Because of how broadly ‘editing’ is defined and because it means different things to different people, I am often asked by new clients exactly what I will and won’t do when editing their book.
This is a great question and one that every writer needs to ask their editor, since editing is a scale covering the broadest high level review right down to the devilish detail. And what you need could be anywhere in between.
Perhaps you have a good idea of what an editor does, but you wonder if they can help you write your table of contents. Or maybe you’re not sure about your title and you’re open to ideas. But you wonder… can I get my editor to do that?
Here’s a quick list I put together off the top of my head of what I’ve either been asked to do as an editor or have had to step in and take charge of when the going got tough once the manuscript came through.
Before you dive in…
Remember not every editor can and will have all the skills to do everything on this list, but it is an indication of what you can ask for, if you need the support in that area. Finding a single editor who does all of these in one service is possible, but unlikely, unless you’re having several rounds of editing at varying depths with a widely skilled person.
It is worth keeping in mind that just because someone says they can include something on this list, it doesn’t mean they are the best person for the job, so consider the experience and skills of who you’re intending to hire. It may be worth having two or three people look at different aspects.
Here’s what your editor can do… (probably)
- Sharpen your title or subtitle
- Create or improve chapter headings
- Suggest section or subsection headers
- Cut down the number of words
- Give advice where you’re not sure how to phrase something
- Make decisions where you leave several options
- Move whole paragraphs around
- Find quotations and citations, where relevant
- Research the names of people, places and organisations
- Pick up on where references may be needed
- Make sure the topics you’re writing about don’t jump around
- Check the document spacing
- Give you a heads-up about when what you’ve written is TMI, if you’re a classic over-sharer
- Curb your cursing, when asked
- Put together a style sheet so your team can write consistently your way
- Guide you in finding a natural voice
- Determine when your writing doesn’t sound like you
- Think of good examples to illustrate your points
- Split long sentences into shorter snappier ones
- Get inside the head of your reader
- Tell you when a word is in the wrong place
- Write short bits of text to walk the reader through step by step
- Make you sound funnier
- Make you sound smarter
- Make you sound sexier
- Make you sound all the positive superlatives
- Be your biggest cheerleader
- Decide if CAPS, italics or bold is best
- Decide if “double speech marks” or ‘single quote marks’ are best
- Learn about the Oxford comma so you don’t have to
- Help you figure out what style of English is best for your audience – American, Australian, British, Canadian, something else
- Assess what level of editing you’ll need
- Sense check and reword (if needed) the bits that have made you cross-eyed and you’re still unsure on
- Talk you off the ledge when you’re so over it
Always agree the scope!
Please know that most of these are an optional part of editing (certainly beyond a copyediting or proofreading service in most cases) and not always included in the service you select unless you ask for it.
Most editors or editorial companies will charge extra for rewriting, content editing, reviewing the viability of publishing, indexing, referencing, formatting, format checking, post-typesetting proofreading and further rounds of revisions. If you have a particular issue you’d like your editor to address, tell them about it as early as poss.