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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

To have an Editor or Not? that is the Question!

Your book is complete, but is it ready to be published? Pauline Barclay chats with Elaine Denning, a dedicated and professional publishing editor, on the reason why every published author should have an editor.

Elaine, thank you for leaving your laptop to join me at FFP HQ, as you know I have a few questions for you. I'll start with the one that many writers and particularly new writers ask, 'do I need an editor?'

No one is perfect, and as such, even the most skilled writers will have errors in their work. Put simply, an unedited book is an unfinished book that runs the risk of gaining unfavourable reviews, which no author wants to receive. Checking spelling, grammar and punctuation is part of the process an editor will go through to polish a manuscript but there are so many other things that will be looked at too: The plot, pacing, dialogue, sentence structure, character motivation, repetition and inconsistencies, to name just a few. Some books will require more work than others, but there isn’t an author in this world who wouldn’t benefit from a professional edit.

What are some of the main mistakes authors trip over and not realise?

Auburn hair turning blonde, blue eyes turning brown, characters aging a few years during the course of a few weeks, autumn leaves blowing in the breeze in mid-summer... These type of errors are extremely common.

Impossible multi-tasking
Walking across the hall, she opened the door. Flicking on the kettle, he made a coffee. Standing up, he strolled to the bathroom. Unless a character has super powers, it’s physically impossible to do these things at the same time!

Lack of research
If your character is taking a flight, check the flight time and the time difference between the two countries before having him step off the plane into glorious sunshine. Or, if you’ve set your novel in 1986 and you mention a song playing on the radio, make sure the song wasn’t written in 1987. It’s surprising how many authors don’t check the facts.

Overuse of adverbs
She shut the door loudly. He quickly ran to the station. She walked quietly down the hallway. Most adverbs can be replaced with a stronger verb: She slammed the door, he raced to the station, she tip-toed down the hallway. As a general rule, try to avoid words ending in ‘ly’.

Telling, not showing
‘I don’t want to! she yelled,  is far better than ‘I don’t want to!’ she said loudly. But it could be even better. She slammed her fist on the desk. ‘I don’t want to!’ Always ‘show it’ rather than ‘tell it’ when you can.

How can an author know they are finding the best editor for their work?

I wouldn’t advise any author to hand over their manuscript and hard-earned cash to an editor they know nothing about. Get recommendations from friends, read reviews, and check that the editor has experience of working in your genre. Make contact with them, have a chat, and make sure they’re the kind of person you think you can work with.

You are a professional publishing editor. What do you offer?

Well, other than the obvious – a professional edit – there are a few things I offer that I think can be of immense help, especially to first time authors. First off,  I always offer a free ten page / first chapter edit so that authors can see exactly how I work before making a decision. Once you’ve hired me, I’m always on the end of the phone / Skype / email / Facebook to discuss any concerns you may have. I vow to eat, sleep and breathe your characters (just as you did) and not charge you any extra when they keep me up at night. I offer instalment plans to suit your budget (at no extra cost), I can help with blurb and synopsis writing, and I’ll continue to promote your work long after publication.  I have some fantastic contacts in the publishing industry who specialise in book formatting, book cover design, photography, illustration, book trailer videos, marketing and social media, so I think I have pretty much everything covered!  

Here are Elaine's links

Thank you again Elaine, I am convinced many writers who read this post will agree with everything you say and for those who do not have an editor, I think they will be seriously looking for one now.


  1. Great article Pauline. Thank you, and thank you Elaine Denning. A good editor is imperative. The writer can't always see the woods for the trees. I type quickly and often have typos that are words. Spell check doesn't pick them up because they are not spelling mistakes. Checking grammar and punctuation is paramount. There is nothing worse than having to read bad grammar. Consistency is important too. I once had a chicken become a turkey. It won't happen again. When you think your book is perfect, that's when you need an editor.

  2. I employ a proof reader/editor and she picks me up on my typos (groan) and the usual slips of the pen - hair colour etc. She also tells me straight if she doesn't like a character or if some aspect of the book doesn't work for her. Strangely (or maybe not!) she has a background in number crunching and data entry whereas my academic background is based on speed reading and essay writing. My favourite moment is when she says she was so engrossed in the story that she forgot to check for errors and has to go back to where she left off last time.

  3. Great advice, Elaine! I've been using an editor for my past 3 or 4 books... they certainly are invaluable :)