A good editor is imperative to a great story. I’ve said this before, and I will surely say it again. The question that many of you are asking though is, why? What will an editor do for me, and for my story that will make it so much better?
To begin with, an editor is a trained pair of fresh eyes—someone impartial from the outside who can come in and critique your story, without any emotional attachment. He or she is not influenced, as friends might be, by concerns for your reaction to criticism or advice.
There are different kinds of editing; below is a summary. We’re going to assume that you have already written your manuscript.
Copy Editing is involved with improving the text of the story. Copy editors make sure sentences say what they mean, and mean what they say. To accomplish this, they correct grammar, punctuation, word usage (using the correct words in the correct places), and spelling (ensuring consistency throughout, whether Canadian, British, or American spelling). If sentences are awkwardly expressed or vague, copy editors will rewrite them. They also see to it that the text flows smoothly. Copy editors read the text for sense and check for coherence and internal consistency—for example, making sure a character’s eye colour or the car she drives doesn’t suddenly change a third of the way through the manuscript without an explanation.
Substantive Editing, also called structural editing, focuses on the content, organization, and presentation of the entire book. Substantive editors help authors (it’s very much a collaborative effort) shape the manuscript in the best possible way. This may include working with the author on plot and character development. It could mean eliminating extraneous material or asking the author to rewrite material or write new chapters.
Often Substantive Editing is not necessary, but when it is, it’s an invaluable service. Usually authors know that there is a problem with their story, but they’re just not sure how to fix it. That’s what substantive editors do—they fix stories, and manuscripts, so the authors can get on with their work.
Now, I know you’ve put a lot of time, love, and care into your baby, and it’s only natural that you look askance at someone who comes along and tells you your baby’s got problems. But before you take offense, take a breath. This is their job. While the critiquing may not feel warm and fuzzy, it really is, because it is constructive. The editor is trying to help you to create the best book possible, so that you can really knock everyone’s socks off. It isn’t a personal dig. Incredibly successful authors all have editors who will gladly tell them that there are parts of their story that they need to work on (and the authors are happy to take their advice!).
Proofreading involves correcting production-errors of text and illustrations. This edit looks at such things as typos, omissions, spacing, and page numbering. Once the manuscript has been edited, and the formatting, typesetting, and design is complete, a proofreader will take one last, final look over your book proof (get it, proofreading) to make sure that everything still looks right, and that nothing was overlooked. Once you have the A-okay from the proofreader, you are ready to say those beautiful words: PRINT IT!
Make sure that you are clear about what services your editor is offering you in the pricing. You want to be sure that you know what you are paying for, so that you don’t end up disappointed. Oh, and if you can, please, get the whole meal deal. It will be better in the end.