Monday, August 24, 2020

Everything You Need to Know About Working With an Editor

If you feel the end is in sight, or maybe you think you need a developmental editor to help finish your book off properly, then you need to start asking yourself some important questions about how you want your book to be edited.  

If it's your first time publishing, finding the right editor can be a bit tricky.  So here are some helpful tips to get you started.

Knowing Your Audience is Key

Knowing which audience your book is aimed at will help your editor with language usage, structure and content.  

A prime example would be someone that has a passion for carpentry, or has a love of making things out of wood with their hands.  Your readers will be wood enthusiasts and carpenters, and you hope that your book will help you connect with other people, just like you, who have a passion for woodworking.

What to Look Out For

Copyediting and proofreading services can be offered by just about anyone with any amount of experience.  But how do you find an affordable editor that will edit your manuscript, the way a manuscript should be edited?

The interactions between an editor and an author can be a difficult process to understand, and require an editor with the right experience, and skill.  

So here is a complete guide to getting the best editor.

What Does an Editor Do?

When it comes to editing there is a lot of confusion surrounding what an editor does, and where they are in the publishing process.  There is no such thing as just an editor, instead it a sequence of important individuals that play a part in the editing process, and looks something like this:

Developmental Editor → Substantive Editor  → Copy Editor → Proofreader

How to Find the Right Editor for Your Book

Let's take another look at the different kinds of editing out there.

The Four Levels of Editing

As mentioned in previous blog posts there are four separate levels of editing, these being developmental editing, substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading. 

1. Developmental Editor

Developmental editing is an early twentieth century invention, and you could call Max Perkins one of the first pioneers.  At a time when editors were looked down upon, Perkins came in and transformed the face of publishing.

A really good developmental editor will guide an author through the birth, planning the overall structure, and outline of a book.  Coaching the author chapter by chapter, but is more commonly engaged after the draft has been written.  The manuscript then requires a substantial revision and restructuring.

Perkins' greatest professional challenge came in the form of Thomas Wolfe, a writer that lacked artistic self-discipline.  Wolfe wrote a 330,000 word novel, and Perkins persuaded Wolfe to cut it down by 90,000 words.  When it was eventually published in 1929, Look Homeward, Angel changed Wolfe into a national sensation.

Times have changed quite a bit in the traditional publishing industry, meaning you're unlikely to come across a publishing house that will work with you that closely, but there are plenty of independent editors that will work with you.

2. Substantive Editing

After you've written your first draft, you need to start looking for a substantive editor to look over your work as a whole.  Unlike a developmental editor, a substantive editor wants to see the end manuscript,  making sure that you've done everything you can before it's edited.

The substantive editor's job is to focus on the big picture, which includes the genre, theme, character or point of view, structure, pacing, and the depth of research.  They'll be making suggestions based on your whole best effort, with a more definite sense of how each of their ideas will affect the rest of the book.  They may end up telling you to start over, and do a new rewrite, which sounds awful when you've spent months or even years on your manuscript, but this is all for your betterment.

The option of which editor is best, developmental or substantive depends on how you work best as a writer.  A developmental editor will give you feedback, encouragement, and course correction as you write.  If you want to make your own way, and later be shown where to improve later on, then you need a substantive editor.

Operationally speaking, if you're looking for more of a collaboration, then a developmental is for you. If you want more freedom with your writing, then a substantive editor will do the job. 

After you've handed your manuscript over to the substantive editor they will supplement their inline edits with an editorial letter, this is a multi-page letter that will explain and give context to what you see in the already marked up manuscript.  It's up to you to implement all of the suggestions before returning your revision for another round.  This procedure may go on several times before the experience is complete.

3. Copyediting

Copyeditors come into their own after the manuscript has been through a developmental or substantive editing stage.  A copyeditor won't repair things like plot, theme, pacing or structure.  Instead a copyeditor is occupied with the finer points of your manuscript, things like syntax, word choice, factual accuracy, repetition, inconsistencies, grammar style, and spelling. 

Language requires high standards, and rightly so, it requires an experienced set of eyes to polish your manuscript.

4. Proofreading

Before your book gets printed, proofreading is the final stage needed.  When you and your editor can't see mistakes anymore.  They're also the last people to sign off on your manuscript before it gets put into print.  A proofreader will compare the final copyedits from the last stage to ensure nothing has been missed.  Correcting any remaining textual errors, in addition to any word, line, paragraph, or page breaks.

Frequent Misconceptions and Questions

I thought there were more than four kinds of editing?

The other kinds of editing you may have stumbled upon include:

Line editing

Used for fluidity or rhythm of prose.

Sensitivity editing

Used for bias and inclusivity.

Technical editing

Used for instruction manuals and other similar documents.

Manuscript critiquing

Used for looking at the "big picture" elements of a manuscript.

Fact checking

Not unlike a copyeditor, but actually a separate task.

Textual editing

Basically all four kinds of editing in one phrase.

If you wanted you could hire each one separately, or just ask any potential editor if they can include it in their services.

I thought all editors were the same 

You'll find that most editors blur the lines of their job description by including other skills such as line editing, copyediting and various other mixes of editing in the work they do.

As a writer you need an editor that understands the differences between the four kinds of editing, described above, and be able to do what they do, and be able to explain clearly what needs to be done before, and after to guarantee a thorough edit.

Do I really need all of these editors for my book, because my budget doesn't go that far?

Find an editor you trust to do the job, you don't need a small army to do it for you, because that would be a disaster.

