5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Editing Experience

I consider the editing process to be absolutely critical to creating a professional finished product for readers.


Edit ruthlessly

It’s also one of the most painful processes as we have to take feedback on our creative work. Trust me, going this process will help your manuscript immeasurably. In today’s article, editor Cressida Downing outlines some ways to make the experience the most rewarding for you.

Self-published authors are often urged to get their work edited, to give it that professional edge – but it can be a costly and frustrating experience.  Here’s how to get the most out of your editing experience.

1.     Don’t pay your editor to pick up your (literary) dirty socks. 

As a writer, you’ll know if you’ve scattered your work with careless errors, but if you leave those in for the editor to deal with, you’re taking their time and effort away from other work they could be doing on your text.

You’re paying for this service, don’t waste it getting them to do your dirty work.  To labour the analogy a little further, clear the floor so they can spend their time mopping it properly.

2.     Make sure you’re getting the service your writing needs. 

Authors tend to want to get their work line-edited.  There’s something so tempting about getting every word you’ve written carefully pored over and lovingly polished.

The danger is that you will be getting the fine detail right, while the structure or characters need serious alterations.  If you suspect you will be changing anything major, don’t get a fine edit done.

3. Word count costs.

Editors charge by 1,000 words.  Reading and editing take time, and the longer a book is, the longer the time needed.

Before you send your book out to get edited – any form of editing – cut as much as you can, and it will save you a considerable sum.  A good editor will be giving you advice that reflects on your style, and can be related to other work, so don’t be tempted to send in the first three epic novels in your series.  The first one will probably give the editor enough to work on.

4. Make sure you’ve got the right editor.

Shop around.  There are an awful lot of editors out there, so try and get a recommendation or check for reviews.  Some specialise in particular genres.

There is no point sending your sci-fi fantasy novel out to an editor who never reads them.  Equally if you want your non-fiction scientific book looked at, make sure the editor you choose has the relevant background.

5. Advice you don’t like, don’t burn the report.

This last point is most pertinent for structural or critical reviews.  If you ask an expert to look at your writing and they point out things they feel you’re not doing well – it’s not a pleasant moment.

The temptation is to think they’ve totally missed your point.  They’re idiots.  What have you spent all that money on anyway?  There is no way you will keep your hero alive past chapter seven, that would be compromising your creative integrity!

Take a breath, shout at something inanimate, and see what parts of the report could be saying something useful.  An editor is really just a very very enthusiastic reader, and they want your writing to do well.  You don’t have to swallow all their suggestions whole, but do take time to consider what they’re saying.

Do you have any questions on the editing process or finding an editor? Please do leave a comment below and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

cressida downingCressida Downing – The Book Analyst – www.thebookanalyst.co.uk

I’ve had over 20 years of experience in publishing and bookselling and have been a freelancer for 14 years for a variety of professional clients (including literary agents, publishers, Reader’s Digest, and literary scouts), and aspiring authors. I’m a regular blogger for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and run workshops with them, with the Writers’ Advice Centre (on writing for children), and at writing festivals.

Structural critiques and submission advice start at £150 for three chapters.  Line editing also available at £8.50 per 1,000 words.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Dan Patterson

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  1. says

    If only every writer on earth would read this article :>)! I particularly love number one, “Don’t pay your editor to pick up your (literary) dirty socks.”

    In my case, there’s a bit more to this one. When I edit a really sloppy manuscript and it’s missing loads of full stops and quotation marks, it’s full of misspelled words (even though they were helpfully underlined by Microsoft Word in red), full of run on sentences with dozens of commas, (like this one, lol) and it’s clear that the author simply hasn’t bothered to clean it up at all–I have to admit I start losing a tiny little bit of respect.

    And that’s not good for either our working relationship, or the final product. If you don’t respect your own work, how can I? If you don’t care enough to clean up your end and make it as good as you can, that attitude will always show through somehow in your work. No amount of editing will counteract it.

    • says

      Sometimes that’s just ignorance. I have had a client thank me for explaining the difference between an independent and a dependent clause (vital for preventing run on sentences).

    • says

      It’s a good point. If you want to be an author, you should be comfortable with the tools of the trade. Sometimes I think it’s about the writer getting too caught up in an exciting plot. Great style can improve anything and conversely, even the best idea can be strangled by sloppy writing.

  2. mk says


    I would like to know more about an editor and the service they provide, my particular interest being in the story feedback they might give, before I hire them, yet I find it very difficult to get a read on them.

    They say send in a sample and they will give you a free sample, but that’s only really for line editing, which doesn’t interest me so much. Are there any ways to see a broader story based sample before you hire them? Do you know any who would put up a sample report say..

    • says

      Interesting point. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t put up an actual report because of client confidentiality.

      I am happy to discuss a possible report at length by email, covering anything the author is concerned about. A lot of my clients come to me by reccomendation so they may have seen another report.

    • says

      I think you’re looking for more of a developmental editor – it’s worth getting recommendations from other authors for this type of edit – preferably in a genre you’re writing in. I also think you need to be open to whatever feedback you get. There have been some editors who I have found difficult to work with, but I have still learned something important from every one of them!

  3. says

    Love this! Also, for the last point, I think it helps, when you get editorial suggestions you initially disagree with, to think of it not like, ‘why should I make these changes?’, but rather, ‘why shouldn’t I make these changes? Is there any valid reason not to take this suggestion?’ It usually gives me a different perspective, and that’s always useful.

