What Does a Book Editor Actually Do? Tips for Self-Publishing Authors

If you’re writing a book, you’ve probably been told you need to hire an editor. However, if you’ve never worked with one before, then this stage of your book writing journey could bring up questions for you, such as ‘What can an editor actually do for me?’, ‘Will they make me change things I don’t want to?’ and ‘How does the whole process work?’

Luckily for you, I’ve asked Jessica Brown, my fantastic editor, to answer some of your questions and help you understand the editing process.

Different types of editing

First of all, it’s important to mention there are different types of editing for different stages of your work in progress. However, what I’m talking about here is what is known as copyediting – editing for that final-draft stage, when you’ve written your manuscript, already self-edited and maybe sent it to beta readers. You’ve done as much as you feel you can to get it in shape but now need a professional to take it to the next level.

What does an editor look for?

Essentially, a copyeditor’s job is to improve the readability of your book, to make your ideal reader’s experience as enjoyable as possible. So, yes, they will tighten up your grammar and fix stray spelling mistakes but this could also look like restructuring a sentence or taking out non-essential words to make it flow more smoothly.

It might also mean highlighting areas of repetition or suggesting alternatives to add variation and interest. Consistency is very important to editors too. Not only because it makes a book look more professional, but it makes life easier for your reader. Inconsistent spellings and presentation can be quite confusing and distracting − and we want your reader’s attention to stay firmly on your fabulous content! 

Although editors are not legal experts, they should also be able to point out areas that may cause legal issues: copyright infringement and defamation are two common but important issues that often come up in self-development books and memoirs and may need the input of a legal professional. 

Finally, an editor is an objective pair of eyes to look out for any ambiguities, biases or potential causes of confusion in your book. This is why self-editing isn’t enough. As the author, you are too close to your own writing. An editor can help shine a light on things you never thought of. 

Will my book still sound like me?

This is a really, really common concern for first-time authors. You’ve put your heart and soul into creating your book baby; the last thing you want is for someone with a red pen to come and rip it to shreds and impose their own opinions and style on it. 

Fear not! Way up on an editor’s priority list is ensuring the author’s unique voice shines through. A good editor will work with you to make informed decisions and ensure any changes made elevate what’s already there, showing your writing off at its best − not changing things for the sake of it or pressuring you to make amendments that do not feel true to you and your book’s message. 

The beauty of self-publishing is that you retain full creative control over your book. Unlike in traditional publishing, you are free to choose what gets changed and what doesn’t. The final call is entirely up to you 

What’s the process?

Everyone likes to know what to expect, right? It’s a good idea to have this conversation with your editor before you start working together, as working methods can change from editor to editor. 

However, it normally goes something like this: you send your final draft to your editor (usually in a Word doc). They will then complete an initial edit on your manuscript. They’ll send the edited version back to you, normally with tracked changes − so you can see everything that has been changed − along with queries and suggestions. 

Some editors also provide a style guide, which is a record of all the editorial style decisions that have been made on your book. It’s now your turn to go through the edits and make any changes or additions you want following your editor’s feedback. They will then carry out a second review, checking over any revisions and making sure your manuscript is ready for formatting.

Tips on finding your perfect editor

Choosing an editor is a very personal thing, so take your time to find the right one for you and your book! 

  • Look at their portfolio. Have they worked on similar books to yours? Do they have an interest in your book’s genre?

  • Are they trained? Editing is currently an unregulated profession so check if they have completed training or have any in-house editing experience.

  • Take a look at their testimonials and, if you can, speak to authors who have worked with them before.

  • Book a discovery call and ask for a sample edit to make sure you’re going to be a good fit and you like their editing style.

*Note from Steph – Jess is an absolutely fantastic copyeditor! She’s such a supportive person to have on your book team and I wholeheartedly recommend her if you’re looking for an editor – she worked with me on Dare to Write and I’m already planning on working with her again for my next book. Find out more about her on her website here and/or connect with her on Instagram here.

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