Frequently Asked Questions

Valerie Gray provides answers to questions she often gets about books, editing and publishing.

Q: What does a book editor do?
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A: As a writer, you are trying to tell a story. You’ve probably got a million ideas zipping around your brain, or in your manuscript. An editor’s job is to bring order to these ideas so that your story shines through. Depending on your project, an editor may read your manuscript many times, making notes on characterization, plotting, setting, structure, pacing, voice. An editor‘s job is to serve the story or the book and make recommendations to ensure that story or book is the best it can be. An editor will help pull out the book that is deep inside you.

Q: How can I tell what kind of editing I need?
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A: The type of editing you need depends upon where you are in the writing process.  You may have an idea of what you’re looking for—or you may not be sure yet!  The descriptions below may help you figure out what kind of editing you need.

You have an idea and a few notes, but you don’t know what to do next. Writing a book seems like an overwhelming project!

Developmental editing is what you’re looking for.  A developmental editor helps you turn your notes and ideas into a synopsis and outline.  Your developmental editor will coach you through the writing process, helping you create a chapter-by-chapter outline and working with you to develop timelines for your first draft.   Developing the first draft is the first step in a big process, and your editor’s job is to guide you from start to finish.

You’ve written your first draft of your novel.

Congratulations! But although it’s tempting to type “The End” and send it off to an agent (or three), your book will be better served if you take a step back and have an editor read the finished draft to see where the story is working—and where it could use some revising.  In a substantive edit, an editor will read your manuscript several times to get to the core of the story. Notes will be made on characterization, plotting, setting, structure, pacing, voice. The editor will offer suggestions as to how to make your manuscript more refined, more focused, more marketable, allowing you to revise the manuscript so that it meets your goals.

You’ve revised your manuscript, and all the “big pieces”—characterization, plot, pacing–are in place.

Once you’ve got the big picture worked out, it’s time to look at the smaller details.  In a line edit, the editor will go through the work, word by word, line by line, looking for areas that may need further explanation, clarity for meaning, elimination of jargon, smoothing language and other non-mechanical line-by-line editing.  A line edit is more detail-focused than a substantive edit, but it is not as detailed as a copy edit.

Your structure is strong, your writing is smooth and your book is ready for publication…almost!

A copy editor’s job is to make sure all the smallest details are in place. A copyeditor looks for errors in grammar and punctuation, checks your facts and makes sure that your writing is consistent throughout your book. Work is usually done according to the standards in the Chicago Manual of Style.  While I am pretty good at these things, I am not a copyeditor. If you plan to self publish, I recommend that you invest in a professional copy edit.

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Q: What is a synopsis? Is it the same thing as a book proposal?
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A: A synopsis is a breakdown of your story. I liken it to a road-map. Sometimes, authors like to do a chapter by chapter synopsis, sometimes they prefer to use a narrative style to reveal the characters, plot, setting etc. A synopsis is a valuable tool for the writer and it is useful for editors and publishers, too. It is not the same thing as a book proposal—you are not necessarily selling anything here.

Q: Can I edit my own book?
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A: Yes, you can–but editing your own book is like trying to cut your own hair! An editor has the benefit of being able to view your work objectively.  It can be difficult to step back from your writing enough to see the weak spots or, more importantly, to fully appreciate the really strong content. Most creative work involves editors at one stage or another—whether the medium is the written word, film or music. A good editor will help you see things you didn’t even know were there.