Got any questions for an editor?

I’m a professional fiction editor with some free time on her hands. If anyone has any questions they’d like to ask an editor, comment below!

I guess you should specify what type of editor.

I got one. What do you think of Grammar Girl?

In addition to the type(s) of editing that you do I would also like to ask this question: what are the editing types most if not all writers should be doing at a minimum to achieve a polished, professionally edited book?

I’m jumping into a thread that isn’t mine.Sorry, @AmeliaWiensEditing! I’m reacting to your post, Jonas, but I’m likely going in a direction you didn’t intend. That’s okay. If you don’t need to hear this, there are others who do.


There is no amount of editing that will “fix” a book that is fundamentally flawed or poorly written. Editors are not magicians. They can’t take the average first novel and make it something that traditional publishing would pick up or people would want to pay to read.

Say you have a continuum from 1 to 10. A “1” is a manuscript written by someone who is basically illiterate. A “10” is traditionally published book that could win awards. Every individual manuscript falls somewhere between 1 and 10. To be picked up by an agent and sold to a traditional publisher, a manuscript would need to be a 9 (at least).

If a manuscript starts at, say 1-5, professional editing MIGHT be able to move it 2 places on the scale. Whether it can depends on the type of editing, the quality of the editor, AND the skill of the writer when implementing those edits. What is CANNOT do is bump it to a 9 or 10. Again: professional editing is not a magic wand.

If a manuscript starts at a 6 or 7, pro editing can bump it maybe 1 place. If it starts at an 8 or 8.5, it MIGHT be able to get it to the point where it would be picked up by an agent or publisher.

Maybe. Proofreading alone isn’t likely to do it, and unfortunately, many people will pay only for the lowest level of editing, which simply corrects the most egregious mistakes.

It’s common to see complaints on Amazon that a self published book “wasn’t edited.” The writers then get very upset, because they did pay for editing! They get so angry at the reviewer – or they blame the editor for not being thorough.

Unfortunately, this is often a problem of limited editing (no developmental editing and probably no line editing) and a manuscript that wasn’t ready for publishing. And a writer who didn’t have the skill to produce a publication-quality book in the first place.

Bottom line: “Editing” is not a magic wand that makes a not-ready manuscript into a manuscript of publishable quality.


Agreed. A more “experienced” author (where does this start? 10, 20 or more novels?) can probably do without a developmental edi. But they will still need beta feedback, since it is unlikely the whole plot just works 100%.
Copy editing i.e. making sure a manuscript works in terms of accuracy, readability, and fitness for its purpose, and ensuring that it is free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition is a must. For that, I believe an external editor is needed.
Proofreading also is a must. The author can do 90%, but then an external needs to ensure the final polish.


I have a question. How does one become an editor under a publishing company? Is such a thing even possible in 2020 where authors often take the route of self-publishing?

I’ll probably stick with freelance work. As much as I would love to work under a company, it doesn’t seem plausible. At the very least, I need to gain experience.

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The OP has never responded so you may be asking a ghost.

I’m curious if there are any dead giveaways of 1-8 writing? Things that a writer can identify within their own work to know if they already won’t make the cut? Or things to try to avoid?

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I would contact the smaller indie presses. They might start freelance but once they grow staff positions should become available. Failing that, go for the big ones who will definitely have positions and might even be advertising them.
Nothing is ever impossible until you try (says the survivor of the query trenches, ehem…)


Excellent question! But not an easy one to answer. Writers (all writers, even professional writers) find it extremely difficult to judge their own writing objectively.

A few possibilities (and some of these don’t necessarily apply if the writer is writing literary fiction)…

  • Is the story a well-crafted arc or just event after event after event?
  • If the novel is intended to be a commercial novel, does it have the structure that sells in that market?
  • Do you struggle with subject/verb agreement or how to punctuate dialogue?
  • Why did you choose the story’s POV? Was it because it was the best for the story or because it was easiest for you? (Or because “I want to show everyone’s motivation and backstory”?)
  • How long does it take to get to the inciting incident after the story begins?
  • Is there a prologue? Why is it necessary?
  • How many protagonists – NOT main characters, PROTAGONISTS – does the story have?
  • Is the use of adjectives verging on purple prose?
  • Does it read like the writer swallowed a thesaurus?
  • How widely read are you in your book’s genre, particularly of books published in the last two years?
  • Pacing. Does the story and each of the arcs unfold at the proper pace?
  • Is every single word, description, event, and chapter NECESSARY to the story?
  • Are there filler chapters/scenes?
  • Is the final word count within the target range for the genre?

I’m sure there are many more, but that’s off the top of my head.


These are all very good, thank you!

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I edit at both the sentence-level and the story-level (in separate services of course - doing both levels at the same time would be a bad idea). I love Grammar Girl’s blog posts. They’re incredibly insightful and I’ve never seen her be prescriptive about “rights” and “wrongs,” which is a very common and narrow view of grammar.


