Every book needs editing. And if we’re being honest, editing your own work is nearly impossible. That’s where professional book editors come in.
Working with an experienced book editor is one of the best investments you can make for your book and your writing career.
Why? Because working with a good editor can take your book from an idea, or messy first draft, to a finished manuscript that “works.” A good editor can also help you improve your writing skills, which will probably save you time and money on your next project. Bad editors, on the other hand, can waste your time and money, and can even be a hindrance on your path to publication or to becoming a better writer.
So, when you’ve decided you want to work with a professional editor, how do you know what type of editor you need? Or when in the process you need them?
The answer depends on where you are in the writing and publishing process.
Each type of editing has its own function and benefit to the author and their manuscript.
You need to work with the type of editor who is going to give you the right kind of feedback and help for the stage you’re at. For example, if you just finished a first draft, you’ll need a Developmental Editor, not a Copy Editor.
Some editors provide all levels of editing, while others specialize in the style or depth of editing they do. There are even editors that prefer to work in, or specialize in, certain genres over others.
You also need to think about what you’re hoping to accomplish when working with an editor. Some things to consider are: Would you like to work with an editor on an ongoing basis, or just get their feedback once? Do you need help turning your idea into a working draft? Are you hoping to brainstorm with your editor?
Let’s take a look at what each kind of editor does and when you need them in the writing and publishing process.
A Developmental Editor (sometimes called a Structural Editor) is someone who looks at the “big picture” of your story.
They are concerned with the overall content and structure of your manuscript, and whether or not your story “works”. A Developmental Editor focuses on things such as story structure and plot, character development, genre, theme, and point of view. They will examine your story on a micro, scene-by-scene level, as well as the macro, global story level. At the end of their analysis, they will provide an editorial letter that acknowledges everything that is working within the manuscript, and outlines what is not, offering suggestions for revision.
Sometimes a Developmental Editor can act as a writing coach, guiding you through the book writing process start to finish. If you decide to work with a Developmental Editor on an ongoing basis, they can teach you how to become a better writer using your manuscript as a learning tool. The benefit of this process is the shortened feedback loop between execution and evaluation, compressing the craft learning process.
A Developmental Editor’s job is not to write or rewrite your story for you. If you’re looking for someone to do that, then you need to hire a ghostwriter.
To recap, you can work with a Developmental Editor in a few ways:
Any big-picture questions must be answered before your words are corrected and polished by a Line Editor or a Copy Editor.
A Line Editor (sometimes called a Stylistic Editor) focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader. They will go through your manuscript line by line to make sure the voice and style of writing are consistent and will focus on things like awkward phrasing, unnecessary repetition, telling vs. showing, passive voice, dialogue, point of view, etc. A Line Editor will also look for, and flag, any inconsistencies in your characters, settings, and the story’s timeline.
To allow for easier reading, they may suggest cutting or moving sentences or paragraphs. A good Line Editor does all of this while preserving the meaning and voice of the original text. It is not the job of a Line Editor to provide you with an overall view of the quality, structure, or pacing of the story. That’s what a Developmental Editor is for.
Before you send your manuscript to a Line Editor, any big, structural changes should be taken care of.
A Copy Editor is someone who focuses on spelling, grammar, and punctuation. They will address commonly confused words (example, affect vs. effect) as well as ensure consistency with capitalization, hyphenation, and numerals. This is last edit before the manuscript is sent to production. A common misconception is that all editors are copyeditors, which isn’t true. There can be Developmental Editors or Line Editors that do not provide copy editing services and vice versa.
Copy editing should come after a line edit, not at the same time or before. Before you send your manuscript to a Copy Editor, the page-by-page, sentence-by-sentence content of your manuscript should be final.
A Proofreader looks at the book once it’s been formatted for print or digital publication. They make sure the Copy Editor’s notes made it into the final version (or proof), and that the layout and pages numbers are correct. Their job is to make sure your book is as error-free as possible before it gets released to the public. It is not the Proofreader’s job to comment on whether or not the story makes sense or engages the reader.
An Acquisition Editor works for a publishing company. It’s their job to identify which manuscripts the publishing company should pursue. They acquire manuscripts that they think will sell well post-publication. If the publishing house decides to take on your manuscript, the Acquisition Editor will be your main point of contact. They will take you to book launch meetings, coordinate the cover design, write the back cover copy, etc. Your manuscript will have a better chance of impressing an Acquisition Editor if it’s gone through a developmental edit, a line edit, and a copy edit first. If you want to self-publish, then you don’t need approval from a Literary Agent or an Acquisition Editor.
There’s a lot of confusing information out there about what each type of editor does. No matter which type of editor you’re hiring, make sure you’re both clear on exactly what the editor will be providing.
And don’t be afraid to ask questions to get to know the editor before committing to hiring them. Here are some examples of what you can ask:
Editing is a profession like any other. It’s the editor’s job to help the author produce a book that will keep the reader engaged. If an editor doesn’t understand the different types of editing, or can’t clearly explain the services they offer, keep looking.
And, above all, remember that an editor shares your goal of making the best book possible. If you can view your editor as a part of your team, it will be easier to accept their feedback. Approach the editing process with an open mind and a willingness to learn, and you WILL become a better writer.
👉 Let's discuss in the comments: Have you ever worked with an editor or a writing coach? What was your experience like? What advice would you give someone who’s on the fence about working with an editor? Do you have any reservations about hiring an editor? Let us know in the comments below!
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