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Do You Need an Editor? The Answer Might Surprise You (Part 3)

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Today, we’re talking about the kinds of editors you can find out there – and the kinds of editors you actually need.

It can be confusing at times. And when it comes to hiring an editor, confusion can lead to you losing money. Perhaps even a lot of it.

Which I imagine is the last thing you want to do.

For the record, if you missed the last installment, you can find it here. And if you missed the first installment, you can find it here.

They’re both good lead-ins to what we’re talking about today, starting with proofreaders…

A proofreader is someone who’s an expert on grammar and punctuation, not to mention its application. This kind of professional not only knows the rules but is also good at noticing when those rules aren’t properly applied.

In my opinion, the only reason you would ever want to hire a proofreader alone is if your book is already exactly how you want it to be – minus some typos you know you must have missed. And even then, I’d be very hesitant to go in that direction.

That’s not a knock against proofreaders. They can be exceptionally talented individuals. Yet I don’t think proofreading is a very valuable resource to pay for all by itself.

That’s particularly true when book writers who think they just need a proofreader often (if not almost always) need a whole lot more. I’ve seen it too many times to doubt, both when it comes to fiction and nonfiction manuscripts.

But even if you really do just need a proofreader, you can usually find someone in your social circles who will do the job for free. You might have to do a bit of digging to find them, but they’re probably out there nonetheless.

This could be a nice retiree at church or someone in your school community who has the time and desire to make the world a better place, one comma at a time. I’m telling you: These people exist.

Then there’s this fact: Even the most nitpicky of readers (i.e., proofreaders) aren’t going to completely condemn you for misspelling a word or two, or misplacing a dash. There’s no way you’re going to make it perfect regardless.

So why bother sweating money over the literal small stuff?

Next up are copyeditors. These are professionals who might not be quite as knowledgeable about proofreading as a proofreader, but they can still catch the majority of your mistakes. Probably about 95% of the typos, grammatical errors and punctuation issues you made… and 99% (maybe even 99.9%) of the problems your readers will actually notice.

Copyeditors also look to make sure that your style stays the same from start to finish and your facts check out. So they're editors you would utilize toward the end of the pre-publishing process.

Stylistic or substantive editors, meanwhile, serve as professional wordsmiths to really dig into your manuscript. They’ll reword sentences and reconstruct paragraphs to make everything flow together like a Harry Potter novel or something by Philippa Gregory.

These people are great at taking your presentation and making it pop so that readers will not only understand it… they’ll enjoy it too.

Developmental editors take it even further than that. They’re trained to tell you what details in Chapter 7 should actually be moved to Chapter 18, and what subplots might be messing up the main plot.

Then again, a copywriter or even a proofreader can technically catch that kind of thing if “that kind of thing” is glaring enough or if they’re shrewd or focused enough. And to smudge the picture even further, there’s also line editors, content editors, and a whole list of other titles that may or may not be synonymous with those mentioned above.

That’s why, in order to save time, money and sanity, I recommend simply asking potential editors what they do. If they’re worth it, they won’t have any problem explaining their specialty.

And if they’re not worth it? Then that’s what next Wednesday’s article is all about.

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