|Image by Bev Sykes (CC BY 2.0)|
Should you hire an editor to edit your manuscript? What does it mean to have a manuscript professionally edited?
The editor’s role
An editor’s job is to act as an informed reader. If an author is open to it, an editor can reveal issues in a piece of writing that might get in the way of the reader’s enjoyment. Sometimes, though, an editor will see things in a manuscript that an author is not willing or able to address. That’s when things get tricky. Allow me to explain by way of analogy:
When you hire a painter to paint the ceiling and walls of your kitchen, you expect her to… paint your kitchen! Imagine your surprise if you arrive home from work and your painter has painted your bathroom.
“But I wanted you to paint my kitchen,” you say.
“Have you seen your bathroom walls? They’re in terrible shape. They needed a coat of paint more than your kitchen did,” says the painter.
I’d bet that you wouldn’t be too happy with your painter.
What if your painter actually did set out to paint your kitchen, but noticed a water leak in the ceiling. Would you want the painter to paint over the water leak (you’ve hired her to paint, remember), or would you want her to tell you about the leak so you can have it repaired before she paints?
Sometimes, an editor can see the water leaks in your manuscript — even if you’re not prepared or able to deal with them. But because you’re the customer and the customer is always right, an editor will generally try to do the job you’ve agreed upon.
Kinds of editing
Editors view manuscripts differently than authors do. They are trained to assess the kind of editing that’s needed. For example, editors ask themselves
- Does this need a big-picture edit? Are there issues with plot, pacing, characterization, point-of-view? Are there lapses in logic that need to be addressed? (developmental edit)
- Are there issues with dialogue? Sentence structure? Transitions? Do sentences need to be rewritten? Do paragraphs need to be moved around? (stylistic edit)
- Does the manuscript need to be checked for correct word usage, punctuation, consistency, capitalization and spelling? (copyedit)
- Does the manuscript need to be checked for reading distractions in its final environment – on a Kindle, if it’s ebook-bound, or in a PDF, if it’s print-bound? (proofread)
A structural edit often requires an author to so some rewriting and perhaps even some fact checking. A stylistic edit may require the author and editor to do some sentence smoothing. An editor can generally manage a straight copyedit or proofread without the author’s involvement. If an author has an unlimited editing budget and the editor is following a logical process, big-picture and paragraph issues are often addressed before consistency and punctuation…
Except most authors don’t have unlimited budgets…
Working within a budget
Editors know that authors don’t have an unlimited amount of money to spend on a writing project. Authors can help editors by establishing their expectations for a project and editors can help authors by asking questions that will help to establish those expectations.
Questions an editor should ask
Your editor should ask you questions that will help her to understand your expectations.
Here are seven of my editing colleagues’ favourite questions:
- How much time are you still willing to put into this manuscript?
- Is there any aspect of your book that you’re still not sure of? (plot, characters, point-of-view, etc.)
- Who do you think will read your book?
- What is your intention in writing this book? What message do you want to leave with your readers?
- Are you planning on publishing your book? What are your plans for publishing? (self-publishing/ebook, print-on-demand, traditional publishing)
- What is your timeline?
- What is your budget?
*Some questions were adapted from An Editor’s Guide to Working with Authors, by Barbara Sjoholm. See Sjoholm’s book for an exhaustive list of questions that editors can ask authors.
If your editor forgets to ask you questions that get at your expectations, it’s in your best interest to volunteer this information – unless of course, you’re okay with having your bathroom painted.