  4. says

    Thanks for writing this, Cressida, and thanks for publishing it, Joanna, from another editor! I have told people to tidy their rooms before having me mop the floor before, to be honest (politely, obviously) although I have to say that I learned a lot when I flipped over to The Other Side and wrote a book – I was horrified by my editor’s comments and bristled and bridled at them like nobody’s business … before realising that they did actually improve the book (at least I got some blog posts out of the process, too!).

  5. says

    Wonderful post and discussion. The most difficult aspect for me has been finding the right editors. Writers have to be extremely careful about the editors they choose. There are a lot of writers AND AVID READERS out there who have decided to hang out an editor sign to pick up extra cash.

    Editing is expensive, and writers must know what they are getting. First, know what type of edit you’re looking for; and second, know if the editor is qualified to do what they say they’re charging for.

    I also agree with your other point of picking up the dirty socks. I am so thankful for editors who will take the time to help my manuscript shine, I sure don’t want them to think I’m a sloppy writer. I want to pay him/her to make good writing awesome!

    • says

      It’s also a little like choosing a spouse (although a lot less commitment), you need to feel on the same wavelength. I am never offended if an author decides that I wouldn’t be the right editor for them, they need to be comfortable when handing over their work.

  6. says

    Thank you, Cressida!

    As a teacher and an editor for my peers, I struggle to convince writers that #2 is crucial. Once #1 is done and all the dirty socks are in the wash, many writers think that the hard work is over. They’re so close to and in love with their work that they cannot endure criticism that extends to their craft.

    But if the story isn’t right – if the characters, setting, and structure aren’t clicking – who cares about spelling and mechanics? Readers won’t get far enough to worry about them.

    • says

      The hardest part of writing is getting your own unique tone and style, and that’s something an editor can’t do for you, although they can give you pointers to developing it.

  7. says

    A great bit of advice … I too loved the bit about the dirty socks. I am working on the final draft of my novel, and gone from 88,300 to 86,600 in the first half, but by make sure that every word counts … and taking out “crutch” words. The biggest challenge is finding the right “content editor”, which I am starting to work on now.

  8. says

    Great article.

    Is there an online service for authors and editors to find each other? Something with reviews of the editors perhaps. If you’re an unpublished author, and you’d like to find a substantial editor for developmental or large stroke issues, where can you search? Thanks.

  9. says

    I always do a sample edit for new clients, because not all editors and authors are a good fit. I want to be a good fit as much as the author wants to find a good fit, and I’ve turned down projects I knew I couldn’t do a good job on for one reason or another.

    There are many writing forums where you might be able to find a recommendation.
    LinkedIn groups for writers or editors, Absolute Write Watercooler and Novelicious come to mind immediately. I have some others listed on my Author Rescources page: http://lesliemillerwordsmith.com/author-resources/

    Best of luck to all of you who are looking for the right editor. It really does make all the difference, and can help you evolve as a writer very quickly, compared to going it alone or having your friends read your work and give comments.

    • says

      It’s also worth looking at editors’ websites to see if they have references or testimonials – you can see what sort of work they do and comments people have made about them. I get a lot of my clients through word of mouth, including editing work, so it’s worth asking other writers or people in your writing group or other networks who they recommend.

      Having said that, it does depend on genre and content – I have certain kinds of text I pass on immediately to someone else, as it doesn’t fit with my skills, experience and preferences.

      • says

        Yes, I’m gradually getting a list together of other editors that specialize in genres that are not my forte.

        I did once edit a chapter on network construction which was very technical. Not my area of expertise but sometimes a naive viewpoint can clarify the writing for the author regardless.

  10. says

    Thank you for posting this! I am sharing it around. Some editing jobs are very difficult, like when the author doesn’t know a dirty sock when he sees one or doesn’t understand how all those words could be extra. Those red marks, though, are opportunities for learning. I’m not sure we all realize that even the big-name, traditionally published authors have red-pen-brandishing editors. I’ve heard one call her editor “The Red Pen of Doom.” Lovingly, of course.

  11. says

    This is fantastic advice. I do tend to enjoy doing word-by-word line edits, but they are completely different than deep structural edits, and not all authors seem to realize that. A fine edit combined with a structural edit can be quite time-consuming. But the most important thing in my book? Communication between editor and author!

    • says

      Yes, communication is key. I always try and work out exactly what an author is expecting before we start working together. It can be hard though if it’s their first draft and they’ve not experienced any editing before.

  12. says

    The same works for blog posts, Joanna.

    Looking at your first section, you write:

    “As a writer, you’ll know if you’ve scattered your work with careless errors, but if you leave those in for the editor to deal with, you’re taking their time and effort away from other work they could be doing on your text. You’re paying for this service, don’t waste it getting them to do your dirty work. To labour the analogy a little further, clear the floor so they can spend their time mopping it properly.”

    Shouldn’t it be this instead?

    “You know if your work has errors, so why give them to your editor? You’re paying for this service. Give an error-free document.”


    On a personal note, I hate passive voice and unnecessary words. I am a harsh editor of guest blog posts.

      • says

        Agreed, Cressida. Your tone and phrasing, which is part of your writer’s voice, was definitely lost in the “edit.” That brings up an interesting point, which is the balance an editor must find between clarity/conciseness and style/voice. Less words aren’t always better, are they?

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