You’ve Written a Book! Now What? : The Ins-and-Outs of Hiring an Editor
by Shanan Winters
There’s a moment in time when an author puts the final punctuation on the last sentence of a manuscript. In that brief second, the writer feels elation, excitement, a touch of fear, and maybe even some twinges of sadness. She breathes a huge sigh of relief, and in the next moment, she inhales reality.
The show is far from over.
Just because a manuscript is finished, it’s far from being done. As an author, you would never take a first draft and push it out to the publishing channels.
My husband worked with a woman who used to talk about projects in terms of “doneness.” There’s done – meaning that the bulk of the work is fleshed out. In writing terms, this would be first draft complete.
Then there is done-done. This second stage is when you’ve gone back through and caught all the stuff you missed when you proclaimed your first round of doneness.
And then there is done-done-done. That’s when you’ve fine-tuned and fiddled until your project is ready for the light of day.
Therein lies the question: At what stage should I hire an editor?
From my perspective as an editor, you should seek professional editing services only after your manuscript is through the initial self-edit and has been beta read by a handful of people who are not parents, siblings, spouses, children, or extremely close friends. In other words, you hire your editor when you are done-done-done!
When you seek out an editor, you are looking for someone to catch the errors that you’ve glossed over because you’ve read your book so many times that the words blend together on the page. She is not your writing coach, nor is she your English teacher. I mean, sure… she’ll gladly charge you $10/page if you really want to go that route. But remember this: The cleaner your manuscript, the less you will have to pay in editing services, and the faster you’ll get it back from your editor.
Here are a few tips I recommend before seeking out an editor:
- Finish your book! Do not call an editor in when you’re half way done! If you’re simply feeling out the market, or you want to get on someone’s schedule, that’s one thing. But if you’re calling in an editor when you’ve only written half of your book, you’re probably wanting a writing coach or a developmental editor. That’s fine… just know what it is you’re looking for.
- Purchase and install Grammarly. It’s cheap and it works well. It’s not going to solve all your problems, but it will help you catch most common mistakes. It will also make some very stupid suggestions, so pay close attention and don’t just accept all of its recommended changes.
- Make use of your word processor’s grammar checker. It doesn’t catch as much as Grammarly, but it does catch different issues that Grammarly misses.
- Take to heart the suggestions of your beta readers. Implement what works for you. Take sections you’re unsure of – you know the ones – and have them re-read after you work through them. Take them to your critique group (you do have a critique group, right?) and give them a good once-over.
- After you’re sure of your grammar to the best of your ability, and after you’re done fiddling with the hard parts, go through the entire manuscript again. Make sure nothing jumps out at you, or leaves you feeling confused.
Once you’ve completed those steps, you are ready to find your editor. Here are a few tips for finding the right person to edit your book.
- Know what type of editing services you need. You may want one or more of the following services:
- Copyediting is the act of going line-by-line through a manuscript, editing for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Structural/Substantive editing is a higher level read-through to make sure that your book is consistent. In the case of fiction, a structural editor will look for plot holes, inconsistencies, and point of view, voice and/or tense shift. She’ll let you know if your character’s shirt started out as blue but suddenly became pink by the end of the scene. She’ll tell you if your character seemed to have sprouted a third arm during the course of dialogue. She’ll tell you that your main character – who never swore through 300 pages – all of a sudden turned into a sailor.
- Proofreading is a standard final edit that is mostly used in non-fiction work (though I urge all fiction readers to do a final proofread after integrating copy edits!) The proofread ensures that references and pages are correct after final copy edits are in place. It’s a pass that verifies that all the pieces and parts are in the right places.
- If you’re not sure where to start in terms of finding an editor, try talking to your network of fellow authors (you do have a network of fellow authors, right?) Ask who they use and what their experiences have been. Chances are there are local editors around you who will work closely and collaboratively. You might even be able to meet for lunch or coffee!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample edit prior to getting a price quote. Some editors will do a free sample of a few pages or the first chapter. Others will state that your sample is free as long as you sign a contract, otherwise she might charge a nominal fee. The sample gives you a chance to determine if you like the editor’s style, and it also allows the editor to give you a fair and accurate estimated cost.
- Be prepared to pay a reasonable-yet-fair amount for editing. The published EFA Editorial Rates are fairly standard. Many editors break down their cost by word count or page count. Some charge per hour. Regardless, most editors’ rates more-or-less fall into a range around the EFA rates.
- Be prepared to have fun! Pick an editor that you feel comfortable working with. The author/editor relationship should be one of mutual respect and shared success. Your editor will push you to produce your very best work without changing your personal voice, style or story.
Your editor will become part of your process, and you might find that you form a long-term partnership. The more you work with an editor, the more you’ll learn her style, and the better she’ll understand your voice. Never be afraid to move on if an editorial relationship isn’t working, though.
There are many editors out there in the big-wide-world, and the process is one that is deeply personal. Remember that editing is give-and-take, but at the end of the day, it’s your story and your words. Find the editor that works both for you and with you, and who helps make your words shine!
Shanan Winters is a Phoenix-based freelance writer, editor, and novelist. She has avid interest in geek topics and fandoms, issues of parenting, and desert horticulture. She loves archery, cats, aviation, and board games, and has performed in a variety of Irish folk bands over the years. When not working on projects, Shanan can be found writing about writing at ShananWinters.wordpress.com.