faqs about book editors & editing


What is a book editor and what does a book editor do?

A ‘book editor’ is essentially just that: a person who edits books in some capacity. However, what each ‘book editor’ does varies from role to role and genre to genre; and depending on the area that an editor specialises in, different editors take different responsibilities for certain areas of a book.

Book editors working in the publishing industry can be divided into two categories: editors who work in a publishing house (in-house editors) and freelance editors. Editors can be further divided into sections according to their role.

In-house editorial roles include: chief editor; acquisitions editor; commissioning editor; developmental editor; substantive editor; copy editor; proofreader; and manuscript editor, whilst freelance editorial roles include: developmental editor; substantive editor; copy editor; proofreader; and manuscript editor.

You can read more about what each different type of editor does here. However, it is worth noting that the specifics of each role may vary or overlap depending on the company and individual, and that it is common for some editors (particularly freelancers) to adopt and specialise in several editorial positions.

For example, I offer substantive, developmental, and copy-editing services for poets and fiction authors, because these combined services allow me to offer in-depth advice across multiple areas.

What is the difference between a freelance book editor and an in-house book editor (an editor at a publishing house)?

The main difference between a freelance editor and an in-house editor is who they work for.

A freelance or self-employed editor works for themselves and takes instruction from a writer. A writer will hire an editor to ready their manuscript for submission, for publication, or for personal completion, and the freelance editor will performs based on the brief set for them by the writer.

An in-house editor, on the other hand, works for a publishing house, and represents the publisher as well as the writer. An editor at a publishing house has more accountability for the success of the book than a freelance editor, as in-house editors will often take on many other duties aside from editing: such as managing the relationship between author and publisher; working with sales and marketing teams to ‘sell’ the book; and acquiring, pitching and commissioning manuscripts.

Whilst the role of an in-house and freelance editor varies, the works of freelance and in-house editors often complement each other -- so you needn’t be afraid of treading on anybody’s toes should you seek a freelancer’s assistance before applying for publication.

Both freelance and in-house editors want and strive to help your work be the best version of itself, and for it to perform to the highest of its ability.

Why should I hire a freelance book editor?

There are many benefits of working with an editor. But what are the benefits of working with a freelance editor?

Some of the benefits of working with a freelance editor are:

  • A freelance editor can help you polish your manuscript ready for successful submission to a publisher that could not have been achieved alone.
  • You do not need an agent, a publishing contract, a history of previous publication, or a pre-polished manuscript to access editorial services from a freelance editor.
  • A freelance editor does not have to juggle many of the duties that an in-house editor is required to manage, and will likely be able to dedicate more time exclusively to perfecting your manuscript than an in-house editor.
  • A freelance editor is instructed by you, the writer, meaning that a freelance editor’s services are tailored towards a brief set by you.
  • You may accept and reject any advice as you wish.
  • A freelance editor can offer you feedback and insight into how to develop your work based on your unique goals, not the goals of a publisher, if this is your wish.

What is a substantive editing?

Substantive editing focuses on the foundations and periphery view of a manuscript. It examines features such as plot, structure, narrative, characterisation, and dialogue to see how each element works and affects the manuscript.

The function of substantive editing is to strengthen a manuscript by adapting each element so that they are in symphony with one another. Substantive editing takes place a few drafts down the line, and is sometimes referred to as a synonymous term for developmental editing.

What is developmental editing?

Developmental editing explores the structure, plot, and creative logistics of a manuscript. Unlike substantive editing, developmental editing begins at a much earlier stage, and developmental editors tend to have a much more hand-in-hand approach with the writer when it comes to molding the manuscript.

A developmental editor may help a writer choose and plan the plot of a manuscript, and assist the writer with creative brainstorming and research. Whilst developmental editing is a service more commonly used by non-fiction authors, developmental editing can benefit writers in all genres.

For example, I offer a developmental editing package ‘I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish’ to help fiction and poetry writers stick it to their writer’s block, because sometimes, feedback is just what you need to progress.

What is a copy-editing?

Copy-editing focuses on correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation. It irons out all inconsistencies and duplications in plot and description, as well as improves the syntax (order) of sentences and paragraphs to ensure that they’re easy to understand, and say what the author intends them to say.

Copy-editing is not to be mistaken for proofreading. Professional proofreaders check the manuscript for grammatical and typographical errors, and the physical layout of the book (ensuring chapters are correctly numbered, for example). Proofreading is the final editing stage to be carried out.

What will an editor do to my book?

Each editor will take a different approach towards your book, and the sort of services carried out on the book depend on the type of editor, or the editorial services you have chosen (substantive, developmental or copy-editing).

All editors seek to help improve or reimagine content as required, and to preserve that which would best be left. No two books are the same, and neither are two editors, so the best way for you to find out what an editor can do for your book is to ask them.

I adapt my editing methods for each novel or poetry collection, to ensure that my services are uniquely tailored for each writer.