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What You Need to Know Before Working with an Editor

You’ve spent months or even years writing your book, and you’re finally finished writing that first draft. You can start with some self-editing steps, but whether you plan to write a proposal to secure an agent for a traditional publisher or go the indie route and self-publish your book, you’re going to need an editor!

While your English teacher neighbor or grammar-whiz friend can provide helpful feedback for your book as you revise your first draft, they will not replace the insight and expertise of a professional editor. After working with hundreds of authors over the years, I’ve learned that when authors say their manuscripts are ready to publish because they’ve had a friend or teacher edit it for them, I'm often greeted with multiple grammar, punctuation, and style issues during my initial manuscript review.

There are styles and conventions in publishing that go beyond the typical grammar review, and a professional editor will save your book from being perceived as the work of an amateur.

Now that you understand why a professional editor is essential for polishing your book, what you need to know first is that your editor wants your book to shine! Yes, they will need to take a critical look at your book’s structure, content, flow, and adherence to the appropriate style guide for your genre in order to make it better (more concise, clear, coherent, consistent, and correct). No one, however, will be a bigger cheerleader for your book than your editor. I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve never been more proud than when I see my authors publish and launch their books to stellar reviews!

Every editor has their own way of providing feedback, however, and it’s important to review their sample edit to see if it’s a good fit for your personality and communication style. If an editor is more direct with their notes, for example, and that puts you on the defensive, you may want to find an editor who approaches feedback with more of an encouraging tone. If you tend to be more stubborn with edits and know you need a stronger hand, find an editor who fits your need for honest, direct feedback.

It’s important to review the sample edit to see if it’s a good fit for your personality and communication style.

Next, it’s important to know there are different types of editors. Some editors deal more with the big picture of your book (developmental editing), while others focus on mechanical aspects of a manuscript (copy editing), like grammar, punctuation, spelling, and adherence to a style guide. (Read this article for more about what a copy editor does.) For the majority of authors, their book will at the very least need a copy edit before moving into the design stage of book publishing. When you reach out to an editor, they will let you know whether your book is ready for copy editing or requires some content or structural issues are addressed before that step.

Note: Every book needs a final proofread, and that happens when the book cover design is finalized and the interior of the book is formatted—often right before print. A proofreader will not only check for grammar and spelling errors, properly formatted citations, and any other typos introduced during revisions but will also look for formatting and spacing issues in the final print-ready PDF. They serve as the book’s last line of defense.

Finally, it’s important to understand that an editor will work hard to keep your voice in the manuscript. It is essential to keep your unique author voice intact throughout the book. Why? Your voice is what will engage your target reader and help them connect with you on a personal level as they navigate your book’s content. Especially with copy editing, an editor will not revise large portions of your writing. They will only address issues that have to be edited in order to be correct and will indicate any need for major revisions in their editorial notes, often in comments.

Often, editors will offer several different levels of editing in their overall services, but most have a preference for either the big picture developmental editing or micro-level copy editing and proofreading. They will communicate with you about what you can expect from each stage of editing, including the costs and timelines, and they will let you know what they expect from you as well.

Regardless of the level of editing your book requires, your editor will be the one who's in your corner, polishing your book so it's the best it can be. You'll be working closely with your editor for weeks or months, so it's important to find one who fits your particular genre needs and will serve as a supportive partner throughout your publishing journey.


If your nonfiction book is ready for editing, find out if Inspire Books is a good fit for your book. Click here to book a free editing consult.

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