The art and craft of editing: Dr Helen Moffett

12 May 2023
Dr Helen Moffett
12 May 2023

Dates: Wednesdays from 18:00 to 20:00 (SAST); 7 June to 16 August (9 August no class – public holiday)

Course fee: Full fee R4 500; Staff R2 500; Students R1 500


‘Editors are basically psychologists who charge a lower hourly rate.’ – Louis Greenberg

Many believe they understand what happens when a manuscript is edited (‘You correct the spelling and grammar, right?’). However, editing encompasses a wide range of skills and procedures, many of which are mysteries to the reading public, and hotly debated even within the publishing and journalism fields.

Editing done by professionals (those paid to edit a manuscript written by someone else) and editing done by writers polishing their own work for presentation or publication involve different tasks, even though there is a large degree of overlap.

This course is primarily aimed at writers hoping to edit their own work, although there will be substantial discussion of professional editing processes as well, which will be useful to those who go on to have their works accepted by publishers, or who might want to venture into the tricky terrain of self-publishing.

This intensive short course will cover the theory, practice and tricks of the trade of editing, supported by practical examples and exercises. We will not discuss how to correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, partly because these obviously differ between languages. The focus will be on editing skills that apply across all languages in which publication takes place. There will be guidance on how to use online resources for language and grammar support.

Topics covered in ten two-hour lectures include: different kinds of editing (developmental editing, structural editing, copy editing, line editing, technical editing, sub-editing); the politics and ethics of editing, including the use of ‘sensitivity’ readers; how to assess and develop a manuscript, including your own; the nitty-gritty of taking a red pen to a text; editing different kinds of works – fiction (including so-called genre fiction), non-fiction (including academic and trade works such as memoirs or books on current events), short stories, and poetry; self-publishing dos and don’ts; project and production management – how to work with others in the publishing team.

Helen Moffett is an experienced editor, author, academic and poet. She has lectured as far afield as Trinidad and Alaska. She has authored, co-authored, or collated over 20 books, ranging from university textbooks to poetry to literary fiction.She has worked in publishing for almost 30 years, and has been lucky enough to work with some of the most dazzling authors in Africa and elsewhere. Many of them have gone on to win national and international awards and honours.  In 2016, she was named one of the top ten literary editors and curators from the African continent.

She has been training African writers and academics in writing, editing and self-editing skills since 2000, and for four years, she headed the Short Story Day Africa Editing Mentoring programme, an initiative to identify talent and provide training and support to younger editors working for African publishers and on literary platforms.

For more details of Helen's authors and projects, visit

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