Editing Basics: The Role of an Editor - article

When you're new to publishing, keeping up with all of the details can be overwhelming. There's so much to know at each stage in the process, from editing to publishing to marketing. One thing to know for sure: every book benefits from editing. So, what do editors do, exactly? Here is what book editors do…and a few things they don't. 

Here's what book editors do:

Improve your story

A developmental editor can help you refine your novel as a whole by examining elements such as story arc, character development, and pacing. Don’t be afraid to let editors critique your story—they're here to help, not judge.

Organize information

If a book lacks organization, it's hard to follow. A developmental editor can identify areas of your book that would benefit from reorganization and help to readjust your book for the biggest impact and best clarity.  

Ensure consistency

Readers may not think about it consciously, but they expect consistency in a book. It's part of what a makes a book feel whole. Editors check for consistency in tense, point of view, and overall tone throughout your book. 

Fix grammar and typos

When it comes to matters of their, there, or they're, a copyeditor will clean up those pesky typos and errors in grammar and spelling. The editor ensures that your text is in a correct and consistent style accepted by publishers and readers alike. 

Enhance prose

In a great book, it's not just what is said, but how it's expressed. A line editor helps enhance your prose by examining word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and the readability and flow of your manuscript. A good editor knows how to improve your prose while preserving your unique voice.  

Correct citations

There is definitely a right and wrong way to cite material in a book. Copyeditors and proofreaders check the proper formatting and order of citations, bibliography, and references. 

Cross-check typesetting details

Once a manuscript has been typeset into its book form, a proofreader should review the galley. Traditional publishers usually have in-house proofreaders, but often expect the author to play a role in proofreading the galley. In self-publishing, proofreading is up to the author, so consider hiring a freelance editor. Here are some of the items that a proofreader checks:

- Text treatment: Ensure text treatment is consistent throughout, such as using the correct font type, size, line spacing, bold, and italics.

- Pagination: Verify the correct formatting, such as when the page number should be expressed on the page and in what style.

- Table of contents and index: Cross-check the page number, title, and subtitle.

- Chapter headings and subheadings: Confirm spelling consistencies and usage of special treatment of text, such as italics. 

- Headers and footers: Cross-check the correct chapter, treatment of text, and consistency of usage. 

- Footnotes and endnotes: Cross-check the page number, references, and treatment of text.

- Graphics: Verify placement and captions of any illustrations, photos, tables, or charts. 

- Hyperlinks: When in e-book format, ensure that all hyperlinks take the reader to the correct webpage or content. 

And here are a few things they do not:

Edit your voice

Editors strive to protect your writing voice while improving your book. However, you should be prepared to part with some of your favorite lines—or even pages—in order to improve your work as a whole. 

Verify quotations

It's up to you to ensure the accuracy of any material you've quoted in your book. While editors may leave a note if they see an obvious error in quoted material, it's not their responsibility. 

Conduct fact-checking

Don’t assume your editor or publisher will double check your research. Traditional publishers and self-publishing service providers alike typically put the onus of fact-checking on the author. 

Remember the editing basics

A professional editor can help you overhaul your draft, fine tune your manuscript, and polish your typeset book before it's seen by your audience. Investing in quality editing provides the outside feedback necessary to improve your book and ensure it meets industry standards, while preserving your unique voice. It's what book editors do best. 

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