Two Too To Knead Need or Not to Need an Editor

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, invariably the question gets asked, ‘What do you do?’ When I tell them that I’m an editor, the first response is usually, ‘Oh, I’m going to write a book one day.’ Following on the heels of this is, ‘You must be really good at spelling.’ Some people will even go so far as to act surprised this job even exists anymore, considering the advent of spellcheck software. My reply is that editors are more than human spellcheckers.

Editing can be broken down into four levels, with each level building upon the other — like a house of cards. The strength of the card house relies on the sturdiness of each level, beginning from the first level up. When a manuscript is sent to an editor, the following steps will usually be taken:

Level One — Structural Edit

The structural edit looks at the way the story works as a whole. Is the plot working? Are the characters working? Could the story use some foreshadowing? Is there enough light and shade? Is the reader being spoon-fed, or has the writer left space for the reader to uncover information? These are the kinds of questions an editor will look to answer upon an initial scan of the story.

Level Two — Line Editing

The editor steps in for a closer look at the style of the manuscript. Is there a particular word, or group of words, that the writer has overused? Are sentences passive or of similar length? Are there too many adjectives? Mixed metaphors? Tired clichés? Is it clear who is speaking? Does the writer have trouble moving characters about from one scene to the next?

Level Three — Copyediting

At this point an editor would probably already have a style sheet underway. A style sheet will include the name of characters, places and words that need a consistent style. For example, okay or OK? American English or Australian English? Character profiles help keep track of a character’s appearance (he sweeps a golden lock from his forehead… didn’t he have red hair in Chapter 3?), their history or any medical issues. (Hmmm, allergic to shellfish mentioned in Chapter 3? So how can she be sitting down to an entrée of oysters in Chapter 17? Unless the writer is planning to kill this character off…)

Level Four — Proofreading

It’s actually really hard to proofread your own work. This is because your brain is such a clever and complex machine that it will actually skip over repeated words or supply omissions in text, for it knows what you meant to write. You might think spellcheck has this sorted, but anyone who has relied solely on spellcheck to provide them with clear copy knows all too well the pitfalls this could lead to.

  • To, two, too — all sound the same, but mean different things.
  • Their, they’re, there — same issue.
  • Affect/effect, cord/chord, crevasse/crevice, disinterested/uninterested, and omnipotent/omniscient — while they sound the same, these words are often misused and change the meaning of what the author has intended to say.
  • Formatting — could include checking for a single line (widow) or a single word (orphan) at the bottom or top of the page or ensuring design style is consistent (do all chapters begin on the right hand page, for instance).
  • Words that are repeated twice in succession.
  • Words that are omitted.

Do you knead need an editor? I think every writer does!

Karen Tayleur

Karen Tayleur


Karen Tayleur was a co-publisher of the literary magazine Brave New Word at the age of 20 and thinks nothing can replace the rush of writing — except maybe reading a really good story. She has worked as an editor in children‘s publishing since 2001 and has written over 40 books for children and young adults, published in both Australia and internationally. She believes it’s an honour to be part of a creative process that can bring joy, knowledge and inspiration to children’s lives.