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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

5 reasons to hire a professional book editor

How a book editor is like a personal trainer for books

One of my specialist subjects in my book editing business is ‘active women and intuitive movement’ (and especially the benefits exercise has for our mental health, rather than exercising for aesthetic reasons).

I identify as an active woman: I go running three times a week, plus a weekly Pilates class, and a weekly circuits class. I’m even a member of a Facebook group called ‘CIEP Run On Group’ which is a group for the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) members who like running – which is where I got the inspiration for the cover image from. The main drive for all this exercise is for my mental health: outside + endorphins = happy me. The physical fitness side is an added bonus.

I make sure that I network with plenty of women who work in sport so that I can add my voice to the campaign for increased visibility of and better support for women in sport, as well as ensuring I use the correct language surrounding sport and exercise. I assume that most of these women (and my runner friends) have used a personal trainer or running coach at some point.

Hiring a professional editor is much the same as hiring a personal trainer: we both want to get you (or, your book) in the best possible shape. Here’s how we do it.

1. I have certified qualifications

I’m sure you all have a friend who is ‘great at English’ or ‘a real bookworm’, so you don’t feel you have a need to use editing services. But there is so much more to proofreading and editing than understanding what semi colons are for or knowing the difference between ‘affect’ and ‘effect’.

Before I took my proofreading courses, I had no idea what an en-rule hyphen was; what the standard formatting is for UK English publications; nor what ‘widow’ and ‘orphan’ means. Now I do. This technical knowledge is what turns your book from being free of mistakes to really looking the biz. Using a professional editor means your readers won’t be able to tell the difference between your self-published book and any other book on their shelf. I also have over 14 years' experience editing and proofreading a wide range of content.

It's the same when you use a PT. They’ve studied hard so that they understand the physiological impact of the exercises you’re doing. Sure, you can follow workouts on YouTube or go to the gym with your fitness buddy, but being taught by someone who understands how all your muscles connect and is there to correct your form will make a huge difference to your performance.

2. I undertake continual professional development (CPD)

Because it’s my job to edit books, I am constantly connected to different ways to improve and update my knowledge. I take accredited courses, I’m a member of several different proofreading and editing groups on Facebook, I read blog posts on subjects to do with editing that I’d never considered before, I use guides written by the CIEP, I read books about editing, I listen to podcasts…

Two bookshelves with reference books about editing and various non-fiction titles
When I'm not editing, I read about editing! Photo credit: Siân Smith

As a member of the CIEP, there is an expectation to take CPD seriously. However, this is a standard I uphold, regardless.

Personal trainers also pursue CPD: whether it’s to specialise in post-natal exercise or to keep their training fresh (you wouldn’t want to work with a trainer who was using the same routine they first came up with twenty years ago!).

3. I know where to turn when I don’t know the answer

One of the key differences between an enthusiast and a professional comes from their connections and accessing reliable resources. As I briefly mentioned in the previous point, I’m a member of several groups online filled with fellow editors and proofreaders. I also make full use of the CIEP forum, which is only available to CIEP members.

While my training and experience provides a solid foundation of knowledge that I draw on most days, there are times when I need a second opinion. All professional editors experience those times when you’ve been looking at that comma placement for far too long and you just need someone else to let you know how they’d tackle it. Recently I got in touch with a Scottish proofreader so she could double-check my use of capitals for a tartan name (for my dad’s memoirs).

Google is usually terrible in these situations because the internet is full of errors. Plus, I only edit in UK English, which often has a completely different set of rules to US English. So while your bookworm friend may have the best intentions when they look things up for you, they may unwittingly end up being advised by an incorrect source.

There are certain reference books that all professional editors are expected to use as their first port of call, as well as following a recommended approach to editing, ensuring that each piece of written content follows the same high standard.

The personal trainers I know have a reliable group of fitness professionals whom they can rely on for feedback on sessions, or even attend their classes to check the best way to teach a new exercise. This is a completely normal part of the process. A bit like teacher training days at school.

4. I’m not your friend (but I am friendly)

If you ask your friend to be ‘totally honest’ about your book, I’m pretty sure they will hold back. After all, why would they want to hurt your feelings?! As a professional editor, I can objectively comment on the strengths and weaknesses within your book. Don’t worry, I don’t bark at you (I literally leave love hearts in the comments of your manuscript for the things I love).

A woman, smiling, squatting in a gym with equipment behind her. She's wearing glasses, has blonde hair in a plait and is smiling at the camera. She's wearing a black vest and purple camo leggings.
A friendly face that isn't a friend. Photo credit: Siân Smith

An objective point of view also has a huge advantage for improving your writing because your authorial voice needs to leap out at me, whereas if I know you, I’ll subconsciously read your book with your voice and emotion behind it.

I experienced a similar thing when working with a personal trainer. I felt more comfortable talking frankly about my struggles and found my PT would be less likely to go easy on me (though, again, in an encouraging rather than overbearing style!).

5. I will adapt to you

I always encourage authors to let me know if there is any particular aspect of their writing they struggle with. Whether it’s a tendency to write long paragraphs, knowing they can’t spell, or not having a clue what a comma splice is. This means I can look out for these particular errors while I’m editing. Of course, I always edit to the same standard each time, but it helps if there are certain areas I need to pay even closer attention to.

The same is definitely true when working with a PT. My core strength is absolutely non-existent, so my PT would ensure she included exercises to improve this, but modified in a way that I could actually do them.

We also work together to get your book in the best condition it can possibly be. As with personal training, if something doesn’t feel comfortable then you don’t have to do it. As the author, you always have the final say.

OK, so there's a bonus reason for working with a professional editor. But this is one that won't be experienced until you've finished the programme: the discernible difference a professional editor will make to your book. A combination of all the above (and more) means working with me, rather than your well-intended friend, means your book will be published to a professional standard.

Three years into running, my PB for 10K seemed firmly stuck at 56–57 minutes. I found a PT and told her I was a runner, so I wanted a regime that would complement and improve my running. Six months later I achieved a 10K personal best of 53:54!

Working with me on your next book means you’ll be achieving your own personal best. And remember the point I made earlier: it’s YOU who puts in most of the hard work. I’m just there to add some strength and conditioning to take your book to the next level.

I'd love to get your book in shape 💪🏼 Photo credit: Siân Smith

If you haven’t used an editing service before and you’re not sure what it involves or what the next steps are, contact me to arrange a FREE call so I can find out more and see if we’re a good fit:

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