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From the editor's desk

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Posted on Jun 26, 2014 by Steph

There seems to be a new kid on the block every day in the already crowded field of companies providing a complete package of author services. The most recent caught my attention as it recommends that authors use a different editor for each of the stages of editing their book. This means, according to them, that you need to use at least three different editors, to deal with the content editing, copy-editing and then proofreading.

The company is citing the example of a popular successful self-published author who apparently uses five different line editors. That smacks of overkill to me, and also hints at a lack of trust in the people this author is working with.

Elsewhere I’ve come across sites that suggests there are five different sorts of editing – substantive, development, content, line (roughly the same as copy-editing) and finally proofreading. The definitions of what these all involve vary quite considerably.

Now, speaking as someone who’s been in publishing for thirty years, both in-house and as a freelance, in my opinion it’s all nonsense.

Editing is editing. An editor is an editor.

Editing a document is the process of correcting it, wherever and however it needs it. Any good editor can deal with anything the author may throw at them, from poor spelling and bad grammar, to inconsistencies in characterisation, to implausibility in a plot, to scrap it and start again. Any good editor will point out anything and everything that needs attention, from duplicated names to factual inaccuracies, from possible copyright infringement to a missing full-stop. It doesn’t matter what category something that requires correction may fall into – a good editor will show you how to fix it.

Editing is subjective. Give the same piece of writing to ten different editors and you’ll end up with ten slightly different versions of the original. So by employing four or five different editors on the same manuscript, you’ll get a lot of time and energy wasted as each editor will inevitably and irresistibly tinker as a way of stamping their mark on it, whether it’s necessary or not.

By trying to demarcate editing zones, there’s also a danger something will slip through the net. Let’s say our author states somewhere that the First World War started in 1915. OK, it’s an extreme example but it serves my purpose here. Which of our many editors will pick it up? Not the line editor, since her job is to check for mechanical errors only. Not the developmental editor, since he’s concentrating on developing the concept of the book. Not the substantive editor, since she’s only on the lookout for areas of the plot or themes that need reshaping and rewriting. This book risks being published with that glaring error in it because each editor thought it was another editor’s responsibility to sort it out.

An editor needs to get to know a book properly in order to do it full justice in every area. It’s normal for an editor to make two, usually three, passes through anything they work on. Several different editors going through a manuscript once will not produce nearly as good a result as one editor going through it several times.

Believe me, one editor is quite enough.

As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth, or, to adapt the proverb to be more appropriate to my viewpoint, an over-abundance of editors won’t cook up a better book. 

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