The process of traditional book publishing required four kinds of editing, but you'll find very few authors put their book through much work.  

How Do I Know Which Editor is the Most Suitable for My Manuscript?

Before you've agreed to work with any editor, you'll be asked to handover your manuscript.  This isn't because they're trying to steal your work, but because they want to take a look at your writing skills.  They need to understand where you are on the editing spectrum, and how much work needs to be done. The kind of editor you choose lies in your hands, but here's a quick summary:

  • If your idea isn't fully formed, or your manuscript is incomplete you need a developmental editor.
  • If you feel your manuscript is done and in pretty good condition, you need a substantive editor.
  • If your manuscript has seen a substantive editor, you require a copyeditor.
  • If your manuscript has been through all of the above, you need a proofreader.

My grammar and spelling skills are really good, I don't need an editor

When it comes to editing a book it requires more than one set of eyes, and requires knowing more than just grammar and punctuation.  When you've been staring at a document for a long time your brain starts filling in the blanks for you, and your eyes read the shapes of words more than letters.  

That's a sign that you need an extra set of eyes to look over your manuscript.

I'm Not a Professional Writer, Do I Need an Editor? 

If you're already asking this question, then you're ready to take on an editor, and there's no harm in investing in someone that will make your work look really good.

If you recognize you can't handle it all yourself, and your writing is important to you, then you know you're ready for an editor.

Supposing My Editor Doesn't Like My Ideas and Uniqueness?

Believe it or not, editors and authors are both on the same team, and working toward the same goal.  If you find an editor that wants to change your perception of the project, then start looking somewhere else.

Won't I Get an Editor With My Publishing Deal?

Yes, authors are usually partnered with an in-house freelance editor within a traditional publishing house, and that cost is usually covered by the publishing house.  Be that as it may you need to go in with reasonable expectations.  

Here are some words of wisdom for today's writers:

1. Getting Your Work edited by a developmental, substantive or copyeditor, never replaces the job of an in-house editor.

2. When you've signed your book publishing contract, your independent editor may not want to do anymore work on your manuscript.  This will be left to your in-house editor, who may be a bit overstretched, and may already feel your book is good enough. 

3. It seems that more and more publishers are outsourcing editing to independent editors, as a result there are a lot of highly qualified professionals available for hire.

Why Writers Need Editors

Every book you've ever read has had an editor.

To boil it down simply, reading standards require readability and correctness, and plus your readers are entitled to the best you can give them.

Furthermore, working with an editor will make you a better writer.  Your editor is committed to your book as you are.  An editor has the eye to spot the mistakes that will make your writing great. 

How Editors Charge for Their Work

The more books you have published, the more editors you'll find in your in own genre, and the easier you'll find selecting a good one.

If you're just starting out, or you don't know who you want to work with, here are some helpful tips to get you started: 

  • Start by asking your fellow writers for recommendations, but bear in mind that book editors have their own particular kind of speciality and come with their own sensitivities.   
  • Take a look at the Acknowledgements section of the books in your genre.  An author happy with the finished product will give their editor a good write up, making it easier for you to find them on Google.  You may find some of these editors are unavailable for hire if they're already working for a publishing house, but most will be independent. 
  • Start communicating with people in your network, such as literary agents, publishing consultants, independent book designers.  People know other people, so it makes sense one of them probably knows a good editor. 
  • Listen to podcasts, and follow blogs written by well-known writers, editors, and other publishing professionals you like and respect.  Take note about how they talk about the editing process, and who they know and work with.

How to Choose the Right Editor for Your Manuscript

Operating in any editing relationship, you need to be able to tackle these two things, specialised ability, and operational details.

1. Specialised ability

In any industry there are people who say they're competent at the job, but the reality is they're frauds.  So here are six questions to ask your editor.

  • How much editing experience do you have?
  • What kind of editing do you specialise in?
  • What level of editing would you recommend for my book?
  • Have you worked on a book like mine before?
  • What are your references?
  • Do you have a sample edit I can look at?

2. Operational details

Editors have their own particular way of working, you want to know:

  • How do you operate as an editor?
  • How do you prefer to communicate?
  • How available are you?
  • How much do you charge?

What to Expect from Your Editor

Bare the following points in mind when you recruit an editor:

Things Your Editor Can Do
  • Tell you when your book isn't working.
  • Illustrate what needs fixing.
  • Facilitate in your books full potential.
  • Help you become better at your writing craft.

Things Your Editor Can't Do

  • Fix your book for you.
  • Give you any guarantees.

Where to Find a Professional Editor

This list of editors covers everything from developmental editing, to proofreading, copyediting, to line editing.  

Jericho Writer's

The Book Butchers

Harry Dewulf

The History Quill

The Blue Garret

The Literary Consultancy


Independent Editor's Group


Nail Your Novel

Victoria Mixon 

Novel Doctor

Line Upon Line Services

StoryGrid Editing Services


Stories Rule Press

The Author Life


New York Book Editors

ebook Launch


Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP)

Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers of Ireland (AEPI)

Editorial Freelancers Association 

Other Editors

Kendall Ashley Creative

Affordable Editors

Taylored Content

Kristen Hall-Geisler 

ABC Proofreading and Copyediting

Taylor Your Writing

Write Your Best Book 

Natasha Raulerson

David Haviland

The Darling Axe


Ashley Conner

Victory Editing

Athans & Associates

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Read more:

The Essential Proofreading and Editing Guide

What You Need to Know About Editing a Book

Proofreading Essentials

8 Tips to Sharpen Your Editing Skil

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