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  • Gwyneth Box

How to: Use an Editor

Most writers admit they can benefit from an outsider’s opinion of their work and many indie authors will pay someone else to edit their manuscript. But what exactly does an external editor do, and at what stage do you need one?

Gynweth Box offers her advice.

The whole point of editing a manuscript is to improve it: to take something raw and make it beautiful. An outside opinion can be useful at various stages of manuscript development, and both writer and editor need to be clear about what stage the work is at and what the editor is being paid to do.

At the earlier stages of editing, you need to find an editor whose opinion you trust and who has experience in the genre you are working in.

The lines between the different types of editing are no longer quite as clear as they were, and both writer and editor need to know precisely which type of editing is expected: if you simply ask someone to “edit” your manuscript, it’s vital that they know whether you mean them to proofread a finished text or suggest structural changes and improvements; it’s also vital that you know what you are paying for.

There are at least four different types of editing:

1. Initial read and review

When you have finished your first draft, you may find it helpful to ask someone to read and review your manuscript and give a big-picture, general opinion: here you would expect them to report back with an overview of strengths and weaknesses and some general ideas of what to do in the next stage of writing.

2. Deep structural edit

If you want more detailed help, you may be looking for an on-going mentoring relationship where your editor will help you make deep structural changes, perhaps changing the plot, adding or removing subplots etc. This restructuring requires the ability to see the big picture, as well as seeing how all the different threads weave together, which scenes contribute to the progress of the plot, and which are simply decorative or maybe even hinder the onward movement.

3. Copy-editing

Once your book is finished, you may still need help with copy-editing. At this level of editing, changes will probably still be made to the text, but not to the overall structure. The style and register of the text is made consistent and appropriate, facts are checked – even in fiction! – and the text should emerge from this stage complete and ready for the layout artist. Note that a copy-editor follows the guidelines they are given regarding style: rather than making changes that impose their own style, their edits should conform to an agreed style and register.

4. Proofreading

The proofreader comes in at the end to review the complete text as a whole and make sure no errors or inconsistencies remain after it has been laid out. At this stage, the text really should be correct, so it may seem that the proofreader doesn’t do very much; in fact, even the correction of small inconsistencies – single or double quotes? American or British English spelling? are there additional spaces between lines? has the font or line spacing been altered by mistake? – make a big difference to the reader’s experience and are often what separates a professional text from the rest.

Words: Gwyneth Box

Photos: Unsplash


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