This article answers one simple question - what do book editors do?

You have written your book and you are starting to think about the best way to get your book published. Whether you are considering self-publishing or traditional publishing, you can't help but come across the advice to get your book edited.

But editorial services are not cheap, and you must understand the role of an editor, the different types of editors, and what they can do for your book.

The Editing Process

The best way to understand the editing process and the book editing services on offer is to consider traditional publishing and look at how a traditional publishing house prepares a book for publication.

If you are having your book traditionally published, you will go through several distinct steps, with several different editors getting involved along the way.

The first step is to find an agent. This step is important from an editorial viewpoint since they will carry out a content edit and provide some feedback. They will be looking for good writing, but agents all know that even the best books can be made better with editing. Though the agent will likely not be a professional editor, they will have the skills and insight needed to make the book more 'commercial'. They will not be looking for minor errors but will be focussing on the big picture and seeing how they can widen the appeal of the book.

Once your agent is happy, they will submit this manuscript to the publisher. This will then be placed with a commissioning editor (within the publishing company) and the book editing begins.

Next we look at the types of editing and how each editor will improve a manuscript.

Types of Editing

When it comes to editing books, you must understand the steps involved.

The first editing service is developmental editing, in which the editor examines the plot and the wider structure of the novel. These developmental edits will produce many suggestions for changes. Though the editor will make the suggestions, they will not rewrite the book, the reader will be expected to make these changes to the manuscript.

Once the commissioning editor and writer are happy with the manuscript, it is then prepared for publication.

The next editing service is for the book to be assessed by a copy editor. The copy editor's role is to remove all of the typos and small errors, whilst applying consistency throughout the text.

Once the manuscript has been copy edited, and everyone is once again happy, the next editing service is employed the book is sent to the typesetter.

Though a typesetter is not an editor, they are still an important part of the editing services provided by a publisher. They are responsible for the conversion of the document into print-ready PDF and other digital formats (such as MOBI and Epub. This will mean the production of several different digital files, all of which are needed to produce the final product.

Once the book has been typeset, a number of digital versions will have been created and this means the services of a professional editor are still required.

The files will then undergo a proofread. The proofreader will assess the manuscript and ensure that no other mistakes have been added to the process. These are the final set of eyes that see the manuscript before its publication.

If you are self-publishing a book, you should be looking to mimic this process as closely as possible, since it will ensure the least amount of errors make it through to the final book. However, budget considerations may mean you are unable to carry out each step in full.

This detailed article will tell you more about types of editing.

types of editing

Different Types of Book Editors

There are multiple different types of editors, each used at a different stage in the book's life cycle.

The main types of editors are:

In addition to these three types of editors, there is also a typesetter. Though these are not actual editors, they are fundamentally involved in the process. It is not uncommon for copy editors and proofreaders to work closely with typesetters.

The Role of a Developmental Editor

Wikipedia describes developmental editing as "significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript's discourse".

In reality, editing is a much more involved and detailed process. After all, any form of creative writing is complex, so it makes sense that any type of editorial feedback will be equally complex. The editor will examine the entire manuscript, considering all aspects of the book, including its narrative and structure. They will also look at readability, plot, and structure. Good professional editors will also look out for line-level problems, such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. The best editors will assess a book's suitability for the marketplace. They may also help you to pinpoint the book's genre correctly.

Discover more about developmental editing with this guide.

What is Editing?

Unlike copy editing, which follows a rigid manual of style, book editing is very much about an editor's training, experience, and 'gut feeling'.

This means that the editor's skill is critical if they are to deliver a high-quality edit. Book editing is not a hit and miss process, it has clear guidelines and best practices to follow. Though education requirements are not essential, most qualified editors will have a bachelor's degree at the very least.

During the book editing process, the editor will continuously hold several open-ended questions in their mind. They will apply these questions as they read.

Here are some examples of these questions (there are more, but they are often genre-specific) that are asked during book editing:

  • Does the structure of the book make sense?

  • Is the presentation logical?
  • Is there a wider story arc that engages the reader and pulls them through the narrative?

  • Has a coherent viewpoint been applied? Is it consistent? Does it make sense for the story?
  • Does the chapter structure make sense? Does the writer understand scene structure?
  • Have narrative techniques been correctly applied?
  • Does each scene contain sufficient description?
  • Is each new character sufficiently described?
  • Is the tense consistent?
  • Is the characterization believable and consistent?
  • Are the characters sufficiently developed?
  • Are there any obvious plot holes?
  • If the novel is set in the past, are there any inconsistencies in the use of objects, etc.?
  • Does the book's voice, style, and format match the genre expectations?
  • Is the writer telling, when they should be showing?
  • Are the facts accurate? Is further fact checking required?
  • Does the book's word count meet the genre expectations? If it is too short, how can it be extended? If too long, what approach should be taken?
  • Has the writer correctly formatted paragraphs? Will shorter or longer paragraphs better suit the style or genre of the book?
  • If a prologue is used, does it match the genre and make sense to the wider narrative?
  • Does the book need an introduction?
  • Does the book need additional end material, such as a bibliography or epilogue?
  • Should the writer include information about themselves?
  • If relevant, is the book correctly referenced?
  • If images, tables, and diagrams have been used, has the copyright been correctly attributed?
  • If included, are all footnotes or endnotes correctly presented and formatted?

It is worth noting that line editing is not normally part of the developmental editorial process. A developmental editor and line editor are different roles (line editing involves looking at sentence-level issues). However, at BubbleCow, we include line editing as part of our book editing services.

