"The first draft of anything is shit."
Ernest Hemingway

What Does a Book Editor Do?

Many people think that editors are proofreaders who fix spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. Although this is part of what a book editor does, an editor’s role is far more intricate than simply being a grammar Nazi. An editor is the glue that brings the right elements of a book together, the broom that sweeps out the cobwebs, and the polisher that turns something that may have initially been substandard into a work of art.

I specialise in working with authors who require the services of an English-language book editor in South Africa and beyond. My job is to turn a manuscript into a masterpiece.

Why is it Important to Have Your Book Edited by a Professional?

Whether the language your book is written in is your first language or not, sending your book to print without first having it professionally edited is a gargantuan mistake. Many writers will submit their unedited manuscripts to publishers before they have been thoroughly checked by a professional book editor or proofreader and then wonder why they don’t receive a response.

The same goes for self-publishing. Many indie authors do their own editing and proofreading (often due to financial constraints), and my only advice here is: JUST DON’T.

You might be so excited to submit your manuscript to a publisher or upload it to Amazon that you skim over your content and only realise much later that there are glaring errors or huge gaps in the story line. As an indie author, it will probably be a reader who gives you a bad review, bringing the matter to your attention (and that of the reading public) in a most unwelcome (and irreversible) way. A bad book review can tarnish your book and your credibility as an author forever, especially if it has been posted on Amazon or Goodreads.

"Writing works best when it’s simple and direct. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be subtle, and clever, and elegant. It does mean that you can almost always prune and trim your text, thereby exposing the beauty that lies at the heart of it."

Types of Editing

There are three different types of editing that I offer, each one requiring different levels of involvement from a time perspective. The level of editing I will perform on your manuscript is going to depend on the finished product that you hand over to me. A well-written manuscript may only require the polish of a copy-edit (or a proof-read if it’s already been through the magic of an editor’s pen), but it might be the case that you’ve put your thoughts out there but there is plenty of work still to be done. I don’t judge, I simply edit.



Let’s tell your story better

Also referred to as structural editing or line editing, this is the most time-consuming edit. While I will automatically identify and correct technical errors (for example, spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax, and internal consistency issues) as I go through your manuscript, my focus will be primarily on helping you tell your story BETTER. I will edit your manuscript in painstaking detail to make sure that everything you have written makes sense, that the content flows (and that you haven’t gone off on a tangent), and that your use of the English language is correct. This process is not for the overly sensitive and can be quite ruthless. It may require full or partial rewrites, either from my side or yours. Stock up on tissues.


Let’s make sure everything works from a technical perspective

Even the most proficient writer can miss basic mistakes. Grammatical errors, typos, missing punctuation marks, and inconsistencies (both in your characters and your plot/setting, and in captalisation, spelling, numbers, fonts, and the use of hyphens and quotation marks) are often overlooked in the rush to get your book off to the publishers. Copy-editing involves checking that your content is correct (and in line with industry standards) and that your message is consistent, accurate and complete. You might still need a box of tissues handy, but less so than with a substantive edit.


Let’s sweep out any gremlins that might still be lurking between the lines

Proofreading is the final stage of editing and involves carefully reading the work word for word and making sure that textual and visual errors that were missed at the line editing and copy-editing stage are identified and corrected. No matter how proficient your editor was, don’t assume that they would have picked up on every little error. Neglecting to have your book proof-read before publishing is a disaster waiting to happen. One little typo that your copy-editor might have missed can instantly take your book from high-class to substandard. And trust me, no amount of tissues is going to be sufficient to mop up that ocean of tears. That said, once your manuscript has been thoroughly proof-read, you can breathe a sigh of relief and pop open the champagne.

The Editing Process

With me as your editor, I will determine the level of editing required, haul out my gigantic fine-tooth comb, make the changes or adjustments your book requires and give it the sparkling polish it deserves.

For me to determine whether I can take on your book or not, I will ask that you either email me your complete manuscript, or the first three chapters and the final chapter. Editing a book is a time-consuming process, depending on the level of complexity of the subject matter, as well as the quality of the writing, and I cannot determine the type of edit your book requires without first seeing your manuscript. PLEASE (I ask with great big crocodile tears in my eyes) DO NOT SEND ME YOUR FIRST DRAFT. If your manuscript is little more than an initial word-vomit of unconsolidated thoughts and ideas, I will politely send it straight back to you. Rather spend some time refining your manuscript until you are confident that you are getting your message across in a clear and cohesive manner.

Once your edit is complete and your book has been proofread, I can guide you in terms of the next steps (i.e. getting your book published), especially if you are looking at independently publishing your book locally, internationally, or both.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does is take to edit a book?
    Editing a book depends largely on the quality of the writing and the number of words you have written. A substantive can take up to four months to complete, whereas a copy-edit can take three to four weeks.
  • My manuscript is in a language other than English. Can you edit it?
    Unfortunately, I only edit manuscripts written in English (British/American).
  • I’m based in another country. Can you still help me?
    I generally don’t need to meet my editing clients in a face-to-face environment, so, yes, I take on work no matter where you are in the world. I have edited books for clients in the United Kingdom, South Africa, the USA, Ireland, Australia, Rwanda, Zambia, and beyond. All I require is your manuscript in Microsoft Word, sent to me either by email or via a Dropbox link. If we find that we need a bit of face time, there is always Zoom.
  • Do you only edit non-fiction?
    My preference is working with non-fiction material, especially memoir, inspirational stories, and business books. I have, however, edited children’s and adult fiction, and will do so if the work is of a sufficiently high quality.
  • Can you help me get my book published?
    If you are considering independently publishing your book, either as an e-book, a paperback, or both, the answer is a resounding YES! I can work with you to get your book published on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Tolino, OverDrive (and many more), and make your paperback available to bookshops worldwide through IngramSpark. I am highly experienced in metadata research and selection, as well as genre selection, which will help ensure that your book always comes up in people’s online searches relevant to its genre. Please click through to the Independent Publishing page of my website for more information. If you want to go the mainstream publishing route, have a look at the Getting Published section of my website for general guidance.

If you’d like to work with me as your editor, I’d love to hear from you. Please complete the form below. It will be sent directly to my email inbox at phillipa@phillipamitchell.com and I will respond within 48 hours. Alternatively, you can contact me directly by email by clicking here.

Some Recent Projects

Here is a small selection of some of my favourite books that I have had the pleasure to work on to date.

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