Winning The Hearts And Minds Of Your Readers Through Editing With Matt Gartland

If you want to be a successful independent author, I believe that editing is one of the top things you can do to set yourself apart from the pack.

There’s only so far you can go with self-editing, and critique groups sometimes don’t quite hit the mark. In today’s interview, I talk with Matt Gartland from WinningEdits about his tips for editing.

Matt GartlandMatt Gartland is an editor for indie authors, a freelance editorial strategist, and an independent business consultant. His site offers great advice for indies as well as providing editing services.

  • Matt wants to help indie authors win their reader’s hearts and minds. In terms of his personality, his editing style is no nonsense and direct. The author can then take a professional approach to editing and the process that emerges from that. Matt wants to take indie authors further than the stereotype of self-publishing, and work with those who are dedicated to a professional ethos around editing.

What should you do before engaging an editor?

  • A certain amount of editing should be done by the author before it is handed over to an editor. A good editor still can’t save a bad book, or bad writing. But a book after editing should have more ‘weight’ to it in terms of the characters for fiction, or the content for non-fiction. A professional approach to maturing the concepts as well as the language of the text is part of the editing process. But we sometimes lose perspective when we try to continue editing on our own. We fall into patterns that sometimes it takes someone else to see.
  • First drafts vs. what you give to an editor. Matt quotes Neil Gaiman – first drafts don’t matter but it is a continuous struggle to think this. We naturally want to self-edit as we write that first draft material. But take what’s in your head and as a non-sequential, creative process, just get it on the page. Worry about refining later. The first draft is just about getting something down so you can work it in the subsequent drafts. I talk about struggling with my own first drafts in terms of getting the stuff from my head onto the page. But no one is going to see this draft so we should stop worrying so much. 
  • It is important to only engage an editor when the book can’t go any further in your own hands. You need to mature your ideas on your own. Then pay someone to take it further. This will mean you get the best service and the editor can do the best job.
  • Try using beta readers, lovers of your genre who will read and critique the book which will help improve it before using an editor. Matt recommends friends and family but I think it must be people who enjoy your genre first. They read for free and often, finding authors in your genre to swap books with will help. Here’s more of my thoughts on copyediting and beta readers. They give feedback from a reader perspective e.g. plot points, characters, what they liked, what they skipped. Then you can revise from there.

On pricing for editing, and return on investment

  • Matt wrote a guest post for me on the competitive advantage of editing where the comments contained quite an in-depth conversation on pricing. Matt charges 6c per word (as of June 2012) and different editors have different pricing models. It is a weighty proposition for indies to engage an editor, as a good editor is not cheap. You are empowered to choose your team but this is also a responsibility. You do need to have a business savvy mind so you can engage at the right point. The story needs to be well developed before you submit. You should also have a plan in place to maximize your investment e.g. be ready to publish yourself or take your manuscript to an agent/publisher. You won’t get a return unless you consider publishing as the next step.
  • Anyone can get a top ranking at first but customer reviews sell books, and a well edited book will sell more in the long run because readers will prefer it. A bad book will sink out of sight based on bad reviews. So this is an investment that will pay back to you once it is for sale. I also think that cover design is the other non-negotiable. Matt mentions his article on Downtown Abbey on Copyblogger here.

The worst mistakes indie authors make

  • Leaving grammar aside, the opening of the book is critically important. An indecisive, muted or timid opening will mean readers click away. You need to set the terms in the first few pages so you can then fulfill the reader’s expectations. A prologue can be a strong opening, but the first chapters have to hook readers.
  • It’s important to have the narrative present high stakes, so your characters appeal to the audience. This will create drama and the reader will be lost in your story. This doesn’t have to mean the ‘end of the world’ type of stakes, but can just be the character’s perspective. It’s got to be appealing to the reader emotionally.

How to find the right editor to work with

  • It is an ongoing struggle on both sides! Word of mouth is important in terms of finding an editor you ‘click’ with. Listen to your writing group or other writers online. I have a list of recommended editors here.
  • When you engage with an editor, ask a lot of questions upfront. Find out about the process of engagement as well as cost. Be sure you understand the gradients of editing. Get to know them on a more personal level.

On criticism and how to deal with it

  • There is a moment when the editor gives you the feedback. I talk about waiting 10 days to open my first report from an editor. We are paying someone to do the job of making our work better but it still hurts! Matt talks about the developmental editing report which he presents which starts to get the writer in the mind for change. This is the first part of the process, before the line editing which can be harsher to experience, but it gives the author time to react to some of the suggestions.
  • Editors do need to show compassion. Understand that rewriting is a natural and good thing. It’s a partnership. It’s important to highlight what is good as well as what needs improvement. Examples are useful in the feedback.

winning editsYou can find Matt at and on twitter @mattgartland

You can find details about Matt’s editing services here.

