What Do Editors Do but Check Spelling and Grammar?


I had a highly entertaining editorial conversation with one of my genuinely awesome editing clients the other day.

I’d love to tell you all about this gentleman’s manuscript, because it’s a really fascinating and creative story idea for an overall non-fiction book. But out of respect for client-editor privilege, I’ll wait until I can feature him as an Innovative Editing Author of the Month to share those details.

For now, let’s simply say that he’s already gotten his edited manuscript back from me, and has since called a few times to discuss the changes and comments I made, as well as chat about the revision progress he’s made.

During one of those conversations, he shared how he’d been talking to a family member about my edits, only to have her essentially ask, “What does an editor do anyway? I mean, other than look for spelling and grammar errors?”

Considering all the track-changed suggestions and comments I marked up his manuscript with, he thought that was hysterical. And I got a good laugh out of it too.

But this blog post is in no way, shape or form mocking this no-doubt very intelligent woman for her genuine question. She’s hardly alone in that confusion. It might even be accurate to say that, other than editors themselves and people who’ve come into close contact with editors, nobody really knows what editors do.

So why not assume that we simply correct spelling and grammar errors?

Here’s the thing: Some types of editors do exactly that. Sometimes that’s all that’s necessary or wanted. But if we’re talking about a professional book or manuscript editor, than we’d better be referring to someone who’s looking a lot more in-depth than that.

Otherwise, the non-fiction or creative writer in question isn’t getting his or her money’s worth.

For instance, if you happened to catch Monday’s post, where I was editing my own manuscript – the upcoming Proving America – you’d have seen a lot of red from all the track changes I made.

In the first Microsoft Word screenshot I showed, I was mainly smoothing out the narrative to make it flow better.

In the second screenshot, it’s almost all red, since I realized I’d put in far too much minutiae about very minor characters.

And in the third, which shows nothing but red (no. really. There’s not a single bit of black text in there), I realized that I’d data-dumped setting information on a spot where it didn’t really belong to begin with.

Incidentally, I don’t think there was one point in those sections where I fixed a spelling or grammar error. But even if I did, it would still be a great example of what a professional editor does, which is look at all the little aspects of a manuscript – whether personal or professional, lighthearted or serious, fictional or non-fictional, and short or long – to make the bigger picture a stronger, better, smarter version of how it started out.

I know I mentioned this in yesterday’s writing Definition of the Week, but here’s all the editorial angles I consider when editing…

For Non-Fiction Writing/Business Writing/Professional Writing:

  • Are the opening lines intriguing enough to capture readers’ attention?

  • Are facts used in a logical and coherent manner?

  • Is each sentence structure composed in an understandable, audience-appropriate and engaging way?

  • Does each paragraph flow well from one point to the next so that readers aren’t left confused or distracted?

  • Does the ending sum up the writer’s argument with a thought-provoking statement, final overarching point or ingenuous restatement of the thesis as introduced in the beginning?

  • Is every source that needs to be cited properly documented to avoid getting sued into editorial oblivion?

For Fiction Writing:

  • Are the opening lines intriguing enough to capture readers’ attention?

  • Is each sentence structure composed in an understandable, audience-appropriate and engaging way?

  • Does each paragraph flow well from one point to the next so that readers aren’t left confused or distracted?

  • Are the story’s characters vivid and believable, with dialogue that fits each one’s age, gender, occupation, etc.?

  • Is the plot convincing and does it keep readers turning the pages, wanting to know what happens next?

  • Whenever setting is introduced or re-established, is it done so in a way that draws readers further into the story rather than bores them with unnecessary details?

  • Does the ending tie up everything that needs to be tied up so that readers don’t want to throttle the writer after they’re finished reading?

So there. Now you know what an editor does. I make your manuscript look as awesome as you, the writer, want it to be.

Oh yeah. And I look for spelling and grammar errors too.

#editor #edit #fiction #manuscript #genuine #nonfiction #reader #spellingandgrammarerrors

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