The Four Editors Behind a Great Book
When self-publishing, it is up to the author to make sure their book measures up. Learn about the stages of editing and what they entail in order to help writer's and self-publishers better understand the process of producing high-quality, well written work when they prepare to turn their story into a book.
“If you build it, they will come” may work in movies about baseball, but it doesn’t hold true in the world of publishing. Same goes for self-publishing. That is, if you want more than just friends and family to read what you wrote. Step one in self-publishing—right after you finish the umpteen writing steps, that is—is to have your work properly edited. Aunt Edna, who likes to remind you when you use “who” and “whom” incorrectly or tells you she doesn’t know if you “can” use the bathroom but that you “may” use the bathroom, may or may not count as a proper editor. What follows does.
To help better visualize the editing stages, we’re going to imagine each stage is assigned to a different editor (as is often the case in a large publishing house). However, many editors—probably Aunt Edna, for one—are capable of handling multiple or all of the editing stages by themselves.
The devil is in the details, so thank goodness Devin—let’s edit him to Dev for short—is in the building. Dev’s role is assist the writer in developing the story. They do this by carefully reading a manuscript and making detailed notes with suggestions and explanations to guide the writer in making changes to improve their manuscript. Dev understands story structure. Dev is the editor who helps a writer make sure they have a sound story framework. Dev is knowledgeable in not only writing, but also in the nuances of literary genres and audience niches. Dev understands that a story needs to comply with certain language comprehension, style, length, and structural components to market well with the readers to whom the book is meant to be sold. Dev and the writer may go through multiple rounds of editing before a manuscript is ready for the next set of eyes.
Tip: Don’t invite Dev to Aunt Edna’s any time soon.
Let’s name our line editor “Lin” for short and for coolness, as this job focuses on style. Lin’s job is to edit sentence by sentence (or line by line) to make sure the style is consistent, clear, and clean. Lin helps the writer by suggesting revisions for words or phrases that are overused or out of character. Lin advises the author where sentences need rewriting or removing due to redundancy or unnecessarily repeating information or saying something over and over. While all true, you understand this last sentence was a joke, right?
Lin lets the writer know if their story has scenes where the action is confusing or their message is unclear due rough transitions or unclear phrasing. Lin makes certain that there aren’t awkward shifts in the writing’s tone or writer’s phrasing. Lin finds bland sentences that need more description and narrative digressions that require revision. Lin’s job is to make sure the writing helps a reader get lost in a story, in the right way.
Tip: Similar to Dev, Lin is fun to watch and discuss movies with. Invite separately. At some point you need to just enjoy the sausage and stop talking about how it was made.
We’ll have our copy editor go by “Coop” because although he or she will be the first editor who’s going to look at your grammar, Coop will also be taking a look at everything you worked on with Dev and Lin. Coop’s craft is fine tuning these prior edits while still keeping the wrath of Aunt Edna at bay. Coop probably has a current copy of the “Chicago Manual of Style” sitting beside his computer, right next to a silly bobblehead doll or a coffee mug with something ironic on it. Coop is also a fact checker when needed and at the very least makes sure that the facts inside a story are consistent.
Tip: Pretend you don’t understand whatever’s on Coop’s coffee mug. Just look at it and say, “I don’t get it.” And then walk away. It’ll fill Coop up with both a sense of frustration and superiority at the same time, ironically.
Our Proof can go by “Pru”—short for Prudence, of course. Oh, who are we kidding? This is Aunt Edna. She’s perfect for this role. Pru’s job comes last. Pru isn’t going start editing until a book has been designed and the layout has been completed. Once a writer has a book file that is prepared to go to print, Pru will take that file and the manuscript, and the various drafts, and make sure all changes were made and that the grammar is correct. Pru will also be checking that the book isn’t missing any content or containing any other errors. If your illustrator misspelled “calendar” in the illustration for your picture book, Pru should find that (Aunt Edna will). If your designer didn’t input a page number, Pru should catch that, too (Aunt Edna’s head will explode). Pru is detail oriented and careful, to say the least. Pru knows that where you put that en dash what you really meant to do was type an em dash. Pru is the gatekeeper who makes sure you don’t wind up glancing over your book a week before its launch date only to discover on page four, you put three commas where an ellipsis ought to be. Pru makes sure that your book meets the professional standard intended for a published book: That nothing should be overlooked.
Tip: A great white-elephant gift idea for Pru is a mug like Coop’s. Have it say something profound about the importance of editing, with no dotted “i” or crossed “t.”