Writers need editors, people who read a manuscript looking for errors. For some the editor works for a publishing house, for others it may be someone they hire, or it could be another writer, a critique group/partner, or simply someone strong in spelling and grammar.
We writers need these “other eyes” to catch the typos, repetitions, and grammar errors. This editing is generally referred to as LINE EDITING. As the title suggests, the line editor goes through the manuscript line by line, making any corrections that are deemed necessary.
With publishing houses, the line editor is usually also a CONTINUITY EDITOR. In other words, as the editor goes through the manuscript not only is he looking at the writing line by line, but she’s also considering the overall voice, tone, and making sure all of the details are correct. They are the ones (we hope) who will catch if you’ve changed the heroine’s eye color or will correct you if you’ve given the hero a peanut allergy and then have him willingly eating a PB&J sandwich.
Nowadays, with the large publishing houses cutting back on staff and small publishing houses having to work with only a handful of editors, writers are expected to send in manuscripts that are 99% ready to be published. That means, if we want a perfect (or at least a near perfect) book, before you and I mail off a manuscript, we must make sure we have edited for continuity as well as for typos, spelling, and grammar. But if you’re the writer, often you’re too close to the story to catch inconsistencies. And as great as a critique group or critique partner might be, if they’ve only been looking at the book in sections, they might have missed how the tone has changed from humorous to darkly serious, or that your heroine had short hair in chapter one and is brushing her long tresses away from her face in chapter ten.
For that reason, many writers are hiring editors to look at their manuscripts before submitting to agents or publishing houses or before self-publishing. And often these free-lance editors will ask if you want line editing or continuity editing. For me, the more important of the two choices would be the continuity editing. My critique partners will catch my typos and spelling errors, but if I’m paying an editor, the information I want from her is does one scene flow into the next, do my characters stay true to their personalities from the start of the story to the end (or grow because experiences they had during the story), have I tied up all the loose ends, not left out any important details, and is the tone of the book consistent?
Sometimes it’s so easy to lose track of the “little” things. The other day, while rereading a section of my wip, I realized I’ve had one character tell my protagonist (P.J. Benson) that she needed to spray a soap and water mixture around her door to keep boxelder bugs away, and P.J. says she doesn’t have a spray bottle. However, a few chapters later she notes that spraying the mixture around the door worked. Since she hasn’t been to the store or anywhere where she could get a spray bottle during this interval, I’m wondering how she pulled that off…and I’m afraid readers might also wonder
So do writers have to hire editors before submitting their work? I don’t think that’s always necessary, but I do strongly suggest having your manuscript read in its entirety by more than one person and asking these readers to not only look for typos, or sentences that don’t read right, or sections that aren’t clear, but to also look for continuity in tone, pov usage, tense, characterization, and all of the small details that populate a story. It’s the little errors that can turn a reader off.
By the way, the larger publishing houses usually also have COPY EDITORS. These editors make sure all of the manuscripts published by that publisher follow the house’s formatting and style guidelines. Copy editors also check to make sure factual material in the story (names of buildings, highways, plants, etc.) are correct.