Not only are all editors are not created equal, there are many people are promoting themselves as editors even though their only credentials are that they like to read and they were good in English. So, before you spend a ton of money are a few things to think about.
1) Do you need a story editor, a line editor or just someone to double check for typos? Personally, I always need a story editor. My books are intricate, and I am known for twists and turns. A story editor* keeps me on track with red herrings, challenges me to push the envelope, and gives me perspective on the plot/story as a whole. I couldn’t live without this input.
2) Overall editors are hard to come by in my humble opinion unless you are willing to pay the price. It is no easy job to take a book from start to finish when you’re an editor. When I was traditionally published, I often had three separate editors, each charged with perfecting a different part of the process. If you’re looking for just that one person, make sure you are clear up front so they can price their bid accordingly.
3) An editor works for you and you should select one carefully. I tested a reader who swore she was an editor. She had found some things in a published book, and I was impressed with the detail and her attitude. However, when I sent her test pages (for which I paid her), she missed the typos and grammar issues that I purposefully left in to gauge her level of expertise. She was a great reader and had caught some mistakes, but she was not an editor.
4) When you find a great editor, it is a thing of beauty. Remember, some are literally brilliant* and the good ones will be able to work on any book in any genre. This is because they understand that individual marketplaces call for different sensibilities. They will read a romance differently than they read a mystery. If you find one of those, hang on to her/him.
*For transparency, the fabulous story editor I have worked with since my first book is my Extra Squeeze colleague, Jenny Jensen.
All editors are created as equally as all dancers, or singers, politicians or writers, but that’s not really what you’re asking. A good editor wears different hats, each for different genres. And then there are the specialists who focus their skills, most notably in academics, poetry and children’s literature.
I’ve worked on USAF manuals, fiction of all flavors, history and biography and business materials. I wore a different editing hat for each. A lot of the rules are the same, but each genre has a different intent and any useful editing must be done with that intent top of mind. The flow, pacing and characterization of a thriller are light years from those of business material (though maybe marketers should rethink that). Each of those hats comes with my confident understanding of the author’s intent so I can see any problems and add to the intended message. I think this is true of most editors.
I’ve turned down work twice. The first was a treatise on the physics of string theory. At least that’s what I think it was. I had no hat for this and so could offer nothing but a suggestion for a more suitable editor. The second was a children’s picture book. I love children’s books. I read the manuscript and tried to find a hat that fit. I soon realized this required a special knowledge, an insight into the reader’s mind and the author’s intent; knowledge and insight for which I don’t have a hat.
So yes, I do think that an author of a children’s picture book should find and build a relationship with an editor whose specialty is children’s lit. That doesn’t mean she would be better created, just that she was the best at dancing and singing to that tune.
I would say it depends on the experience of the editor. Some are quite capable of understanding the different styles and switching accordingly. Some are not. Look at the work they’ve previously done and see how it aligns with your own.
That said, sometimes an editor from another genre can bring a fresh perspective that could help you break away from the norm and set your work apart from that of other writers. Great books are often ones that cross genres and re-purpose other styles.
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A perspective client and I were in the first stages; you know, where you get a feel for one another to be sure of a good fit. It was a great exchange. She was funny and literate and serious and we quickly decided to move forward (I passed muster too!). Before she sent her manuscript she had one last question: What are the five things a writer should bring to the editorial table. Great question!
And I love doing just that.
Jenny Jensen is deep into a manuscript and unable to come up for air. We’re helping her out by posting one of her articles from our archives. Hope you enjoy it.
I love quotes. I collect them, especially quotes about writing from writers I particularly respect. Since I work with writers of all levels from beginners to veterans, I find that sometimes the perfect quote from an established writer is exactly what I need to reinforce a point – so I use my collection well.
I just took on a new client who sent an outline for her first novel. The outline included a précis of the plot, quick character sketches, a few narrative bits on action scenes and several options for an ending. Buried in these concepts were the seeds of a very fresh new voice. I’m excited; it’s the kind of challenge I relish. It’s the perfect opportunity to ask the right questions, provide possibilities and help guide the story to a solid structure – all of which greases the writer’s creative wheels – the give and take nudging them to the path they want for their story.
