Most people do not understand the function of an editor. New authors tend to think of them in terms of someone who corrects the errors they make. That’s why new authors often seek an editor/proofreader. They have no idea that those two functions are not related or that there are many different types of editors.
Types of Editors
Acquisition editor. In the traditional book publishing world there are editors whose sole job is to acquire manuscripts. Of course, in the “pay to publish” world (where “self-publishing” and vanity publishing are really the same thing), the acquisition people are in the sales department, not the editorial department.
In the real world of publishing, acquisition editors play a valuable role. They read manuscripts from writers and agents and they determine if their publishing company can make money by acquiring and publishing the book. This requires an excellent knowledge of both writing and the book-selling market.
Substantive (Developmental) editor. A substantive editor is concerned about the structure of a book. An author may labor over a book for weeks, months or years, yet never see the weaknesses of structure in a nonfiction book or plot in a fiction book. A seasoned substantive editor identifies these kinds of issues immediately and can rearrange paragraphs or chapters in ways that make the book remarkably better.
A substantive editor sees the forest not the trees, and a good one can transform a mediocre book into a superior one without changing the ideas in the book. I offer substantive (developmental) editing here.
Copy editor. A copy editor is also know as a line editor because such editors go through the manuscript line-by-line to make sure that ideas are fully formed, that there are no logical or narrative faults, that proper grammar is used and that capitalization and punctuation are consistent. A copy editor might make minor structural changes, but they do it on the micro level rather than the macro level. The job of a copy editor is to focus on the trees, not the forest. View my copy editing services here.
There are many other kinds of editors. However, the last two are the most important, and the most crucial to the success of your work. If you have taken the time to write a book, it is important that you find an editor who will sees the best in your work and helps you to make it better.
A Proofreader is Not an Editor
Earlier I said that many neophyte writers seek an “editor/proofreader.” That’s because because they do not understand the process. As I have said in my books, mentoring sessions and seminars, seeking an “editor/proofreader” is like seeking a “chef/busboy.” I don’t mean to denigrate either busboys or chefs, but each knows their role in the restaurant business. But authors sometimes get confused about different roles in the writing world.
A book editor functions as I have described. A proofreader does not correct the work of an editor. The sole purpose of a proofreader is to make sure errors were not introduced into the edited manuscript during the composition process. This is done after a book has been edited and is in the galley or “proof” stage, thus the name, “proofreader.”
Over the years, I have seen proofreaders, acting in the guise of copy editors, literally destroy books at the last moment before publishing. Authors sometimes allow a proofreader to change something “minor,” without consulting the editor, and a second edition needs to be printed to clear the confusion created by the proofreader.
A proofreader may call a suspected editing error to the attention of an editor, but never makes changes on his or her own.
An Editor Adds Value to Your Writing
A book editor worth his or her salt would never read proof, and a genuine proofreader knows it is beyond the scope of their work to edit anything.
As a writer, you are responsible for writing and revising your book. After that, you put your manuscript into the hands of an expert who will put your work through the refining fire.
Keep in mind there will probably still be some errors in your book no matter how many people review it.
Most small publishers have a limited budget, so they can’t afford the many sets of eyes that read manuscripts at big traditional publishing houses. A major publisher many spend $15,000-$25,000 or more for copy editing, but it is fairly easy to find various kinds of errors in those books. Editing is subjective and perfection does not exist.