In the times when traditional publishing was really the only socially acceptable route to getting your book out there, editing, to an author, was something you did alone, or if you were really lucky, convinced a friend to help you with. Once your manuscript had been accepted by an agent, and then a publisher, editing became something forced on you, where someone you didn’t know would scour through your manuscript and tell you how they thought you should make it better.
Now, in the days of eBooks, self-publishing, hybrid authors, and a significant shift in the scales of availability, editing is no longer something you suffer through solo until someone takes it off your hands and you have little input.
There are those who will say that you can put out a book for nothing, that you can do your own editing, create your own cover, and set up a novel with minimal expense. I am not one of those people. True, you certainly can do it, but for me, the question isn’t whether you can… it’s whether you should!
Price does not always equal quality, though, in this consumer market driven economy, there is the truth that sometimes, if you want something that lasts, you need to be willing to spend a little more.
I chose to hire an editor because I felt it would make my book better. There are people who believe that authors shouldn’t need an editor, because if they can’t write the book themselves, they shouldn’t be writing at all. So, before I tell all about my experience with my editor, I will let you know of three very important misconceptions of some when it comes to private editing services:
- Editors will not write your book for you. If you have something they cannot work with, they will send it back.
- Every change made to your manuscript is a suggestion, not an absolute.
- The editor does not actually change the work and send you a finished manuscript back. They send back your manuscript with all the suggestions for you to change yourself.
For the sake of my editor’s privacy, from here on in, we shall call him K.
I found K through the Alliance of Independent Authors. This is my first novel, and while I knew that I had done some good work in taking out large, glaring mistakes, I was positive that I could benefit from a professional eye on my work. I went through the ALLi because I do not know any editors, and I didn’t want to get ripped off. The ALLi has some amazing contacts, and so I utilised them. I contacted K and asked whether he had any time available, and after a number of emails back and forth, we agreed on a date: the 15th of June.
I had decided that, because this was my first book, and I want it to be the absolute best it could be, I would pay the extra for a developmental edit as well as a line edit. This means that K not only looked through each sentence for spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and general readability, he also looked at the manuscript as a whole and told me in an editor report where he felt my strengths and weaknesses were.
K asked me for a couple of sample chapters. He works on a per-hour basis, so having received my chapters, he worked for an hour and calculated the quote for the edit based on how many words he got through in that hour. (It was 2,000 words, which apparently is pretty good.)
My manuscript went off to K as scheduled, having paid half of the quote invoice upfront (the other half to be paid on return of the manuscript to me,) and I spent the next two weeks, not writing my next book as I should have, but worrying about how my precious first-born novel was doing in these unfamiliar hands.
I had seen the sample edit, I had gone through it and made the changes I felt were appropriate (at this point, mostly word and grammar changes.) Most importantly, from this sample edit I received, I knew that K understood my style and voice. I am not paying an editor to take my voice away, to make my book generic and soulless. I am paying an editor to help my voice leap from the page instead of whispering. Having someone who understands your voice and story is, in my opinion, the most important part in selecting an editor.
When my manuscript was returned last weekend, nothing prepared me for it. You may think that you have tough skin, that you’ve bashed your pride into submission via critiques and beta-readers. You haven’t. In fact, if this is your first novel and your first experience with a professional editor, you’ve probably ripped your pride in half leaving the gooey centre exposed for an editor to drive a knife in all the further.
K was incredibly kind about it. He gave me some wonderful praise and feedback on my strengths, he offered suggestions on where he felt the manuscript should be marketed. With his words and his depth into the novel, he made absolutely clear that he wanted this book to be amazing almost as much as I did.
… It doesn’t make the suggestions any easier.
Again, all suggestions are just that, they are suggestions! If an editor tells you that they don’t like this character, that you should cut them, you are absolutely free to tell them no, the same with any line edits. Remember, you have hired this person. Your decision is final.
Because there were some rather substantial developmental suggestions for my book, all based around the first four chapters, I originally decided to work through all the line edits first, and then go back for the developmental. This was a bad method for me, and it wasn’t until 150 pages through the line edits that I realised why. With the developmental edits, lots of smaller elements throughout the book would need to change, not by a lot, but I would need to alter some sentences to fit.
As such, I started again. This time, I went through chapter by chapter. I ignored everything that came after, as if I was writing the book for the first time. I altered what needed altering line by line, taking into account the changes I had made.
This was the best method for me. It may not be for you. So, here are my tips on how to handle a first time professional edit, from a first timer.
- Find someone who understands your book and is excited by it. They are a reader as well as an editor, and if they hate your book, editing it will be like pulling teeth.
- Ask for a sample edit. Not only will this help the editor give an accurate quote, it also gives you the opportunity to learn how they work, and whether they will do a good job. A sample edit should not be paid for, and it should be on your work, not a copy of something they did for someone else.
- Agree on a date that work will be returned to you. You are on a schedule as much as they are, so ensure that you know when you will be getting your work back.
- Remember that it is suggestion, not an absolute. The only person who should have the final say on your book is you.
- Hope for brutality. Your editor is not there to be your best friend. Make sure it’s someone you can talk to, but don’t expect them to pull their punches. If they’re not willing to tell you what you need to hear, why have you hired them?
- Expect blunt and honest criticism. You may think that your work is the best fiction ever written, but I am sure my sister thinks her daughter is the most beautiful baby ever as well. (She is gorgeous, but that’s beside the point.) You will get criticism and places to improve, be ready for it.
- Take time. Don’t read the suggestions and let your immediate reaction rule. You may think that the editor is crazy, but give it a day or two, you may realise they have a point. After a few days, if you still don’t agree, then that’s fine too.
- Compromise. It isn’t ‘my way or the highway’, nor do you have to be a doormat. If you like parts of a suggestion but don’t think others will work, implement the ideas you like. Take parts of them and work them in.
- Rework to work for you. Find your method of working through the edits. What works for someone else might not work for you, so experiment and play with it until you find a method that you’re comfortable with and yields the best results.
- Keep the original. Whatever you do, however you edit the work or don’t, no matter the suggestions or praises, keep the original documents. Keep the copy from before you sent it to the editor, and keep the original of the edits. Create copies to work through. That way, if you get half way through the edit and realise that method isn’t working, you can go back to the original. Also, if you’ve cut something that you realised you really liked, you can easily add it back in from your copy.
And that’s it folks. I’m happy to answer any questions regarding this process.