Ask An Editor
I've been an editor for *cough* nearly twenty years, so writing books sometimes feels like handling an unwieldy double-edged literary sword.
I love to write, obviously, but on the downside, it can be near impossible to take off my editor's hat and lose myself in my work. I'm a stickler for correct formatting, I can't type past a punctuation error and I'm neurotically critical of the words I put on the page. One of my irrational fears is hitting "send" or "publish" on an email or page with a big honking mistake in it (which happens, of course, usually at the worst times). On the plus side, my manuscripts come out fairly clean, I really really enjoy revising and rewriting, and I have a healthy relationship with constructive feedback. Best of all, I know the value of working with an experienced editor. In fact, that back-and-forth is one of my favourite parts of the writing process. Thanks to my long experience as a copyeditor, I get the most value working with a structural or developmental editor.
But I get it: the idea of working with an editor can feel a little daunting. Hiring a publishing professional to evaluate and improve your work is an important and significant investment in your writing career—and if you plan to write more than one book, it's an investment you'll make more than once.
Here are a few questions I've been asked about working with an editor. I'd like to preface my answers with the caveat that there is no one path to publication. We all get there in our own roundabout way. So have a read, take on board what works for you and if something doesn't feel right, ask around for a second opinion.
Is there a question you'd like to ask me? Get in touch via email or socials and let me know!
Do I need to hire an editor?
If you intend to pursue a traditional publishing path, you may not require the help of an editor at all. Many authors have a brilliant grasp on narrative voice and writing technique (often developed with the help of writing courses and critique groups), and they've landed literary representation or a publishing contract without the input of an editor. That said, competition for publishing deals only gets tougher every year, so the tighter, cleaner and shinier your manuscript, the better chance it has of standing out from the crowd.
Self-publishing authors almost always need to work with an editor. If a polished finished product is important to you—and believe me, it's important to your readers—you'll want to invest in the services of a professional editor.
How do I choose an editor?
The type of editing a manuscript needs will vary from author to author and book to book, and you won't necessarily "click" with every editor out there, so I recommend requesting a sample edit from any potential service provider. Take note of their attention to detail and professional knowledge as well as their customer service and energy.
Also consider the language you've chosen for your book. For example, there are important differences between Australian, US, UK and Canadian English. Make sure your editor is familiar with the conventions, rules and style guides for the language you've used.
What are the differences between a manuscript assessment, content review, structural or developmental edit, line edit, copyedit and proofread?
While there are general ways to define these different stages of editing a book, individual editors will approach their work a little differently. Below is an overview of common editing services and terminology, but it's best check the details with whoever you want to hire so you know upfront what you can expect for your investment.
Manuscript assessment Often the first, and most affordable, professional editing service for authors (both new and experienced) is the manuscript assessment. This broad evaluation of the nuts and bolts of your book is sometimes referred to as a manuscript appraisal, and it's a high-level critique of the major moving parts of your story. A manuscript assessment is usually delivered as a written report of between 1000 and 3000 words. It's an overview of editorial feedback, including your book's suitability for the target market, a review of its themes and recognition of positive aspects of your work. Some editors will provide notes on plot, structure and pacing, clarity and continuity, world building, voice and language, and character development, as well as those elements that require revision. They might offer suggestions for further editing or best next steps to get your book ready to publish. A manuscript assessment is suited to manuscripts that have been self-edited. It doesn't usually include correction of errors (spelling, punctuation or grammar) or line editing.
Content review Not quite a beta read, not quite a developmental edit, a content review lands at that sweet spot between the two. An editor will read your book and give generous feedback on your story from the perspective of a reader using an editor's lens. A content review often includes the editor's reactions as a reader (the good and the bad), big-picture suggestions and responses to any specific questions or concerns you have about your story or your writing. A content review is best suited to material that has been through more than one round of drafting. It does not include correction of errors (spelling, punctuation or grammar) or line editing.
Structural or developmental edit These terms are often used interchangeably, but they can mean different things to different editors. A structural edit makes sure the moving parts of your story are in the right place and in an order that makes sense. Think of it as putting the pieces of your story puzzle together in a way that makes them snap. A developmental edit digs deeper, picking at threads of plot, themes, character, language, point of view, pacing and more as well as the structural integrity of your story. Both types of edits are usually delivered as a multi-page report. A lot of hours goes into these types of edits, so they're generally the most expensive.
Line editing This stage is all about structure on a sentence level. An editor will look at your writing and find ways to tighten, sharpen and strengthen your prose. They'll correct spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, suggest ways to improve clarity and descriptions, and pick up repetition. Your editor may also give you high-level developmental feedback related to character, language, dialogue, pacing and plot. Line editing often includes a unique style sheet. It's best suited to manuscripts that have been reviewed by beta readers or critique partners and have already been self edited.
