Recently, I received this question from a reader:
After reading your Ten Tips to Impress an Acquisition Editor, I have a question:
My question centers on what an acquisition editor expects when he or she receives a manuscript. I understand that if I was submitting a book to an agent or publisher that they would expect it to be perfect, but from what I have heard an acquisition editor buys a manuscript first, and then he or she has editing done in-house at the publishing company’s expense. Is that right?
Is it in my best interest to have my book professionally proofread first, or is this an unnecessary step and expense when submitting a manuscript to an acquisition editor?
First, to clarify roles, an acquisition editor is an editor at a publishing house who reviews submissions and acquires manuscripts. Usually when we refer to “publisher,” we actually mean the publishing house, which includes the acquisition editor. The position of publisher is usually the head of the publishing house; depending on the size of the company, the publisher may never have direct contact with your manuscript. In smaller companies, the publisher may become involved after the acquisitions editor recommends the company publish your book. In very small companies, the publisher and the acquisition editor may be the same person. So when you submit to an acquisition editor, you are, in effect, submitting to a publisher.
Regardless of whether you’re submitting to an agent or a publisher, anyone who is deciding whether your book is worthy of publication expects it to be well-written. No one in the publishing industry has time to wade through poor grammar and unclear writing to determine if the manuscript can be edited into a publishable book. On the other hand, once a manuscript is accepted for publication, the company will still edit the book to fit the company style. As to whether your manuscript needs to be professionally edited, I can’t say positively. Some authors use other writers as critique partners and essentially edit each other’s work. Some authors use beta readers who are knowledgeable about a specific genre and love to read and who are willing to read and give feedback on a particular author’s manuscript. Some writers have a relative or friend who can edit their manuscripts for them. What I will say is this: I think every manuscript needs to reviewed by one or more knowledgeable people besides the author. Every writer is too close to his own work to realize that a sentence isn’t clear—he knows what he meant so he understands it and can’t imagine that other people don’t. No one can catch his own particular errors that he doesn’t know are errors. He can’t recognize that a character’s actions appear illogical or out of character; because he understands the motivation, he forgets to explain it to his readers. My recommendation to every author is to self-edit their manuscripts using the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print and get their manuscripts as clean as possible. Then use one or more of the available outside sources: critique partners, beta readers, knowledge friend or relative, and/or professional editor. Naturally, as a professional editor, I’m biased toward that option. However, I suggest authors use one or more of the other options first. If you clean up your most common errors, the professional editor will have a much easier job and thus will usually charge you less.
I provide a free sample edit as part of the price quotation process. Sometimes, I recommend that the author use the sample edit to self-edit their manuscript one more time before coming back to me. Often taking care of two or three recurring errors throughout the book will make a significant difference. Then I do another sample edit to see if they have cleaned up the manuscript enough for a lower quote. Frequently that is the case. My job is easier and faster, and the writer saves money. And the writer has learned some things that will make their next book much better from the writing stage.
However, remember, that if your book is accepted by a publishing house, someone in that company will edit the book again—no matter how many times it’s been edited. Some issues regard style; not all grammar rules are hard and fast. When there are variations, some companies prefer one choice and other companies follow a different choice. As a professional editor, I follow what is common in publishing, but it may not be what a specific publisher prefers. The main thing is that there be consistency in the manuscript. When they are two choices in how to handle a situation, you can’t use them randomly in the same manuscript. Also, different “house styles” (what a particular publishing house prefers) may have stipulations such as no (or only x number of) flashbacks allowed. Some companies like prologues and epilogues; other companies don’t permit them. So a manuscript can be clean as far as grammar and usage errors but still have to be edited to ensure it meets the requirements of the house.
In the next post, I’ll talk about what to look for in an editor.
Image: © Depositphotos.com/alexmillos