“Even the most brilliant of authors will have mistakes.” – Sèphera Girón, Developmental Book Editor at The Editor’s Desk
This week, we speak to Sèphera Girón, one of the developmental editors at The Editor’s Desk, about what to expect from your book editor.
1) How important should hiring a professional book editor be to an author?
Before I answer that, I should address the current state of publishing.
Traditional publishing is not necessarily on the decline but it’s going through a seismic shift. I believe traditional publishing will always be here. Self-publishing is not a new concept but in recent years, as the average citizen has become a technological wizard; it is easier and more economical than ever to self-publish.
In traditional publishing, once the author has leaped from the slush and landed onto an editor’s desk, a relationship begins. The editor will work with the author in a developmental capacity to draw out the best story the author can tell. When both the editor and author have decided the story is ready to be published, editing does NOT stop there. The manuscript will go through a process which can include any and all of these steps, some repeated: copy editor, back to the author, line editor, back to the author proof reader, sometimes back to the author and then it’s published. See how many editors are involved in one book?
Some authors choose to use an editing service to polish up their book as shiny as it can be before even going for a swim in the slush. Some authors have “first-readers” or writers groups where they workshop their ideas. Some authors write a book and send it off with no one seeing it.
There is no one magic answer when it comes to preparing a book for submission to a publishing house even if you already have a working relationship with your book editor. It’s up to you, the author, to submit the best work possible.
When it comes to self-publishing, authors would be wise to hire additional help in as many areas as possible. Most authors really just like to write. They don’t want to deal with anything but writing and in many cases; they shouldn’t perform any part of the process but write. However, a self-publisher is a publisher. You’re not just an author anymore. You are a publishing house. You are putting out a product in competition with traditional publishing houses. It behooves you to hire a developmental editor, especially if you are a new writer, to help you shape your project. You should definitely have some sort of copy editor to catch all those repetitive grammar errors you’ve been making since high school. Don’t be ashamed, we all do it. A line edit can be costly but it will catch everything you didn’t as you read and re-read your manuscript endlessly.
The short answer is, a professional book editor performing any service can help make your work shine at its best and an author should seek out what his or her budget can afford.
2) What can an author expect from a professional book editor?
An editor is not a magician. An editor can only perform so many miracles in relation to the author’s own skills. An editor will help an author tell the story he is trying to tell. An editor can not and will not rewrite your book or even a sentence. An editor will not format your book or deal with photographs in any manner.
An editor wants the book to succeed and is doing the best he or she can with manuscript. An editor is not out to destroy your book or make you feel inadequate. The editor is on your team.
In modern times, an editor will use track changes so that the author can accept or not accept the editor’s suggestions. An editor will also flag spots and leave comments.
A good editor will not pussy-foot around bad writing. You asked for help, you got it. Suck it up. If you feel your editor is too harsh for your thin skin or not doing what you think he or she should be doing, use a different editor. Personality and expectation clashes do happen but sometimes an author isn’t ready to hear the truth or is inclined to do the work.
3) Would you ever recommend an author edit his or her own work?
Even the most brilliant of authors will have mistakes. It’s impossible to see everything clearly when you’re involved in the story and have stared at those words for months, or even years. A fresh set of eyes can see so much more.
4) Do you find that working with a book editor develops the author’s talent in the long run?
Most certainly. My own example is how my work has shifted and grown with Don D’Auria, current Editor-in-Chief at Samhain Horror Publishing. Many years ago, I decided I wanted to write for Leisure Horror. I submitted plots and manuscripts. Back in those days, sometimes you had to wait a year for an answer by snail mail. Don liked my writing but I hadn’t pitched anything that fit his vision for the horror line. We met some time later at a con and talked more. Then finally, I pitched him a book he wanted to take. We worked together on four books at Leisure Books and now have finished two with Samhain Horror with more in the works. We have a history now and it’s comforting to know how he thinks, what he looks for, and he knows what he can ask of me and that I’ll deliver. It’s motivating, as well, to know that an editor has an interest in my work, that my own creativity won’t be lost in his hands, and that it will look great with proper grammar and all that in a professional format.
If you intend to write for the long term, you may find that you will prefer to consistently work with an editor who understands your vision and can tease it out of you. Your spouse, parents, children, are very likely not good editors. They may help you understand if your story makes sense, but chances are, they won’t be the best at fixing your grammar and random tense changes. The more you write, and see your errors, the less you will make those errors, and you will find yourself growing as an author.
Think of an editor like your teacher. He or she is correcting your papers and helping you succeed. You can learn from your mistakes and your writing will improve.
5) What is developmental editing vs. copyediting?
Developmental editing involves looking at the big picture of the manuscript.
What is the story?
Does it make sense?
Are all those characters necessary?
Is there a climax?
Is the story engaging?
Is the book organized properly: front matter, back matter?
Is the narrative voice consistent to the style?
Are there random tense changes?
All these questions and more are considered when a developmental editor is at work.
Copy editing is more about the mechanics: Grammar, typos, sentence structure, and so on.
6) Why is proofreading important after going through the editing process?
Between the editor and author going back and forth, mistakes can happen. A proof-reader checks for typos, weird spacing, random name changes, and so on. It never hurts to have professional eyes take one last look before releasing your hard work into the world.
7) On a different note, you’re very involved in your local writing community, doing everything from heading up associations to panel discussions to event planning. How important is it for an author to be part of their local literary community?
Authors should become active in their community as a way of spreading literacy, educating youth, inspiring free-thinking and promoting self-expression. In a world where there is so much focus on money, houses, fancy cars, fashionable clothes, and so on, there needs to be a safe pocket of calm, where someone can go away from the world, and step into someone else’s world if only for a few hours. Everyone is a story teller. Everyone has a story to tell. And everyone deserves a platform to explore this process within his or herself and to share it. Working authors have the power to make this happen in their own communities by forming or joining writers groups, working with libraries, running panels, reading series, conventions, hosting a retreat or workshop, and so on.
Questions for Sèphera? Email then to firstname.lastname@example.org.