Who Should Edit Your Manuscript?

Every Manuscript Needs To Be Edited

Authors are not the best editors of their own writing. I can’t think of a single manuscript that could have been published without someone other than the author editing it. Rarely—only three in my 30+ years as an editor—does an author deliver a manuscript in such great shape that it only needs minimal formatting and nothing else. Most authors recognize that they need to ask someone to edit their manuscript. That sets them on the road to finding an editor.

Not All Editors Are Qualified

Selecting an editor entails matching the requirements to the person with the right qualifications. Subject matter, genre, target audience, reading level, and structural complexity are examples of what to consider when trying to find the perfect editor. Given the different demands, the same person is not suited for all editing assignments. More importantly, not everyone who thinks they are an editor, or whom you might think of as an editor, is actually qualified to edit your manuscript. Your high school English teacher or college literature professor, for instance, may come to mind as possibilities. People who were editors of their high school or college yearbook could handle it, you might think. Perhaps that friend who works in marketing? Each of these examples come from different backgrounds and will approach your manuscript differently. If you are going to publish and sell a book, do you just want to hope the editing is up to snuff? Or, do you want to find the best possible editor to produce a top-notch manuscript?  

Establish Editing Goals

Who the best editor is depends on the goals you have in mind. You might need developmental editing, substantive editing, heavy copyediting, or light mechanical editing. Each type of editing has its own distinct goals. Those varying goals call for different skills, knowledge, and experience. If your manuscript is a business book that contains a bit of economics, you may want an editor who understands business and economics. If you’ve written a history of China from 1300 to 1600, that business editor won’t likely be a good fit. If your manuscript is a rough first draft, you may be looking for developmental editing, which could involve significant revisions, rearranging, writing new material, and a lot of time. It is wise to establish clear goals and expectations before you begin looking for an editor. That makes it easier to find the right person because you can communicate to prospective editors exactly what you want them to do and can better assess whether they are a good fit.

The Decision

Authors need to weigh their options carefully. When it comes to editing, engaging a complete stranger has advantages over having a personal friend do it, because the stranger will focus on the work, not the relationship with you. Authors sometimes find it difficult to hear the unvarnished editorial input of a friend, and conversely, it can be hard for friends who are editors to be absolutely candid with you. Establish clear goals and expectations before searching for an editor. Identify and evaluate candidates using those clear-cut criteria. Match the editor to the demands of the project. Be willing to pay a fair wage, because you will get what you pay for. Most importantly, keep in view the big picture of publishing the best quality book. If you can envision your book in bookstores and in the hands of customers, that clarifies the decision process when you are looking for an editor.

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