Great questions! Truly understanding the role of an editor in the process is critical to most effectively partnering with this critical asset!
If you spend much time talking with me about publishing, you'll quickly learn that one of my mantras is "Not Editing is Not an Option." After all, if New York Times bestselling authors still require editors, who is any one of us to think that we don't!
We are each simply too close to our work to be objective about issues with flow and content, we see words that were in our head but didn't make it to the page, or we fail to identify the instance of "there" that should be "their."
There are three types of editing that I suggest authors of nonfiction or memoir receive: developmental editing, copy (or line) editing, and proofreading. While the same editor can typically do your developmental and copy/line editing for you, I recommend identifying a separate person to do the proofreading. However, as you'll read below, this does not have to be another hired individual.
During developmental editing, the editor is focused on revising or reshaping the manuscript when it comes to overall structure, flow, and messaging. The editor will make sure that the book flows well in terms of the overall message you are trying to convey, and that your tone and voice are consistent and a good fit for your target audience. They’ll ensure that you haven’t given too little attention to one topic or too much to another.
This is where the editor may recommend moving chapters around, combining chapters, moving pieces of content from one chapter to another, outright deleting content, or adding in new content to better support a concept or story.
Content (or line) editing
During content (or line) editing, the editor is focused on the mechanics of your manuscript: punctuation, grammar, spelling, incorrect facts, glaring typos, and ways to reword a sentence whose meaning may be misconstrued. The focus is on making sure the book is as readable as it can be, line by line, once the overall content has been honed.
Proofreading is the final step, and I recommend that you use someone other than your editor for proofreading. Your editor will have reviewed the manuscript so many times by this point that his or her eyes will see things that aren’t on the page (but should be) and gloss over things that shouldn’t be there (the same word twice or the wrong instance of there, their, or they’re) simply because the brain sees what it thinks it should.
It’s perfectly fine to have a friend or family member (or four) do your proofreading for you. It’s not something you have to hire out. Just remember to clarify exactly what you’re looking for from them. This isn’t an opportunity to let you know that you disagree with the way something’s said in chapter 4 or rework seven sentences in chapter 8. It’s simply to say, “This word is spelled incorrectly” or “You’re missing an apostrophe here.”
The best way to find a great editor is by asking others who they recommend. Be sure that the people you’re asking have written a book in the same genre you’re writing in, as a fiction editor may not be the best fit for nonfiction (or they might; it depends on their area of focus), and an editor used to working on PhD dissertations and science-based works may not be the best fit for a sarcastic, witty book on sex after sixty.
Other great resources for finding a top-notch editor include Reedsy and the Editorial Freelancers Association. You can check out their vetted editors and other resources via their respective websites.
As the author of 6 books and the editor of hundreds of manuscriptsI've discovered that there are a number of "easy edits" writers can tackle on their own before sending their manuscripts to prospective or chosen editors.
There are also a number of (often overlooked) interview questions that will help an author identify the perfect editor for his or her project. I talk about both (and more) in my FREE TIP SHEET ON FINDING A GREAT EDITOR, SIMPLY CLICK HERE (NO EMAIL REQUIRED!)