What Does a Book Editor Do?

Welcome to HigleyFox and our very first blog post: What Does a Book Editor Do?

This seemed like a fitting topic, given that many of our new page viewers (yes, we see you, number twenty-six) may be looking for an answer to this exact question. Then again, maybe you’re looking to answer one of these questions instead:

  • Why should I hire an editor?
  • What does an editor know that my mom doesn’t?
  • What kinds of things can an editor help with?
  • Can an editor actually make my book better?

This blog will answer all of these questions, but first, let’s start at the beginning …

What does a book editor do?

Well, if he hadn’t been outed by his passive-aggressive dad in The Proposal, Ryan Reynolds’ character, Andrew, might have given us a succinct answer to this very big question. Unfortunately, thanks to Joe’s big mouth (thanks a lot, Joe), we were forced to consult the internet.

If you’re thinking about traditional book editors in the publishing world, you may be interested in this article by NPR: “What Exactly Does An Editor Do? The Role Has Changed Over Time.” In the article, Rebecca Saletan, vice president and editorial director of Riverhead Books, says an editor’s first job is to “convince their publishers [the book is] worth their investment.” Once they’ve acquired the book, they will spend time editing it (often nights and weekends), but a large chunk of their in-office time is taken up with working with sales departments, publicists, and marketers to get the book out and in front of readers.

As the article goes on to say, book editors must ask a lot of questions. Some of Saletan’s questions are “ ‘What is this writer trying to say? What is the project of this book? … Is it a good idea? Will there be an audience for it? Is this the right person to tell the story? Do they have the ability? If they don't have the ability, what's lacking? What can you bring to it?’ ”

As you can see, the answers to these questions have as much to do with you as they do with your book!

Now let’s take a look at book editors like those at HigleyFox, because we’re a bit different. For us, being a book editor absolutely means asking questions, finessing tough scenes, and helping the author build up their tension or climax from good to great. But we’re not here to ask whether or not your book is going to sell millions, and we’re not going to turn you away just because your audience is likely to include little more than the grandkids, their friends, and the family dog. What you want to do with your book is up to you. Submitting to an agent or publisher? Great! Publishing the book yourself? Awesome! We’ll give you a quality edit either way.

Keep in mind, if you're submitting your book to an agent or publisher, and not for self-publication, you should not have to pay anyone. If an agent or publisher asks you for money, there's something wrong. That said, you'll notice our editing packages here at HigleyFox do cost money. Our editing services are available for hire, and we are not a literary agency or publisher. That's another big difference between us and editors like Ryan Reynolds or Sandra Bullock, and, all joking aside, it's something you should be aware of when deciding what to do with your book.

Why should I hire an editor?

Why do you go to the doctor when you’re sick? Or to the physical trainer when you want to get fit? We hire professionals for the jobs we need done. Surgeons do surgery, teachers teach, and editors edit. If you want someone who knows the difference between an en-dash and an em-dash or a colon and a semi-colon, or—better yet—who knows how to make your characters bolder and your story stronger, hire an editor. Which brings us to …

What does an editor know that my mom doesn’t?

Here’s the thing. You should absolutely, 100 percent have your mom read your book. Have your dad read it too. And the neighbor. And the dog. These are called beta readers. Essentially, they provide test runs to see what the average reader thinks about your book. If they’re being honest, they may even be able to give you some really good feedback. That said, unless your beta reader is someone from your writer’s group or other literary club who’s used to giving feedback, chances are, that feedback is going to sound an awful lot like, “I loved it! Don't change a thing!”

And while we’d all love for everyone to think so highly of our writing, let’s be real—that never happens.

So what does an editor know that your mom doesn’t? They know enough to give you some critical but necessary feedback that can take your book to the next level.

So …

Absolutely. Chances are, if you’re writing a book you plan on submitting to an agent or publisher, you’ve got a long road of edits still to go, even after you’ve worked with us. Different editors see different things, and, as we mentioned above, most book editors have a lot more to worry about than sentence structure and character arcs. That said, getting an editor to look at your book prior to submission or self-publishing can certainly make a difference, sort of like watching your vision go from blurry to clear at the eye doctor. Sure, you could make it to the mailbox in your old glasses, but would you really trust those low-quality lenses to get you safely down the autobahn? An editor can help you make sure your finished product is one that lives up to your fullest potential.

It may be painful. It may be tough. But hey—you’re a writer, remember? You eat dialogue and exposition for breakfast. An editor’s just here to make sure your meal is first-class.

NPR article referenced with the permission of NPR.

Source: Neary, Lynn. "What Exactly Does An Editor Do? The Role Has Changed Over Time." NPR, December 29, 2015. http://www.npr.org/2015/12/29/461289330/what-exactly-does-an-editor-do-the-role-has-changed-over-time