“This Book Needs an Editor” Isn’t as Descriptive as You Think

Posted 7 March, 2014 by Amanda / 8 Comments


After writing a post on my editing process for Blog Events, I realized many people didn’t know what editing entails. Because it’s not just checking for grammar and typos.

Kevin Hearne has, perhaps, the best explanation of what a book goes through on the traditional publishing route.

But on the self-publishing route? I’d separate editing (by other people) into three separate categories: content, copy, and proofreading.

Content Editing

Content editing looks at… the content. Surprising, no?

Someone who edits for content might answer questions like… Are the characters consistent? Do they sound like individuals? Are there plot holes? Is the plot believable? Is your style and tone consistent throughout the book? Have you closed all your plot threads? Do you have irrelevant scenes?

Content editing looks at whether the book is going to resonate with readers and that it’ll be believable and solid.

Copy Editing

My version of copy editing includes both line editing and copy editing. It’s not just checking grammar and typos.

Copy editing involves looks at every sentence and asking, “Is this the best and clearest way of presenting the information?” It makes you sound as brilliant as you think are.

So with copy editing, I might take a mistake-free sentence like: “There was something that wasn’t quite right about the situation” and change it to “Something wasn’t quite right about the situation” because “there + be” is passive and distances the reader.


Unfortunately, no one can guarantee a book free of mistakes. Even when an author has many people read their book before publishing, typos and little mistakes still have a way of sneaking through.

Proofreading is a final check before publishing to make sure those little mistakes haven’t squeaked through. It’s not a substitute for either version of editing.

And one person can’t do it all. Your brain isn’t going to catch every mistake. If I have to focus on fixing little grammar mistakes on a first copy editing pass, for example, on the second pass, I find all kinds of sentence-level issues I missed. Not because I’m a terrible editor, but because my brain can’t catch all those mistakes. No one’s brain can.

So when you read a book that needs an editor (and plenty of those books exist), don’t just say “This book needs an editor”—explain what kind of editing it needs.

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8 Responses to ““This Book Needs an Editor” Isn’t as Descriptive as You Think”

  1. I don’t think most people realize how many levels of editing are necessary to make a piece of writing as clean as it can be. I struggle with my journalists over this — one and done, that’s their opinion and they turn in absolute crap when they do that. Then they whine when they get back a story that’s literally bleeding from all the red pen. *sigh*

    • My students tried to make their first drafts perfect, so I resorted to telling them I found a perfect draft suspicious—it looked like they were cheating. First drafts are supposed to suck. And you need lots of editing. The story I plan to publish needs lots of content editing because I pantsed the whole thing. Every round of editing (and it’s only me editing at this point) has made it better, but it still needs more.

      I know it’s difficult for writers—not just students—to go through the editing process. But a lot of times, the red pen isn’t there because you’re a terrible writer or what you wrote sucks. It’s to help your writing be even better. Because you’re too involved in your own work to see what others do. You need outside help.

  2. The only kind of editing I could ever do would be content editing. I completely fail at grammar, sentence structure, and even knowing things like when a sentence is passive because of certain words, so I would be of no help to anyone. I could look for plot holes though:)

    I agree that several different people definitely need to look at a book to catch all the different types of errors. Once you’ve read something a time or two, you start to read it as it should be rather than as it is. I remember doing a wedding invitation for a bride and we’d gone through 5 or 6 proofs of the design before she finally signed off on it. As I’m preparing it for print, I notice her name is spelled wrong. Her name! Nobody that looked at the proof caught it because they just assumed it was as it should be:)

    • lol. And I’m much better at copy editing than content. ;)

      Yup. I actually just published a post about typos and part of the reason why people miss them (even editors) is that we read what we expect to see, not what’s actually there. Your brain fills in whatever’s missing or wrong. It’s super tough to spot everything.

    • I’ve found that a lot of self-published authors don’t even understand the editing process. Which is, perhaps, why many readers feel self-pubbed books need editors. (Of any sort.)

  3. Excellent point Amanda! I think most people notice the proofreading problems immediately since they are the most glaring, but the difference a line editor makes can really make or break a book in terms of gripping a reader or leaving them feeling meh about the story overall! I’ve been curious how much of a demand for consistency editors there is. It seems like most authors take it upon themselves to read through for that sort of thing. Would you say most traditionally published books have them or no?

    • A line editor can make a huge difference in terms of readability. Traditionally published books definitely have someone looking for consistency. There’s no way an author can be objective enough to see every consistency issue (or really, any other issue, which is why authors desperately need others looking at their book). They might be able to catch some, but not all.

      I also tell self-published authors that they should edit the book themselves first before passing it on. They can catch both content and copy issues that way, and it’ll make it easier for editors to really focus on making the book the best it can be.

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