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 Gartland is an editor for indie authors, a freelance editorial strategist, and an independent business consultant. His site WinningEdits.com 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. 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.
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.
- For me, editing is also about learning. You can improve on the first level of mistakes and then move onto the next level of mistakes. Matt mentions the video with Neil Gaiman's commencement address on “Make good art” – well worth a watch!
You can find Matt at WinningEdits.com and on twitter @mattgartland