What Good Is an Editor, Anyway? Part 3

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Location: Books & Such main office, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Beth Adams’s quote in my post yesterday about how editing is her favorite part of the process touched on an aspect of being an in-house editor that probably was the first task that came to mind for you. But as you’ve seen, I’m listing editing as the third most important part of the job that an editor has.

That’s because I believe an editor’s responsibility to be the ambassador of the publishing house to you and to be your ambassador to the publishing house is more important. And I also believe overseeing that the essence of your manuscript not get lost as the text moves through the process  is more important, as is winning the enthusiasm of everyone at the publishing house.

Not that I’m slighting the affect of an editor’s hand on the manuscript itself. No way.

Just what does an editor do for your manuscript? And what path does your manuscript travel when it’s being edited?

Andy McGuire, nonfiction editor at Bethany House, sees the job this way: “We take time to make the book as marketable as possible. For instance, if it’s sounding a bit too academic, we would steer it in a more popular direction. Or if it’s sounding too chatty, we might tighten it up a bit. Also, we edit more thoroughly than any outside editor would (at Bethany House we take a book through at least three stages of editing before proofreading the text).”

Vicki Crumpton from Revell Books, describes what she does like this: My job is to help the author express himself or herself most clearly so that the reader understands the message/enjoys the novel/whatever the goal is of the book and also to make sure that manuscript meets the expectations we had when we contracted it.”

Jan Stob, fiction acquisitions editor from Tyndale House, sees her contribution to the editing process in a more focused way since she doesn’t always do actual editing. “The most important part of the editorial process is communication. It is not our job to make a manuscript something ‘other than’ what the author intended, but to help communicate the story as effectively as possible. In talking through a manuscript with an author, we sometimes discover that what they are trying to convey is unclear, but in hearing them talk through their intentions, we can help pull up those threads and help bring clarity. Often, an author has spent a lot of time writing and rewriting and becomes too close to their project. We can step back and offer a fresh reader’s perspective.”

All in-house editors are aware that several rounds of editing occur with each manuscript. These rounds are labeled differently by various publishers, but here are a few definitions that should help you to figure out these terms when an editor throws them out to you.

Beth Adams from Guideposts explains the editorial process this way: “We start off with a big-picture edit (a content or macro edit), where we address plot, pacing, characters, holes in the story, and things like that. We go through as many rounds as we need to get the story right, then we move onto the line edit, where we make the writing as strong as it can be. When it’s perfectly polished, we send the book to a copy editor, who is trained to fix the grammar and spelling, checks the time line, looks for logical problems, and lots of other details that I miss. It’s then proofread and read by a cold reader as well. “

These definitions were offered by Andy McGuire of Bethany House:

  • “Substantive review” means looking at the big picture structure and content issues in the book.
  • “Line editing” deals with clarity, flow of arguments, eloquence, and structure.
  • “Copy editing” is fixing mistakes and also some level of sentence smoothing, although much of that should already have happened in line editing.
  • “Proofreading” is correcting spelling, grammar, typos, etc.

What insights into the process do these comments provide you? What’s new to you?

If you’re published, what did the editing process contribute to the final manuscript? What was your initial response when you read your edited manuscript? What did you think about the editing after you had  time to absorb what had been done? (I know this isn’t a happy experience for every author, and I have my own “my manuscript was murdered by an editor” stories to tell from the days I was an author.)

18 Responses

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  1. I’m so enjoying your explanation of the editing process. And I agree that while the process can sometimes be painful, I would so much rather endure the critique and suggestions from a professional editor then a dissatisfied reader.

    To me editing is such an important part of the process. It’s exciting to see a manuscript polished and refined in surprising ways that make the story ultimately stronger! Fresh eyes and perspectives are always good 🙂

  2. The most important thing I’ve taken away from these comments, in addition to those earlier in the week, is the level of commitment on these editors’ parts to make the book more marketable. They indicate a level of wanting what’s best for your book, which is important because no one wants to go through all that hard work for a book not to sell.

    When I received the galley of my children’s book, Little Shepherd, the publisher had told me she made some changes to the text so it fit better on the page. I honestly had a hard time pointing out what she changed. In this case, she had accepted the manuscript after requesting suggested edits and me resubmitting it for consideration.

    The only “bad” experience I’ve had is when an editor changed the title of one of my articles and it altered the entire point I was trying to make.

  3. Sarah Thomas says:

    I’ve heard how horrified authors can be by that first macro edit. What I’ve taken away from reading about manuscripts bleeding red ink is that I need to have at least a smidgeon of detachment toward my own work going into the editorial process. I’ve written a story that I think is pretty great, but if an editor can show me how to go from pretty great to outstanding bestseller, then I need to go along for the ride . . . while preserving the original intent, of course!

    How involved is the author at each level? I’m thinking hugely at the macro edit but maybe not so much by the time you get to proofreading?

