Want Your Editor to Adore You? Do This!

Have you ever been tempted to skip over professional editing and just have your friend the English major take a look through your manuscript instead? Or hire a cheap flat-rate proofreader and call that “good enough”? Nobody really cares about a few mistakes—it’s the story that matters, right?

Think again! Good editing is an investment—one that independent authors have to weigh against the value and potential increase in revenue it will generate for them. It’s tempting to keep that cash in your pocket…but in the long run that can end up costing more.

Although we do our best, no editor or proofreader is perfect! The more errors a manuscript starts with, the more will remain after an edit is done. It’s generally accepted that qualified, professional editors will achieve at least a 95% accuracy rate, and I’ve seen estimates as high at 99.9%. But what do those numbers mean, exactly?

I made about 2,500 edits to a recent 100,000-word manuscript (and that was a fairly light edit!). If my accuracy rate was 99%, there might still be as many as 25 errors remaining that I didn’t find (I promise there aren’t that many!). But another editor or proofreader going through that same manuscript after me, at a 95–99% accuracy rate, will find 23–25 of those remaining errors.

Why am I telling you this? Because the fewer errors the manuscript starts with, the fewer will remain after the editor does their magic. Also, when a document is crowded with small mistakes—misspellings, inconsistent formatting, etc.—it’s harder for an editor to locate the subtler revisions to grammar and style that make such a difference in how the final product feels to the reader.

Here are three things you can do to get the best value from your editing budget:

1. Spellcheck – with a twist!

  • Start a custom dictionary file and make it your default.
  • Enter all the names from your manuscript, as well as foreign or original (such as scifi/fantasy) words. You can open the .dic file in textpad to add or edit entries.
  • Run spellcheck, which will now catch errors in spelling of names or original words, as well as standard spelling errors. (And your editor can cross this off the list of things to keep their eyes peeled for, which frees up energy and attention for other things! Include a copy of the dictionary file when you send them the manuscript.)

2. Replace overused words! We all have “go-to” words we use too frequently in our writing; what are yours? Some common ones: suddenly, just, really, great, try, sigh, smile – check here for more, and read your own work carefully to figure out yours!

You can also use this software to count word frequency for you (there are online utilities that you can use as well). Often the word can be simply omitted from your text, and other times there are better, more accurate or more vivid words to use instead.

3. Practice correct dialogue punctuation:

“Don’t eat that!” said Mary.
“Don’t eat that,” said Mary, “it’s rotten.”
“Don’t eat that.” Mary grabbed the apple. “It’s rotten.”
“Don’t eat that,” Mary said, grabbing the apple, “it’s rotten.”

I’m a copyeditor because I’m passionate about the details and subtleties of grammar, punctuation, and style. I love receiving a messy manuscript overflowing with errors and inconsistencies for me to fix, and I love returning a clean, polished document back to my client at the end. But I love it the best when I know the author is going to be as happy with the result as I am, and that happens as the result of an effective working partnership and excellent communication. Your editor is on your side—help them to help you, and the results will be a win-win!

(Want another seven of my best tips? Sign up to Self-Edit Like a Pro *points to the right* and the PDF is yours!)


Robin J Samuels is the owner of Shadowcat Editing, an independent editing service where every client receives personalized editing and proofreading services tailored to their specific needs. Shadowcat specializes in fiction genres including romance, urban fantasy, thrillers, and LGBTQ, and nonfiction material on the subjects of business, finance, and self-help. In her spare time Robin is a devoted cat-mom, sometime webcomic author, and an expert-level binge-watching TV junkie.


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