Your book needs to be edited. That’s not a statement about your writing skills. Because every book ever written needs an editor to polish it. All of them. If nothing else, think of your readers and take the time to have your book thoroughly edited.
It’s easy enough to say ‘edit your damn book,’ but that doesn’t help you know how to get your book edited. What’s even worse; as I looked around on the web for information about finding a book editor, everything I found was an advertisement (with one important exception we’ll touch on later). The most highly rated search results were just companies arguing for buying their editing services.
Using Lulu’s Partners
We’re going to just cover this now and move on. The rest of this article is about how to choose a book editor and how to get the most out of the experience. I won’t be selling you on any particular services or individual editors.
But I am obligated to point you to Lulu’s Services Marketplace at least once. So here it is. The editing services we share on this page are from companies we recommend.
That’s it. No more selling or recommendations. Promise.
What Does A Book Editor Do?
On the surface, editing may seem relatively simple. You read the work, correct spelling and grammar, and look for opportunities to improve. Is it confusing why the protagonist did something in chapter 4? The author might know exactly why our main character does what they do, but it might not shine through. That’s something our editor can help identify.
Not all editors are the same though. In fact, there are different specializations in editing.
A developmental editor will focus on helping you develop your story. How you choose to organize the editorial process is up to you, but I think developmental editing works best if you tackle it first. Before you worry about perfectly sculpted sentences or grammar perfection.
When you get started with your developmental editor, you’ll want to identify the vision for hope for your book. Think about similar works you had in mind as you wrote and offer these as reference points. Helping develop a stronger story won’t be possible if your editor doesn’t know what you’re trying to achieve!
Once you are aligned with the goal, your developmental editor will work to improve the structure, cohesion, and tone of your work. Do you have a secondary character who is fun and lighthearted in the early parts of the book and morose near the end? You might know why, but if it’s not coming through on the page, your editor will help bring this to your attention.
You’ll get a lot of feedback from your developmental editor. So you have to be thoughtful when you choose who you’ll work with at this editing stage. Probably more so than any other. Find a professional editor who can help with your genre and can work within your timeline. Then be very clear about expectations so you have a productive working relationship.
If you go and do some searching online, you’ll find a fair amount of overlap between copy editing, line editing, and proofreading. And for good reason, these roles do overlap significantly.
Copy editors, from what I understand and from my own experiences, perform two main functions; they look for errors and they ensure the proper use of style guides.
Errors, for a copy editor, fall into two categories. Technical mistakes like missed punctuation, spelling errors, or poorly formed sentences. And errors in development. The latter are mistakes that exist after you’ve worked through the plot and characters with your developmental editor. These errors in no way mean your developmental editor failed; books a big and getting to press with no errors is a rarity.
Your copy editor should be able to take your notes from developmental editing and help make sure the design you’ve settled on is applied well through the manuscript. Which dovetails with the application of style guides. For non-fiction, this usually means APA or Chicago style guides as ‘set’ rules. But for a novel, it might be ensuring a made-up place name is consistent or that character names are used correctly.
Your line editor is going to look at your manuscript line-by-line. If you need a copy editor with attention to detail, you need a line editor who eats, sleeps, and breaths detail. At this point, you should feel pretty good about the editing jobs you’ve had done already. All that’s left is to pick through and catch as many minor errors as you can.
For a self-published author, it’s not uncommon to crowdsource the line editing with your network of author friends. You’re not too concerned about their potential bias because you’ve already done developmental and copy editing. The story itself should be solid.
Whether you elect to hire a line editor or crowdsource it, choose your editor based on their keen grammar and writing skills along with a lot of attention to detail.
For a lot of authors, the editing process will end after the line editing. Which is fair. At this stage, you’ve likely done at least a couple of rounds with a developmental editor, had a copy editor comb through the manuscript, and gotten some line editing done. You might feel like the book is as edited as it can get.
But there is one last type of editor you might choose to work with; the proofreader.
If you decide to employ a proofreader, they’ll do a lot of the same work as a line editor; read the book and nitpick details to find errors. The main difference is that your proofreader will have a more general eye on the book than the line editor. So where your line editor digs into your book knowing what your goals are and some details about the manuscript, your proofreader should come into the task completely raw.
That will give them the distance to read as a new reader might and find the kinds of errors you can only catch with that kind of reading.
How To Choose Your Book Editors
I mentioned earlier how hard it is to get unbiased information on the web about editors. There’s one great exception: The Editorial Freelancers Association.
The EFA is a directory for freelancers and offers a really nice pricing chart to give you a sense of how much you should expect to spend. It would be great if the cost wasn’t a factor, but when you’re self-publishing you have to be conscious of your budget. For authors who are trying to minimize cost, you might not hire two or three separate editors.
So how do you choose editors and the services?
You have to think about the book you’ve written, your personal strengths and weaknesses, and any connections you might have to help with editing. If you know a fellow writer, you might be able to trade proofreading or line editing.
Don’t skimp on the developmental editor. I think it’s important to get your spelling and grammar right. But you probably won’t lose any readers if there are a couple of typos in your book. A story that doesn’t hang together? Or characters who are inconsistent? That will drive readers away.
Prioritizing Content And Cohesion
The most important editing will be the developmental work you have done on the first complete draft. You need an unbiased and detached view of your work at this point. Any line editing you do will polish the story, but if you haven’t pinned down exactly what the story is and how it plays out, no amount of polish will help.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.