What does a book editor do?

Avatar by Isabel Cabrera | March 11, 2021, 2:10 am

You’ve made it to the end of your book. Congratulations! That’s a huge achievement that deserves a pat on the back and a glass of bubbly.

But, of course, it’s far from over.

Now it’s time to get stuck into the editing process so your book gets an objective set of eyes over to help you fine tune the copy and layout.

A professional editor can be a perfect option to help polish up your work, so it’s in fine form for publishing.

There are plenty of different types of editors to choose from, each playing a different role in the process.

This guide will show you exactly what it is that a book editor does and how to find the right fit for your amazing manuscript.

Can I edit my own book?

This is often the first question to crop up when it comes to book editing.

After investing so much time, money and heartache into your manuscript (not to mention blood, sweat and tears), it can be hard to hand it over to someone else. Let alone someone who is not only going to critique your work, but empty out your pockets in the process.

So, can you edit your own book?

Of course you can! You’re obviously a skilled writer, so there’s no harm in going a step further and turning yourself into an editor.

But, you do need to know what you’re doing. It can be worthwhile taking an editing course beforehand, or at least making a checklist of what you need to look out for. This will be much more productive.

Start off by putting a bit of space between you and your work.

Then dive in and be objective.

You aren’t just looking for grammatical errors. You’re looking for any issues with grammar, spelling, plot, characters, etc. It’s a big job and very hard to take a step and be objective on.

The truth is, even after this process, you should still consider hiring a professional editor.

You will have saved on some of the costs, as your book will be in a much better condition for them to look at, but it’s unrealistic to think you’ll be able to pick up everything.

You’re only human after all!

It’s a great plan to wait a few days and give your book its first edit yourself.

Then it’s a good time to look for a professional editor.

What is a book editor?

Book editing is a necessary service for you as a writer to help you produce the most polished version of your book possible.

Let’s face it, we all like to think we’re perfect. But, mistakes can and do happen.

If we’re lucky, these are simple spelling and grammar mistakes. Which if truth be told, still isn’t great on a printed book!

But sometimes, they can be glaring plot holes or character flaws that can ruin your entire book.

A book editor is the person who makes sure this doesn’t happen. Editors are responsible for fact checking, spelling, grammar and punctuation. They look at the overall structure of the book and how it flows, offering suggestions in the process.

With a set of professional eyes over your work, you have the opportunity to get it in the best shape possible for print.

Your book is a reflection of you as a writer. Even just one simple spelling mistake can make all the difference to how your audience receives your book and the time of day they give it.

In order to be a professional writer, you need the help of a professional editor.

So, where do you start?

A general overview of what a book editor does

A book editor’s responsibilities will vary greatly, depending on what type of editor they are and their skill set. We go into more detail with this below.

But first, let’s get a general overview of what a book editor does and what you can expect when hiring one.

  1. Hand over your manuscript for review: This is a big step. It may be the first person to actually read your manuscript, which is always daunting. Well done making it this far and for having the courage to let go! It can be tempting to constantly check in to see where they are up to and to seek out feedback. It’s important to be patient. Sit back and let it happen.
  2. Read & editor content: An editor will go through and make sure all spelling and grammar is correct and the book flows throughout. Again, give them time to do this.
  3. Verify facts: Depending on what type of editor you choose, they will then verify all the facts in the book for you. If your book is very heavily fact-based, then it’s a good idea to go with an editor that specializes in this. There’s nothing more important than making sure all the information is correct before going to print.
  4. Get book ready for publishing: Most editors can also help with laying out the book ready for print.
  5. Keep in touch: It’s important to schedule regular meetings with your editor to make sure you’re both on the same page throughout the process. It allows any issues to be discussed straight away and resolved.

A good editor will form a relationship with you, which could see you using them again and again for future books (when you’re a famous author!). In fact, many authors only have one editor throughout their entire career. No wonder this is such a big decision!

Different types of book editors and what they do

Before you go down the path of investing in an editor, it’s important to understand exactly what your manuscript needs. And, naturally, it’s worth taking your budget and any time constraints into consideration as well.

Editors come in a variety of different forms, so you should familiarize yourself with each, before making a decision about what works best for you.

Developmental editor

Developmental editing is an in-depth review of your entire manuscript. It goes much deeper than just correcting a few grammatical errors along the way. A developmental editor will look at your plot and challenge you to develop your characters and more. They want to get the most out of your story, and are often even used for ghost-writing as well.

Often a developmental editor is employed during the writing process to help fine tune the plot and main ideas right from the start. But they can also be brought in right at the end. They have plenty of experience when it comes to bringing together a story that reads well from start to finish.

If you’ve made it to the end of your book and aren’t 100% happy with it, this is the right choice for you. A developmental editor will help you break it down and determine areas that aren’t working, so you can rewrite these sections of you book and get it back on track.

Given their extensive experience, knowledge and expertise, it comes as no surprise that developmental editors are one of the more expensive options. They can break your budget, but are well worth it if you’re trying to write that book with the wow factor.

Copy editor

A copy editor should be the last person to go through your manuscript. By the time it reaches them, you want to make sure any plot inconsistencies have been worked out, you’ve read and reread the manuscript for spelling mistakes and you’re happy with your work.

The copy editor will go over the manuscript for any inconsistencies in theme, style and facts, while checking grammar and spelling in the process.

