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Questions about Editing

What does a good editor do?

A good editor will not just point out errors; she explains them, providing you with an education to enable you to perform a stronger rewrite. For instance, if your manuscript includes point-of-view violations—a major reason for fiction rejection—she will offer a thorough explanation of the concept and provide easy-to-understand examples.

A good editor will encourage you and compliment you on your strengths, but she will not hold back in showing you where you need improvement or are making repeated mistakes. She does not expect you to know all the book publishing rules for copyediting—that’s her job. But she does try to help you understand some basic underlying principles that you might need to learn in order to be a better writer.

A good editor knows your book is your “baby” and that you have poured many hours into writing it, but her goal is to help you make that book the best it can be, and sometimes that requires you, the author, to make drastic changes. In other words, a good editor is “on your side” and wants to help, but she is mostly concerned with getting your book in the best shape possible.

Why do I need a book editor?

If you plan to submit your manuscript to traditional publishers, you should eliminate all possible errors in advance. Manuscript submissions may be rejected for the simplest of reasons. Likewise, you could be unknowingly committing major errors. You have only one opportunity to make a first impression with a publisher; a professional edit will maximize the impression you make.

If you plan to self-publish, you’ll want your printed book to compare favorably with traditionally published books, all of which are subjected to thorough edits; that’s what assures consistent quality from one book to the next. To maximize your self-publication experience, have your manuscript professionally edited and avoid potential embarrassment by correcting all errors prior to printing. Some self-publishing or POD companies include a full edit in their publishing package, but if you can show your book has already been professionally edited, they will usually waive that fee.

What can I expect from a book edit?

Most edits (excluding proofreads) include marking up your manuscript and giving suggestions on how to fix a sentence when needed. You’ll need to address all the marked items on each manuscript page, then address the major concerns in a comprehensive rewrite. This could involve considerable rewriting, depending upon the degree of the problem(s).

An edit alone will not impact your chances of publication. The quality of your rewrite incorporating the editorial advice will determine your level of success. An edit doesn’t excuse you from further work on your manuscript; in fact, the opposite is true. You’ll need to perform a thorough rewrite following an edit to vastly improve your manuscript. Still, there is no guarantee that if you follow your editor’s suggestions and have your book free of errors that it will sell. But you will have a better chance than if you did not have your book professionally edited.

Consider an edit a learning experience. If you’re unwilling to learn, save your money, but don’t expect to be published easily.

What is the most important consideration in selecting a book editor?

If you plan to submit your manuscript to traditional publishers and hope to avoid rejection, you need someone who has a publishing record and who has clients who have gone on, after using her editing services, to get contracts with agents and publishers. The Internet abounds with editors eager to attract your business, but the overwhelming majority have never actually worked in an editorial capacity for publishers or have written and sold books of their own. Punctuation and grammar are only two of many reasons for rejection.

Without actual professional experience, an editor cannot know what those other reasons are. If you are writing a novel, it helps tremendously to have an editor who is a published, experienced novelist. Many editors can fix punctuation, but few editors can really help a novelist with her plot, voice, pacing, tension, and all the other important facets inherent in a novel. If you are just needing a proofread, this isn’t crucial, but if you need a substantive edit or even a content edit, it helps to have an editor who is also an author.

Don’t confuse editing with proofreading. Any decent English professor can proofread your manuscript to correct/identify poor grammar, punctuation errors, incomplete sentences, etc. A professional edit includes all of these, plus a thorough assessment of your manuscript that involves “reading between the lines” to evaluate your focus, cohesiveness, structure, characterization, etc. English professors are not qualified to address a manuscript through the eyes of the publishing industry. Few English professors, if any, have had commercial editing experience.

Why is manuscript format so important?

If your manuscript doesn’t look the way publishers expect it to, they are likely to reject it without reading a single word. Publishers have specific format requirements that will be revealed to you through an edit. An editor will require basic manuscript formatting reflective of industry standards. This gets you, the author, accustomed to formatting your manuscript properly and makes the editing process easier.

My manuscript has already been professionally edited, but there still seems to be a problem. Should I invest in a second edit?

Numerous manuscripts that have already been professionally edited often still have almost as many problems as in manuscripts that had never been edited. What is your manuscript worth to you? If you feel it is still not right and you want to make it the best it can be, then by all means invest in a second edit.

How can an experienced editor detect problems that other editors miss?

MistakeIf an editor evaluates your manuscript from a purely academic perspective, she will miss issues that are extremely important to commercial publishers. College English professors don’t work for commercial publishers. They evaluate manuscripts from an entirely different perspective than commercial publishers. That’s why many hugely successful novels are not necessarily well written. They are highly criticized by the academic community but still hit the best-seller lists.

Of course, some of what an editor suggests is purely subjective. A critique, overall, is a subjective assessment, and often one critique will vary greatly from another. Some editors feel critiques are worthless for this reason. But readers, agents, and publishers also have subjective tastes–and as with an experienced editor (experienced in the current book publishing “world”), these subjective responses to your manuscript are based on years of expertise, knowing what truly “works” and doesn’t “work” in a book.

A good critique does not just reveal the critiquer’s “personal tastes” but brings attention to the time-tested “rules” or principles that make a book strong and well constructed.

Are book editors usually qualified across the board or do they specialize in specific areas?

If you are having a book line edited, then most any qualified editor can do this for you. Line editing focuses on correcting grammar, spelling, and usage. But if you are looking for more structural help, such as given in a critique or a substantive edit, it makes sense to hire a book editor with experience in writing and/or editing that specific genre. This is why I separate critique services from line editing, which few editors do.

Should I copyright my manuscript before sending it to a book editor?

Current law states that your copyright on your written work is implied and protected without registering with the US Copyright Office. It’s highly unlikely that your manuscript will be plagiarized by anyone.

Could an unscrupulous book editor steal your idea? It’s possible, but highly unlikely. Serious writers rarely wish to write someone else’s idea; in fact, most writers have more ideas of their own than they’ll ever have time to write about. The theft of an idea is essentially a needless fear.

How can I check to see if my book has been edited and proofread to perfection?

Here’s a quick, cheap, and easy way to get an idea of how well your book has been edited (or to test your own editing skills!): submit your first five pages to me and I’ll proofread, mark up, and note what mistakes are there and tell what the CMOS rule is. Often writers hire editors to polish their manuscripts, only to find out after publication their book is riddled with missed errors. Choose this option on the order form and you’ll be glad you did!