In the current era of e-publishing and self-publishing, more people are writing and publishing that ever before―but not all of them understand the importance a good editor can make to their writing. In fact, some are tempted to skip an editor altogether, or just have a friend (who was always good in English) read and critique their work. Don’t do it! Your reputation (and perhaps even your money) is on the line. After all, you wouldn’t hire a techie friend to diagnose your transmission would you? Then why take the risk that your hard work might leave you stranded if not technically sound?
Most people have heard of editors and vaguely know what editors do, but not everyone knows that there are different types of editors who provide different services. It might help if you think of a professional editor as a surgeon or mechanic who is paid to help to polish and pull your fledgling book together into a fit, well-groomed masterpiece.
Just as there are heart surgeons and brain surgeons, there are editors for everything that ails your manuscript. You just have to know what kind of editor you need. I’ve written this post to help you figure that out.
Five reasons why a copy editor is essential:
1. Homonyms confuse you.
2. You’ve never heard of an em dash.
3. Punctuation is not your strong suit.
4. You don’t know when to use a single quotation mark (‘) or a double one (“).
5. This is your first book.
A copy editor’s job is to give a manuscript a basic review, to make sure that it contains all the elements of good writing, including proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, and subject-verb agreement. These elements are also part of what is called syntax, which means the proper arrangement of words and punctuation in a sentence. The “five Cs” of copy editing are: clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent. Put another way, a copy editor will make sure that your writing reflects each of those “C” words, and contains no technical errors. Errors in a book make it less authentic and believable. Every manuscript should, at the very least, be reviewed by a copy editor.
Example: A copy editor recently received the following text: “ I’m tired, I don’t want to go out to dinner tonight ”. She said “ But you have too! Their going to be here soon! “ He said.
The editor corrected the text as follows: “I’m tired. I don’t want to go out to dinner tonight,” she said.
“But you have to! They’re going to be here soon,” he exclaimed.
The following text took a bit longer to correct:
Liz was expecting company at 11:00, but everything was ready at 10:30, so she went next door to visit her neighbor for a few minutes. At 10:50 her sun, Been, called her sell phone. He sounded a bit breathless.
“Mom, your too friends are hear. They brought in the male and there baring gifts two. Won is in a bade mooed and said she bald all the weigh hear. She feels udderly horse today butt she looks okay to me, even though her car was toad last weak. The other lady said I’m a deer and wants to make peas with you because she wasn’t fare to you and she aloud me to hold the flours she brought. Sew Mom, could you pleas come home now? Things aren’t making scents and I’m getting a little tents.”
Liz went home rite aweigh.
If you do not know what is wrong with the above paragraph- get an editor right away! Hint: There are 30 errors in this homonym example.
Four reasons why you might need a line editor:
1. You want to add vibrancy to your writing.
2. You write overly long sentences.
3. Sometimes you struggle to find the right words to use.
4. You’re not familiar with a thesaurus.
A line editor’s job is to make sure that you, as a writer, are putting out the best quality product possible. This type of editor is the difference between being a writer with a good idea and a professional author. He or she will go over each sentence to make sure it’s ready for publication. This person is all about words―their magic and their power. She understands that words paint pictures in the mind of a reader, and that word selection can make a story vivid or dull. A line editor will search out and correct grammatically fractured sentences.
This includes legal issues, such as noting instances where permission to use material may be needed from an outside source. Like copy editors, a line editor will also check your work for grammar, punctuation, spelling and word usage, and will also note areas that are recommended for changes.
One line editor received a manuscript in which the main character “advised” everything he said whenever he spoke, as in the following: “I’ll pick you up after school,” he advised. The editor encouraged the writer to explore the many different words we have to convey the word “said.” Examples are: growled, yelped, cried, snarled, shouted, exclaimed, announced, reported, proclaimed, stated, answered, responded … you get the picture. Each of those suggested words added more vividness to the writer’s sentences, and allowed the reader to form a more colorful picture of the character’s mood when he spoke.
Here’s another example. What would you do with it? “Yesterday was one of those days I should have stayed in bed. I was late to work because my alarm clock didn’t go off, so I missed the 9:00 meeting and since I wasn’t there, I was assigned to plan the office party next month and OMG, I just hate doing that―I’m not good at those people things; then at lunch I got mustard on my tie and as I was trying to wipe it off I dropped my hot dog and would you believe that a dog ate it so I was hungry all afternoon, and then to make things worse, my boss yelled at me because the copy machine was out of paper, like that’s my job; see what I mean―I just should have stayed in bed.”
The run-on sentence above should be at least 5 sentences. I would make it 6, but 5 is the minimum.
