledgling novels or poems.

The No. 1 writing problem Jerrie Kennedy sees is the use of too many words.

"I think writers do it in fear, and then they don't know when to stop," says Ms. Kennedy, who is also an English instructor at Bellevue Community College.

Dr. Bestor agrees.

"It's like people trying to leave a party; they say goodbye in one part of the room, and keep on saying it all the way out the door."

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Dr. Bestor, who has taught English at Bryn Mawr, Vassar, and Bellevue Community College, notes that authors use too many pretentious words.

"They think they have to use abstract and long words," she says.

Inconsistencies and improper English in writing are due partly to schooling and partly to the way English is spoken today, say ECI editors. Some pet peeves include "not all that expensive" (as expensive as what, asks Dr. Bestor), "hopefully" (which correctly means "in a hopeful manner"), and "renumeration" (instead of remuneration).

ECI editors, who all work part time at the job, include wives and mothers as well as college professors. Their credentials are impressive, with several doctorates and masters degrees within the ranks. All have professional experience.

Right now the group, which has operated for over five years, does mostly local editing, ranging from "frivolous" to "enormously serious."

One businessman wrote a Valentine's poem for his wife that he wanted edited. An ECI member who is a poet worked on it, and the final version was done in calligraphy.

More impressive jobs include editing scientific reports for a medical research center, a master thesis, business reports, grant revisions, an autobiography of a woman who spent years in China, indexes to books and publications, and a historical novel about 15th-century French royalty.

ECI also offers on-site seminars for companies on what editing a business can do itself and when a professional editor is needed.

"We are involved in every stage of writing, from pre-birth to post-rejection, " says Dr. Bestor. One editor, for example, was the "midwife" during the birth of a book chapter. The author had all the information, but panicked under the publisher's deadline.

"She [the ECI member] would visit the author and help her to talk it out," says Dr. Bestor. More often, writers are on their first or second draft before they ask for editing help.

"They know something needs to be tightened," says Dr. Bestor. "It usually needs focus."

ECI editors usually charge between $15 and $20 an hour, but some consulting groups have been known to ask up to $150 an hour, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why should a writer come to an editorial consulting group rather than tackling the project with a dictionary and a copy of Strunk and White's "Elements of Style"? Most editors agree that writers should be prepared to do basic self-editing, but there is a time when a professional editor's objective help is needed.

Even though writing is fun, it is also hard, Dr. Bestor explains.

"Every writer asks at some point, 'Who am I to do this? Maybe if I had another year to study this I might be able to do something.' He or she needs moral support both when doing it and when it is done.

"We handle egos with care," says Dr. Bestor. "As a mother, a teacher, and an editor, I like to put things positively."

What does ECI do when an eager author turns in a work that obviously will not become a best seller?

There are plent of women and men who want to write about their grandparents or their own childhood, and Dr. Bestor says "good for them."

"There is great satisfaction in that kind of writing." She points out that there are options for writers of such specialized pieces, such as self-publishing, making photocopies and having them bound, or fi nding a private sponsor to publish a small quantity.

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