A copy editor is all about attention to detail. It’s often something that can’t be taught – some people just have a knack for it. This is the person you want reading over your book.

They have expert skills that you can utilise and usually come in at about mid-range when it comes to editors.


A proofreader is brought in to check your manuscript for consistency, format and layout. Their name comes from the fact that they generally check a printed proof of your book and mark up the pages as they go. While traditionally this was all done with pen and paper, the digital age has made it much easier with tracked changes.

The truth is, book proofreading is designed as a final step process to make sure your book is free of grammatical, spelling, punctuation, syntax, formatting and other errors.

Like the copy editor, they’re known for their attention to detail. This is the person who will notice that there are two spaces after the full stop instead of just one.

They’re a valuable set of eyes once your book is ready for publishing, and are one of the cheapest options out there. So, if you’re looking to save a little money in the process, a proofreader is a great choice once you have given the book a self-edit.

Skills of a book editor

Now that we have a great overview of the different types of editors and what they do, it’s also important to take a look at the different skills that editors possess. This will help you understand their role more clearly, and exactly why they’re a crucial part of the writing process.

  • Attention to detail: If anyone every tells you that anyone can be an editor…think again. It takes a certain personality to possess the attention to detail that’s needed to edit a manuscript. Of course, training can help with this, but it tends to be a natural ability that many book editors possess, which makes them so valuable.
  • Organizational skills: An editor is managing your manuscript from start to finish. They need to be disciplined and organized to work on it each day while tracking where they are up to and what needs to be corrected. Your editor should be able to give you a date on when to expect you book back again, or when to schedule in the next call. They’re great at sticking to tight deadlines.
  • Ruthless: A good editor isn’t worried about your feelings. There’s no room for that in this industry. They want to get your book in the best shape possible and this may mean ruffling a few feathers along the way. When you hand your work over to an editor, you have to be prepared to hear the truth, no matter how much it hurts. This is what will turn you into a great writer.
  • Patience & concentration: many people read a book with their mind wandering throughout. They’re thoughts will often lead them astray, which can be a great sign they’re enjoying it. An editor, however, has to be able to concentrate and pull themselves out of the story so they can look at it objectively. They read through the work with a fine-tooth comb in order to pick up any mistakes. This takes patience and concentration.

What WON’T an editor do?

It’s important to note there are some tasks you should expect from an editor.

  • Publicity: Once your book is printed, it’s up to you to oversee the promotion of it. They generally stop once the book goes to print, and what happens next is up to you! It always helps to have a plan in place to sell those books once they’re hot off the press!
  • Artwork: If you have artwork throughout your book, this isn’t the job of the editor. They can help liaise with the artist, or even give their input on how they believe it should look, but the overall job is left in your hands.
  • Revision: An editor doesn’t generally revise your work. Instead, they will offer suggestions for changes you can go back and make. You should be prepared to dive back in and do some more writing based on your editor’s feedback.

Choosing the right editor for you

So, how exactly do you choose the right editor for you needs? This is no easy task and takes a fair bit of time. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get you started:

  • Do I have the budget? If your answer is no, then it’s worth looking into the self-editing process. Then consider if you can splash out at the end for a proofreader to put those finishing touches in place.
  • Am I happy with my work? If your answer is no, then you might need the help of a developmental editor to go through your manuscript with you and find what you’re not happy with.
  • Do I have time? If the answer is no, then it may help to get a good copy editor on board with a quick turnaround time, to get your manuscript in the best shape possible as fast as possible.
  • Choosing an editor is all about balance. You need to weigh up your budget, your manuscript needs and your time constraints and prioritize them. Work out what’s most important to you and work backwards.

Once you know what type of editor you need, you can then go on the hunt.

  1. Find someone with a good track record: training is one thing, experience in book publishing is even better.
  2. Look for someone in your niche: finding an editor with experience in your particular niche can be hugely valuable and offer great insight.
  3. Shop around: don’t feel like you have to go with the first editor you come across. Take your time and find the person who best suits your needs.
  4. Ask around: it always helps to ask for around in you writing community. You might come across a hidden gem in there who others can vouch for.

Tips for working with a book editor

When it comes down to it, you editor wants to create a strong relationship with you to help you get the best out of your book. But there’s some things you should keep in mind throughout the process:

  • Be flexible: You need to enter into the editing process with an open mind. It doesn’t help to rush the process and hire someone a few week’s before your launch date. You won’t have the chance to develop a working relationship, let alone ensure a thorough edit of your book.
  • Read and reread: Never finish your book and hand it over without rereading it first. We know, you get to the of it the manuscript and you just want to be rid of it! But this can waste valuable time and effort for your editor. Put the book down for a few days and come back to it with a clear head, ready to read through. It will make all the difference.
  • Open communication: find an editor you communicate well with. You need to have a good chat before they even get started to make sure they’re on the same page as you and understand what direction you’ve taken with the manuscript. If they don’t know your initial vision, it can change the entire book.

Getting started

Are you ready to get published?

Of course you are.

It’s time to head back to your manuscript and give it one more thorough read through with fresh eyes before deciding which editor to hand it off to next.

You have plenty of options when it comes to finding the right book editor for you. The role of a book editor is varied, with many different types to choose from.

They are that crucial missing step that will see your book from manuscript to print in the best condition possible. It can make all the difference between the next big hit, or a flop.

Choose wisely!

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