Guest Post

Help Us Help You by Tellwell editor Rachel Peterson

Whenever I receive a submission to edit, I can say with some aplomb that no two are alike. While each manuscript varies in its editing needs, the editing approach hardly deviates. There is but one goal in the mind of every editor: make the book better. As an editor at Tellwell, I’d like to provide some insight regarding the role of the editor, what editors look for from authors, and how you can prepare your submission. If you’ve completed your book or haven’t yet started, read on. Tellwell editors are ready to help you when you are, akin to that quotable from the Jerry McGuire movie, “Help me help you.” To know that, you need to know what we do.


What is the role of the editor at Tellwell?

Generally, Tellwell editors look for the same things that other editors do, but it’s probably easier to start with what Tellwell editors are not. We are not acquisitions editors and we don’t hear from literary agents. So, what do Tellwell editors do exactly?

We make mark-ups and comments: suggestions to reach clarity and total readability of a book, so the book does its job of reaching its readership.

That’s editing in short, and we do that in four ways.

An excellent first step in the editing process is an evaluation. We write an objective assessment on the strengths and weaknesses of your book, looking at plot, for example. An evaluation gives you a preview of what your book may need help with in an “as it stands” view.

Substantive editors champion writers’ voices by ensuring the narrative flows by logic of ideas and structure. We may ask about why the hero is picking up a sword on page 69 when she had already done so on the bottom of 68. In fiction we ask: what is the story here? What is not working and why? This big picture editing also works for non-fiction. Either type of book has a message; we will query about that and make suggestions based on the book’s directive.

On a grammatical level, copy editors will survey for overused words, for example, or move chunks of sentences so that what is being said makes sense. This line by line editing is what most people think of when they think of editing. Proofreaders check the nitty-gritty like spelling, and verify every comma is correctly placed. Proofreading is the last editing stage before publication. Before editing can begin, though, it would help to know what Tellwell editors look for.

What do Tellwell editors look for from authors?

Editing a manuscript cold is often how I start my day, meaning it’s me and your manuscript, which is unlike the cozy experience of pulling a book off the shelf and reading the back cover or being able to browse neighbouring books on a similar topic. I evaluate or edit based on the text —not the cover (because that’s still in development), and not even the title. As an editor, I look for anything else to warm me up to your book, to better understand the book as a whole, its direction, its intention, and its readership.

That anything else could include the much encouraged synopsis —a handy writer’s tool. Synopses not only warm up editors as pre-reading but also act as valuable time savers to help us quickly identify the type and style of book. Synopses are especially encouraged for lengthier novels and need only be one page. A synopsis challenges the writer to sum up the book. If you can nail down the synopsis, it’s a good indication that you have a well written book.

Another warm-up is the writer questionnaire we provide. This gives editors like me some insight about who you are and why you wrote your book, and lists the front matter and back matter (like the preface or author bio) that you are including with your book submission. The questionnaire is wonderful “getting to know you” information in an author-editor relationship that may be strictly electronic. Editors look for these accoutrements, but then comes the manuscript itself.

Preparing Your Submission

During the writing process, formatting the manuscript should be the last priority, but the first when planning the publishing of your book.

Since Tellwell editors are the roll up the sleeves type, we appreciate books that have a clean presentation, that follow the standard manuscript format, which helps your editor approach your book through a visibly clean set of pages, without the distraction of formatting surprises that only detract from the editing: to improve your book on both the narrative and sentence level.

Here’s what your manuscript should look like in preparation for editing:

Manuscript Format

  • Double-spaced
  • 12 point font
  • Black font only
  • Times Roman font (Courier New or Ariel are fine, too)
  • One inch (2.5 cm) margins on all sides
  • Indented paragraphs ½ inch from the left (or close to 1.25 cm)

What to Avoid

  • Coloured fonts
  • Graphics or images (in the early editing stage, graphics don’t need to be included; the editors are focusing on the text only)
  • Indenting using tabs or spaces. Become familiar with your word processor format options.

With a bit of insight now into what Tellwell editors do and how you can approach us with your book, you can help us help you produce your best book possible.

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1 Comment
  • Tellwell Blog Dec 13,2017 at 6:30 pm

    […] more information on Tellwell’s editing process, check out this blog post by Rachel Peterson, one of our […]

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