There are many theories on this subject. Before choosing to become a freelance editor and proofreader l undertook a lot of research regarding this. l already knew that l enjoyed it, l already knew that l was good at it due to my previous career, but l needed to know if l could turn my passion into a successful business. l needed to know if the services, expertise and experience l could offer would be required and helpful. If you’ve read my About page, you will realise that l have a passion for not only books, but the written word in general. So began the journey to where I am today. Being able to use my previous experience, my passion, and my further training, I am able to offer help to those that need it.
I personally find it extremely frustrating to see what l think of as ‘silly’ mistakes in published documents, whether it is a book, a newspaper, a blog post or a take away food menu. By ‘silly’, l mean little mistakes such as spelling, punctuation, or using the incorrect ‘their/they’re’. These are simple mistakes that we (yes, me too if I’m in a hurry!) all make, but should be checked by a second party. The reason l suggest a second party is because as the author, your brain automatically skips over the small mistakes because you know what you were trying to say. There is nothing wrong with this, as l said, we all do it, we are all human.
Now, back to the various theories on whether you should hire an editor and/or a proofreader. If you are unsure of the differences between editors and proofreaders, please check out My Services page, where you will read a brief explanation along with the services I offer.
Editing Prior to Submission for Publication
Here are four things that writers, and editors, should be mindful of at the beginning:
- Not all editors are the same: editors have different skill sets and specialisations.
- Not all authors are the same: writers have different budgets, goals and preferences.
- Opinion abounds about whether writers should hire editors. And while there isn’t a consensus, some overarching good-sense guidance prevails.
- Right/wrong or yes/no isn’t the best approach. Instead, I recommend that writers make informed decisions based on a solid understanding of the editorial process, and that all editors make informed decisions based on professional integrity and a solid understanding of authorial intention.
What Problems Can Editors Solve?
An editor, broadly speaking, is someone who helps prepare written material for publication. However, that preparation doesn’t happen in one hit. There is a process to editing a manuscript.
If you’re a writer and you’re considering hiring an editor prior to submission or publication, think first about what is worrying you and what might hold-up your plans.
- Do you struggle to punctuate dialogue according to industry standards?
- Do you tend to overwrite?
- Are you worried that your characters aren’t sufficiently well drawn?
- Is standard grammar a sticking point?
- Is your plot difficult to follow?
- Is your narrative point of view confusing?
- Do you have problems with formatting the different elements of the text consistently?
- Do you have problems with correct punctuation?
All the following are types of editors but what they focus on are different. the following list shows the different editors and what they can help you with:
- Developmental editors: They focus on the big picture and help to shape the book (e.g. plot, structure, characterisation, pace, narrative point of view)
- Line editors: They focus on the sentence-level picture and help to smooth the narrative and dialogue (e.g. clarity, flow, character voice, readability)
- Copyeditors: They are also sentence-level masters who focus on correcting the text (e.g. spelling, punctuation, grammar, consistency)
- Proofreaders: They’re the last line of defence and provide a quality-control check (e.g. spelling, punctuation, grammar errors and non-standard or inconsistent layout)
Some editors offer all these services, some only one or two. Those who offer multiple stages might do a couple at the same time (e.g. line editing and copyediting as I do) but it would be very rare to find anyone who offers all four simultaneously.
All editors customise their services – what one person includes in a copyedit might be restricted to another’s line edit. Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics so that you have a mutual understanding of what’s included.
If you don’t know where you may need help, that’s fine. All you have to do is ask. Most beginner writers don’t know what their ‘sticking points’ are when starting out.
Imagine that a writer decides not to organise a copyedit because they’ve been told it’s only the big picture that counts, not a few typos.
Fair enough, but what if there are more than just a few typos? What if the novel has a fantastic plot, is paced perfectly and features enthralling characters but, line by line, the narrative is overwritten and so full of grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes that it’s frustrating and and not nice to read? All the good stuff is buried beneath these mistakes.. (See the Manuscript Review that I offer on My Services page)
The Editing Order
The order I put the editors in earlier is the order that the editing process should take. It is based on logic.
There’s no point in having a line editor and copyeditor tighten up your narrative if the point of view is all over the place. It is not worth spending hundreds of dollars to ensure that your dialogue is punctuated according to industry standards if the characters giving voice to those words are under-developed.
With that in mind, start with the big picture – a manuscript evaluation, critique or a mini developmental edit.
This kind of work involves a specialist editor reviewing your book and identifying strengths and weaknesses. It’s not a full-on fix but it will show you how to move forward so that you can improve the book before you submit.
Things to remember before working with an editor
The following is a quote from literary agent Rachelle Gardner regarding mindset:
“Using a freelance editor can be a great idea – if you use it as a learning experience. You need to do most of the work yourself. I think it’s wasted money if you’re counting on someone to fix your manuscript for you. The point is to get an experienced set of eyes on it to help you identify problems and figure out how to fix them.”
(Check out my Manuscript Review on My Services page)
Rachelle Gardner is referring to big-picture work, also known as developmental editing. Her most important points:
- Editors are not ghost writers. They must work with what they’ve got.
- Approaching the editing as a learning experience means that you see it as a long-term commitment.
- There are different stages of editing.
- Not all editors specialise in all stages of editing.
- An editor works with what they have – you are still the writer.
- The relationship will likely need to continue for future submissions/publications while you’re learning.
- Remember the order of play – big picture first, sentence polishing later.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or feedback via my Contact Me page.