This is actually how I got my start with an internship in the trad biz. Most houses will require editing tests to make sure you have the skills. The downside to smell presses being they pay peanuts and sometimes don’t pay at all if they are about to go under.

The big houses are very difficult to get into because they are mostly in-house editors in the NYC offices, which don’t pay enough for NYC’s cost of living. Even the editors with the big houses often still do their own freelancing on the side due to the low pay offered in the industry. When I freelanced with Big 5 imprints the work wasn’t steady, just a project every few months. The editing tests were brutal too and the hardest I’ve ever taken.


I’ll add some more. The first two came directly from feedback I got from a publisher with the rejection letter on my first novel. It changed how I write fiction.

  • Show don’t tell.
  • Don’t head-hop.
  • Is the writing understandable? Sentences too complex? Run-ons? Etc.
  • Is tense consistent/correct?
  • Are adverbs used as a result of poor writing? For example, using an adverb with a weak verb rather than choosing a stronger verb (e.g., “ran quickly” instead of “bolted” or “sprinted” or etc.) and attaching an adverb to a dialogue tag instead of showing (“he said, angrily” instead of showing his anger with actions and/or words).
  • Do all your characters’ dialogue sound the same?
  • Are your characters lovable? Hateable? Basically, will your reader care if they succeed or fail? If they don’t they won’t care and stop reading.


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I’m still new to a lot of this, what does head-hop mean?

And thank you so much for the reply as well, this is also very helpful!

I provide different editing services at both the story and the sentence level. You can check out my website if you want to see exactly how I define my services (every editor tends to have slightly different approaches).

It’s really hard to say exactly what level of editing every book should receive at minimum. A weak plot (developmental editing), convoluted sentences (stylistic or line editing), and a litany of grammatical errors (copy editing) can all honestly ruin a book for a reader. Ideally, you’d be able to get all the levels of editing your book individually needs. Almost everyone needs some help tidying up the correctness and internal consistency of grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling, so you could say that a copy edit is the minimum. But if your story has issues in the plot, a copy edit isn’t going to be enough for the story to do well.

If you’re self-publishing on a budget, find some beta readers that you trust to have sound judgement and to be honest. Ask them which they think needs more work: the story or the sentences. If they say both, figure out which one needs it more. If you need a developmental edit more than a sentence-level edit, you can get a full pass of developmental editing and a smaller sentence-level assessment to help you self-edit the rest on your own (or vice versa). Basically, figure out what your budget is and ask yourself what services would give the most value to your specific story.

If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, know that publishers are looking for unique and deeply engaging stories - which are what a developmental edit can help you most with. If you know your sentences could use work for clarity and style, a line edit may also help with making your manuscript more appealing to publishers. But know that traditional publishers should be handling the final line and copy editing, so they’re not looking for perfect mechanics at the sentence level. Usually, the developmental concerns are what you want to focus on.

I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.

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Editing as an office job under a company is becoming increasingly difficult to do. A lot of traditional publishers hire freelance editors anyway, so something you can do is contact presses letting them know that you are available in a freelancing capacity. It’ll take a lot of work to find a press that will take you on with so much competition, but every so often they’ll come across your email right when they’re looking for someone new. Keep trying and don’t give up!

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Head-hopping is literally jumping from one character’s head to another character’s head.

Each scene is told from one character’s POV (point of view). You can only tell the reader what that POV character knows, sees, thinks, etc. In the scene, if you suddenly tell the reader what a non-POV character is thinking, it’s head-hopping.

Omniscient is a little tricky. The POV character is the omni narrator who is all-knowing so it knows what everyone is thinking and can tell the reader that. But you can’t write direct thoughts. For example:

Head-hopping (Joe is the POV character):

Sue walked into the room and caught Joe’s attention. Wow, Sue actually showed up, Joe thought.

Sue spotted Joe. Oh no, he’s here, Sue thought.

Omniscient without head-hopping (the all-knowing omni narrator is the POV):

Joe noticed Sue walking into the room. He was surprised that she came. And when Sue saw Joe her stomach churned. She didn’t expect him to be there.

Here’s a good article that explains the difference between head-hopping and omni done right. It used Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” (written in omniscient) as an example.


Wow! Thank you so much for the resource and information. I feel so much more prepared now with all these tips and things to look out for.

Honestly, I think determining whether or not you’re experienced enough to forgo a story-level edit comes down to developing self-awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses. Different writers develop their writing skills in different ways, so it’s hard to just say, “write ten books and you’ll now be experienced.” Listen carefully to feedback and do your best to pay attention to both the positive and the negative responses. Beta reading and critique groups can be really helpful for developing that self-awareness too.