You already know that different editors for books do different things.
We have developmental editors, copy editors, and proofers. And all three play vital parts in this process.
But have you ever wondered why the roles are so different? From the outside, it looks as if an editor is an editor.
So why can’t one person do and be all of the above, for your book?
No doubt about it, the best editors have skills in all of these disciplines. Your developmental editor is surely also proficient in grammar and syntax, etc.
And your copy editor should be able to tell you if the book drags, or the characters don’t hold together—even if he can’t tell you exactly why, or how to fix it, as a developmental editor can.
Your proofer, while focused on the individual letters on the page, must also know grammar and spelling, although by this last stage in the game, the deeper aspects of editing should have been attended to. In other words, the latter is not his job.
But let’s dig a bit deeper into whether you should hire one person to do all of these things.
First off comes the developmental edit. That’s the beginning stage for all manuscripts. Even seasoned and best-selling authors take advantage of this, knowing the extreme value that sort of editor brings.
Nothing, simply nothing, takes a book to the next level like working with a great developmental editor. This person sees what you cannot, knows where the plot drags or the characters fall short.
And most importantly, provides suggestions for how to fix those.
Through revisions, your developmental editor has your back. She’s there for you, encouraging, answering questions, keeping you on track.
And of course, she goes back over the revised manuscript to make sure the book is the best it can be.
Many editors do nothing but scan these revisions. Some don’t even do that.
But writing well just isn’t learned in a vacuum, and you need that same person in your corner, to bounce off of, to pick you up when you fall.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the best of cases you get a copy edit here as well. Or, at least a pointing out of recurrent errors, and marking of those.
Once the manuscript is finished for all the deeper aspects, copy edited, and just about ready to go, the final step is vital as well.
The manuscript, and then the book (whether in galleys or uploaded to a self-publishing program) needs proofing.
And here’s the rub: it’s exceedingly difficult for you, or even the editor who did all of the above, to proof the final copy.
Because the fact is that after you or anyone has gone over this more than once, the eye reads what should be there, rather than what actually is.
You know—missing those ‘be’s that should be ‘he’s.
We’ve all done it.
Tom Stafford, lecturer in Psychology and Cognitive Science at the University of Sheffield (UK), says that we make this simplification of letters and sentences in order to focus on more complex task (which in writing are legion).
“We’re not like computers or NSA databases… we don’t catch every detail,” Stafford explains. “Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.”
Don’t you always love when an expert backs up what you already knew 🙂
The take-away for our purposes is that you just can’t proof your own work.
And your developmental editor, who has hopefully gone over this at least twice, has a tough time seeing basic errors by that point as well.
Editors for books must be quite adept with at least one of these functions. Better yet, choose someone who can and does do the first two.
Then, your best bet is to utilize a good proofer before going to press.
On that note, this is the protocol that major publishers use:
► The book goes first through the developmental/acquisition’s editor.
► After revisions, it goes to the copy editor.
► Finally, before going to press, the proofer takes his shot.
And doesn’t your book deserve this royal treatment as well?