The fact that every publishing house in the world, large or small, has a few professional editors on staff should tell you something: everyone needs at least two or three pairs of eyes on their work to spot things that are almost impossible to see after the fifth or fifteenth time you’ve gone over it. Our minds are trained by eons of evolution to spot and learn patterns. Our eyes gloss over words we’ve read a million times, absorbing the spirit of what we tried to say, more than the actual letters and punctuation marks. That’s where editors and proofreaders come in.
Here’s what they do:
- Content editing (making sure your story makes sense, that there are no plot holes, that character development is consistent throughout, and that Joe isn’t called James three chapters later)
- Line editing (checking grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling–anything that appears to be a glaring error)
- Proofreading (removing any leftover typos and errors in punctuation or spelling)
This is actually a very labor-intensive process. Most editors hold high degrees in English, are avid readers, and have excellent attention to detail. You need that. Even when they say something that might seem harsh, it’s worth considering, because your editor is essentially the first reader to see your book, and if they see something that stands out, it’s probably something that should at least be considered, if not fixed.
Editors should be objective. Their job is not to rewrite your story, change your style, or alter your narrative, but to improve it. Editors should not be telling you to change your character’s personality, unless it’s inconsistent throughout the story. They should not be telling you to take out a chapter, unless it actually halts the pacing and is irrelevant to the story arc. You need an editor to tell you when your story has tense confusion, when there are too many characters who don’t need to be there, when a concept you used is not actually how it works in real life (although that is them being nice because, really, you should have done that research before you put it into your story).
If your editor is publisher-provided, you may have some negotiating power with them to talk over certain issues, make your case, and hope it sticks. However, if the disagreement can’t be resolved, the house always wins and house style guides will take precedence over author preferences. If you hired a freelance editor for your self-published book, the final say is always yours. But that does not mean you should dismiss your editor’s notes offhand. Take a step back, consider their point of view, then try to objectively decide whether it holds merit.
Editors often make corrections through the Track Changes function in MS Word. It’s a quick and easy way for authors to see what’s been changed and how, but it’s also very easy to just click through and accept everything without actually paying attention to it. You should always pay attention to your own book. Especially in the first round of edits, which is the heaviest, you should read the manuscript line by line and consider each change made. After all, it’s your story. Your name on the cover. Your reputation on the line…