The opportunity to bring an author’s book to the next level is an exciting journey for both the author and the editor they hire. Smart authors know that, while they may have worked on a manuscript for years, there’s no way they can identify the minor (and sometimes major) issues that come to light to an editing professional.
However, there are important elements that I always ensure my authors understand. First off, there’s a difference between wanting to just publish your book, and the desire to learn how to be a better writer. A good editor should not only fix things, but also teach you how to fix them. You’ll get the most out of your investment by learning from the process.
The other thing: Don’t be shy about telling the editor your expectations and intentions for your book, and what you want it to accomplish. How do you want the reader to think and feel when they reach that last page?
So here are some truths and myths about editors. Hopefully, they will help you to make a well-informed decision when choosing one.
Truth #1: Avoid the temptation to hire someone to edit your first draft
You’ve finally finished your book—shouts of joy all around! Celebrate it. Now, set it aside for two weeks. Let it be. Don’t touch it, and try not to think about it.
When you re-read it, there’s no doubt that you will take it to the next level on your own. Make notes of the strengths and weaknesses, ask what’s missing, flag inconsistencies, and highlight where you get bored or find yourself skimming. You should do at least two to three revisions on your own before hiring a professional editor—don’t bring in a professional until you have made the book the best you possibly can on your own.
When you’ve taken it as far as you can on your own—THAT’S when you will get the most for your money in hiring an editor. Which brings me to the next point…
Truth #2: Shop around to find the right editor for you—and your genre
Before you hire an editor, you need to know what type of editorial assistance you actually need. In order to do this, identify the major problems that you see within your book and start from there. Ask editors for references, a sample edit, and see what they specialize in.
Do you need proofreading, which is a sweep of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other basic issues? Or do you need copy editing, where an editor not only corrects errors having to do with grammar, punctuation, spelling and word usage, but also dialogue that doesn’t fit, pacing problems, sentence structure, and continuity issues (For example, if your character is without a sweater in the cold, but the next scene has her pulling a jacket closely around her body).
Copyediting is one of the most popular types of editing, chosen for authors who know they don’t want major structural or content changes, and just want the story tightened and cleaned up.
Maybe you need more than that, and require feedback about story structure, voice and style, along with some re-writing and re-structuring. This is developmental (sometimes called comprehensive or substantial) editing. With this type of editing, you also get an analysis of your book’s organizational structure, plot, characterization, strengths and weaknesses. Some editors, like Midnight Publishing, actually include the “strengths and weaknesses” analysis with copy editing too.
Besides finding an editor that can help with your specific needs, it’s often beneficial to use an editor that is familiar with the conventions of what you write. If you’re writing a memoir about your life as a doctor, it may be suitable to use an editor that has experience with medical industry terms. If you’re genre is romantic fiction, an editor that specializes in murder thrillers might not get too excited about your project. You want your editor to be excited about your manuscript, because then you know they will make it the best it can be.
Truth #3: It’s the editor’s job to help “kill your darlings”
Your book is your passion, your baby. You’re writing it because you have something to say, or an experience or wisdom to share. The editor is your partner in that journey to get your message out into society in the most effective, interesting way possible.
While an editor’s job is to make your book as professional, polished and best as it can be, it should still be representative of your voice and intentions. But in order to bring your book to the next level, your editor will have to tell you things about your manuscript that might be hard to swallow.
While it might sound obvious, there will be constructive criticism and direction. No feedback is ever meant to hurt your feelings—it’s meant for you to see the manuscript through new eyes in order to capitalize on its strengths and address the weaknesses.
Yes, everyone thinks his or her manuscript is the next best seller—but keep in mind that you should take heed of this feedback. It may be ways to make your protagonist stronger, or there may be big holes in your story.
In the end, our job as the editor is to help appeal to your target audience, and that can require some tailoring, even if it is your favorite scene. After all, every good author has heard the phrase, “kill your darlings.”
Myth #4: Making editing a low priority in your publishing budget
Many authors prioritize other elements of the publishing process, such as paying for expensive cover designs, interior formatting, self-publishing packages, book reviews, marketing, etc. While all of these elements are important, you must plan out your budget so that editing isn’t on the lower end of the totem pole.
Hiring an editor is a significant financial investment. Depending on the type of editing you need and the size of your manuscript, it can range from several hundred to thousand dollars. If your book isn’t properly edited with a professional polish, it may fall into the huge slush pile of poorly developed books in self-publishing. As I always say, a reader rarely remembers when every single thing is perfect and flowing, but the second they encounter an error, typo or misspelling, all credibility goes out the window.
While editors like myself want you to get the most out of your money, we can’t always predict if larger issues will pop up in a manuscript. We are dedicated to helping you put out the best version of your book as possible. And to do that, you need to spend some good money on great editing.
Myth #5: The editor is trying to re-write my manuscript
I’ve found that many authors have two big fears. One, they immediately ask how to copyright their work before sending it to an editor, even if just for a sample. Of course, there’s always a legitimate fear that someone could steal your work, but a legitimate editor will always have a disclaimer (and a contract clause) that protects the author in that case. If you’re truly worried, do the “poor man’s copyright:” mail a copy of your manuscript to yourself, and don’t open it. If something happens, you have the postmarked, dated proof that this work was originally yours.
The second fear is that the editor is going to change the manuscript so much that it doesn’t even feel like the author’s voice any more. A good editor will make your manuscript the best it can be, while enhancing the author’s voice—not covering it up.
You may feel discouraged upon seeing all the red marks on your manuscript, but they can embody dozens of different things. Most importantly, an editor often uses some sort of style system to maintain consistency in your manuscript, whether it is AP, Chicago, MLA, or even just Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
You’re paying for the editor’s professional judgment. Welcome it — but if you honestly disagree with or don’t understand a change, let the editor know and ask for the rationale.