What To Expect From Your Editor or How To Be Professional As Possible

I wear a lot of hats.1

I’m a husband to a wonderful wife, father to two lovely furry children, an editor, an author, an editor, a sales associate, an editor, a program director, and an editor.

See anything odd in that sentence? If you said it was repetitive, you are wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

You see, each of those individual “editors” means a completely different thing. The word editor means different things in different settings. Once, in the fabled time of long ago, authors sent their books to editors who handled everything, allowing the authors to get back to writing.
3 However, I’m not looking behind us now, across the count of time, down the long hall into history back. I’m talking about the here and now, the really real world.4

Since this has come up in a number of conversations lately, both on-line and IRL, I thought it might be time to revisit the question “Just what does an editor do (and not do)?”

The answer is simple and straight forward.


For the purpose of this post, I will be limiting the discussion to works of short fiction. Even there we have a wide variety of tasks. Let’s start out by covering what most people think of when they think of an editor: the big triumvirate -- Line, Copy, and Content editing.

One of those titles in the long, seemingly repetitive sentence was for the freelance editing that I do. While it has been a while since I was able to take on any new projects, allow me to show you the description of the services I offered:

For larger projects I charge the following rates based on page count (assuming the manuscript is double spaced with a one inch margin on all sides resulting in a standard word/page ratio of 250 - 300 words): Content Editing: $1.00 per page Copy Editing: $1.50 per page Line Editing: $2.00 per page Line + Copy Editing: $2.50 per page Total Editing (all three): $3.00 per page. Line + Copy Editing is the most popular package as the two are closely related. There is a good explanation of the differences here: http://www.novelpublicity.com/2011/11/finally-an-answer-heres-the-difference-between-line-copy-and-content-editing/ Many editors charge an hourly rate, but I prefer to work by page count because it is verifiable to the client. These rates are slightly higher than my rates on Fiverr due to the amount of time required to edit longer material and the fact I will be working exclusively on your manuscript for the duration of the edit. These prices do include a second consult as well. I will perform the editing services with the Track Changes function enabled and then discuss the reasons behind any suggestions you have questions with.

Feel free to click on the link included above, but for the sake of expediency, I’ll summarize a little.

Line Editing is what most people think of when someone says editing. It involves going through the minutiae of a manuscript, dissecting the sentences. You are checking verb tenses and agreement, spelling, punctuation, all of that tedious stuff that we creative types blow through when we are under the spell of the muse.

Copy Editing is the kissing cousin of Line Editing. It involves word replacement suggestions or minor rewrites for the sake of style and efficient writing.

Content Editing is the big megillah. Did your main character’s best friend have a blonde bob in chapter five but long dark hair in chapter fifteen? Did a character change names, genders, height, etc. Does the voice of the piece stay consistent? Does it match the target audience?

Now, here’s the rub. As evidenced by the price list
8, these are things which authors must do for themselves or hire someone to do for them. Do not expect the person reading your submissions to have the time to fix a plethora of spelling errors or to do the job of formatting for you. In fact, turning in a rough draft is just about the most unprofessional thing a writer can do.

Now, I can see sending off a bit of rough material to a friend to see if it works, but I’ll be honest here. Any time,
every time, I send out a manuscript or a piece of a manuscript to anyone, I format the crap out of it.

Let me introduce you to
William Shunn. This is what a manuscript should look like before it leaves your computer. This is your default setting, modified only by the requirements, specifications, or whims of the editor9 to whom you are submitting.

I’ll give you some “for example” situations from some of those other Editor hats I wear. As Editor in Chief of
Dragon’s Roost Press, and editor of the upcoming Erie Tales IX to be published later this year by the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers I read all of the submissions for our anthologies. I’m a submissions editor. I read through everything that gets sent in and decide what we want to publish and what earns the dreaded “thank you but does not meet our current needs” response. For the last DRP anthology, I decided I wanted everything to be sent in Times New Roman. Why? Because I like TNR. It reminds me of the typewriters I did my early work on. It’s neat, clean, and when combined with a nice bit of double spacing, easy to read. Most importantly, it’s not Courier, another industry standard.

I hate Courier.

No real reason. I just hate the way it looks. It makes my eyeballs squirm. I’d rather read Comic Sans.

This is where the editors clash. As a submissions editor, I expect the manuscripts to look a certain way. In short, I expect all of that other editing to have been done already.

Let me say that again.

I expect all of that other editing to have been done already.

If I open an attachment and I find a page riddled with spelling errors, misplaced punctuation, or single spaced with no paragraph indentations, I don’t read it. If it’s in Courier and I’ve specified no Courier? I don’t read it. Is it because I’m a douche canoe? No.
11 It’s because I’ve made some specific requests which are pretty easy to follow. If an author can’t manage these, what will happen down the road?12

So that covers the “editors” which denote reading submissions. There is another “editor” still up there. I’m also working with a number of authors and their manuscripts, prepping them for publication by Dragon’s Roost Press
13. I’ve made a couple of editorial suggestions here and there, mostly stylistic suggestions. In this case I am reading for content, as well as copy and line editing. The “editors don’t edit like that” statement obviously doesn’t apply here, but it’s a different gig. We’re not soliciting submissions here, we’ve already accepted these works. We’re making sure that all of the books in our catalog are similar, stylistically speaking.14 We’re formatting the works for publication. We’re building a lasting relationship with our authors.

Plus, we kind of want to be like those editors of long ago.

1 The one I’m wearing right now is a straw Panama I refer to as my “working out on the patio” hat.

2 This sentence, however, was repetitive.

3 At least that’s the fairy tale I’ve heard.

4 Yes, I know I’m mixing my movie quotes.

5 Hmm...a Mad Max/Crow mash-up? Nah.

6 Unless you are talking about newspapers or magazines in which case it involves a metric assload of fact checking.

7 Pavarti also mentions Beta Readers, which I discussed on the previous iteration of the website. I’ll try to update “The Care and Feeding of a Beta Reader” soon.

8 Quite reasonable, I think.

9 There’s that word again.

10 OK, maybe not that.

11 Although I readily admit, I
am a douche canoe.

12 These requests are not arbitrary. A manuscript which is double spaced and set in a legible font makes it much easier for the editor to read. If said editor is printing the pages out, double spacing allows for room to place corrections and suggestions. Most importantly, if all of the submissions for a particular publication are formatted to the same standard, the editor can figure out total page count, decide which order to place the submissions in, and generally get an idea of what the publication will look like before going to press.

13 Shameless plug number two.

14 We’re following
The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed.