Friday, January 25, 2013

Working as a Freelance Editor - The Stages of Editing

I've been a freelance editor for about a year now. I work for a publishing company, and I work for other authors who hire me to edit their manuscripts. I love it. I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been the author waiting for the editor to finish with a book, and it’s been an honor—and a lot of fun—to get to be that editor for other authors.

But what, exactly, does an editor do and why does an author need one? I mean, the author already edited the book fifty bisquillion times, so it should be fine, right?

Welllll…maybe. But I’m going to venture a guess that 99.999999% of the time, the author is so close to the manuscript and has seen it so many times that obvious things will be missed--and not-so-obvious things will go unnoticed.

As for what an editor does—or, at least, what I do as an editor:

1. An editor has to learn the story inside and out and pay attention to every single detail on every single page. Her brain has to be set to hyper-hyper-hyper-aware mode, so that she can remember little details that could come back a hundred pages later. Keep in mind that she might not get to that hundredth page for a week, so she has to remember it all that time. She has to know the details so that if they’re contradicted, she can fix this or mention it to the author.

2. An editor has to know the characters backwards and forwards so that if something happens and it seems out of character, she can mention it and try to help the author figure out how to fix it. She has to know the story backwards and forwards so she can spot plot holes and offer suggestion to the author on how to fix them.

3. An editor has to get the flow of the story and learn the author’s style so that she can suggest ways to make certain sentences flow more smoothly while not disturbing the author’s voice. She has to pay attention to what words/phrases the author uses so she knows if the author is particularly fond of a particular word or phrase. Then she works with the author on cutting out some of those words or phrases so they don’t become annoying.

4. And in addition to all of that, an editor has to know the rules of grammar—and if she doesn’t know, she needs to be willing to find the answers. Her best tools are Google, Merriam-Webster dictionary/thesaurus, and other editors who might know the answer. She has to know where commas go, what adjective phrases need hyphens, the importance  and correct use of past perfect tense, the importance and correct use of all tenses, the differences between all sorts of homophones, the proper uses of apostrophes, whether to use who/that/which, and a million other little grammatical details.

5. A good editor is invisible—she helps the author tweak and clean up and fix the book, but when a reader is going through the book, that reader should never see how much work was done to the manuscript.

6. And the editor is only human—she catches everything she can, but she also knows that since she has started editing, she has not yet read a published book that didn’t have some mistakes—even NYT bestsellers. Because with everything the editor does on the manuscript, as much as she strives for perfection, there might be something she misses. She does the absolute best she can.

Editor Laura Fact: On average, it takes me about two weeks to edit an 80,000 – 100,000 word manuscript—sometimes a little less, sometimes more. That’s just the first round. Then I send it back to the author for revisions, and then I have one last look at it. The second look typically takes a few hours, but can sometimes take a day or two.

Now, I’d like to give you a little glimpse of what the editing process is sometimes like for me. In some ways, it's like the stages of writing a book--the ups and downs and emotional highs and emotional exhaustion. I present to you Laura's Stages of Editing:

Now, in the end, it is always, always, always the author’s book. I can make suggestions and recommendations until I’m blue in the face. It doesn’t mean the author is always going to take the suggestions. And that’s their choice.

But an editor is not trying to stomp on the author’s thoughts or ideas or characters—well, not the editors I know, anyway.

The author is attached to their writing. They’ve created the world and written the words and poured sweat and tears and countless hours into it. It’s normal to feel protective of it.

The editor is not attached like that. The editor sees the story, the words, the phrases, the grammar, the flow, the style…and does her best to help the author make it all shine.

Of course, there are all sorts of different personalities, too—maybe one editor and author won’t really click, but another one will. So finding an editor who works well with you is also important. Tristi Pinkston did a great blog post about that here: Finding a Good Editor

*Have you ever worked with an editor? Was it a good experience? Do you feel that editors are necessary for your book?

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have about 20,000 words left in a client edit to finish by the end of tomorrow. ;)


  1. I love getting a behind-the-scenes look at the whole process. Sounds like a lot of work gets done on both sides.

  2. My publisher's editor is really good to work with and she always makes smart suggestions. Fortunately I have three critique partners and two test readers who catch a lot of the mistakes and major issues before I send it to my publisher. Otherwise I'd be accused of torturing the poor lady.

  3. The first "60K" girl up there had me literally LOL'ing here in my cubicle. ;-)

    I'm so totally sending you the Basement after I finish this next overhaul. Whether or not you take a look is up to you. But I'm sending it. You need to read it anyway. :D

  4. Thank you for giving insight! I sorta/kinda thought an editor was pointless until I actually had one, and she found so many things that I'd missed - SOO many. Now the thought of not having an editor sends me into a panic. I think a good editor can make so much difference, and it sounds like you are doing a fantastic job! Way to go!

  5. great post. Yes!! need editors!!!

  6. Love the illustrations with the dialogue! I don't know how you manage to do this! How much do you charge? Email me!

  7. This is an awesome post, Laura. When I got to that picture for 60,000 words in, I laughed out loud.

    I think you know I'm worried about getting that letter from my editor. We don't seem to see eye-to-eye on a lot of stuff, so it will be interesting. I hope I survive. lol

  8. Thanks for showing this from 'the other side'. :) You've definitely raised my already high respect. My 1st editor experience wasn't great - simply a bad match. Her style was too different from my own. But I loved my last one! Yep, she marked it red, red, and more red... but her suggestions were wonderful.

  9. Wow, this post gave me great insight into an editor's process (as exhausting/exciting/emotionally draining as the writing process!)~ thanks so much for sharing!

  10. I've never used an editor, but I really would like to. I'm just a little scared of how much it could cost and how much my novel could sucketh (yep, made a new word) and if the editor would hate it.

    Do you edit for others with a reasonable price? :) I'd totally be willing for help from you. :)

  11. I give such kudos to you editors. I could never do it. Not detail orientated enough. Not patient enough :) haha

    Luckily there are people like you!

  12. Browse Around This Site

    Also visit my weblog jacksonville foreclosure help
    Here is my site ... modification loan

  13. This is a great look into how editing works, and how helpful a professional edit can be. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Thank you so much for the look into how this works! I loved the graphics. And I'm so happy to see you still freelance, because I was thinking about giving self publishing a try, just once, to see what it's like, and you were the exact editor I wanted to ask about prices. So...I might be bugging you in a couple months. If I actually finish the story!! Thanks again for listing the steps of the process.

  15. Haha! I love your cartoon stages of editing :-)


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!