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Why hire an editor?

Regardless of what type of publishing path you decide is best, you want to put out the best version of your work. If you are sending to a conventional publisher, you will want the manuscript to pass the first scan-through that it will get. If you are self-publishing, you will want your work to make a good impression from the very first word. Editors and copyeditors can help with this.

EDITING

is when you go over your manuscript to see how you can improve the content, rather than more technical issues such as missing commas. Sometimes you ask others to read your work for you; sometimes you will get editing feedback from publishers to whom you have submitted your work. You should always take all feedback seriously, even if you don't make the changes suggested. If someone can't understand something that you've written, then you need to address why that is. If you know why you did something, then you need to somehow make that more clear. Editors can cast a fresh eye on your work and give you their assessment of what works and what doesn't.

Often, working with a content editor involves a discussion (in person or on email) about what you want to do and how best to achieve it. This kind of working conversation can be very rewarding.

COPYEDITING

means checking grammar, style, and other technical aspects of your writing. When you are more or less happy with the content, you should copyedit your manuscript. You can do this yourself, or you can hire a copyeditor. Copyeditors have experience catching all sorts of mistakes, including errors of grammar, style inconsistencies, and factual errors.

Did you call a character Elizabeth in one chapter and then call her Elisabeth in another? Are your dates consistent? (We know of one writer whose female protagonist was pregnant for two years.) Do characters know what they're supposed to know? Is Thabo bald in one chapter and then dreadlocked in the next chapter, which only takes place a half-hour later? These sorts of inconsistencies can be infuriating to people who are trying to evaluate your manuscript. They end up with a very bad impression of your work: that you don't really care about it and are not very careful about what you do. No matter how imaginative or even brilliant your work might be, few people are likely to look kindly on it if you have not made the job of reading it easier by getting rid of these kinds of errors. If you don't give the impression that you care about your work, why should anyone else?

Hiring a copyeditor to look for these errors has the advantage that they will probably find more than you do. Copyeditors don't know the manuscript inside out, as you presumably do. Because you have read your own work so many times, presumably, and because you know what you want something to mean, it is more difficult for you to see what is really there and what something means to others.

PROOFREADING

is a stage that most people find extremely tedious. However, it is not as tedious as reading a manuscript that has not been properly proofread. At this point, there might still be some grammar errors, but mostly a proofreader will be looking for typos, formatting errors, and other bits of gravel that will mar an otherwise smooth read. They cause readers to stumble; if there are many such bits, readers will tire of them. You don't want a reader or reviewer to tire of your writing because of small errors. Proofreading can also be done for you by a professional, and is a good idea since, again because of your own familiarity with your manuscript, you won't see the spacing errors or the missing quotation marks.


If you know that you make certain types of errors, look particularly for those. If you find typos, inconsistencies, or other errors while you are reading through, you should of course correct anything that you see and that you know is wrong. The copyeditor will then be able to work more quickly and the job won't cost you as much. You should make sure you edit, copyedit, and proofread your manuscript so that you submit the best version possible.

All copyediting and proofreading is done to make it easier for someone else to your manuscript. The goal is to produce a manuscript that is clean and free of distractions, making it possible for reviewers and readers to focus on the content of your work. You want your work to stand out on its intellectual or creative merits, not sink into oblivion because of faults that would have been very easy to correct.

To summarize:

You want to be taken seriously. You want to let publishers and readers know that you are not careless and slipshod. The only way to do that as a writer is to make sure your work is correct and tidy. Wendy Belcher has more to say about what you can gain from working with an editor and having your work professionally copyedited (http://wendybelcher.com/writing-advice/how-to-hire-copyeditor/).