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The process of working with an editor



As I promised in my first newsletter of the year, I will be starting up my weekly blog posts again. If you have requests for any specific topics you'd like me to cover, please email me on romy@sommer.co.za.


In this first post of 2020, I'd like to give you an inside view of what an editor does (or more specifically what I do when I edit). In next week's post I'll talk about how appraisals work.


What does an editor actually do?


There are several different types of editors:

  • Developmental editors look at the big picture of your book: plot structure, character development, character likability, pacing, marketability, etc.

  • Copy editors look at the words you use, things like phrasing, repetitions, inconsistencies (for example: is a character's name spelled the same way throughout?)

  • Line editors really get down to the nitty gritty - checking for typos, punctuation, words used incorrectly

  • Proof readers are very much like line editors, but they're the last line of defence against all those stubborn typos that made it through the previous rounds of edits, and they also check for formatting issues, consistency of formatting (eg. if you've hyphenated grand-children or written it as grandchildren, is it consistent throughout?)


When you hire me as an editor, I do a combination of the first three types of editing, but my emphasis in the first pass is on developmental editing. It is almost impossible to pick up whether a word has been consistently hyphenated the same way throughout a manuscript when I'm concentrating on character arcs or trying to help you fix a plot hole.


Since I am also a teacher at heart, and it's almost impossible to take my writing coach hat off completely when I edit, I go a little above and beyond what most editors do. I try to explain WHY something isn't working and give suggestions how you might be able to fix it. This is far more time-consuming than simply saying "this bit here isn't working" or "the pacing is too slow". So if you wonder why my prices are higher than some other editors, it's because you're getting that added value. (Though actually if you compare my costs to other editors, you'll see I'm actually quite a bargain!)


If you want a more thorough copy or line edit, I need to do a second pass, which means that I am spending the same amount of time going back over your manuscript as I did on the first pass. Since my time is my income, this means you'll be paying for a second pass, which is why I highly recommend an author first rewrites based on my initial developmental edits and perhaps even has a critique partner or beta reader read it before they return it to me for copy edits. You are wasting your money if you are paying me to copy edit something that has not yet received a developmental edit, because then you're going to have to pay that same amount again to have someone do yet another copy edit after you've fixed the developmental issues.


This is the same way that publishing houses work, and the reason why traditional publishers will often do several rounds of edits with an author before acquiring a book. They're not making you do endless rounds of edits because they think your book is bad. Since editors at publishing houses are paid a flat salary (and often a ridiculously low salary), they would not waste time doing three or four rounds of an edit on a book they don't think they can sell and make money out of. So if you are being asked to do multiple rounds of edits, it means they believe in this book and want it to succeed. I wish I'd known that when I was just starting out in my career - it would have prevented me from doubting my own abilities!


So if traditional publishers do all those rounds of editing for free, why do you need to hire a freelance editor?


The simple answer is, if you're planning to submit your book to a traditional publisher, you don't need to hire your own freelance editor.


Most of my work comes from authors who are self-publishing and therefore do not have access to those free in-house editors. The whole point of self-publishing is that the author becomes the publisher and takes on the role of hiring staff (me) to do the jobs that they can't do.


And even experienced editors can't do the job of editing their own work. If I self-publish a book, I get an experienced editor to edit it for me. I am too close to the story, and cannot see the glaring errors that are so clear to an impartial editor who hasn't lived for months with all the words and characters and shifting plot lines of this book in their head.


However, there is one circumstance where an author aiming at traditional publishing might hire a freelance editor like me, and that is when they are receiving rejections from traditional publishing houses and have no idea why. If your book is not getting traction with traditional publishers, even though they publish books like yours, then a freelance editor can help you polish that manuscript so that it does attract the interest of a publishing house. However, in order to save you money and me time, I will usually recommend an appraisal rather than a round of editing to someone in this situation.


In next week's post I'll look at how appraisals work: the work I do when I write an appraisal, and what you can expect from an appraisal.


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Johannesburg, South Africa

romy.writingcoach@gmail.com

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