This is a guest post written by Paul Martin, an editor that we’ve worked with several times.
“I searched for copy-editors online and found Paul… It turned out that it was a very good choice.
Paul edited the text thoroughly and made suggestions that were very pertinent and helpful. On top of that, he offered further suggestions how to improve the manuscript. I valued his comments and revised the text. The manuscript became considerably better.
After a while he contacted me and put me in touch with a very good publisher. I sent a few chapters, they accepted the manuscript, I signed the contract and the process of having my memoir in print has now started. Paul did for me much more than just copy-editing work.”
Every project is different, every writer has their own style and reasons for publishing, and there are as many ways of editing a text as there are writing one. The terms we use for the different services can also vary and can be confusing to the uninitiated. The story above is a rare but satisfying one, the perfect conclusion to an editor-author relationship that shows the impact a good editor can have. Not only do we know the industry and the market, and our trade, we also have our own contacts and networks that can benefit our clients. Especially if you have decided to self-publish, there is much to be gained from employing a professional editor.
A professionally published book goes through round upon round of editorial processes: from the drafting, beta reading, revision and submission of the author themselves through agency edits, copy-edits and proofreads. Everything designed to make your work the best it can be. However, if you are self-publishing, this work will not necessarily happen unless you arrange it yourself. If you want your product to be the very best it can be, not just free of typographical errors but coherent, engaging and enticing for readers and industry alike, then you should consider hiring an editor. For those looking to go through the traditional publishing route, it is still a valuable option – as a well-edited script can help encourage agency or publisher take-up.
Agents often have a variety of alarm-words and stylistic preferences that a good editor will know to look out for. Have you used ‘said’ when not necessary or instead of more illustrative alternatives, for example ‘whispered’, ‘sneered’? Do you overuse ‘filler’ words such as ‘had’, ‘that’? Do you show the reader through your words, or simply tell them? Have you ensured that the subject you are discussing is clear rather than overusing pronouns such as ‘she’ and ‘he’? These kinds of fixes, as well as a check for actual errors, can make a huge difference to the reception of your work. No matter how good the writer, there is always room for improvement – and there is always something you will miss. As the author, you are most intimately familiar with your work – and it is difficult to detach yourself enough to be thorough. What makes sense to you, knowing what you know, may be less clear to a new reader – a fresh pair of eyes is therefore vital.
So, what services can an editor offer? The development or story edit focuses on the structure and plot of your story, do your characters have a consistent voice, does the story read well and make sense, is it engaging or confusing? The copy-edit focuses much more on the nitty-gritty of the language choices, punctuation, spelling and grammar. A consistency check can be carried out at either stage, ensuring what was a sword in one chapter has not become a dagger or a club in another. As you receive feedback, revise and tinker, it is easy for such slips to creep into your work – and a good editor will be keeping notes to ensure consistency. If appropriate, a fact check can also be incorporated to make sure any factual material is correct – for it is very easy to type 1066 instead of 1966 and not to spot the error.
If you build up a good working relationship with an editor, you will be able to bounce ideas off of them, to develop a more fluid and varied writing style and to build your script into something even greater than it already is. They will provide you with style notes to help with future revisions and improve your future writing, to help you answer exactly what your style preferences are (do you prefer the Oxford comma?). Consistency and accuracy are key to a pleasant reading experience, errors are the jolt from being absorbed in a work.
It can take quite a long time to thoroughly read something as lengthy as a novel, especially when constructing style or consistency notes and adding commentary and critique. A good editor is not cheap, therefore – a novel of around 80,000 words can take up to a week’s work to get through, depending on the level of intervention required. However, it WILL be an investment worth making if you want to produce the best version of your work that you can. The editor will make tracked changes and comments for you to review and consider, but the final say will of course be yours.
If you are considering hiring an editor, then the best place to start is the CIEP directory: the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading is the publishing industry’s go-to standard, a non-profit body and community dedicated to promoting editorial excellence. The directory lists over 700 CIEP members, their details, services and expertise – as well as recommended rates and other useful information.
Paul Martin is an Advanced Professional member of the CIEP, a freelance editor, author and consultant. He learned his trade in education publishing, before going freelance in 2017, and has since diversified into academic and trade publishing, and supporting independent authors of fiction and non-fiction. He has supported a number of Author Help clients, as well as other independent authors, and his partner is due to have her first novel published in April.