Copyediting This round of edits addresses technical and literal errors in your writing. Your editor will correct mistakes in spelling, punctuation, grammar, capitalisation and word usage. They may also give you general feedback. You should be happy with the structure of your story as well as the standard and style of your writing before you submit it for a copyedit. If you'd like feedback on sentence structure and prose, you may like to consider a line edit.
Proofreading Last but never least, proofreading is your final line of defence against spelling, grammar, punctuation and spacing errors in your book. If your book is going to appear in print, you have the option of requesting a proofread for not only technical and literal errors in the text, but also formatting mistakes. These can include kerning and tracking that is too tight or too loose, rivers, rags, stacks, widows and orphans. Proofreading is the last stage of editing your work before publication. It is a good idea to have "fresh eyes" proofread your book, that is, an editor who hasn't read your manuscript before.
Can I use editing software instead?
Editing software, such as Grammarly, ProWritingAid and PerfectIt, has a place in modern editing. These programs can catch errors quickly, and they're great tools for authors and editors alike. However, nothing can completely replace the contribution of an experienced editor. They know when to accept automated recommendations, when to ignore them and how to apply them in ways that improve your writing without compromising on those important elements of voice and style.
Will an editor answer questions about my edit?
Yes, they should. It's normal to have questions about your manuscript once it's edited, and understanding the "why" behind an edit is one of the best ways to improve your craft. While reading your editor's notes, make a list of anything you're not sure about and then ask for more information. Once you "get it", you won't make the same mistakes again, your next manuscript will be cleaner than the one before and you'll get greater value from any additional rounds of edits and revisions.
What if I disagree with a change my editor made to my manuscript?
It is up to you to accept or reject the changes or suggestions your editor gives you. Many, if not most, edits will be to correct errors and improve prose, and for your investment in professional editing to be worthwhile, I suggest you accept these types of changes. If anything looks odd or you're not sure why your editor made a change, make a note and ask them to explain their reasoning.
However, some suggestions can be a matter of style, or a prompt for you to consider a different way to express an idea. These types of edits are subjective and recommendations only. As the author, you are the best advocate of your own work, and I encourage you to ask questions about these types of edits. You should feel confident about backing your writing and your choices when it's important to your story.
How much does an edit cost?
Editing rates vary depending on the skills and experience of the editor. For an overview on standard rates in Australia, visit Editors' Pay Rates.
How do I format my manuscript for editing (and submissions)?
Many editors prefer manuscripts to be formatted as though they were ready to send to a literary agent or publisher. Formatting your material for editing is a good excuse to brush up on your understanding of how to prepare your manuscript for submission. Always check the websites of individual agents and publishing houses for specific formatting requirements before you submit to each (they might differ in small or significant ways), but following these guidelines now is a good place to start.
To format your manuscript for editing:
- save your manuscript as a Microsoft Word document
- in the Font palette, select a common serif font, such as Times New Roman, in 12-point size
- in the Paragraph palette, select Left Alignment, First Line Indentation, 0-pt Before and After Spacing, and Double Line Spacing
- in the Header, insert the title of your manuscript (left side) and your name (right side)
- in the Footer, insert automatic page numbers (right side)
- include a cover page with your name and contact details, as well as the title of your manuscript and its approximate word count
- insert a page break before each new chapter
- remove any Tracked changes or comments that may be have been attached to your manuscript in previous reviews or edits.
Can an editor guarantee me a publishing contract? Can they introduce me to a literary agent? Can they turn my first draft into a bestseller?
Oh, wouldn't that be nice? Professional editing is a step in the right direction towards these heady goals, but crossing the finish line is up to you.
Editing, like writing, is part art, part technique, and while editing will help you make your manuscript the very best it can be, a story that connects powerfully with one person (a literary agent, a publisher, a book reviewer, a reader) may not make much of an impression on another. And that's okay. Like so many things in life, connecting with readers and sharing your stories is a lot like finding your tribe. Somewhere out there are people who will enthusiastically devour your words and then beg you for more. Your first job, however, is to get the words written and written well—and that's where an editor can help.
Can an editor guarantee my manuscript will be completely free of errors?
Alas, no. Editors are human, after all, and even the most popular, bestselling traditionally published books find themselves marked up in red pen by eagle-eyed early readers gleefully circling mistakes that really shouldn't be there. It's also important to remember that some style choices could be considered errors by one author or editor and not another, so in some cases, "mistakes" are simply a matter of style.
It's an editor's job to remedy errors in your writing, but they can't guarantee a perfectly clean manuscript. If you're worried about a rogue error slipping through to the printed page—a valid concern for self-publishing authors in particular—invest in a different proofreader as the final gatekeeper before sharing your book with the world.
Where can I find an editor?
In Australia, the best place to find a qualified and reliable editor is via the Freelance Editors' Network. Many of the editors listed here are also able to edit books written in US and UK English.