TEC Editing Tips of the Year: 6 Dos and Don’ts for Authors

by TEC Editors

Published at 2022-01-12

It’s 2022, and the start of a new year may be enough for you to feel inspired to tick off some of the items on your to-do list. If one of the items on your list is to write or publish something, whether it’s a book, a journal article, or something else entirely, then it’s a good idea to go into the process armed with as much information as you can get (for more help, take a look at Building Your Publishing Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide for Authors).


So, we rounded up our very best tips – the ones we think every author should know – and compiled them into this blog to share with you. Keep these in mind as you begin your journey into the world of editing (you can also check out our guide The Author’s Guide to the Pre-Publishing Editing Process for more tips).



Understand the Difference Between Proofreading and Editing


If you’ve finished the drafting stage for your book and you’re ready to move on to the editing stage of the process, it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with the different types of editing that you’ll need to choose from. It is important for you to understand and identify what kind of editing your book will need.


We often get queries from callers and clients about the services we offer, and one thing that comes up time and time again is proofreading vs. editing.


For one, “editing” can be broken into a number of subcategories, from line editing to structural editing to copy editing and more. Generally, the two types of editing authors most commonly ask about are developmental editing and copy editing.


Developmental editing is an intensive process wherein the editor evaluates the manuscript as a whole, looking at the larger structures of the book: chapter setup, the way the book progresses, overall flow, themes, etc. Think of it like “big picture” editing.


Copy editing is what most people would traditionally think of when they think of “editing” – if developmental editing is the “big picture,” then copy editing is all the tiny details at the other end of the spectrum. A copy edit polishes the mechanics of writing, such as sentence structure, sharpens your phrasing, and corrects grammar and spelling. It also ensures consistency throughout the manuscript, such as ensuring words are spelled the same (judgement vs. judgment, for example) and the preferred style of punctuation is maintained.


Proofreading, on the other hand, is what happens after a developmental edit and copy edit have been completed. It involves reading what should be the finalized manuscript, post-editing. At this point, editors read carefully to catch any typos, inconsistencies, and formatting errors that may have been missed or introduced during production and layout. A proofread will catch misspellings and typos, but it is no substitute for an in-depth copy edit.



Timing Is Everything (Permissions Requests)


If you’re including content taken from somewhere else in your writing, whether it’s song lyrics, images/photos, text from other books or articles, it’s important to always secure permission to use this content in your manuscript. This often entails reaching out to the copyright holder, usually the publisher of the content, and asking their permission to reprint the borrowed content.


What many authors don’t realize, though, is that the permissions process can take weeks, or even months, depending on how many items you need to clear. There’s usually a lot of correspondence and research involved!


For example, permissions editors usually find themselves on a wild goose chase, being told Company A owns the rights, only to reach out and learn that no, Company B actually holds the rights – then reaching out to Company B and being told that they don’t own the rights after all, and they don’t know who does.


So, if you’re having your book published, make sure you start the permissions process as early as humanly possible, because you never know how long the process will take. Heck, Senior Editor Beth reached out to Marvel for permission to reprint something in 2013, followed up multiple times, and to this day has never heard back! (Of course the author opted not to use the content without permission.)



Schedule In More Time than You Think You’ll Need


New authors are often unfamiliar with the editing process and how long each stage of editing can take, so when you’re planning out your publication date, make sure you allot more time than you think you’ll need for each step in the publishing process, from rewriting and going through marked-up manuscripts, back-and-forth with your editor, and even taking the production and layout/design process into account as well.


A healthy buffer added to each step of the process will ensure you don’t run the risk of falling behind schedule if one step takes longer than you thought it would (which is common).



Determine Your Budget Before Reaching Out to an Editor


So, you’ve finished your last draft and you know your manuscript needs editing – but how much will it cost? This is one of the most common questions editors hear from clients and authors, and it’s a good one to feel out before you start contacting editors.


To start, TEC offers a free resource for authors that can help them estimate their own editing costs so they have a better idea of what to budget: our Budgeting for Editing Calculator. It will help you estimate how many hours of work you might need (ballpark, anyway) and how much the hourly rate for that work will be.


Another place to check out is the Editorial Freelancers Association website, where they list the average hourly rates for different types of editors/editing work.


So, if you have a 200-page manuscript (double-spaced, 12-point font), and the average speed of a copy edit is five pages per hour, then you know it could take about 40 hours for an editor do complete the work. If that editor’s hourly rate is $45.00, then your ballpark estimate would be $1800.00.


Yes, editing can be expensive – that’s why it’s important to go into the process armed with information and eyes wide open, so you know what you’re getting into. You can allot time to save up, if needed, and even look into ways to bring the costs down, such as doing a bit of self-editing (our Best of TEC Tips guide might help you with that) or considering whether your manuscript really needs to be 200 pages long.



Stick with Microsoft Word!


If you’re getting ready to work with an editor, please, do not be tempted into formatting your manuscript in any special way, such as using a pre-formatted template or any kind of design or layout software.


The best format for a manuscript is a Microsoft Word document, in 12-point font (preferably Times New Roman), double-spaced. The reason behind this is that most editors use the Track Changes function of Microsoft Word to make the edits to a manuscript, as it enables the author to see every suggested change and then reject or accept each one as they see fit. (Our resource Working with Track Changes: A Guide can also give you a step up on working with this tool.)


Yes, we know other programs offer this kind of function, such as Google Docs – but have you ever tried to load a Google Doc manuscript with over 120 comments and hundreds of edits? I have. It did not go well.


Microsoft Word may have its faults, but the software knows what it’s doing when it comes to the Track Changes function. Why mess with what works? It’s simple, very little fuss, and it’s the gold standard for a reason. So, stick with Word, and we’re positive your editor will thank you!



Watch Your Word Count!


This is an important tip. If the publisher asks for a 20,000-word manuscript, then as the author, you need to write 20,000 words. We know how easy it is to keep writing once you are on a roll, which often leads to going over the requested word count. We also know that cutting content can be hard to do, especially if you are satisfied with the final the completed draft.


It is not uncommon for authors to ask editors to cut the excess wording to meet the requirement. This is a fair request but only if (a) the editor is paid well for this work and (b) the author understands that this has to be before the final draft is edited. If cuts are made by the editor, the author needs to approve them and needs to be sure the content’s meaning has not been changed in any way.


The best practice is for the author to take the time to finish your draft, step away for a day or two, then come back and begin trimming the word count. As the author, you know best what is “excess” and what can be taken out. Again, be sure to build in the time you will need for writing and revising your manuscript before sending it to your copy editor.