Yes, You Need a Professional Book Editor
Whether you plan on traditionally or self-publishing, you absolutely need a book editor. Editors are experts in identifying and communicating what your book needs to go from a decent story to an outstanding one that will impact your readers. There are several different types of editors: understanding what each editor does will help you choose the best ones for your book.
Why You Need an Editor
While beta readers and critique groups can have a massive, positive impact on your writing, they are not professional editors. They won’t read your book from start to finish like a reader and have the skills necessary to help you take that story to the next level. An editor will. They will also bring their industry knowledge and experience to your piece. In addition, people put more effort into something they are being paid for. You might have amazing critique partners, but they only have so much time and energy. There may be weeks when they can’t give your writing the attention it deserves. With professional editors, your writing is a priority.
As the author, you know your story too well to see the plot holes, missing character development, and other issues your story might have. You might think you have included these aspects, when they still only exist in your mind. You are especially too close to copy edit your own work. You know what that misspelled word is supposed to be, so you will likely see what you intended, not what is actually on the page. That is why you need a professional editor.
Types of Professional Editors
Developmental editors are also known as content editors. They focus on the story part of your writing. They look at your plot, characters, setting, tone, description, dialogue, scenes, summaries, backstory, and more to make sure everything is necessary and working together. Developmental editors help you make that essential character more believable and your pacing more page turning. This is the first type of editor you should hire.
A developmental edit with have the most back and forth between you and your editor, so it will likely cost the most. A developmental editor will read multiple versions of your story and work with you until your story will linger with, haunt, strum the heart strings of, or in some other way leave a lasting impression on your readers. They will make sure your beginning hooks your reader, your middle continues to build, and your ending leaves the emotional impact you desire.
Sometimes a developmental editor will act as a fact checker. More often, you will need to find a beta reader who is an expert in your era or subject matter if you are not one yourself. This is particularly important if you write historical or hard science fiction. Andy Weir had NASA experts read and correct the science in The Marian to make his novel as accurate as possible.
Copy editors are what the layperson thinks of when they hear the word “editor.” These are the people who help you clean up your spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, and sentence structure. They also look at continuity to make sure that minor character’s eyes didn’t change from brown in chapter two to green in chapter fifteen. Instead of focusing on the story like a developmental editor, copy editors focus on your piece’s readability. Their goal is to eliminate as many errors and wonky sentences as possible, so readers aren’t taken out of the story.
You should hire a copy editor after you are finished working with a developmental editor. There is no point in paying a copy editor to fix that scene from chapter four the developmental editor is going to recommend you cut.
The final type of editor is a proof reader. These are people who look at your story in book format. Whether they examine a PDF or a physical copy, they mark small copy errors like spelling and grammar and make sure each page is formatted properly. Proof readers double check your chapter titles and numbers, page numbers, headers, footers, table of contents, and all the other things you add when you format your book for print. They should be the last editor you hire.
Why a Professional Editor Uses Editors for Her Own Books
I am a professional editor. I perform both developmental and copy edits. I do not perform both types of edits on the same project because by the time I have finished the developmental edit, I’ve read the piece too many times to be able to properly copy edit it.
Even though I have years of editing and writing experience, I still use a fellow professional editor for my published pieces. Like other writers, I am too close to my stories to see what is and is not on the page. And while I love and appreciate my wonderful critique groups, they are unable to read my longer stories and novels from start to finish in a timely manner that mimics the reader experience. This means they can’t offer the kind of big picture advice a developmental editor provides.
Successful writers like Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Neil Gaiman, and Paula Hawkins still use editors. They did not reach their level of success without help, and you likely won’t either. When you’re ready to publish your book, hire a professional editor to Ignite Your Ink.
What has been your experience working with professional editors? Share your thoughts in the comments below. For a revision checklist designed to get you ready for an editor and other articles on writing, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.