The ART of Exceptional Editing

By Deb Haggerty, @DebHaggerty



ed•it \’e-dət\ vt [back-formation fr. editor] (1791) 1 a : to prepare (as literary material) for publication or public presentation b : to assemble (as a moving picture or tape recording) by cutting and rearranging c : to alter, adapt, or refine esp. to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose. (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, p. 396)

After an author writes their book, the editor’s job is to perfect the manuscript. We make note of changes, areas to tighten or delete. We look for clichés, overused words, and grammar and punctuation errors. And typos—amazing what misteaks mistakes tired fingers and minds make.

Software programs with features like Track Changes make editing both easier and more difficult than in pre-computer days. Editing is easier as we can make/undo changes with one mouse click. Comments are easy to add or delete. Pages or quotes can be instantly reformatted. However, changes are so easy, we can inadvertently erase an author’s voice or methodology. We can forget our job: to alter, adapt, or refine … to suit a particular purpose. The author and editor should work as partners—both striving for the best book. An experienced author is familiar with the process and knows changes will need to be made.

New authors are … new. The process is new, Track Changes edits are new, the necessity for proper formatting and following the rules of editing is new. Many new authors are grateful for editorial help. They know our experience can help them perfect their craft and produce the best possible book. New authors take more of an editor’s time because we teach as well as edit … if we fulfill our role to prepare their work for publication and to enable them to write better going forward.

The most difficult author is one who thinks they have written a masterpiece, but we sigh at the banality of the story. Typos, clichés, and grammar and punctuation errors abound—the story leaps from point of view to point of view within a single paragraph. When we send the manuscript back to be substantially rewritten, they don’t understand because, “God gave me these words to write!” or “I couldn’t possibly change my book the way you suggest.”

What can we do to make our (and their) jobs less challenging and more collaborative? We can practice The ART of Exceptional Editing. The A of ART is attention to detail. Make sure the manuscript is grammar, punctuation, and usage errors-free. To do this, we use a variety of reference materials ( Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, The Chicago Manual of Style, Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms, the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style by Robert Hudson, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors by Kathy Ide, and more). We need to stay up-to-date: rules change; our language is fluid. Consistency is needed throughout the document. Publisher’s stylesheets and submission guidelines are invaluable.

The R of ART is responsiveness. When an author submits their manuscript, they anticipate our prompt response. Is the book good? Do you like it? When do you think you can have changes back to me? E-mail facilitates our communication.We should respond to an inquiry or question within twenty-four hours if possible. Unless we work expeditiously, we delay publication. Once the manuscript has gone back to the author, they need to respond in kind to accept/reject the changes we’ve suggested. If they disagree with us, we need to discuss those areas, they need make any changes of their own and then return the book to us for final edits.

Teamwork completes the ART. When we work as a team following the rabbinical method of editing, “Come, let us sit down together and work to make this perfect” rather than the Socratic method, “I am the expert. You sit and listen to what I tell you and make the changes I direct you to make,” we have the best chance of success. Practicing The ART of Exceptional Editing is good for both author and editor.


Deb Haggerty is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Elk Lake Publishing Inc., a traditional, royalty-paying, Christian publisher that “Publishes the Positive.” As an author, blogger, and professional speaker, she’s been published in over twenty books with fifty-plus articles. Deb, her husband, Roy, and Coki the Dog live in Plymouth, MA.

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