Working with editors is a hard leg on the journey of publishing. From finding recommendations, vetting their abilities, and paying for their services, it can be a complicated ride for a novice.
If you’ve tried using Google, you’ve probably made your head spin from what type of editing is needed to the roller coaster of prices and such. To learn the broad differences between developmental, line, and copy, check out this post (bit.ly/WwDOrders).
The best way to find editors is to ask in writer groups like @20Books Editors Edition (https://www.facebook.com/groups/YourEditor/) or @Fiction Writing (https://www.facebook.com/groups/611602735649133/).
By asking in groups, you gain access to a mixed bag of bias reviews from friends and honest reviews from clients. You can ask to see examples, get a list of clients, see real-time pricing, and check how the potential editors act on social media.
The last seems the least useful, but you want someone who acts professional. If they aren’t respected by their peers, it could be a conflict of personality or because of work quality.
Find what price range works for you and look at editors in that range. If you know you can’t afford an editor at 5¢ a word, don’t waste their time, your time, and get your hopes up by requesting a sample. One of the biggest misconceptions is novice equate price with quality, and that is the furthest thing from the truth. There are editors for every budget, and you have to invest the time to find them.
When working with editors, some offer a free sample edit and others charge a small fee for x-amount of words—usually around 1500 words. Both options are valid when trying out editors. If the one you want to work with doesn’t offer a sample edit of some sort (free or fee oriented), as a novice, you probably should avoid them for the time being. For those who offer samples, take the same piece—I use short stories to test editors—and have all potential editors edit the same piece. This allows you to compare: how they are different, similar, how they handle your author voice, and how they provide feedback.
Warning: Do not choose the editors that make fewer changes/suggestions. Just like degrees can’t be used to determine how good an editor is, the least amount of changes doesn’t mean your writing is “perfect.” In general, it means the editor isn’t qualified enough, is relying on programs like Grammarly/ProWritingAid, and may be applying a “proofreading” instead of an edit.
Editors in the modern age use Microsoft Word or Google Docs. I mention this now, because they should handle edits via Track Changes. If you don’t know what track changes are, check out this book to learn more about Microsoft Word (mybook.to/WriterGuidePink).
Track changes are essentially an overlay between your story and suggested changes. You can easily accept or deny the options with a few clicks of the mouse. The editor can leave comments and suggestions in specific spots while giving reasons they recommend those changes. This feature is also handy for beta reader feedback and proofreaders.
You’ll want to compare the sample edits. Did the editors hit the same things? Were there different things they touched that fall into the grey area of grammar and punctuation?—these grey areas are “artistic” license moments. Are the editors available to discuss things you don’t understand? Did they explain why they made some choices?
If an editor just makes changes but never explains why, can you learn from those? That doesn’t mean every change should have a comment bubble, but if it is a notable issue/recurring issue, then they should explain why so that perhaps you won’t make that mistake in the future.
On to the dos, don’t, and expectations
Things to do:
- Run it through a basic spell checker—Word and Google Docs have built-in ones. There are also programs like ProWritingAid.
- Know your word count—hard to get a ballpark price if you don’t know how many words your MS is.
- Have the document in either Microsoft Word or Google Docs—see track changes above—AND have the file saved and labeled with your name (or pen name) and the book name. Example: LilithSinclair_OrbCollector.
- While some editors don’t care about format/layout, I suggest you send them Shunn style for submissions because it is an easy to work with layout. This style can be found at Shunn.net (look at the menu of the page to find the manuscript format link) or in the Writer’s Guide to Microsoft Word.
- Allow time between wanting edits and publication/submissions—The average editor edits a seven hundred—a thousand words an hour; you can’t expect them to have a novel done in a few days (not to mention they have other clients and lives).
- Be consistent with POV and tense (present tense vs past tense, and first, second, or third POV). The occasional slip happens.
- Make sure the editors you look at edit the genre you write. Some editors won’t touch erotica. Some editors are great for contemporary or futuristic genres, but they lack that component that can take historical fiction from decent to amazing/accurate—not from a lack of ability but from a lack of experience that is essential when editing things like westerns and regency romances.
Things to not do:
Doing the things below can cause your edits to cost you financially, with time delays, and possibly being black listed among freelancers (others are warned you aren’t easy to work with/not professional and to avoid you/charge accordingly):
- Switch tenses/POV and expects the editor to do the work of changing an MS that you sent in one way to the other. The occasional tense swap is normal, but sentence structures and the way things sound change depending on tense and POV. That is part of your writing voice, and relying on an editor to fix something that major will cost you more, and you’ll lose an opportunity to make changes that affect the rhythm and style of your writing.
- Send a first draft or an ill-revised draft—(bit.ly/WwDSelfEditing) and bit.ly/WwDOrders).
- A professional editor will not steal your work/share your work.
- Expect to pay in full before the job starts.
- Having the first 10% edited will not fix all the issues found in the rest of the book. There are exceptions to the grammar and punctuation rules, and the same mistakes you make in the first part aren’t always the same as the rest of the book.
If you’ve never considered working with an editor, or you’ve heard naysayers arguing against it, check out this post: bit.ly/WwDEditor.
Should I have my MS edited if I’m going traditional?
This is a grey area. On one hand, publishers and agents want to see what you are capable of, but your MS is fighting a battle royale against other MSs to be chosen. If the other MSs are edited and formatted correctly, they have a stronger chance than yours.