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What Does An Editor Do?

Editor description

by Yvonne DiVita

After the question of, Do I really need an editor? (yes, you do), people ask, "What does an editor do?"

That's a question for a discussion, face-to-face, but I'll do my best to describe the duties (and challenges) of being an editor, here.

An Editor Reads Between the Lines

Editors correct grammar and punctuation. That's natural. They look for misplaced commas, dangling participles, and other things we often do in our writing. No one purposely uses bad grammar or forgets punctuation, but it happens. Fast fingers, and all. Truth be told, editing is a difficult job today because so many of us write in our 'natural' voice. In other words, we write the way we speak. Generally, that's not going to cut it.

Editors also look for readability. That means they're on the lookout for consistency of message and voice. Editors don't want to change your story or rewrite your book. They want you to have a consistent flow of content. Content and voice that keeps the reader reading. 

An Editor Makes Sure Everything Adds Up

Chapter One and Chapter Two and so on. They have to have a certain flow. In novels, flashbacks can interrupt the timeline of a story if done correctly.  An editor will check for that. 

In a non-fiction, business book, there is still a story being told but it needs to rely on facts, not fiction. You can create dialogue that isn't true to the event because few people remember word for word what was said during any conversation. But, you cannot create a fictional event to make a point. An editor watches for that. 

An editor pays attention to branding. How you describe yourself and your business, throughout the book. Is it consistent? Can you say it better?

And, an editor is a slave to active voice.

An Editor Supports Both the Writer and the  Reader  

You're writing a book for a reason. The most obvious reason is so people will read it. But not just any people. Special people. Your people. 

Before writing the book you should have done a deep dive into who your audience is. Who do you want to read the book? Who will learn the most from the book? Who will likely want to connect with you, perhaps hire you, after reading the book?

The editor will want this bird's eye overview of who you believe the book is for, and who it might be for, as books often fit with a variety of audiences. She will then make sure you are writing to that person, and not to yourself. 

The book is as much for the reader as it is for you. Editors keep you honest about that. 

An Editor Turns Blah Into Beautiful

That's a bold statement. I make it for a reason - in my work with clients I often see places where word choice could be improved. It's not merely a matter of helping them choose the right word, it's helping them choose the best word. It could be a word that is more powerful or a word that adds subtlety. And, I am passionate about word order - is the word in the right place in the sentence? Is the sentence in the right place in the paragraph? Is the paragraph in the right place on the page?

This applies to all written content. Including dialogue. Creating a conversation in your story isn't as easy as some people imagine it is. Using the right words to describe something, via dialogue, can be overdone or underdone. It involves writing as two different people. Not as easy as it sounds, I promise. An editor will make sure it's done right.

A Developmental Editor Does All That And More

I'm a developmental editor. That's a specific kind of editor. Not only do I look for grammar and spelling, and typos, and work to keep the author's voice true, along with making sure the story will mean something to the reader, I make suggestions on content.

I'm editing for all of the above and much more. My goal is to keep the big picture in mind. For a manuscript of, say, 50,000 words, you could have 15 or 20 chapters. Each chapter needs to bring something useful and relevant to the book's purpose. We call it a throughline. It's my job to make sure we're keeping true to that throughline.

In addition to working on the content, I work with the writer/author on cover design. We do design in-house at Nurturing Big Ideas. Tom, my husband (from Old Dog Learning), does our cover design. If the author wants to use another designer, that's fine. But I work with the author to guide her on what the overall colors, font, design layout, and brand presentation for her book. This includes the spine and back cover, also.

The interior design is done in-house, also. By my husband, Tom. He works with our authors on choosing the look and feel for the inside of their book, including running headers, paragraph headings, chapter headings, font choice, and book size. Sometimes he creates an index. 

I consider this all part of editing because the editor turns blah into beautiful. By helping the author create a product the author can be proud of. A product she will be eager to share with the world. A product that represents the author on all levels - her personal message, her brand promise, her business offer, and her story. 

I've only brushed the surface of everything editors do for authors. The message is this - please do not skip the step of hiring an editor to review your manuscript, no matter  how big or small. Consider a Developmental Editor who can both coach and guide you as you write your book, while also holding you accountable. 

If 2021 is your year for putting that book together, let's talk. Whether you're an experienced author with many books under your belt, or brand new to the idea of writing a book, you need that helping hand. 

Because writing, although it may "come" easy to you, isn't easy when suddenly it has to become a book. Email me first name at firstnamelastname dot com. 

“Anyone who says writing is easy isn’t doing it right.” — Amy Joy

Developmental editor



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