Four reasons why a content editor can be your best friend:
1. Your story has multiple sub-plots, but it isn’t clear how they are related to each other.
2. Your characters are underdeveloped.
3. Your tenses or voices change throughout your writing. At times you write in the present tense and in the past tense at others, or the story is told in the first person by one character, but switches to another character’s perspective in the third person.
4. You’ve overlooked a plot twist that could add a new dimension to your story.
A content editor looks over your manuscript with a professional eye and a fine tooth comb―very much concerned with the big picture. She is able to look past any shortcomings and envision what kind of book this manuscript can become. This type of editor looks at the theme of your book, how characters and plot intertwine, writing style and dialogue―assessing whether they work together cohesively. If inconsistencies are found or elements of the plot stray, the editor will recommend changes for the writer to make, and if accepted, will read them again after revisions to make sure the intended goals (in the changes) for the manuscript were met. Flagging course deviations from style, clarity and plot is the primary goal of content editing.
Example: A character in a story overcomes many hardships and obstacles, but the story ends without telling the reader how those events shaped her values, and what ultimately became of her later in life. A good content editor will spot this omission and encourage the author to add this information to satisfy readers.
See if you can identify the problem in this example: “Nothing scares me. Put me in a dark, creaky room with thunder booming outside and I’m asleep in five minutes. Last Halloween, I’m getting ready to go to a party, and my costume is a not-so-scary scarecrow. I walk the three blocks to my friend’s house when I realized I was being followed. I turned at least three times and saw a tall man in a hat following me. My blood ran cold and I walked faster. When I reached my friend’s house, I pounded frantically on the door, and turned around, only to see the man right behind me. But it’s all good―it’s my friend, Alan. He’s at the party, too, wearing a straw hat just like I am. He said he had been trying to catch up to me.”
Hint: The Halloween paragraph has 4 tense changes.
Four reasons why a developmental editor could be a lifesaver:
1. You have a detailed story idea, but you’re not sure how to present it in the most compelling way.
2. Your writing started out with enthusiasm, but halfway through it feels like it is running out of steam.
3. You find yourself getting sidetracked by plot “tangents.”
4. English is not your native language.
This editor does a thorough, in-depth edit that is structural in nature. Material can be added or deleted, clarified or reorganized. Issues of style, voice and plot can also be fixed. Developmental editing also includes rewriting content where necessary, research to support elements in the manuscript, and attention to terminology that fits the topic and complexity of the piece―fiction or nonfiction. This level of editing can be particularly helpful for writers whose native language is not English; the editor assists with revisions to conform the language to the typical phrasing of native English speakers.
The writer also receives an editorial review letter that explains the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, in great detail, and the recommendations that are proposed to improve it. Sometimes, the developmental editor gets involved in the planning stages of a book, before writing has begun. This has some obvious advantages, especially if the author is relatively inexperienced. No matter what point in the writing process a developmental edit begins, it is highly desirable that the author and the editor work closely together. It’s important to remember, too, that the editor’s job is to make the resulting book cohesive, engaging and plausible―the best book it can be.
Example: Here’s a good illustration of an author and an editor working together. An editor once worked on a manuscript written by a novice runner preparing for his first marathon. He had done a good job of outlining how he learned to love running, how he decided to run his first marathon, and how he developed his running regimen in preparation for the big day. He even presented tables of his running times, his daily mileage, and his nutritional preparation (liquids, protein, and so forth). His writing was progressing nicely until he had to take a business trip to California, which interrupted his daily regimen. He decided to take his family with him, and wrote not only about how he incorporated his running along the oceanfront (relevant), but how much his son loved playing in the ocean, and how nice their rented condo was (not relevant). He even included photos of the condo in the manuscript (very not relevant). He had veered off track, into territory that was not likely to be interesting to his readers. However, when this was pointed out by his editor, he saw the point and revised the manuscript, mentioning only that he was able to continue his marathon training regimen in California, and that his family had accompanied him and enjoyed themselves.
Every manuscript needs at least a copy edit because we just don’t see our own errors. And then there are others where the writers have a good story to tell but they’re not “wordsmiths.”
Like it or not, your book is a product. The whole reason you’re writing a book is for people to read it and readers are tough customers, sharp consumers, who know quality when they see it. They won’t care how much your gram gram’s dumplings meant to you unless they can relate to her. In essence, you must sell readers your grandma, one word at a time and there are a plethora of literary techniques to achieve this.
That’s why a good professional editor is your best partner. An editor’s job is to have your back, one page at a time, and make your book the best book it can be, while never forgetting that the big picture is to make your book interesting, meaningful and dynamic for the end user―the reader. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?