Recently a client asked me to do a sample edit and quote to copyedit his MS, which is a biography of his late grandfather’s career (and exploits) as a senior police officer early last century. When I did a short sample edit (4 pages), I realised there were some pretty major issues with his writing and the structure. So I sent it back with my comments and we discussed doing an MA, which I did. Now he’s working on sections of his MS and then sending them to me (he has poor health so we are doing it in stages). It’s a collaborative effort and we’re enjoying working on it together. If you have a client who is open to working with their editor, their book can become something they are really proud of, and it’s equally satisfying for the editor.
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I cannot speak for all editors, of course, but I know I and many of us would be open to editing just part of your book at first, say, a particular chapter or two that you sense needs a lot of work. That is often enough to show you mechanical errors that you tend to make repeatedly. You can then go through the entire manuscript yourself looking for as many of the same kind of errors as possible. You will sharpen your basic writing skills in the process, and it will pay off in all future projects.
OUR EDITORS are confident, calculated, experienced and ruthless. We tend to look for people with at least an MA in Literature and 2 years of full-time book editing experience, but will also give editors a chance if they’ve edited at least 10 books and can provide references from happy clients; or if they’re successful authors themselves who have published several books.
Copy editors catch spelling mistakes, errors in grammar, and inconsistencies in your text. They know when compound words are hyphenated (or not), whether the book is ‘laying’ or ‘lying’ on the table, and whether eagles have ‘talons’ or ‘claws.’ They’ll go through your manuscript line by line for accuracy and consistency of style. A good copy editor will make sure that your voice remains intact while restructuring sentences, and substituting weak word choices for stronger ones.
In return for the sacrifices you must make in order to self-publish, you will gain total control over the project. In addition, any profits from sales of the book will be yours (not just a royalty percentage as with either a traditional publisher or a vanity press), and in some cases it may be the only way of getting your book into the hands of readers. However, there is no getting around the requirement to get the tasks done one way or another.
Thanks Sangeeta! I’m glad you enjoy the videos! (New episode, with 3 weird tips on self-editing, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28) Book doctors are such an interesting phenomenon… As are ghost writers, come to think of it. On one hand, self-publishing gives an indie author a chance to share his or her vision with little to no outside interference, but on the other, we’re seeing more and more books written “by committee!” What’s tricky is finding the right balance, which is why the search for the right editor matters so much. Cheers, Teymour For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode:… Read more »
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You draw distinctions that use idiosyncratic definitions of some fairly standard terms. For example, Chicago defines the terms “manuscript editing,” “line editing,” and “copyediting” as synonymous with each other, and none of them as synonymous with “mechanical editing,” although that is one element of them. Certainly, I agree that an author has a right to expect more than merely mechanical editing unless that is specifically what they have requested. However, I cannot agree that the only route into competent and appropriate freelance editing is internal employment within a publishing house, and that the only clients who should be counted as a relevant part of a freelance editor’s curriculum vitae are those who are traditionally published.

Regarding your last question, I know of no editor who gives a money-back guarantee for occasional errors that happen to slip through or for a different opinion by a later editor. I’m afraid such things are just the nature of the publishing beast. But by having a shorter portion edited first, you will get a decent feel for whether someone is the right editor for you, and will be able to be confident in his or her work on your entire book.
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