Having worked in various writing roles in the last ten years, I’m used to people being a little confused about what I do. When I worked as a copywriter I was regularly asked questions about legal protections and copyright; people still looked baffled when I explained the difference.
One thing I’ve noticed since stepping into a role as an editor is that a great deal of people have no idea what my job entails. Usually when I say I’m an editor I am met with, “Oh, so you fix typos and correct grammar and stuff?” Of course I do those things as I’m working on any manuscript (and we have wonderful proofreaders who pick up the bits that I miss), but that is definitely not my remit as editor.
So, what exactly is my role in helping you get your book out into the world?
I have a checklist when I edit a manuscript.
Does it make sense and flow?
This is an important one! I know from experience that when you’re writing a book everything seems to make sense, or maybe you’re aware it’s not quite right but you can’t put your finger on what’s missing. It is very easy to get caught up in your work and lose that external perspective.
Part of my job as an editor is to sense-check any manuscripts I read. This means that, as someone coming to the topic completely cold, I should be able to read and understand everything in the draft. If there are unexplained concepts or acronyms, it’s my job to highlight them and suggest additions or changes accordingly.
When I first read a manuscript, I’m also looking to see whether the text flows. Does it move seamlessly from one idea to the next, or does it feel a little clunky in places? Often the solution is a simple sentence or paragraph to segue (and where these are needed is much easier to spot when you don’t know the content intimately).
Is the structure logical?
The structure of non-fiction books, and particularly those aimed at a business audience, is really important; an outside perspective is invaluable.
When you are writing about a subject that you know well, it can be easy to assume knowledge and to structure information in a way that makes sense to you, rather than thinking about what might make most sense to someone who is reading about the subject for the first time.
You also have to make sure you structure the content in such a way that your readers will be able to assimilate it. There might be a lot of ground to cover, but throwing too many new concepts into the mix too soon can lead to overwhelm; it’s essential to think about how to present each in turn and help them land with the reader. The structure of a book is a big part of this, as the right structure will lead the reader from one concept to the next, building as it goes.
Are there any gaps in the content?
As I’ve said, it can be easy to assume knowledge when you know a topic intimately, and that might result in a few missing explanations here and there. However, in some cases there might be a lot more missing than you realise.
While this can cover explanations, it also extends to stories, examples and exercises. These are the elements of your book that will hook the reader in and keep them engaged, so there needs to be a balance of storytelling alongside practical information and explanations.
These kinds of gaps can be very difficult to spot when you are “in” the work, which is why an external perspective from an editor is so valuable.
Does the tone of voice sound like the author?
You might think that if you’ve written something, it will naturally sound like you. This is true, to a degree, although if you are not a natural writer sometimes it can be harder to convey your personality on the page than you might imagine. As well as whether it sounds like you, what you also have to consider is whether it is the way you want to come across to your readers; there is a subtle distinction.
As part of our book briefing process at Write Business Results (we work through this with every single author), we dig into how you want to be perceived by your audience, and as an editor, I make sure that the language matches that when I read the script.
Is it well-written?
I make sure that your book is well-written without losing your voice in the process.
This is where I tend to get stuck into fixing grammar, typos and other small elements in the text that may be a little jarring, but I also look at sentence structure and how readable your content is.
When it comes to business books in particular, it’s important that they are written in a way that’s easy to understand (even if the topics being discussed are complex), because many readers skim through looking for key takeaways. The Hemingway Editor is a great tool to check your content’s readability.
I will also look out for unnecessary repetition, whether that’s individual words or concepts, to ensure the text is “tight” when it goes to design.
In addition, as an editor I will read the manuscript with one eye on the potential design of the book. This means I’ll highlight elements of the text that would benefit from being pulled out in the design (such as in a text box, the use of italics and so on).
So, there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of what an editor does at WBR! Of course, it’s important that the editing process involves close conversations with you as the author. Any recommendations for larger changes, whether that’s relating to the structure of the book or removing/adding content, are discussed and carefully considered with the author’s business goals and ideal reader in mind.
Personally, I love the editing process because I get to see books (and sometimes blogs) be the best they can be. It’s really satisfying to leave a book in better shape than when I started knowing that it will benefit lots of people. And, I love having the opportunity to work with so many passionate new and established authors.
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