What does a book editor do? Part 1

MichelleOn WritingLeave a Comment

What does a book editor do? Part 1

Put simply, a book editor’s job is to critique, correct, and enhance an author’s manuscript. A good editor finds enjoyment in your genre and has experience in that genre. She loves a good story, appreciates the power of words, and has the skill and passion needed to propel you toward success.

A “book edit” is not a single task. There are many different kinds of editing, which should be performed in stages. Some books need to go through every stage; others don’t.

Manuscript evaluation
The first person to read your book should never be the first person to buy your book. You need a story critique—or an evaluation of your plot, pacing, characters, and voice—before you publish. Is the story readable, compelling, enjoyable? Is it confusing? Which parts?

An editor’s feedback must be communicated in a professional and truly helpful manner, delivered in conjunction with tools and insights the author needs to implement changes. This collaborative effort is most effective when the author and editor understand each other, when personalities “mesh” and the two parties enjoy working together. Personality conflicts are not impossible to work through, but it is important to consider this factor when hiring any novel editor.

Some authors are able to find a productive group of beta readers. A good beta reader does more than say if they love it or hate it. That kind of feedback isn’t helpful. If you can’t find beta readers, or your beta readers don’t offer constructive feedback that helps you sell your book, you can hire a book editor to perform a professional critique—also called a manuscript evaluation.

Developmental editing (also called structural editing)
Did your story sound better inside your head than it does on paper? Is it incomplete? Did it fail to engage beta readers? Do you know it has problems but aren’t sure how to fix them?

A developmental editor has a bird’s-eye view of your story to help you put the pieces together. She takes a deep dive to help you focus on your audience and clarify the direction and tone of your manuscript. Developmental editing is the most collaborative and requires a great deal of trust, respect, and open communication from both parties. It should be performed before line editing, copy editing, or proofreading.

Developmental editing can sometimes involve a bit of ghostwriting or co-writing on the editor’s part, so it’s important to find an editor who is also a skilled writer and can “capture your vision” in her own words. This kind of editing is typically charged hourly, so the cost can vary greatly depending on the condition of your manuscript and your editor’s skillset. A true professional editor never asks for a share of your book’s rights or royalties, no matter how involved her edit may be, and she never plagiarizes any work. 

Line editing and copy editing
Your story is engaging and flows well, but you still have problems like word/phrase repetition, inconsistencies with voice, tense, or point of view, maybe a few clunky sentences or paragraphs. Line editing and copy editing are a little different, but I include them together because the goal is the same: to remove awkwardness and confusion, ensuring you “say what you mean and mean what you say,” with respect to your voice and artistry.

This stage of editing often requires deleting entire words or phrases, even whole paragraphs (but probably not whole chapters or scenes, which is more structural editing). The purpose is to reveal the gems of the story, and your writing itself, by removing that which isn’t needed, and tightening up that which is.

Proofreading is the last stage of editing before the work is published. It should be performed by an eagle-eyed editor who can spot typos like misspellings, wrong word choice, and missing or incorrect punctuation. Ideally, the book will be formatted (or “laid out”) so the proofreader can check for formatting issues, too. Proofreading turns your manuscript into a book!

Authors should not pay a fortune for proofreading. It should be easy, because your manuscript has already been through an evaluation, possibly some developmental editing, as well as line editing and/or copy editing. To be clear, line editing and copy editing will probably fix for several errors, but neither service is considered proofreading. Typos are bound to linger, especially after a substantive line or copy edit, so it needs to be proofed once more before publication.

If your manuscript has more than 1 error per 10,000 words, it has not been properly proofread.

Click here to continue to Part 2 of this blog.

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