After deciding to go ahead with the publication of a book, most publishers assign an in-house or freelance editor to your manuscript. Except in small companies, this will generally not be the same person as the acquisitions or commissioning editor, who has accepted your book for publication. Your assigned editor will concentrate in a detailed way on your manuscript, editing it alone or in collaboration with you. The editor aims to get your work to a standard acceptable to the publisher.
Most publishing companies produce style guides that cover conventions in spelling, punctuation, type faces, titles, references, layout and so on. Such guides assist your editor to achieve the desired presentation of your manuscript.
Fiction and Non-Fiction Editors
Fiction and non-fiction editing have different emphases. Fiction editing involves sensitivity to the author’s distinctive style; for example, their tone, language and rhythm. Non-fiction editing, on the other hand, requires a strong focus on clear and logical presentation of subject matter.
The Editor’s Role
Publishers’ editors will perform the following steps:
Edit the structure of the ‘argument’ in non-fiction or the storyline in fiction
Confirm that the author has checked the facts
Edit for length and reading level
Edit for consistency and continuity
Copy edit for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation
Proofread for literals, or errors that have crept in during the process of re-writing and editing
Most writers are grateful for the work of editors whose expertise includes the ability to stand back dispassionately in assessing the overall effect of a work. Sometimes, however, an editor will make changes you may not agree with. You do not have to accept them.
Treat them as suggestions and negotiate on those you are unhappy about. While, in theory, you could ask that another editor be assigned to your manuscript, in practice this would be a most unusual occurrence. The editor that the publisher assigns to you is the one regarded as most capable of dealing with your manuscript.Publishers’ editors must also be on the lookout for potentially defamatory statements. In published works dealing with current affairs, even in fiction, the responsibility for anything defamatory is usually shared contractually between author and publisher.
Most professional editors are trained to be sympathetic and sensitive to the text and do not make changes unless they believe that they will improve the quality and marketability of the work.
Finding an Editor
While your publishing house will assign an editor to your manuscript when it is accepted, many authors find it helpful to have an editor look at their work before it is submitted to publishers. Problems with spelling, grammar, punctuation and structure are all things that will count against you when a publishing house considers your manuscript. Publishing houses receive more manuscripts every month than is possible for them to read. Hiring the services of an editor can often mean the difference between a publisher considering your work or sending it to the slush pile.
Fortunately, there are plenty of freelance editors around whose services are available to budding authors. The Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) is the accreditation body for editors in Australia. IPEd publishes a list of their accredited editors on their website. However, not all of these editors are available for hire. Details of freelance editors whose services are for hire, including information about their experience and area of specialisation, can be found in the Society of Editors (NSW) services directory.
Choose your editor carefully, matching their experience and specialisation to your form of writing. Once you’ve selected a likely candidate, send a sample of your work, a synopsis, word count and a brief letter outlining what you aim to get out of the process and the necessary completion date. It can often be worth asking for a sample edit – which you will have to pay for – to see how the editor handles your work and whether you have a rapport. Then get a quote for the full project. This can be more accurate than asking for the hourly rate, as speed is variable depending on the editor.
IPEd has a comprehensive guide on How To Brief An Editor, which will give you a good understanding of the process of choosing – and the questions to ask – your prospective editor.
Costs of Editors
There is no standard rate for freelance editors. In a 2011 national survey IPEd reported that editors were charging an average of $62 per hour for their services. The survey reported that most freelancers (73%) charged between $40-$79. Click here for the full report.
If you want to reduce editorial costs, you might give only a part of your manuscript to an editor for comment and then finish the job yourself, making use of the editor’s suggestions. Some organisations offer a reduced editorial service for working on part of a manuscript and charge by the hour. This could be useful if you want feedback on a portion of your work to help you on your way with the rest.
You can also save money by making sure that you have conducted all the steps outlined in our Resource Sheet on Drafting before handing your manuscript to a professional. It is a waste of money to pay an editor to correct mistakes you could have picked up yourself.
But, of course, the best way of avoiding the cost of hiring an editor is to teach yourself how to edit. The NSW Writers’ Centre has books available to assist a writer in improving their skills as an editor, with tips on spelling, grammar and punctuation as well as the finer art of writing as a whole. Some of these books are for sale in our bookshop with more available for the perusal of members in our library.
There are also a number of courses available, both at the NSW Writers’ Centre, and through other writers’ centres and organisations, to help you improve your skills in editing. For more about the NSW Writers’ Centre course program, click here.