Friday, November 10, 2017

Does Your Book Editor Have a Spirit Animal?

If you have ever gone through the process of getting your book edited, you know it can be pretty vicious. Your precious words strung together as beautiful as a garden, only to be plucked, pruned, chopped down, and uprooted by an editor.  It's painful, but necessary. It's grueling, but worth it. If you haven't gone through the process quite yet, here are some tips for you.

When you are considering a book editor for your project, keep this simple idea in mind. They must be a LION who can oversee the field, guarding the whole thing overall.  They must also be a FIELD MOUSE among the grass, making sure that every tiny thing is in order.

If you are an editor taking on this challenge, know this:  A person who proofs websites or catches typos in a book they are reading is not a book editor. An editor must be able to define and hone a through line for the author. You must be able to look beyond the typos and make sure the book  makes sense as a whole for the author's stated goals and intentions. It is not the same as editing a school paper, or a business plan.  Books are another animal entirely!

Consider the amount of responsibility a book editor is taking on.  You have prepared your story to the best of your ability. Hopefully, by the time you hand it over to an editor, you have exhausted all of your rewriting, and you don't have another thing to add.  That's when your manuscript is in shape for an editor.  As far as the editor goes, this is the most important element of book preparation. You have written a compelling story, but the editor has the job of polishing it up to a high luster.  It's a huge responsibility -- and one that should be reserved for those who have experience with editing books.


  • Not your mom (I know she would be brutally honest -- No, seriously, I know you are totally serious, she would not be nice about it. She would tell you the awful truth no matter what.).  
  • Not your son's wife who works at a bookstore (I know she knows what makes a good book, but her next job could be selling clothes-- and that doesn't mean she is a fashion designer.)
  • Not your professor who is the head of the English department. (Simple, they work in 10 page increments. Not a book.)
  • Not your friend who catches typos in every book she reads. (That's proofing, not editing.)
  • Not your spouse who reads profusely and would tell you the truth. (Not if he doesn't want to sleep on the couch.)
  • Not your sister who is the editor of the town newspaper. (This is dynamic editing that only has to live for a moment. A book is static and will be around for years as is, for the most part.)
  • Not your daughter who is a student in creative writing. (She has her own style and may try to impose it on your book.  Plus, she likely doesn't have the life experience to know what she doesn't know yet.)

But the real reason behind not using those people as your book editor?  Because they love you. They care about how you feel. They fill in blanks they don't even consciously know they are filling in. The subconscious sympathetic reader says, "Oh I know what he meant." And that happens without them even realizing it. But a new reader doesn't know you. They won't know where to fill in blanks, and so things won't make sense and they won't know why. You know what else? When these guys realize the responsibility they have in polishing your book to it's best form, they might not be able to tell you what they need to tell you.

You can hire a qualified book editor. After being involved with nearly 1000 books, we use editors we know and trust and have worked as book editors for years. We interview and interrogate and sample each new editor we consider. It's worth it!

If you are interested in editing someone's book, realize the weight of the responsibility you are undertaking, and make sure you are qualified to take on this important task. Do a few books as an apprentice with a qualified and experienced editor overseeing your work. Ask an author who is using a qualified book editor if you can observe their editorial notes and the whole process so you can see how it is done.

Bottom line, do your due diligence in finding a qualified book editor. And to those who wish to edit books: do your own due diligence, and know what you are getting into.  It's too important to take lightly.

Have a good weekend!

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