These days I’m objecting to the term ‘self-publishing,’ because we all need a team to put a great book out into the world. This is not something you do by yourself.
Finding an editor is a bit like dating – you have to try a number before you find someone who is the best match.
I’ve been through a number of editors in the last few years, and I’m thrilled to now be working with Jen Blood, who is a brilliant editor but also writes the same type of thrillers as I do. She gets my style of writing, and she understands my violent streak and doesn’t try to rein in what makes me me. What she does do is help me to craft a better book by suggesting structural changes and then doing detailed line edits. Jen is my type of editor – of course, that doesn’t necessarily make her the right person for you! Here’s a list of resources for you to check out if you need to find an editor.
As I get so many questions about editing, I’ve asked Jen to answer some of the most common ones. Over to Jen!
What are the different types of editing that authors should consider?
In addition to the job of the final proofreader, there are three primary types of editing: Content, copy, and line editing.
Content editors are concerned with the big picture in your novel. Structural issues like plot holes, wandering timelines, character inconsistencies, excessive exposition, lagging pace… All of these fall within the purview of a quality content editor.
Copy editors do basic fact checking and help with the readability of your novel, ensuring that the prose is smooth and the style consistent. Line editors focus on punctuation, grammar, verb tense, spelling, and all those niggling things that drive most sane people mad.
At the end of it all, the proofreader takes your final, final, final manuscript and ensures that every comma, colon, and umlaut is exactly where it should be.
In most instances today, you’ll be able to hire one person to do both copy editing and line editing for one price, and there are content editors out there who perform all of the above, though they are rare. Personally, I have a graduate degree in popular fiction and have spent most of my life deconstructing plot and pacing, so content editing is my specialty, but I’ve also worked for over a decade as a copy and line editor for traditional publishers, businesses, and individual authors. Consequently, I offer all of the above through Adian Editing.
What if I want an agent or traditional publisher? Should I get an editor then?
Absolutely! There will never be a tougher audience for you to try and sell your book to than an agent or publisher. Back in the good old days when publishers could afford editors for their authors, this was less of a concern. Today, however, it’s up to you to present a publishable manuscript to the agent or publisher right out of the gate. A good editor is crucial to that process.
How do you find the right editor/s for your book? How do you know they’re any good?
(1) Ask yourself what you’re looking for.
Do you just want a line editor to make sure you’ve got everything in the right place and you haven’t made any egregious punctuation or spelling errors? Do you need a content editor who will address big-picture issues? Are you looking for someone who follows all the rules laid out in the Chicago Manual of Style, or are you hoping for an editor with a more creative flair? Are you hoping to learn something during the editing process, or do you just want to send your manuscript off for editing and be done with it? There are no wrong answers here, but you should have a clear sense of what your goals are in the process before you begin contacting editors.
(2) Don’t go to the yellow pages.
Rather than doing a general Google search, ask writers you respect whose work has been well edited for recommendations. Visit Writer’s Digest, the World Literary Café, or other popular writing sites, and visit the message boards there. There are frequently areas where editors can advertise their services. Keep in mind, however, that there is a difference between advertising on a site and being endorsed by them. Just because an editor is listed on a particular website doesn’t automatically mean they are great at what they do. Due diligence on your part is still crucial.
(3) First contact.
When you have two or three or five names of prospective editors, check out websites and contact them to find out if they are taking on new clients. You should receive an answer within two to three days at the most (remember—editors are busy people, too, but they should get back to you in a reasonable time frame regardless). Find out whether they specialize in content, copy, or line editing, what genres they are most enthusiastic about, whether they offer a sample edit, and—of course—what their rates are. Many editors will offer either a free sample edit of your first chapter or one for a small price, say $25.
(4) What to expect.
During your initial contact with a prospective editor, don’t expect them to wow you with some kind of incendiary insight into your work and how it’s about to set the world on fire right out of the gate (though wouldn’t that be nice?). Settle instead for prompt, courteous, professional responses from an editor who takes the time to find out a little bit about you and your work. I have a standard questionnaire I send to anyone interested in my services, which gives me an opportunity to get to know the client and ensure that we’re a good fit and our expectations for the process mesh. You want someone who shows at least a little bit of enthusiasm for you and your work.
(5) What to look for in a sample edit.
If you are able to find an editor who offers a free or inexpensive sample edit, take them up on it. There are a few things you should look for when the sample edit is returned. First and foremost, is it back to you within the time frame the editor promised? Missing that first deadline is a giant, flashing red flag. Your editor may be the best on the planet, but if she consistently misses every deadline you give her, the experience is bound to be frustrating. Once you have the sample back, what kind of changes have been made or suggested? Does the editor offer insights you may not have thought of before? Does she give you a reason for why certain changes have been made? Is she enthusiastic about your work? These are all signs that you’re on the right track in your quest.
What is the price range for editing? What should I expect to pay? How do I know I’m getting a good deal?
