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Do you need an editor?


That was a short article, wasn’t it?

At the MPIBA conference last weekend, just about everybody had stories to share of authors who don’t think they need an editor, or copyeditor, or proofreader. Most of them, in fact, don’t know the difference between those three (more on that in a moment). Well, if Stephen King needs an editor and a proofreader, so do you.

Let’s say you’ve just banged out an absolutely amazing 100,000-word novel. You have created unique and believable characters. Your have brought each scene to life, so that readers feel, see, smell, hear, and even taste the places in your book. And with the average word being about five letters long, you have pressed a half-million keys (not counting spaces and punctuation marks). The odds of doing that without a mistake are infinitesimal.

I’m sure you proofread your own work. If you’re like me, you’ve probably proofread your book many times. But there’s a problem with proofing your own work: you see what you think you wrote instead of what you actually wrote. You know the book inside out. You will often read right past a typo or continuity error. That’s why there are three people you really need to enlist (sometimes one person may fill more than one of these roles):

An Editor

Your editor is the one who reviews the book for continuity and flow. It’s the editor that might say, “spend more time explaining what’s going on in Chapter 3” or “I think Chapter 14 is completely superfluous.” Editors look at your plot structure if you’re a novelist and clarity if you write nonfiction. If you write YA or children’s books, it’s the editor that can tell you if you’ve hit your target age group. Good editors are experts in their genres. You may choose not to take their advice, but you should always listen to what they have to say.

A Copyeditor

Your copyeditor is the one that goes deeper than plot elements and structure. Copyediting involves checking your book for formatting problems, factual errors, style consistency, and other mechanical issues. If you say “see page 142” and the thing you’re referencing is really on page 144, it’s the copyeditor that will catch it — although in this era of ebooks, you really shouldn’t reference page numbers!

A Proofreader

Your proofreader puts your work under a microscope, looking at spelling, punctuation, grammar, and the minutia of language. Treat your proofreaders well, because they’re the ones that catch the really embarrassing typos!

An Example

There’s a book we’ve been selling for years in my bookstore. It’s called Scats & Tracks of the Rocky Mountains. Here’s what the cover of the 2nd edition looks like:

Scats and Tracks 2nd ed cover

The publisher has a new look for their Falcon Guide series, so they decided to redesign the cover. In general, it’s a good look. Everything went well until someone told the cover designer, “add an animal footprint on the front.” The designer added one, and they sent the book off to the printer. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the placement of the track:

Scats and Tracks 3rd ed

Yep. It covered the first letter of the title, changing the book from Scats and Tracks to Cats and Tracks. Even the big publishers need to use proofreaders more often!

The next Who Pooped book – the California Redwoods!

Last month, I finalized the manuscript for my 19th Who Pooped in the Park book, which will be called Who Pooped in the Redwoods.

I took this picture of a redwood grove in Hendy Woods State Park during the research trip.

I took this picture of a redwood grove in Hendy Woods State Park during the research trip.

Our intrepid regulars, Michael and Emily, will be hitting the road with Mom & Dad to visit Redwoods National and State Parks in California. Along the way, they’ll meet up with a host of critters, some of which we’ve met in other Who Pooped books, and a few new ones as well, like mountain beavers, fishers, tree voles, and ringneck snakes.

The book is scheduled to hit the streets in the spring of 2015. That may seem like a long time, considering I signed the contract back in July, but there’s a reason for that. I write these books in a grid: page numbers on the left, then a column for descriptions of the illustrations, one for the text on the page, and another for the “Straight Poop” sidebars. The manuscript comes out looking like this:

Manuscript section

This is a section of the manuscript for the Redwoods book.

When I had the manuscript done, I had two people proofread it before submitting it to Will Harmon, my editor at Farcountry Press, who went through it with a fine-toothed comb. He found a few issues, and I fixed most of them right away and argued with him about a couple of others. He does tend to be right most of the time, but I still win sometimes!

Each book is exactly 48 pages long. I put a lot of time and thought into arranging the story so that there will big beautiful color pictures, including two-page spreads, illustrating everything the family finds. But it takes illustrator Rob Rath even longer to actually draw those pictures. As I write this, Rob is sketching up his rough drafts for all of the pages. When he’s done, those will go back to Will, who will check everything carefully and then send it to me. I will look at all of the animals, scats, tracks, plants, and other content to make sure it matches the text and accurately reflects what that area looks like.

My books focus on ten main animals that appear in the scat & track guide at the end, but those aren’t the only animals in the books! I try to find a lot of other species that live in the ecosystem I’m writing about and work them in to the text and illustrations. This means Rob has to draw dozens of different plant and animal species in each book. Just to give you a feeling for it, here are the animals included in Who Pooped in the Redwoods:


  • Black bear
  • Black-tailed deer
  • Brush rabbit
  • California Grizzly Bear
  • Fisher
  • Gray fox
  • Mountain Beaver
  • Mountain lion
  • Northern flying squirrel
  • Porcupine
  • Raccoon
  • River otter
  • Roosevelt elk
  • Sonoma tree vole
  • Spotted Skunk
  • Striped Skunk
  • Townsend’s big-eared bat


  • Bald eagle
  • Brown pelican
  • Great blue heron
  • Northern spotted owl
  • Robin
  • Steller’s jay


  • Northwestern ringneck snake
  • Pacific giant salamander
  • Rough-skinned newt


  • Chinook Salmon


  • Banana slug
  • Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly
  • Sequoia Pitch Moth
  • Silver-spotted Skipper
  • Western Tailed Blue butterfly
  • Western Tiger Swallowtail
  • Yellow-spotted millipede

And that doesn’t even count the plants! Not to mention the fact that Rob has a tendency to sneak one or two of his favorite critters into the background here and there, which makes it even more fun.

Will and I probably won’t find much during our proofing pass – this is the 13th book Rob and I have done together – but there will likely be a few little things. Once Rob has made any required changes, he’ll do the final drawings and color everything. Then the book goes through one more proofing pass, which will involve a few more sets of eyes. The bar codes will be added to the cover and everything will be finalized. That’s when the book is sent out to be printed, which takes even more time.

By the time the book hits stores, it will have been almost a year since we started. I hope you’ll find it worth the wait!

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