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  1. says

    Thanks again Joanna for inviting me onto your show. As in every show, you did a great job narrowing in on some very important themes for indie authors / author entrepreneurs.

    If anyone has questions, please feel free to leave them here in the comments. I’d be glad to share any additional insights that may help.


  2. says

    Great advice, thank you! Wish I’d seen it about six months ago…before I hired an editor to work with my manuscript. It all worked out…I think…mostly because of my excellent critique group.

    • says

      Our pleasure, Michael. Glad to hear that your project worked out well last time. Though aiming for continuous improvement is always good. Hopefully some of these ideas will make your next book endeavor even smoother and more rewarding!


  3. says

    Very good to point out how both beta readers and editors can help authors in general. I think a lot of people just use beta’s and say “That’s it! My book is ready!”

    • says

      I only use beta readers after my main edit as
      1) editors are paid to do a thorough job whereas betas are reading as a ‘reader’, not as a critique partner. Editors are therefore professionals, and beta readers are the amateurs.
      2) it’s important to respect the beta readers time, so giving them the best version you have is critical
      3) beta readers will often do reviews based on the draft they read so it’s important to give them a version that is very nearly complete.

  4. says

    Great information for authors! Just wondering, however, do male writers tend to seek out male editors and female writers — female editors? Does it matter? Maybe not when it pertains to grammar, etc. But what about content? Will the male editor put a different spin on the female writer’s prose, or will the female editor understand the female writer … better? Maybe a silly question, but I’ve often wondered about it.

    • says

      Fascinating question, Pamela. Generally speaking, I don’t think it matters. I’m absolutely unbiased when it comes to the talent between males and females. In most cases, I wouldn’t think twice about it. The only time I *may* think about it is if the material is particularly sensitive in some fashion. As an example, I was recently approached to edit a very emotional story that has to deal with female life experiences. In that case (and for a variety of reasons), I elected to bring on a talented female editor to co-edit the manuscript.

      I hope that helps. And thanks for asking.


      • says

        Thanks Joanna and Matt … I’ve always hesitated hiring a male editor. Many men, I’m finding, love my work. Therefore, it shouldn’t matter a hoot. Thanks again, for your input.

  5. says

    Excellent advice, as usual, Joanna. Thank you.
    I wonder if I might suggest a similar post, but with a nod toward cover art and relevant selection process advice that you might have in this area. I’d love your take on the subject.
    Keep up the great work!

  6. says

    Very insightful and (of course) well written. These are pieces of advice that I will need in the very near future. I appreciate blogs like this one so much! Thank you!

  7. says

    Very good advice. Dealing with the sting of criticism is one of the hardest things for me to do constructively, yet it is this criticism (from knowledgeable, qualified individuals) that helps me improve the current piece and my skills overall. I know this, but I never -ever respond to an editor’s comments the same day. My big mouth would get me in trouble. :-)

  8. says

    My last two books have discussed the subject of hiring an editor, and I agree with you: The number one mistake in hiring an editor is to hire someone before your manuscript is really, absolutely ready.
    I charge by the hour. I would not charge my editing clients per word or per page, and here’s why: I want the most nearly error-free manuscript they are capable of producing. I don’t want to dick around with their punctuation mistakes, their grammar issues, continuity problems, misspellings, missing words, etc. I want to encourage my clients to do their own scut work. Why would I charge someone who has taken the time to correct grammar and punctuation mistakes, find those missing words, ferret out those misspelled words, and deal with continuity issues the same amount as someone who hands me a sloppy manuscript? My role is not to hold the hand of an aspiring author and patiently explain the rules about quotation marks, hyphens, and commas. Nooo! I finally got so put out that I published a style guide and make my authors buy it and swear they’ve read it before I’ll touch their manuscripts. Pretty nervy of me, but there it is. Life is too short! The style guide puts the onus of punctuation/grammar issues back on the soon-to-be-published author and allows me (The Editor!) to fulfill my true role, which is, to my mind, improving his or her book’s readability.
    Charging by the hour is a straightforward representation of my time and effort. Charging by the hour rewards the serious client. It’s fair to me, and it’s fair to my clients.
    And I believe in the serial comma—I couldn’t care less what AP says.

    • says

      Hi Liz-

      Very powerful comment. Thanks for adding great energy and perspective to this conversation. I particularly like your style guide approach mostly as it is an educational resource, and I believe that a good editor is a great educator.

      Your opinions on pricing are also compelling. What we share in common is a resolute commitment to pricing that reflects value as a function of skill, instinct, attitude and service.

      Thanks again!


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