I love editors and proofreaders. They make our books better!
In this article and video I go through why you should work with an editor, the different types of editor, how to find an editor and how the process works, as well as the (inevitable) mindset issues around criticism. Watch the video below or here on YouTube, or read the article below.
Why work with a professional editor?
If you are self-publishing, you need to edit your book pre-publication. If you are aiming for a traditional publishing deal, you want to submit the best book you can, so using an editor to improve your craft can be well worth it.
An editor's job is to take the raw manuscript and improve it – whether that be through structural changes, line edits, suggestions of new material, or sentence refinement.
A professional editor has training and experience in shaping manuscripts and they will see your mistakes clearly, as well as know how to fix them. While you are mired in the weeds, they have a bird's eye view of your work and can pinpoint what will improve it.
If you want your book to be the best it can be, then working with an editor is the best way to do that.
You will learn from a professional editor and improve your craft based on their feedback, then you can carry those lessons into your next book, so it is an investment in your writing future.
Importantly, the editor should not fundamentally change your book. They should shape it into a better version of itself, retaining your voice and ideas while at the same time, improving it for the reader. This is a careful balancing act, which is why experienced editors are so highly prized!
What if they steal my ideas/manuscript?
This is a common concern of new authors who think that editors will run away with their book and make millions with their idea. But don't worry! Editors are professionals and they work within a contractual framework that protects both parties.
You can also register your copyright first if you are concerned about this – just google ‘register copyright in <your country.> This is certainly not necessary since copyright is yours as soon as you create the work, but it can ease an author's mind.
For more on copyright and contracts, check out The Self-Publisher's Legal Handbook by Helen Sedwick.
Types of editing
There are several broad categories of editor.
A structural or developmental editor will work with you at a high level to shape the book into a coherent flow. They will read your manuscript and then provide a report that encompasses the entire book and will go through content organization, missing sections, tone and voice, as well as suggestions for improvement.
I used a structural editor for my first novel, Stone of Fire, and it helped me learn how to put the story together. Incredibly useful for that first book!
A technical editor is a specialist in a particular field and they will focus only on checking their area of expertise.
A copy editor or line editor focuses on improving sentences and grammar, as well as suggesting other ways of rephrasing ideas, and providing comment on anything else they pick up. Non-fiction books often use multiple styles, for example, chapter headings, sub-headings, action points, bullet points, call-outs and examples, so these will be examined at this phase.
The copy editor will usually use Track Changes on a MS Word document and this is the classic ‘red pen' edit where you can expect a lot of changes.
A proofreader is the final stage before publication. You will have made any changes based on the previous edits and then the proofreader will do a final check. They should not find much at this stage, but will likely point out typos or incorrect use of words, inconsistencies in formatting and other specific details.
You don't need all these editors for every book you write. But if you're struggling with the structure of your book, consider working with a structural editor. If you've never written a book before, then employing a copy editor is a good idea as you will have a lot to learn. And personally, I never publish a book without using a proofreader!
These are readers in your target market who read the book and offer comments on the content. They are not professional editors, so you can't expect them to pick up structural or grammatical issues, but they can be useful for feedback.
For my book, Career Change, I gave an early copy to people working in my department in the day job who I knew were dissatisfied with what they were doing. They came back with questions and suggestions for what to include as additional material. For The Healthy Writer, we asked medical doctors to read it as a sense check (even though my co-writer, Euan Lawson, is a doctor!)
I also use beta readers for specific cultural checks as I write about international settings and people. For Risen Gods, my beta readers included a Maori and a vulcanologist; for Destroyer of Worlds, I had a reader in Mumbai check it for specific details.
How to find a professional editor
Most authors will credit their editors in the Acknowledgments section of their books, so if there is a particular book you have enjoyed, then check out whether you can hire that editor. Many editors will have websites and write articles or go on podcasts, so you can usually easily find editors once you start looking.
Check whether the editor has experience in and enjoys your genre. This is critical because expectations will be different across the board. You don't want a literary editor working with you on a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller, or a non-fiction business book editor working on your romance!
Make sure the editor has testimonials from other happy authors, and check directly with the named client if you want to take it further. Some editors will do a test edit on one chapter, which helps both parties decide whether working together is appropriate.
You can find my list of recommended editors here: www.TheCreativePenn.com/editors
How much does an editor cost?
This will depend on what type of edit you require, as well as how long your book is, and how experienced you are as a writer, so there is no set figure. Each editor will quote their rates on their website, so compare when you do your research.
Every dollar I have spent on editing has been worth it and I continue to use editors for every one of my books. The more eyes on your book before publication, the better it will be on launch.
What if you have a tight budget?
Working with a professional is always the best choice, so if possible, then save up to work with an editor. But of course, some writers can't afford this, in which case there are some other options. You can barter with other writers in the same genre, editing each other's work, or providing other services you might be more skilled at e.g. Marketing tasks.
You can workshop your writing in a writer's group, but I'm personally wary of ‘writing by committee,' and this may impact your personal writing voice, the thing that makes you special. You can also work with beta readers, some of whom may have deep knowledge as readers and may be able to offer great feedback.
How to work with an editor
When you engage an editor of any kind, you should receive a contract with a timeline as well as a price for the work. You will agree to deliver the manuscript on a particular date and usually pay a deposit, especially if this is the first time you are working together. The editor will agree to deliver the edits back on a certain date.
There may be provision to have a call to discuss the work, or it may purely be the delivery of a structural report or a line edit or proofread manuscript. I've worked with professional editors for the last ten years and have never had a call to discuss, but if you're the type of person who wants that, then make sure you put that into the contract upfront along with anything else you are concerned about.
If you have questions about the process, now is the time to ask them. This is a two-way relationship and you need to behave as professionally as the editor should. I've heard nightmare stories from both sides over the years, and these can usually be avoided by communicating expectations upfront and getting the contract sorted out early.
Once the preliminaries are agreed, submit the manuscript to the editor – usually by email in MS Word format. They will return it to you on the agreed timeline with Track Changes and any other documents e.g. structural report, style sheet, other notes.
When you get that email, particularly if it's your first book, make sure you are well-rested and in a positive frame of mind before you open it. If it’s your first book, the editing process will be hard on your ego, but remember, the editor’s job is to make your book better and help you learn the craft. You are paying for them to give you critical feedback, not to pat you on the back and say ‘good job.'
If you have an emotional reaction to the comments, don't email back immediately. Let the comments rest with you for at least a few days and you will find it easier to accept them.
[If you're struggling, check out The Successful Author Mindset, available in ebook, print and audiobook]
Once you are ready, go through the manuscript and update your Master file, which for me, is always my Scrivener project.
I'd suggest working through each change so you can learn for next time, rather than just clicking Accept All on the Track Changes version. This will take time, but it's well worth it. I usually accept 80-90% of my editor's changes and the manuscript is improved considerably by the experience. After the line edits are updated, I send the manuscript to a proofreader for the final check before publication.