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What an editor really does—or the day in the life of an editor

There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘do I really need an editor’ or ‘what does a copy editor do’. But what does an editor REALLY do? I see a lot of comments like: “well my friend took English in college and got an A, can’t they edit my manuscript?” or “there’s an English teacher that looked it over and didn’t say anything was wrong”.

Here’s what I liken this to: about two weeks ago (or so) I had to get new brakes on my car. So I took it to a commercial shop and had it done. Was it cheap? No, not really. About the same time, my neighbor had to get new brakes on her car. She had a friend’s nephew put in new brakes and it cost her much less. We’re sitting around this past weekend just chilling and relaxing and somehow our brake repairs come up…apparently her new brakes are making an ungodly noise and sticking, mine are working just fine and dandy.

Can your sister or English teacher or friend’s nephew edit your manuscript? Sure, they can BUT will it squeak or be as error free as possible?

Now, notice in that last statement I said “as error free as possible”. Editors are human and honestly, no matter how many eyes go over a manuscript, I’d be willing to bet there’s some error/typo/mixed up name/missing comma in the manuscript. Do we make every effort for there to be no ‘oopses’, we so do but, yeah, it happens. I’ve resigned myself to that fact.

All editors work at a different pace, have a different work rhythm, and talents. Some strictly edit, and then there are some that do a bit more. There is also a high percentage of editors that are also authors (something you’ll never see me doing, except a blog here or there). Me? I’m an overachiever; I edit and I format the files for release in both ebook and print formats. A typical schedule for me (and remember, I’m the Executive Editor/Formatting Director for MLR and its imprints AND edit for another house AND the Editorial Director for a third):

My day starts between 6-8am with looking at email and Facebook on my iPad (it helps me wake up); it’s my mama duty time next (yup, I’ve got two daughters and a husband to get out the door every day); off to the day job I go (full-time outside the home; why no, I don’t earn enough as an editor yet to leave the day job); after the day job (I do keep up with email and FB while at the day job), it’s mama duty time again and I try and sneak in a workout if I can; then it’s editing/formatting time. As I write this post, I have 19 manuscripts from 17 different authors in varying stages of edits (submission review, active edits, with the author for revisions, or with a line editor or proof reader) for one press; 3 manuscripts from 3 different authors for another; and 1 manuscript from the other press; there are 6 letters waiting for me to write about submissions (I write all the letters that authors receive from MLR and its imprints regarding submission reviews – yes, every manuscript receives a full editorial review and individualized feedback); and there are 15 manuscripts in some stage of formatting for MLR/imprints and 2 for another press.

Is your head spinning now? Remember, I told you I was an overachiever. I’ll admit, my schedule is a bit busier than some editors, possibly less busy than others (if so, I want their secret to turning time since my time turner is broken). The one thing that I can guarantee is that good editors work hard for their authors and while we might not be perfect, we’ll do our darnest to make sure that your manuscript is the best that it can be when it’s released.

So should you take the option of the English teacher/BFF/friend’s nephew? You decide.

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