There is a huge price range for editing services these days, but in general for a quality edit you’re looking at between .75 – 2 cents per word for proofreading, 2 – 4 cents per word for copy editing and/or line editing, and upwards of 2 – 6 cents per word for a good, qualified content editor. You’ll want to find out up front if the cost includes revisions, or if you’ll have to pay extra for the editor to look at your work again once you have made changes. As for whether or not you’re getting a good deal, ask yourself what you hope to do with this novel. If you want your book to sell, whether to a traditional publisher or by publishing it yourself, how well do you think your unedited manuscript will do? A good editor can mean the difference between critical accolades and scathing reviews. How much is that worth to you?
I don’t have much money and editors are expensive. What should I do?
Editors can be pricey, there’s no way around it. If you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and just don’t have the cash, look to your peers. At the very least, you need to have a circle of beta readers who will go through your work, and in exchange you can offer to do the same for them. Some editors—including myself—will offer a partial edit of the first few chapters of your novel for a reduced price, providing you with at least a starting point so that you have an idea what to look for yourself in the remainder of the manuscript.
If you have a valuable skillset like graphic design, web design, or marketing knowhow, you might offer a bartering arrangement with an editor. Or, visit a nearby university to find out if there are any qualified students (or professors, even) who would provide an inexpensive proofread or copy edit. There are ways around the cost issue, so never let money—or the lack thereof—be your reason for putting out a subpar novel. You’ve written a book, the equivalent of running the marathon of your life. Hiring a qualified editor means the difference between you limping across the finish line or soaring past the competition.
What if I disagree with what the editor says? How much of their advice should I take on board?
Ideally, your editor is seeing your work after (or at the same time) you’ve had two or three trusted beta readers go through the manuscript. If, however, the editor is the first person besides yourself to read the novel and they return it to you with suggestions you believe are completely off the mark, you can do a couple of things. The first is to give the unchanged manuscript to the aforementioned beta readers. If they come back to you with the same suggestions, you’ll know that your editor may have a point, much as you might not want to see it.
Then, ask the editor about the reasoning behind their changes. Is the story lagging? Was there a plot hole you forgot to fill in? Or do their changes feel more about stylistic differences related to your unique writing voice? If that’s the case, it is a much more subjective issue, and I recommend making a list of the suggested changes with which you disagree. Then, talk to beta readers or fellow writers who know your work. Don’t approach this as a b**chfest where you go off on the editor and your friends assure you that you’re a genius. Instead, approach them with, “My editor has some changes I’m not sure about. Can I run a few things by you, and see if you’ve had similar reactions you might not have noticed, or if they’re off the mark? I just want the novel to be the best it can be.”
As for how much advice you should take on board, I don’t know any author who takes every single suggestion their editor makes. The choice is yours with respect to stylistic changes, but hopefully your editor isn’t doing a lot that you feel impacts your writing style, anyway. Simply look at the editor’s reasoning behind some of the more significant suggestions they’ve made, weigh the validity of their argument, and then make your decision. We’re not gods, we’re just editors. You won’t get struck down if you choose to pass on a few of our ideas. J
My manuscript came back covered in red ink/littered with Track Changes. I’m really upset by the comments. How do I cope with the difficulty of being edited?
Okay, here’s the sad fact: If your editor is not returning a manuscript covered in red ink/littered with Track Changes, you need a new editor. That’s our job. Our number one goal is to make your work look brilliant. We aren’t judging you, we aren’t trying to make you look bad, and we certainly aren’t saying your writing isn’t fabulous. We’re saying: “Hey, good manuscript—here are the things you can/should do to make it even better.” Because that’s what you’re paying us to do.
It’s hard to divorce yourself from the emotional element of producing this creative work, and to begin to view your novel as a product (I know—I used the ‘P’ word) rather than the flesh of your flesh. The editing process, however, is a great place to start doing that. How are you going to handle negative reviews from readers if you can’t handle constructive criticism from someone you’re paying to give it? Take a deep breath, recognize that all writers go through this pain, and try to listen objectively to what your editor is saying about your work.
With that said, you should never feel like you are being persecuted, diminished, or mocked by your editor. This is an important relationship, and you should feel first and foremost like your editor is in your corner. She wants you to succeed. She loves your work. She is enthusiastically plugging your books when they come out, and talking to you about your characters like they are mutual friends. You don’t have to be BFFs who hang out online every day—in fact, chances are slim that that will be the case—but you should definitely feel a high level of trust and mutual respect. If that’s lacking, it may be time to look for someone new.
Do you have any comments or further questions about editing and editors? Please do leave them below and join the conversation.
Jen Blood is the bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries, and owner of Adian Editing, where she offers comprehensive content and copy editing services of plot-driven fiction, as well as writing coaching and classes on writing and self-editing. She has worked as a freelance editor for Random House, Aspatore Books, Hyperink Press, Maine Authors Publishing, and individually for a long list of independent and traditionally published authors. Jen is currently accepting new clients, with a few spaces available through the end of summer and into the fall. Visit http://adianediting.com/ to learn more about her services, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a $25 sample edit of your first chapter.
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Nic McPhee