January 7, 2012

What Does an Editor Do?

Editing is Important.
When you send your manuscript to an editor, what should you expect in return? Before you send material to be critiqued /edited make sure that you have thoroughly spell-checked first. Make your grammar is as perfect as you can. There are varying levels of editing/critiquing. Here are some basic types of editing and what they entail.

Content editing -- what you could say or how to reword material so that it comes across more clearly. 
[The example below is used with permission, from the work in progress of author friend Jerry Race.]

Example: [His bike's tires screeched to a halt at the sight of three motorcycles being driven toward him.] What's wrong with this sentence? 
1. His bike's tires didn't screech to a halt. They can't act on their own. Better - He screeched his bike to a halt.
2. His bike's tires didn't see the motorcyles. He did.
3. Reaction before action is incorrect. (He stops his bike and then sees the motorcyles.) Action should always come first.
4. "Being driven toward him" is a passive phrase. We get the impression the motorcycles are simply traffic on the road, so why would he screech to a halt? There is nothing to indicate why the rider would stop his bike.
The content editor might suggest the following possible rewrite:
[At the sight of three motorcycles bearing down on him, he screeched his bike to halt.]
Next level of rewrite:
[Three bikers in leather, with chains wrapped across their chests, and rifles strapped to their backs gunned their Harleys and headed straight for him. He screeched his bike to a halt.]

Now we have a reason why he's stopping -- and a good one.

Content editing can also change the tone of a piece. You can see that above. In non-fiction, what an author feels strongly about can come across in text as more than facts and concern. It can come across as anger, frustration, and disgust. (Think talk radio hosts gone bad.) A content editor can help rein in the author's tone and help turn a piece back into calm, clear, calls to action.

Line editing -- the actual words used and what they mean.

Do we say the the king wore a torc or a torque? Both are pronounced the same, but one is a neck-worn piece of jewelry, and the other is a measure of twisting force. In certain circumstances, a torque can be a necklace as well, but the accepted spelling for that is torc. According to the Chicago Manual of Style (also known as CMOS) torc is the preferred spelling. Depending on where you publish, you might want to use torque. Your editor should have an idea of what is the correct usage, and where you should use the different words.

Proofreading -- what you thought you said and what you meant is not what you wrote.

"There are twelve ways to read read this sentence. Only won of of them is correct, and the other three are wrong."
Can you spot the errors in the above sentences? There are four. (scroll to the bottom to see them)

Style editing -- how the manuscript appears in its final form.
Below are questions handled by the style editor. Checking the submissions page of your publisher will answer most of these, and the style editor of a publishing house will appreciate you doing so.
My manuscript is a Celtic Romance. Should I use a curly font?
My manuscript is non-fiction. Should I use a sans serif font?
What point size do I need?
How big should the margins be? Is it okay to make the bottom margin a little smaller so I can fit more on a page?
What is meant by "good use of white space?"
I write non fiction. Is it bad to have long paragraphs?
Do I need illustrations?
What kind of forward do I use?
Will I need a preface?
What form do I use for my bibliography (MLA, APA, Chicago)? Do I need one? (for fiction - no; for non-fiction - yes)
Some of these questions will also be addressed by a content editor in non-fiction.

How much does an editor charge?
Here's a good place to get the "straight skinny" on that.
http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php These are rates many professionals use. Some services use this site as a basis for their fees. You can find people who charge less, and of course, those who'd charge you a lot more. It pays to shop around. There are some editors who provide all these services in one sitting. They are worth their weight in gold.
What's the difference between a critique partner, a beta reader, and an editor?
A critique partner is someone who (hopefully) writes in your genre and knows the ropes as well as the audience, and can give feedback on your writing. A beta reader is someone with experience reading (and writing if possible) who will read your story and pick apart the inconsistencies and then point out what needs tweaking. An editor is a professional who stakes his/her reputation on what is written about changes you need to make. Take the advice of each and use them to your advantage. Weigh the advice of each according to your own value system. I have beta readers whose opinions weigh heavily in any decisions I make. Mine know my world and characters and can tell me if I've written them "wrong." They are also sometimes too close to the story (as am I) to see an issue, and that is where an editor's value shines.

Editing is vital. Get it from people you trust, and don't take it as a personal affront if there are suggestions made or rewrites requested. The final goal should be to produce quality writing. Focus on that and move forward. Your readers will thank you.

Answers to "what's wrong with these sentences":
(read is there twice, of is there twice, the word won should be one, and if there were twelve ways and one is this way -- how can there be only three other ways?)
About the Author
Kayelle Allen is the founder of The Author's Secret, a company that coaches authors in building their brand names and helps them learn how to promote their work. She is also an award-winning, multi-published author who writes immortal characters, and is the creator of the Kin -- warriors who purr. Kayelle is known for unstoppable heroes, uncompromising love, and unforgettable passion. You can find her on the web in these places:
Homeworld http://kayelleallen.com
Facebook http://facebook.com/kayelleallen.author
Twitter http://twitter.com/kayelleallen
Blog http://romancelivesforever.blogspot.com
Romance Lives Forever - Group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/romancelivesforever
The Edge of Peril - World of the Immortals http://groups.yahoo.com/group/edgeofperil/
img credit: photoxpress.com


  1. Then again, some editors handle everything from content editing down to formatting asterisks for the scene breaks. Yesterday I sat with an author for more than fourteen straight hours. We started on "why are they here?" and proceeded to whether switching POV for a single scene worked for the story, and eventually chewed on every detail down to--yeah, formatting the asterisks.

  2. You said it, Amber! And worth your weight in gold for sure. Thank you for sharing this.


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