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Friday, August 15, 2008

Misunderstanding Editing Can Cost You!

The trouble with editing is that people misunderstand the word. Or at least they assign several meanings to it so that no one appears to fully understand what others are talking about. Further, the definitions of editing, proofreading, galleys and other publishing terms have changed drastically in the past decades as a result of innovations in the publishing industry, market upheavals and shifting responsibilities. Here is a mini-glossary so that as you and I work together, we'll be using a similar dictionary:

Revision is not truly editing. It is reworking your piece and applies more to manuscripts than to short presentations like query and cover letters. It is the work you do between the first draft and the second, tenth or twentieth.

Editing: This is what fine publishing houses used to do for all of their authors. They helped with the revision process and everything else until your manuscript was a butterfly in repose. No more. Leora Krygier, twice-published novelist, says, "Publishers do not want to edit anymore--they want to print a 99.9 percent finished product directly from the author." It's a cost-cutting thing. Many publishers can't afford to give your book that attention they once did.

If you want to be sure your precious book gets a full edit, you will hire an editor and you'll carefully check credentials when you do (I give you tips on how to do this in the last section of this book).

Line Editing: This is what you'll get--if anything--from most publishers today whether they are on your publisher's staff or are independent contractors. The quality may be good or not. A line editor will catch some style problems, most grammar and, perhaps, 99 percent of your typo and spelling errors.

Proofreading: Proofreaders are typo hunters. Some might be insulted if you called them that, but that's what they are hired for, generally at low wages. Many "editors" you hire yourself (often without being careful about getting recommendations or about researching credentials) are capable of doing little more than typo hunting. Just the basics, Ma'm. Punctuation, spelling and typos, a modicum of grammar. The ones employed by publishers rather than by you may not be authorized to edit or rewrite so they simply suffer in silence when they run across your dangling participles. Ditto when your dialogue tags need some work.

The Frugal Editor will help you with all of these processes except the revisions (well, OK, a little bit with revisions, especially revising dialogue for sometimes there seems to be no clear boundary which is the reason these terms get blurred).
Clearly, you will be practicing your editing skills--both the ones you already have and the ones you will learn from The Frugal Editor and others--from the first time you put fingers-to-keyboard. Your editing will go much more smoothly if you've thoroughly revised your manuscript first.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at

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