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You Don’t Need an Editor? Mistake!

person in blue and white sailboat on body of water during daytime

An Introduction to: "The Importance of Being Edited"


A friend recently finished the second draft of his book. He is publishing it privately, printed on demand, he told me. He showed me the first printed copy. It was beautiful. The cover was handsome, the binding held it together perfectly, and the edges were cut square and evenly all the way around. I opened it to read a few samples at random.


Then I freaked out. There was a misspelled word, right on the first page.


I looked a little further and saw a couple more typos, but I realized that there was more than spelling errors that were bothering me. Somehow some of his paragraphs didn’t seem to follow from their predecessors, and the introductions to chapters didn’t seem to build on the chapters that preceded them – or actually to introduce the topics of the chapters they headed. I was having trouble following his train of thought.


That shouldn’t be, I thought. My friend is one of the smartest people I know. We have long and deep conversations that engage my mind fully — sometimes after dinner over a glass of wine, and sometimes during the day while we dig drainage ditches together on the land around his house. I enjoy our time together, especially our conversations.


I also love the topic of his book. He is engaging with important issues that have been overlooked for centuries and turning a light on them from a novel and important perspective. This book is so important that it should have been written two hundred years ago.


So what happens if he publishes it the way it is, and its first readers and reviewers stumble across words that are spelled wrong, or they can’t follow arguments that are disorganized and confusing? You know the answer, or you would have stopped reading this long ago.




My friend needed an editor, that’s all. His thinking was profound and important. But in the midst of writing, he did a few things that we all do.


For one thing, he skipped over explanations of things that he assumed everyone knows. He knows them so well…


It’s not like he consciously makes the assumptions; rather, the thought of explaining these things didn’t even occur to him as he wrote. He’s been thinking about these things for years, and they are so familiar to him by now that he didn’t see any need to write transitions from one to the next or explain that they were linked by such-and-such a relationship.


For another thing, he wasn’t sure how to organize his material, so he had just written it in the order it had occurred to him, figuring that he would come back later and rearrange the material when he could see the whole string laid out. But by the time he got to the end, he was too close to the material to see what order it should come in.


Lastly, he knew the material so well that wrong spellings didn’t stand out when he tried to proofread it. Reading sentences he had written himself; he knew what they said, and his eyes involuntarily skipped over individual words.



My friend needed an editor, true enough, but that’s not enough.


   He actually needed two broad types of editing, the big stuff and the small stuff, the broad organization and writing skills to make his points clear and then the sentence by sentence polishing to make it perfect.


Editors break each of those two broad categories down further. For example in the broad category they speak of developmental editing, which offers advice on the whole arrangement of the material – the order in which chapters should appear, the pacing of the presentation, the logic of the arguments,  the need to write additional explanatory passages, and suggestions to cut out whole chapters or sections that would distract readers from the main topic.


There’s a second kind of editing that I think belongs in the broad strokes category, and that is line editing. Line editors suggest to the writer how each paragraphs works, how to rearrange the paragraphs to make the story or the conversation understandable to the reader, and where to shake up sentences to make them work better. The line editor’s job is to keep the reader from getting confused by individual paragraphs and sentences coming in the wrong order as he plows through the book or the chapter.


These two categories overlap, in my opinion, and sometimes I can’t tell where the line is between them. So when I take on a job, I often do both at the same time.


When those are done, the polishing begins. The copy editor takes over to make the sentences right – subjects agree with verbs, pronouns match the nouns they stand for, clauses and phrases come along in the right order to make the reading easy, and dangling participles get un-dangled – that is, grounded in the subject – and punctuation and spelling is consistent throughout. And paragraphs have topic sentences that are clear and guide the reader.


And finally, the proofreader checks spelling and punctuation – every word, every sentence, every punctuation mark, every citation, and every reference and chapter number must be correct, and in each category the practice must be uniform throughout the manuscript. No typos! Get it? That’s what proofreaders do.



Kim English, the novelist and blogger, wrote about it better than I did. Here is an excerpt from “The Importance of Being Edited,” which she published in 2015.


The Importance of Being Edited

It’s never fun to read a critical review, but even worse than a reader who simply didn’t like your book is the critique that says something like “And on top of it the typos and punctuation errors on almost every page really made me cringe.” How can this be when we pour hours and hours revising and editing, running spell check and combing through our manuscript searching for mistakes?


I liken it to housekeeping. Ever walk into someone’s house and think, “Oh, my, how many dog/cats do they have?” Walk into your own house, though, and you are far more likely to overlook the dishes in the sink or the Eau de Fluffy because, hey, it’s your house and you clean on Sundays and it’s only Friday, right? Same with your manuscript, which you know by heart. You know you meant “you’re” not “your.” But without a fresh set of eyes, one that doesn’t already know every plot twist, you will miss things and people will notice. This is where an editor comes in handy. Even if you don’t plan to self-publish, an editor can be an invaluable tool along with your critique partner and beta readers, in getting your manuscript in the best shape possible.


Kim English, Novelist and Blogger, written September 15, 2015 and downloaded Sept. 2, 2022, from <>


Enough. And, yes, I did have an editor look at this before I published. You ought to know that.


Smooth Sailing,



P.S. (added at a later date) My friend finally agreed to let me work on his MS, and together we solved a few problems. He has since published, and his testimony about our experience together appears on my Home Page under his name, Rabbi Rob Abramovitz. The book is A Rabbi’s View of the Gospels. I recommend it. (I would, wouldn’t I.)


And if you’ve had a realization as you read this, Contact Me at jrnewcomer(at)protonmail(dot)com . Make the move.