Follow the links below to find out more about editing:

The Role of a Copy Editor

Copy editing is a process that is applied to a multitude of writing fields within the publishing industry. This is not just book publishing, but anywhere that people are creating written material. This might be the text in a book, but also a magazine, news article, or even an advertisement.

A good editor has a wide skill set, involving strong attention to detail, knowledge about a variety of subject matters, and an ability to communicate their ideas clearly and efficiently.

In regard to book publishing, a copyeditor is employed when a book has already undergone the first round of edits, alterations have been made and the text is starting to be prepared for publication.

What Is Copy Editing?

Copy editing is the stage in which the writing, or “copy”, is reviewed, assessed edited to improve its readability, plus fix any obvious errors.

Copy editors ensure consistency, and look to check that the text flows from one sentence to the next in a way that optimizes readability. At this point, word choice is important.

An editor will also check your work for grammatical errors, problems with punctuation, and continuity issues. At all times, providing feedback on how to best convey the message of the writer. The best copy editors will also act as fact-checkers, which is especially important if the writing is nonfiction and involves vetting of real information. This may be less important for a novel.

Copy editors can be found in publishing houses, at copy desks for news organizations, or are often freelancer editors. Even big publishers will often use a team of freelance copy editors, rather than employ them full-time.

The Role of a Proofreader

Proofreading is the editorial process that comes once a manuscript is deemed ready for publication. Its job is to remove errors, and not, as some writers mistakenly believe, to fix issues with the plot or narrative structure.

Proofreading involves carefully checking for errors in a text before it is published or shared. It is the very last stage of the writing process, when you fix minor spelling and punctuation mistakes, typos, formatting issues and inconsistencies.

Proofreading is essential.

What is Proofreading?

The proofreading process, and the role of the proofreader, varies between self-publishing and a traditional publisher.

For a self-publishing writer, the proofreader is not normally needed. However, it is common for the roles of proofreaders and copy editors to get mixed up. More on that below.

It is a little more complex for a traditional publisher.

They will start with a 'galley proof'. This is a copy of the book that contains errors and has not been corrected but the proofreader.

The proofreader will work with the galley proof.

The important thing to note is that the galley proof has already been typeset and the role of the proofreader is to fix both errors from the writing process and anything that has been added by the typeset.

This means that a proofreader looks at an increment of text on the copy and then compares it to the corresponding typeset increment, and then marks any errors (sometimes called 'line edits') using standard proofreaders' marks.

Unlike copy editing, the defining procedure of a proofreading service is to work directly with two sets of information at the same time. Proofs are then returned to the typesetter for correction.

If you want to know more about copy editing vs proofreading check out this guide.

proofreader marks

How to Find a Professional Book Editor

Finding the best editor for your work in progress, especially if it’s your first book, requires a little bit of work.

It is important that you are able to develop a good working relationship with your editor. They must understand what you are trying to do with your book, whilst also fit your budget and methods of communication.

Below is a list of questions you should consider when looking for a editor:

  • Are they experienced? Good editors are always busy, so if you come across one that is either free to work immediately, or quoting prices that seem cheap, then you need to proceed with caution. Ideally, the editor will have a number of years experience of editing. Ask for an example of their work. This will give you an idea of what they can do for you and your book.
  • Do they specialize in a genre? This is not always essential but it is something to keep in mind. Genre experience will allow an editor to understand what you writing, but, more importantly, what your readers will expect. They will understand the tropes of the genre and where your book will fit in the publishing landscape.
  • How much do they cost? The cost of book editing varies depending on the editor and what type of editing they provide. The best editors charge by the word. Determine your budget and the amount of help you really need with your book. You can find BubbleCow's pricing calculator here.
  • Can they do a sample edit? ALL good editors will offer a free sample edit. If the editor is not offering this service, run. Typically, they will edit the first 2000 words for free.

Discover more about hiring a book editor here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions that will provide you more information.

What's the difference between Copy Editing and Proofreading?

It is easy to become confused by the roles of a proofreader and a copy editor. Many self-publishing writers will use these terms interchangeably, but there is a difference. A copy editor will fix errors in a book before it has been typeset. A proofreader will fix errors within a 'proof', which is a book that has already been typeset.

What are style guides and who uses them?

Style guides, or style manuals, are guides that are used to determine the formatting and punctuation of text. The most common guides are the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP style guide. Editors will use these manuals to ensure they are consistent with their changes, Some publishers will use their own style manuals.

What are the main responsibilities of an editor?

Editors have a variety of responsibilities, but some of the most important ones include reviewing and correcting written content for accuracy, clarity, and style; collaborating with writers to improve their work; and overseeing the production of content for publication.

What qualifications do editors typically have?

Editors may have a degree in journalism, English, or a related field, but it is also common for them to have experience working in the industry or in a related field. Many editors also have excellent communication skills, strong attention to detail, and a deep knowledge of grammar and style rules.

How does the role of an editor differ from that of a proofreader?

An editor is responsible for reviewing and improving the overall quality of a piece of written content, which may involve making substantial changes to the content itself. A proofreader, on the other hand, is primarily responsible for reviewing a piece of content for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors and ensuring that it is free from typos and other small mistakes.

Final Thoughts

The role of an editor varies greatly from book-to-book, but also the stage of the publishing process.

It is important that you, as a writer, have a deep understanding of the role of editors and what they can do to help you lift your book to a publishable standard. If you are to find the right editor, then you need to ensure you know what questions to ask and what will best fit you and your book.

Further Reading

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