“What does an editor do?” in terms of ninjas

Ninja editing“An author working without a professional proofreader is a bit like a school bus with no brakes speeding toward a cliff on an icy road. And the school bus is on fire, and an angry ninja is stabbing the driver in the head.” – Scott Lynch

What is a proofreader’s job? What does an editor do? What’s the difference between an editor and a proofreader? And what are all these different kinds of editing – what’s style editing, what’s structural editing, what’s developmental editing, and who will help me kill the ninja? At last, the answers you need – in simple ninja terms.

Proofreading: Stops the ninja and puts out the fire

Your book’s about to go to press – but it’s on fire and the ninja is stabbing the driver in the head.  The Proofreader steps in, puts out the fire, and stops the ninja. Hurrah! Or, in more pedestrian terms, they get rid of all the errors, so you have…

  • perfect, natural grammar
  • correct punctuation and spelling
  • appropriate word choices (eg. I affect something and have an effect)
  • logical and style-guide consistency
  • basic fact-checking (Did Einstein really say that…?)

This is the last step before you go to print.  But if the bus is hurtling about jolting all its screaming passengers, that’s not a job for The Proofreader.  Enter… The Editor!

Style editing: a smoother journey

The Style Editor turns a screaming journey to hell into a smooth and easy ride, where an attractive steward serves drinks and nibbles to the passengers.

Style editing makes your book a pleasure to read.  It improves your style so the writing flows smoothly and hits the right tone for the reader:

  • changing sentence structure
  • rewording phrases
  • altering word choice for better style
  • reorganising sentences within paragraphs

So, an easy ride – but what if the bus is going in the wrong direction, headed straight for the cliff, shedding hubcaps and doors in its wake?  Bring on… the Structural Editor!

Structural editing: a better journey-plan and a better bus

This is the big stuff, where we spread out the whole journey map and overhaul the bus itself. When your book (or “bus”) is jerky and uneven, lurching from subject to subject, talking about chapter 2 throughout chapter 10, and generally a bit muddled, The Structural Editor swoops down with God-like perspective and arcane skills to put it all right:

  • a thorough analysis of your book’s structure
  • reorganising chapters, sections, & paragraphs
  • adding occasional segue sentences
  • rewording to link ideas together

Suddenly that wild crazy ride of London to Paris via Sydney to see Victoria Falls is a blissful, smooth-running world tour.  (Or, if you prefer, a well-organised book.) The Structural Editor’s God-like powers are a last resort, though.  If you want your journey planned well from the beginning, you need… The Development Editor.

Developmental editing: all problems avoided

When The Development Editor is on your side, the bus journey doesn’t go wrong in the first place.  Before the bus leaves, this editor tells you where the fire will break out, how to stop the ninja getting on board, which roads are gritted, and how to avoid the cliff.

This is the person who works with you from the beginning of the book, either as a book coach or through a series of reviews, to help you shape it. They help you plan, advise on style, keep an eye on the overall structure, and hold you accountable to your deadlines.


See?  Everything is easier if you just think in terms of ninjas.  And remember…
Ninjas can't catch you if you're on fire

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3 thoughts on ““What does an editor do?” in terms of ninjas

  1. Wow.. Finally.. The post that I have been waiting for since I stumbled on your blog Megan.
    This is very helpful not just for the indie book publishers but also for all writers in general. Although it is still recommended to hire someone like you to proofread and edit the book professionally, this simple guide and points to take note of is useful for the new writers. Thanks for this great post Megan!

    (Nice to have the social media buttons on your posts. It’s a lot easier now to share your posts on Twitter. ^_^)

  2. Pingback: Why you need a developmental editor | Thought Leader Books: The Blog

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