If you are interested in creating information products, you will very likely deal with editors throughout your career. You may need someone to edit a book, review a special report, or tighten up a magazine article. Even if you are a brilliant writer, it always helps to have someone else look at the work with fresh eyes.
Most of these editors will be people you hire on a freelance or project basis. To get the most out of such a relationship, it helps to be clear about what you need and what you can expect.
To start, you should know what kind of editing you are looking for. There are many different levels and varieties of editing. Probably the three you will encounter the most are substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading.
Sometimes called developmental editing, substantive editing looks at both the content and structure of a manuscript as a cohesive whole. Does the story or argument flow logically? Are there obvious gaps in a certain area? Too much information someplace else? Substantive editing can involve re-ordering large chunks of text, removing text, adding text, and even rewriting.
Probably the most misused of all the terms, copyediting is often used as a catchall phrase for any and all kinds of editing. Strictly speaking, however, copyediting checks for errors in grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style, internal consistency, cross-referencing, labeling and so on.
Proofreading is the final review of a fully formatted and typeset manuscript. It is meant only to catch small errors such as the odd spelling mistake or hyphenation snafu that might have been missed at the copyediting stage, or that appeared during the layout process.
The above definitions are fairly standard but there are variations. Not every editor defines editing terms in the same way. It is therefore crucial that you discuss in detail the exact nature of the services your editor will provide.
You will also want to clearly discuss the fee arrangement. Some editors charge by the page or word, while others charge by the hour. Still others charge a flat project fee. One method of charging is not necessarily better than other. Just be sure you know what you will get for your money. If you are being charged by the hour, ask the editor to provide an estimate up front of how long the project will take so there are no surprises when the final invoice arrives.
The best way to avoid misunderstandings is to have a written contract signed before any work begins. A contract will typically include a
detailed description of the services to be provided
statement of the fees and payment schedule, and
timeline for the work to be completed, including any project milestones.
Depending on the scope and nature of the project, your contract may also include a number of other considerations. An important clause to include, especially on a book project, is one that deals with copyright. You want to make sure that, as the author, you retain all rights to the material no matter how much editing or rewriting the editor may do on your behalf.
Many editors will supply a contract, but be prepared to create one yourself if they do not.
Here are a few final tips for working with an editor:
Some editors specialize either by format, by topic, or both. For example, an editor might be a specialist in audio scripts or might focus solely on medical books. You may want to look for an editor with particular expertise in your subject matter, especially if you are writing about a highly specialized field.
Be open-minded towards an editor’s suggestions and changes. It can be hard on the ego to see your painstakingly crafted manuscript go under the editor’s knife. But keep in mind that if an editor is making alterations, it’s because he or she thinks it will improve your work. And in the end, a good product makes you look good too.
Establish and maintain clear lines of communication. Know what your expectations are and convey them. Ask the editor to keep you in the loop as the work progresses.