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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a development editor?

In house, a development editor is usually the project manager for a particular book, someone who works with an author to develop their manuscript to the point where it is ready for publication. In the freelance context, it usually refers to a structural editor. They generally provide feedback and advice on the big issues: plot, character, pacing, setting, description, internal logic, writing quality, and so on. They may even help with problems like writer's block, motivation, self-confidence and so on, which takes us into writing coach. This contrasts with copy editors, who fix minor errors in spelling, grammar, phrasing, sentence & paragraph structure, and so on; and with proofreaders, who check the typeset document against the original, or check scanned documents for scanning errors, and so on; now that typesetting is mostly obsolete, proofreading is often confused with copyediting, but proofreaders catch things like letter reversals and doubled 'the's while copy editors are more focused on grammar. Acquisition editors are people who read manuscripts for publishers and decide which manuscripts to buy. Acquisition editors sometimes also act as development editors and work with authors to bring their manuscripts up to the required standard.

It is important to know the difference so that if one pays to have one's manuscript 'edited' before self-publishing or submitting to a publisher, one understands whether the editor is providing a developmental edit, a copy edit, or a proofread. There is no point in paying to have one's typos and grammar mistakes corrected if there are huge holes in the plot, etc. One usually needs to start with a developmental edit, and only move to the copy editing and proofreading when the book is otherwise ready to go to press.

How do I know if a development editor is the right editor for me?

This is difficult! I've heard from many authors who have wasted their money having their manuscripts professionally edited by someone who didn't understand their work at all. This leaves both the editor and client frustrated: it's tough slogging for the editor if they don't 'get' the material and unpleasant dealing with dissatisfied clients; and the client is left poorer but no wiser. It is therefore important to take some care choosing the right editor.

The first criteria always has to be to hire someone who is familiar with your genre. Even a top business editor or a Romance editor won't be able to spot the paradoxes in your time travel story or raise problems with your magic system unless they are also familiar with your genre.

But even a specialized SF editor may not be compatible with you or your work. That's why SFeditor.ca uses a two stage review process. The first, low-cost/low-risk assessment tells both the editor and the client if they are right for each other. Chances are if you don't like or can't use the feedback on the first 30 pages, it won't get better on page 300. So why pay for editing the whole manuscript when you can start with a trial-sized sample?

You've convinced me that I need to have my manuscript edited by an objective, professional, genre editor, but I can't begin to afford your rates. What can I do?

Professional editing can definitely be expensive, and is often out of reach for students and—ironically—many professional writers. Here are some alternatives:

Sell your book to a publisher. Publishers provide editing to the author for free. Indeed, the whole point of having a publisher is that they believe in the book sufficiently to front the money for editing, cover art, book design and marketing, in return for a cut of the resulting proceeds. If you cannot afford professional editing yourself, partnering with a small press (i.e., selling the book to them) might be the way to go to ensure your book is the best it can be before going public. (On the other hand, if a publisher does not offer editorial support or asks you to pay for these services, then run away. They are not a legitimate publisher and are bringing nothing to the table.)

Join a local or on-line workshop with peers and find a few other compatible writers. Although not all writers are necessarily good editors, all you need are two or three others who can help you with your manuscript to make a functioning workshop/editorial group/ focus group. You pay for their input on your manuscript by investing the same (or more) time critiquing theirs. The key is to make sure that such groups do not degenerate into either mutual admiration societies or (equally common, unfortunately) become destructively critical. But the point is to have the benefit of another set of eyes to catch things you cannot see yourself.

There are also some excellent self-help books on editing your own work. Try Self-editing For Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne; Write Great Fiction: Revision And Self-Editing by James Scott Bell; The Fluid Text: A Theory of Revision and Editing for Book and Screen by John Bryant; Write It Right: The Ground Rules for Self-Editing Like the Pros by Dawn Josephson, and Lauren Hidden; Savvy Self-Editing: A Guide for Developing Your Own Editing Process by Tony Jaymes or my personal favorite, Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected by Jessica Page Morell.

There are also some free materials on SFeditor.ca that may be of help. Have a look around.

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Last updated April, 2020.