what do editors do?

You may have heard that you need a book editor or editing services, but what does a book editor do? What does a freelance editor do? Are they the same thing? Book editors can often be mysterious. They work in the shadows, less flashy than literary agents, less public than manuscript creators themselves. This page breaks down the functions of a book editor so that you can understand a bit more about the masterminds behind the manuscript critique.

Publishing house book editor

What does a book editor do when they work for a publisher? Publishing house editors often operate in relative anonymity, unless you really start getting to know the publishing business inside and out. The reason is simple. Most publishing house editors consider projects sent directly by literary agents. They have little incentive to go out there and source material on their own (gone are those good ol’ days, alas). So they appear at writing conferences, give interviews, and make appearances on social media. But for the most part, they’re going to work at their respective houses, considering agented submissions, building their house’s lists, and growing their relationships with their authors and illustrators. The average writer will not spend a lot of time interacting with “closed house” editors unless they go out on submission with a literary agent, or get a book deal.

Editors at publishers that accept unsolicited submissions are a bit different. They want to attract talent, so they may be more public about their wants and personalities, online and at conferences. You may be able to submit to them, so you may interact with them one day, even if you don’t have a literary agent.

It’s important to remember that, while every editor at a publishing house has their own taste and talent, they work for their publishing house. They have to keep their houses’s particular brand in mind, as well as that of their imprint, and they have to choose projects that they believe will make both artistic and business sense. That’s why it can often be a big hurdle to be acquired by a publishing house and to work with one.

freelance book editor

What does a freelance editor do when they work for themselves? These are the editors you’re more likely to encounter if you want to invest in your own writing craft and hire professional editing services. A freelance book editor will take on projects directly from writers, perform the service of giving feedback on the manuscript, and, usually, answer questions about the scope of work. Since they make money by providing editing, they are very willing to hear from new clients and it’s much easier and more straightforward to work with them. For a fee.

While most publishing house editors do not charge their authors for their services (they are paid by their publishers, self-publishing and hybrid publishing editors are an exception here), freelance editors charge for their work, whether your book ends up being published or not. They provide a service. The service is manuscript critique that, they hope, you will use to revise your project and make it stronger and more successful.

what do editors do for you?

More and more, writers are hiring a freelance book editor as part of their goal to publish their work, or self-publish. They realize that the publishing landscape is very competitive, and they want to position themselves to make their dreams a reality. Professional feedback—backed by years of experience—is one of the benefits of using a freelance editor. Of course, you have to vet the editor very carefully and make sure they’re a good fit for you. You also should have some sort of agreement for the service that outlines the scope of work. What do editors do? Well, that depends on what type of editor they are, and what editing services they offer.

different types of editors

It’s important to know what you’re getting with an editor, what they will—and won’t—do. Some editors provide proofreading services only, where they work on grammar and mechanics issues. Other editors provide more in-depth feedback on your manuscript, called developmental editing. You can find a handy guide to the different types of editors here.

different editorial services

Editors can also be hired to provide many types of services. For example, I do everything from consulting phone calls to in-depth, intimate full novel edits. You want to find an editor who is qualified to provide what you need, and works in the category you’re writing. A novel editor wouldn’t be that great as a picture book editor unless they have experience in both spaces, for example. You can read more about how to find an editor here.

editing services Next steps

What do editors do? It’s a loaded question with a lot of answers. It really depends on the editor. But if you zoom out in a more philosophical sense, I will tell you why I’m an editor and why I love my work. To me, being an editor means helping writers reach their most passionate and personal goals every single day. That’s incredibly exciting and fulfilling.

I bring over ten years in the publishing industry to bear on every manuscript in my inbox, and really use that insider experience to put rocket boosters on my clients’ projects. Professional editorial services are an investment, but getting professional, personalized, in-depth feedback is one of the most surefire ways of speeding up your writing learning curve. Clients tell me all the time that they would still be fumbling around in the revision process, making mistakes, and falling into traps that I’m able to easily identify for them.

There’s nothing better than playing around with words all day long, and getting emails with giddy book deal announcements from my clients. I’m so invested in my work, and I hope to share it with you. Please don’t hesitate to check out my writing craft book or reach out for editorial services via the contact form, below.

Click here to purchase Writing Irresistible Kidlit, my book on fiction craft for MG and YA novels, out from Writer's Digest Books. This will show you my writing craft philosophy and give you lots of valuable advice, including tips for the novel revision process and self-editing. There are over 35 example novels cited and discussed throughout. It’s a valuable resource for any writer’s toolkit.

It genuinely feels like you’ve handed me a golden compass so I can trek off in the right direction now to ultimately find buried treasure. I’m so excited to not be wandering around aimlessly on this story any more. I can move forward on it now with confidence.
— Kendra