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Help Desk: What Can an Editor Do for You?

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by Stacey D. Atkinson, Owner, Mirror Image Publishing —

Stacey D. Atkinson

Hiring an editor will be one of the best investments you can make in your book. Editors are an integral part of your publishing team, and they work with the goal to help you, as an author or publisher, create a polished and error-free product.

There are different types of editors who specialize in different types of editing; depending on their expertise, they become valuable at different times during the publishing production schedule. Knowing what skills to look for in an editor and understanding some editing terminology will ensure you ask for and receive exactly what you need.

Here are some things an editor can do for you:

  • An editor will correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • An editor will help bring out your unique author voice and make you sound your best.
  • An editor will ensure consistency (e.g., 8 p.m. versus eight o’clock) and point out inaccuracies.
  • An editor will steer you away from sticky situations (e.g., copyright infringement) by offering possible solutions.

Getting the Most Out of Your Editor

Editors have built up years of expertise in their craft and can solve many wording and layout problems, but there’s only so much they can do on a given schedule and budget. So, make sure you are 100 percent prepared for the experience of working with an editor.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Ensure you’ve reviewed and rewritten your material several times (no first drafts).
  • Prepare a list of style preferences (e.g., serial comma).
  • Perform a self-edit, such as running the spell check and fact checking.
  • Use consistent formatting throughout your manuscript, such as font type and size and paragraph styles.

Managing Expectations

While it’s good to know what your editor will be doing for you, it’s also good to understand what your editor won’t be doing for you. Editors have varying skill sets, and you can always negotiate extra services from your editor; however, editors typically do not do any of the following in a standard editorial contract:

  • E-book and print book design and layout
  • Indexing
  • Fact checking
  • Writing new content
  • Photo placement and captioning
  • More than one or two rounds of edits

Questions to Ask Your Editor

The best-case scenario is to find an editor with whom you enjoy working who is experienced editing books in your genre. Remember, your editor is going to be an important member of your team, so you’ll want to establish a good rapport. Here are some questions to ask before you hire an editor:

  • Have you edited books in my genre before?
  • When can you start, and how long will it take?
  • What kind of payment options do you have? Do you require a down payment?
  • Do you use a Mac or PC? Can you work on my file type (e.g., Word, PDF, Pages)? How do you make the edits (e.g., track changes and comment boxes)?

Once you’ve agreed in writing to work together, it’s a good practice to ask your editor to send you the first edited chapter so you can get an idea of what the edit is going to look like and provide any comments to your editor at that time. This way, you’ll both set your expectations for each other, and there will be no surprises at the end of the project.

Types of Editors and Editing

Editors usually specialize in different types of editing projects, based on their own education, work experiences, and interests. Here are some niche areas that editors work in:

  • Fiction (e.g., thriller, romance, young adult, literary)
  • Nonfiction (e.g., sports, cookbooks, memoirs, business)
  • Academic (e.g., journals, theses)
  • Scientific (e.g., environment, medical journals)
  • Corporate and government (e.g., policies, reports, training material)

It’s also important to know that there are different types of editing. Not all editors do all types of editing, so make sure you pick an editor who does what you need them to do.

Here are the four main types of editing:

1. Structural/developmental/substantive editing

This type of editing focuses on assessing and shaping material to improve its organization and content. This is the type of editing you would need in the beginning stages of putting your ideas together. For example, you might need advice on how to close gaps in the story line or organize your chapters.

2. Stylistic/line editing

This type of editing clarifies meaning in the sentences, improves flow, and smooths out language. This is the type of editing you need if your manuscript is complete but you want to improve your wording and vocabulary, and you want advice on elements such as the plot or main thesis.

3. Copy editing

This type of editing ensures correctness, consistency, and completeness. This is the type of editing you need if your manuscript is complete and well written, and you want a review of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and consistency of style.

4. Proofreading

This type of editing examines material after layout to correct errors in textual and visual elements. This is the type of editing you need as a final review of your fully designed book after a copy edit and before going to print.

Budgeting for an Editor

Working with an editor is an investment in you, your brand, and your book. If your book is error-free, it will speak volumes to your credibility as an author or publisher. When looking for an editor, you can seek out a junior editor, who may charge a lower rate, such as $25 per hour, or you can look for a senior editor, who could charge up to $65 per hour or more. Editors may charge by the hour, by the project, or by the word.

Example: A typical copy edit of a 60,000-word manuscript might take 35 hours to complete and cost about $1,400 plus tax (at $40 per hour). This estimate, of course, can vary, as it depends on many things, such as the quality of the manuscript, the project timeline, and the editor’s rate.


Editing your manuscript is something you want done right the first time. Hiring an unqualified editor can do more harm than good to your manuscript, so make sure to seek out an experienced professional and ask up front for exactly what you want out of the edit. Editors have expertise in language, in style manuals, and in preparing manuscripts for publishing, which makes your editor an important member of your publishing team.

Stacey D. Atkinson is an editor and owner of Mirror Image Publishing in Ottawa, Canada. She is also the director of communications on the national executive council of Editors Canada. For more information, see MirrorImagePublishing.ca.


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