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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

How much does an editor change my book?

Updated: May 16, 2023

The most common concern I hear from authors during our discovery call is the worry that an editor will change their book beyond recognition. I’ve spoken to authors who have received sample edits from other editors and been disheartened by the number of changes to their writing, causing them either not to proceed with that editor or not to publish their book at all.

First, it’s really important to understand that there will be numerous amends to your manuscript. Many of these will be grammatical: changing a colon to a semi-colon, ensuring verb and subjects agree, etc. However, during your discovery call, I encourage you to let your editor know whether a previous editing experience has put you off the idea of having your book edited or if you’ve delayed seeking an editor because you’re worried about how much an editor will change your book.

My number one aim when editing your book is to help you produce a professional book that sounds like you.

A pile of open books with a cup of coffee in the middle, with part of a laptop keyboard visible in the top left corner. A caucasian hand with dark nails and rings on each finger holds one of the books open.
A professionally edited book should still sound like you. Photo credit: EBM Brand Photography

How a book editor is like a make-up artist

The best analogy I can apply to this is how we use make-up. I first shared this analogy on my social media and I was amazed by the number of people (both within and outside of publishing) who told me this summarised my approach to editing wonderfully.

I have different levels of make-up. I’ll happily head out make-up free when I’m exercising, popping to the shops or on the school run. If I’m networking I’ll go for my everyday look (brows and lashes). When I’m heading out for a special event (a wedding, party, or date) I’ll add my ‘natural make-up look’ (brows, lashes, concealer, blush, bronzer).

This is akin to when deciding when editing really matters. Publishing your book is not your everyday writing. It is a grand statement to the world that what you’ve written is important and a reflection of YOU. It’s going to live on people’s bookshelves and in their minds for an indefinite amount of time. Just as you might invest in quality make-up or a make-up masterclass when you have a special event to attend, it’s crucial to make plans to budget for quality editing.

However, quality editing does not mean a complete makeover. It’s about applying the minimal number of touch ups to create the best version of YOUR book.

Allow me to expand here.

Hopefully you will agree that both photos below look like me. However, there is also a discernible difference between the two.

A selfie of a caucasian woman with blonde, wavy hair, gold and brown round glasses. She is wearing a black hoodie with neon pink ties.
Photo credit: Siân Smith

A selfie of a caucasian woman with blonde, wavy hair, gold and brown round glasses. She is wearing a grey jumper with black animals.
Photo credit: Siân Smith

One is me, make-up free; the other is still me, but after a make-up masterclass. The version of me with make-up helps me feel more confident but it’s also a look reserved for special occasions; it’s not my everyday look.

The ‘natural make-up’ look is understandably popular because it helps you present your best version of yourself, without becoming completely unrecognisable.

My editing style

Editing, and particularly my style of editing, is like natural make-up for your book. You want people to read it and be able hear your voice and instantly recognise YOU in there. But you also want to present the best version of your writing. You don’t want your reader to become distracted by typos and spelling errors, or having to re-read any sections to make sense of what you’re trying to say.

One of the reasons I ask authors if they’ve ever used an editing service before is so we can discuss what they did and didn’t like about that experience. If they didn’t like a heavy-handed approach, I know I need to apply a lighter (but still professional) touch to their writing.

I recently received validation for this approach when I was working on the second round of edits for Tulshi. In one of the comments in Word, she told me, ‘Really like how you made such minimal but powerful changes to the sentence’.

A screenshot from Microsoft Word commenting tools which reads: Tulshi Varsani (author): Really like how you made such minimal but powerful changes to the sentence 😊 Sian Smith: yay!
Photo credit: Siân Smith

The book editor and author relationship

Additionally, I want to emphasise that YOU are the author. All decisions you make about editing and amends are YOURS.

I struggle to find any lipstick that I like. I’ve tried different brands and shades but I just don’t feel comfortable wearing lipstick. Editing your book is exactly the same. If your editor re-words a phrase or passage in a way that doesn’t sound like something you’d say, you don’t have to use it. (Spelling and grammar are slightly different: there are right and wrong ways to spell and use punctuation – just as you wouldn’t really use eyeliner on your lips.)

If you think you’re after the no make-up look for your book, let’s get started with a discovery call my emailing

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