Monday, September 14, 2009

Editors, Editors, and More Editors

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Getting an editor to read and polish your manuscript sounds easy enough. Just call (or e-mail) one, agree on price, send your work, and wait for it to come back buffed into a bestseller. If only it were that simple.

Before addressing the editor issue, however, you need to know your genre and, by extension, your intended audience. Editors — like doctors, lawyers, and a number of other professionals — specialize. For example, a top-notch mystery editor may be a real dud when it comes to nonfiction. And the ability to hone a romance into a reader’s delight assures neither the editor’s interest nor skills to make science fiction shine.

Next, determine what kind of editor will do the best job on your manuscript. Do you need a developmental editor? Content or substantive editor? How about a copy editor? Technical editor? Line editor? Proofreader? More than one of the above? And why so many? Every book contains numerous elements that may need a professional touch. Let’s look at your manuscript through the eyes of different editors.

A developmental editor helps you create and organize content from the outset of the writing to the end of your book. He or she may also offer format suggestions, alter sentence and paragraph location to facilitate flow, and shape content to meet the needs of your intended audience. Extraneous or redundant material will be eliminated, and the addition of new material may be suggested. The table of contents falls within this editor’s scope. Research may be urged (a biggie if you want your work to be credible—whether fiction or nonfiction). The developmental editor may even rewrite portions of your book that seem ambiguous or incomplete.

Content and substantive editors address organization, too, but from the perspectives of structure, plot, logical flow, style, content, and characterization. Some material may be eliminated and chapters or scenes rewritten. He or she will point out inconsistencies in plotting and characterization and suggest ways to overcome these flaws. Footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies, if included, receive attention.

The work of copy editors and line editors often overlaps. They address word choices, capitalization, and consistent usage, as well as suggest ways to smooth, clarify, and tighten content to maximize your book’s strengths. Spelling and grammar errors are noted and corrected.

A technical editor, often an expert in your topic, checks the accuracy of technical information and terminology.

The importance of proofreading must never be underestimated. This final edit focuses on punctuation, typos and spelling errors, awkward structures, misplaced or dangling modifiers, and any other flaws that may have been overlooked during prior edits. The proofreader applies the final polish to your finished manuscript that then qualifies for submission to an agent or publisher.

Can’t you do your own editing if you possess the skills? No. You are too close to your work to see its weaknesses, ambiguities, and errors. Even those who edit other writers’ works need editors for their manuscripts. Keep in mind, though, that self-editing before you hire an editor saves both time and money. (Review Morgan Mandel's and Patricia Stoltey’s posts on self-editing.)

You’re now ready to use the information above, determine the kind of editor needed, interview those who meet your requirements, and choose one who not only is right for your book, but also is right for you . . . but that’s another topic—choosing the right editor in your genre.
Linda Lane writes, edits, and publishes books. Her latest novel, Treacherous Tango, will be released this summer. To make powerful editing available and affordable, she has partnered with two other editors to provide fast, thorough, professional, and comprehensive editing services to those on limited budgets.


  1. I need one of each, please. :)

    Sometimes it boggles my mind just how many hands a manuscript passes through.

    Doesn't surprise me that release dates are set so far ahead.

  2. Very good explanation of the roles of the various editors. Thanks so much.

  3. This is excellent information for authors, and extremely important for those who self-publish and probably won't have a publisher's editor on the project. We need to self-edit until we think we have a polished manuscript, and then have a professional editor (or editors) take us the rest of the way.

  4. Wow. There is a lot more to editing services than I knew. Thanks, Linda, this helped educate me to know what I need to look for.
    And I agree with Janet, I need one of each, please! LOL

  5. Thank you. This post comes at the perfect time for me.

  6. I'm quite happy with the work Helen Ginger did for me on my new release, Killer Career. It's hard to keep track of all the little details. I like the revision phase of self-editing, but when it comes to examining every little character that's when I get aggravated, but it must be done.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Hi Thanks for defining the different aspects of an edit. I was struggling with that. Did i miss a link to the author's page?
    Thank you
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Authors
    will be tweeting this post

  8. Great information. Any good editor will be able to tell clients what he or she specializes in, and it does make a difference.


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