When I was a publishing executive, I worked with many authors who hired outside editors to coach and edit their manuscripts. Now as a consultant, I’ve edited manuscripts and provided editorial coaching to a range of clients.
Editorial consulting has been key to my business with several arrangements that have led to great working relationships. I’ve also been hit financially by ambiguous or poorly thought-through agreements. Thus, I’ve learned that the best outcomes result from writing expectations into an author-consultant agreement.
When authors and editorial consultants get together, this is the first question to ask: What editorial service(s) does the author want the hiring editor to address? To help you think through this question, here are six types of editorial services that can be offered as one or in a combination (I’m limiting my take to nonfiction editing services):
- Copyediting—correct spelling, punctuation, grammatical and related mistakes in the manuscript; make references and punctuation consistent, correct figures and tables, and improve sentence structure.
- Proofreading/fact checking—provide a word by word and sentence by sentence review to correct mistakes; a book manuscript fact check will rarely cover everything, rather, the checker does spot checks of website references, quotes, statements of fact, statistics, and historical statements. Ultimately, the author bears responsibility for the accuracy and originality of their manuscript. (Note: Traditional publishers almost universally provide copyediting and proofreading as part of their production process. Authors with book contracts at major houses typically can forego these outside services.)
- Developmental editing—advise the author on the structure of the book, such as reordering material, making voice consistent, strengthening research, and identifying gaps or inconsistencies in content and persuasion. The consultant provides manuscript guidance; the author decides whether to implement the changes.
- Stylistic editing—focus on the quality of sentences, dialogue, paragraphs, the art and craft of prose.
- Substantive, content editing/rewriting—perform a developmental and stylistic edit and offer detailed, page by page changes and suggestions for rewrites.
“It’s important to nail down everyone’s responsibilities at the outset and make sure expectations are realistic,” said my friend Toni Sciarra Poynter in our conversation about this post. Poynter, along with Freelancers Union founder and Executive Director Sara Horowitz, coauthored the new and useful The Freelancer’s Bible (Workman, 2012). “Look for an editor or writer who has a track record of experience with the type of book you’re doing. But don’t expect an outside professional to magically turn flawed raw material into a bestseller. A good editorial relationship has willing accountability on both sides. The resulting trust and honesty form the foundation of a true creative collaboration.”
Because I’ve been on both sides of the editorial fence, here are some insights for authors and consultants to consider when working together. In this post, I’ll focus on authors.
- Identify your project priorities at the beginning. What are the most useful changes the outside editor can make? Proofreading or copyediting are easier to check off your list. For developmental, structural, or page by page rewrites, know what is most important to your final manuscript, rather than waiting for drafts to make changes.
- Learn the basics of plagiarism and fair use of intellectual property. While most authors are enthusiastic about writing original content, know how to source material and don’t submit pages that are cut and pasted from Internet. Don’t expect an editor to figure out where you sourced material—unless you specifically hire and pay for that service.
- Understand what an editorial consultant can do and manage your expectations. Editors can’t make silken wings from cardboard (ghost writers have more flexibility if they are writing material from scratch). Give the consultant close to your 100 percent effort on a draft, rather than 50 percent in the hopes that the editor will “fix it.”
- Build time for the consultant to read and digest your material. As an author, you’ve spent months or years on your book. You’ve turned over the ideas and words in your mind at a conscious and unconscious level countless times. Remember that the editorial consultant comes to a manuscript fresh. Scientific research indicates that our brains do their best work when given time to truly absorb and digest new material. So, set aside some time—from a few hours to a few days—to “read and think.”
- Clarify timetables for turning around drafts and reviews. Deadlines aren’t fun but they are necessary. As the author, discuss guidelines and general time frames for reviewing and responding to drafts.
Read about what an editorial consultant should think about when working with authors in Part 2 of this post.