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SI CLARKE (she/her) – Author of neurodiverse, culturally diverse, gender-bendy, drunken-arguments-in-the-pub science fiction. Not bang-bang-pew-pew science fiction.

Do I really need an editor?

hand holding red pen over proofreading text on table

Hi there. You may remember me from … er, no, you’ve probably never heard of me. In fact, you’re probably only here because I linked to this post in some writers’ group or forum or on Twitter.

I’m SI CLARKE, indie author of science fiction. I’ve got several books and stories under my belt. In a previous life – well, a decade or so ago – I was a copy-editor of investment research publications. I’m also a reader and a reviewer.

Hanging around a lot of indie writer groups, I see questions about editors come up all the bleeding time. And – hoo, Donna – as an author, I’ve been on a hell of a journey in terms of hiring editors. So, I thought I’d compile a list of ones I see most often and take a stab at answering them.

Q1. Do I need an editor?

Q2. No, but really… Not me, though, right?

Q3. But I have excellent grammar!

Q4. Okay, I’ll bite. What does an editor do?

Q5. No, but really… Why do I need an editor?

Q6. Can I skip the developmental editor?

Q7. Can I skip the copy-editor?

Q8. Can I skip the proofreader?

Q9. Can you recommend a good editor?

Q10. Fine. Can you help me find a good editor?

Q11. When should I start looking for an editor?

Q12. How should I work with my editor?


Q1. Do I need an editor?

Yes.

Q2. No, but really… Not me, though, right?

Yes, you do.

Q3. But I have excellent grammar!

Okay, firstly, that’s not even a question. Secondly, that’s not— Okay, maybe we need to go back to basics. Ask me what an editor does.

Q4. Okay, I’ll bite. What does an editor do?

That depends, actually. Different types of editors will read your document through their respective lenses. Each of them will have a different aim. Think of them as different grades of sandpaper. Editors Canada have done a great breakdown of the different types of editing. So have Reedsy. In short, though, they’re as follows.

Developmental / structural editing, manuscript critique, or editorial assessment: Though they vary in how deep they dig, the point of all these types of edits is a big-picture look at your book or story. Does it make sense? Is it interesting? Are there any gaping plot holes? Have you gone head-hopping?

Line- or copy-editing: This type of edit digs into your book or story at the word level. This is the editing stage that is about cleaning up spelling and grammar mistakes. But it’s so much more than just that. It’s about consistency. Removing repetitions. De-clunkifying your language.

Proofreading: This is the final stage before you publish, often done after the book has been formatted. It’s a last review of your document to remove stray commas, make sure your hyphens are in the right place. A buff and polish, if you will.

Q5. No, but really… Why do I need an editor?

In my day job, I engage in an endless series of battles with my employer trying to get them to understand that words have meaning and that grammar really does matter. I often support my case by using this example of a misplaced comma that cost a major telecoms firm millions.

Okay, so maybe a few eras hear and their – see what I did there? – won’t cost you millions of pounds, dollars, or euros – but they absolutely will pull readers out of your story. If you don’t invest in your work, you’ll make them wonder why they should.

Q6. Can I skip the developmental editor?

Ideally, no. But pennies are tight and dev edits are expensive – I get that.

As someone who reads a lot of indie-authored books, I can tell a lot of writers skip this step. And honestly – it shows. Trust me, you need someone to help you with the big picture.

If you can’t afford the full whammy, ask yourself if you can afford a manuscript critique. If not, get a few beta readers – people who aren’t afraid to give you real, honest, tough feedback. And be prepared to listen.

Still… Just because a beta reader says you should change X to Y, that does not mean you have to change X to Y. But you should definitely ask yourself why they’re suggesting it. Always try to address the underlying cause for why a beta reader or critique partner suggests something.

Q7. Can I skip the copy-editor?

Sure – if you don’t want to sell any books.

Seriously. Your book is an investment; treat it like one. Great books need more than a good writer. Someone has to edit, proofread, and design those books, too. However good of a writer you are — even if you’re a professional editor in your day job, you can’t edit your own work. Great books require investment — whether that investment is made by a traditional publishing house on behalf of the author or by an author who intends to self-publish. If you believe in yourself, invest in yourself.