  4. Cynthia Herron says:

    I think it’s important to note, too, that even PRIOR to sending out one’s manuscript (be it to an agent, editor, etc.) it’s imperative that an author’s work be read by a professional reader or critique group. Putting your best work out there to begin with saves so much time and heartache in the long run. Of course that doesn’t mean one’s book will sail across an editor’s desk unscathed. I would imagine that’s rarely the case even with multi-pubbed authors. I can only speak from my own experience–my last manuscript went through multiple revisions and rewrites BEFORE I even gave it to my reader, and twice more after she’d read, critiqued, & proofed it. It was then that doors started opening and my completes were being requested. Learning what I have over the yrs, I would never again send out a manuscript minus such a crucial step. It doesn’t mean we’re inept as authors, it just means we want to put our best foot forward to begin with. I’m curious though…don’t most published authors have “readers” prior to sending their manuscripts to their agents or are they able to omit that step?

    Thank you for giving us insight into the editorial process this wk!

  5. Janet Grant says:

    Sarah, the editing process can be very different depending on whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. An editor will make some changes to a nonfiction manuscript, but it’s usually not major. With fiction, you can expect to receive a “letter” from the editor with suggested changes that are likely to be sweeping–adding subplots, changing character’s motivation, etc.–plus line-by-line suggestions.
    Publishers differ, but after the macro edit, comes the line edit and then a copy edit, followed by proofreading the galleys. Authors generally see the manuscript after the macro, after the line and copy edits, and simultaneous to the proofreading. So the author has at least three passes at seeing the manuscript.
    Cynthia, critiques certainly are an important part of the writing process and help the writer to learn to be objective about his/her work…well, more objective. And having someone proofread your manuscript and even do minor editing enables you to look literate to an editor.
    On Friday, I plan to write more about free-lance editors, when they can help you, and how to decide whom to hire.

  6. Kate Barker says:

    Great post, great discussion….looking forward to Friday’s post about choosing a free-lance editor. Wouldn’t it be worth hiring a free-lance editor before sending a manuscript to an agent or a publishing house?

  7. I was so embarrassed with my first book when the editor pointed out that I’d used the verb, to be, hundreds of times. After attending writer’s conferences and reading lots of books I knew not to do that and thought I hadn’t, so I hadn’t even searched for those verbs while rewriting.

  8. Lance Albury says:

    It’s encouraging to see the publisher doesn’t expect the manuscript to be perfect, as evidenced by the many edits. It’s encouraging to learn publisher champion stories and will work with you through problems.

    True, you revise, and revise, and revise until you have the most polished product you can produce, but it gets a little discouraging when you read most of the blogs today. You start to believe that every story must be the next billion-dollar seller to be worthy of consideration.

    I’m beginning to see the human side of publishing.

  9. Janet Grant says:

    Kate, we can talk about the free-lance editor scenario on Friday. I’ll be interested in your response to my post that day.
    Janet, yeah, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget the writing basics when you get caught up in what you’re trying to communicate.
    Lance, I’m glad that my posts are helping to humanize the publishing process. The vast majority of people I know in publishing are intelligent, hard-working and love–just plain old love–books. And they care about the books they contract to publishing.

  10. Great series of posts. Goes to show what my husband says – that it seems it takes many people to bring a book to market and that it is not really the result of one person writing a book. Recently saw some of Vickie Crumpton’s comments on a friend’s MS and was impressed by how she had great insight and suggestions. Apparently, though, editors must wear many hats and I had no idea how many!

  11. Janet,

    What a wonderful week of posts about Editors with two more on the way. I always come to the Books & Such Blog with a fresh piece of paper and my pencil sharpened. So much to learn!

  12. Jean Hall says:

    Thanks for this interesting series. I’m soaking it in so I can use some of this information someday when one of my mss makes it that far.


  13. I’m encouraged by this post. Having just finished my 3rd edit of my first manuscript, I can see that without really knowing, I sort of followed that same process – macro edit, line edit, copy edit.

    I really enjoy the editing; watching the MS improve with each pass. I’m looking forward to walking this road with an editor some day.

  14. Caroline says:

    Thank you for this in-depth look at editing. I’m not published yet, but I have heard of those stages of editing (particularly from author Jody Hedlund’s blog). But, you’ve provided even more insight through editor’s quotes. I really like reading their perspectives on their jobs and motivations.

    When I do have something published, I want it to be the best work it can be (so the matter is communicated as effectively as possible and therefore helps best). I’m thankful for such extensive editing! (And I will try to remind myself to continue to be so when I’m in the middle of receiving those revisions!)

  15. Jill Kemerer says:

    Terrific look at editing, and I appreciate you including different editors from various publishing houses. It seems safe to say the amount of revisions an author can expect depends not only on the editor but also on the publisher. Thanks!

  16. Thank you for the informative posts.
    Vicki Crumpton of Revell is the editor for my one-year devotional on the names of God, and she did a fabulous job of making the book better while maintaining my voice. The result was terrific!

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