Finding your editor
“Just get it down on paper, and then we will see what to do with it,” said Maxwell Perkins, the revered editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. If this sage piece of advice worked for them, it can work for you.
There are four kinds of editors:
1. Developmental editors are the people who work with you right out of the gate, often before you have even put word to paper. They help you refine your concept, figure out who your audience is, arrange your chapters in non-fiction, or work out how you are going to get your protagonist off the dark planet before the cyborgs arrive in your sci-fi novel. They are right there with you every step of the way, helping you make your book the best it can be. Good developmental editors are like good shrinks. They don’t tell you what to do; they get you to tell yourself.
2. Substantive editors start their work once you have completed yours, or at least have a first draft you like. They help you find your voice and nurture it. They may ask you to rewrite a section or delete a character who isn’t bringing much to the party. They will ask all kinds of questions, check your facts for accuracy, your prose for readability, and your plot for plausibility. They suggest where to cut, to expand, to go deeper. They make sure you keep up the momentum, and point out where a character’s behaviour doesn’t make much sense, or her dialogue doesn’t ring true. For example, a society matron would never say, “I don’t like the way that went down. I’m outta here.” At the end of the process you will have a tight, professional, compelling manuscript that is almost ready to go to press or to be converted into the file formats you need.
3. Copyeditors come next. They are the techies. After you and your editor have cut and polished the manuscript, they read it carefully, checking for correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They point out inconsistencies and inaccuracies, and may even rewrite a tangled sentence or two. You can always restore anything you’d like, but in my experience good copyeditors are almost always right.
4. Proofreaders come last. They see the manuscript after the design is completed, and the photos, captions, front matter, and back matter are all in place. They check headings, page numbers, typeface styles, and make sure that corrections suggested by the copyeditor have been inserted properly.