Yes, you do need an editor

Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie—what do they all have in common?

Well, a lot of things. But mainly that they’re all famous authors, and they all have editors.

The right editor knows how to bring the best out of your writing. You want someone you’re comfortable getting feedback from, and someone you can have the ideal collaborative and instructional relationship with. It’s true: A lot of writers learn more from working on one short story with the right editor than from your average writer’s workshop.

What kind of editing does your book need?

Content evaluation

Content evaluation is an overall assessment of your manuscript. It is a valuable first review of your manuscript by an editor, who will be giving you thorough, thoughtful feedback on the manuscript. Your evaluator will give you big-picture feedback as well as feedback on style, structure, character development, and plot, and determine for you the type of editing your manuscript needs.

In the later stages of your manuscript, your evaluator may determine if your manuscript is ready for querying.

Substantive editing

Substantive editing, also known as developmental editing, is a thorough, in-depth analysis of your manuscript. It looks closely at all elements of your writing, from the overall plot, structure, and feel to line editing, which concentrates on the effect and impact of each sentence. Substantive editors also help you find plot holes, develop your characters believably and realistically, and everything in between.

For nonfiction writers, developmental editors can help with structure, point out inconsistencies in data, and provide invaluable feedback on how to best present the data you’ve collected. Good developmental editors keep your target audience in mind and will provide feedback relevant to the standards of the industry.

Often after developmental feedback, your manuscript may change substantially, and accepting critique—however well-intentioned and professional—can be difficult, which is why it’s important to get an editor you’re comfortable getting feedback from.

It’s important to understand that book writing is a collaborative project for authors new and experienced. The best authors must be open to feedback and critique—otherwise, all that hard work comes down to nothing.

After your manuscript has been reshaped and refined, it will be ready for copy editing and proofreading.

Copy editing

The difference between copy editing and substantive editing is that copy editing focuses on the technical aspects of language. These are the editors who make sure that not a single comma is out of place.

Substantive editors look at the big picture and help you with character development and plot; copy editors will help you spot continuity errors in your writing.

Using style guides (e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook), copy editors make sure your manuscript comes out looking all clean and polished.