October 25, 2023
Fellow editors may be familiar with this scenario – a potential client reaches out to you for line/copy editing. This is exciting, you think, happy to help out someone new. You open the sample they sent you –
And see they’re not ready for copy editing yet. In a poem or story in verse, this could look like the rhyming being off in not just one place – which could easily be dealt with – but in multiple. The rhythm could also be off. Unfortunately, it’ll be hard for readers to get into the material because the rhymes feel forced, or start to lead the plot if there is one, and the rhythm just isn’t conducive for a smooth read. Variations of this can also happen with prose, from a picture book featuring dragons to a memoir.
A good editor will alert the potential client that while they’d be happy to copy edit, they noticed the document would actually really benefit from a developmental/structural edit first.
And that’s where you, as a potential client, may not like what you hear.
(Note, this is in cases where a professional developmental edit hasn’t been done. If the editor hasn’t asked if deeper edits have been done and they have been, let them know. It can also be in cases where there’s still room for work to be done.)
Good editors will explain why they believe a deeper edit is in order. Give an example or two. And if they offer that sort of service, they may offer to work with you to improve that aspect of the project, or at least offer to guide you in the right direction and you can take it from there.
But of course, this is your project. Your baby. What can someone who didn’t write it know about it at its core?
That’s part of the benefit of hiring an editor. We’re objective in the matter – we may very well get attached to what you’ve written (I’ve definitely been there!) but we can see things you won’t be able to, and noting how a reader may interpret or perceive the content is one of them. We editors aren’t out to offend you if we ask whether you’ve considered a deeper edit and point out why one might be needed. Part of our job is to make sure you’re happy, but the other part is to make sure the reader is happy too. Sometimes juggling that looks like asking those questions.
And I get it – there’s a chance you can’t afford a deeper edit. That’s ok! You can take the examples the editor gave you for areas that need looking at and do it yourself. There might even be a chance that if you book a copy edit with them, they’d be happy to quickly look over the document and point out a few more areas to give you a better idea of what they’re talking about. Then it’s either free or a whole lot cheaper than a developmental edit.
In some cases, though, you may be able to afford it, but very much don’t appreciate what you’ve been told. And I get that, too. It can be hard to hear something isn’t working with what you’ve written, no matter who it comes from. If that’s what happens, take a step back and think about what the editor has told you. Take a week, even (but let the editor know you’re going to take a few days to think about it, so they know what’s up). If, by the end of that week, you still think you only need a line/copy edit (or perhaps even a proofread, if that’s what you initially inquired about), politely let the editor know. Then it’s up to the editor whether or not they’re comfortable editing the content as-is. Try not to be offended if they’re not – they’re simply acting in the way they see fit, just like you are!
But if, by the end of the week, you see what they’re talking about, that’s when you could open more discussions about what steps the editor would suggest you take and how to go about them.
So you may not, on first look, like it if an editor suggests you do more editing than you planned. But take some time and think about it – you may find you actually agree with them. And if you don’t agree, at least the question has been explored.