If you can’t afford to hire a qualified editor, there are options. There are affordable editors out there (for example, do a search on Fiverr). Could you barter a service for a service? Maybe you can find someone who’s training to be an editor who’ll work with you in exchange for a reference. Try crowdfunding – that’s what award-winning, bestselling science fiction author Becky Chambers did with her first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Perhaps you’ve got a friend or relative who’s got experience of editing and you can badger them into doing you a favour.

If you genuinely have no one you can ask and you can’t afford to spend a dime, you may be better off sticking with traditional publishing, where a publisher makes the financial investment on your behalf. This means you’ll be investing time instead of money in your work.

Q8. Can I skip the proofreader?

You didn’t skip the copy-editor, did you? For the love of Dog, tell me you did not skip the copy-editor. Even with the best copy-editor in the world, I’d still never advise anyone to skip this step. This is the final polish. This is where your hard work is buffed from a smooth, matte lump of rock to sparkling granite that catches the light and shines like a 100-watt bulb.

Can you skip the proofreader? Yes. Should you? Hell, no. But … I get why you might. If you have the resources, I’d definitely suggest you hire a proofreader.

If hiring a proofreader isn’t an option, then – please, I beg you – do your book the justice it deserves and give it a final self-edit. For this, I’d suggest using a text-to-speech tool and getting it to read your book aloud to you whilst you review and adjust the text. By having someone else read it out loud, you’ll pick up those last little typos and accidentally duplicated words. Trust me, they’re in there. Better you find them than your readers do.

If you go this route, I recommend Natural Readers. It’s a free tool that lets you choose from an array of different voices. Paste one chapter at a time into it – and get to work.

Q9. Can you recommend a good editor?

Do you write gender-bendy, drunken-arguments-in-the-pub science fiction? Do you write in British English? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then yes, I can. Get in touch and I will give you some personal recommendations that will knock your socks off.

If the answer to either or both of those questions is no … then no, I can’t. Because one size definitely does not fit all.

But maybe what you really want to ask me is if I can help you find an editor. Go ahead – ask me that.

Q10. Fine. Can you help me find a good editor?

Yes! That I can do. Here are my top tips on how to do just that.

  1. Start with your country’s editing association (CIEP in the UK, Editors Canada, IPED in Australia and NZ, ACES in the US). Not everyone will be listed, but these websites are a great resource.
  2. There are plenty of great editors out there. Just because someone is good, doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for you and/or your book.
  3. Even if you find someone you like and who’s good, it still doesn’t mean they’re the right fit for your story.
  4. Genre matters. Find someone who’s experienced in your genre. Each genre has its own conventions and tropes. Just like you as a writer need to know them, so too does your editing team.
  5. Sample edits. Get at least three from different editors. Send them each the same file. Compare the results. They’ll all correct your grammar, but they’ll also take different stylistic approaches.

Q11. When should I start looking for an editor?

Finding the right editor for your book is a process. Sometimes even a painful process. Frequently a frustrating process. It takes time – almost certainly more time than you think it will. And even once you’ve found someone who’s the right fit for you, you still have to agree a schedule. Good editors are often booked up many months in advance. I’m writing this in January – and I’ve just booked my proofreader for July.

Q12. How should I work with my editor?

  1. Make sure the documents you send them are neatly formatted in the correct file format, and are complete.
  2. Send them a note telling them anything in particular they need to look out for. For example, smart quotes are the bane of my existence. Scrivener seems to randomly reverse them about a third of the time. I try to catch them, but I always miss some – so I ask my editors to pay specific attention to that.
  3. When you receive edits back, go through them promptly and with a fine-tooth comb. Do not simply assume they must be good and click ‘accept all changes’. There may well be edits you disagree with or suggestions in the margins. Go through every single change and comment. Accept changes one at a time.
  4. If you have questions or comments for your editor, compile them into a single document and send it back to them promptly.
  5. Last – but definitely not least – pay your invoices on time.

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