The problem was the writer didn’t want to write a draft; she wanted to work with me to get the story full blown in her head then sit down at the keyboard and spit out a finished novel. Oh dear. I imagine there are writers who can do that but they’re as rare as the ivory-billed woodpecker. As Anne Lamott put it in her essay, Shitty First Drafts: “I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.”
All first drafts suck. It’s a universal law. But it’s where you have to start. “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” (TY Terry Pratchett.) So give yourself permission to just spill it, write the most vapid dialog ever if that’s what comes out. It’s OK – it’s a draft. Just get the story out. If you find yourself using more adjectives than Danielle Steele and Judith Krantz combined then this is the place to do it. It’s a draft -no one will ever see it (except me but that’s all right ‘cuz I’ll never tell). Stewart Stafford hit the bull’s eye, “It’s okay to write a cliché in a first draft; it sets a marker that you can get far, far away from in the rewrites.”
That’s what a draft is for – the rewrites. Here’s where the painful process of filling the blank page becomes fun. You see the flaws and get to slash and revise, hear the perfect dialog over the noise of what you drafted, maybe see a new direction in the wreckage. I’ve encouraged my client to write a first draft. I’ll happily work with her from that, but I bet she goes over it first – who could resist? Draft one or draft two, I don’t care. I can’t wait to see it.
In the spirit of full disclosure my fellow Extra Squeeze panel member, Jenny Jensen, is my editor. She has read and edited everything I have ever written.
She is all three rolled into one for me. Other clients will use her to proofread, copy edit and/or for developmental work.
Why do we work well together? Because a) she spends time understanding what my objective is with each book, b) she identifies shortcomings and offers suggestions on how to fix them, and c) she tells it like it is.
The last is very important to me. I don’t want to waste her time or mine, I don’t want praise when it isn’t warranted, I love it when she gives it because it’s deserved.
In my humble opinion, an author might possibly be able to copy edit (fix grammar, unwieldy phrasing, identify plot holes etc.) or proofread their work (missing words, typos) but it is almost impossible for us to properly evaluate the full content of our work.
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Good question. Answer from an editor: yes, you certainly could need all three, but the last two are critical.
A developmental editor works with an author at the macro level. The aim is to strengthen and/or develop the story. If you’ve hit a roadblock, or are uncertain of any aspect of your story and are looking for constructive feedback, or if working with an experienced fiction editor to bounce ideas is how you work best, use a developmental editor. Often my clients have several plot options in mind and with some energetic back and forth we find their direction.
The developmental process can begin at any stage. I’ve worked with clients who’ve just got a premise, characters sketches. Most have a detailed outline or a completed draft. The developmental editor focuses on plot, conflict, characterization, setting, resolution and narrative flow. A good developmental editor provides educated, useful input. It’s not about telling an author how to write the story. Developmental editing is about stimulating concepts, suggesting solutions and exposing what the writer has been blind to, always respecting an individual author’s voice.
A copy editor’s aim is to improve the writing. This is nuts and bolts editing and is done on an author’s absolute best, final draft—the one the author is confident of. Typos, incorrect grammar, punctuation, convoluted prose, poor word choice, issues with tense—anything that is incorrect or detracts from a smooth narrative flow is corrected. A copy edit is essential for a professional product, a book that stands the best chance to capture and keep readers, especially those who provide the all-critical reviews.
Proof reading is the final, micro level polish and can be done in conjunction with a copy edit. The proof reader catches errors that have been overlooked: there for their, your for you’re, to for too, etc., but also focuses on missing commas, dropped quotation marks, transposed words or letters. The list of possible errors that can slip past eyes that have been intent on story sense is scary. Again, this goes to professionalism. We’ve all read reviews that pan a book for typos. It’s those sorts of errors that can detract so heavily from an otherwise enjoyable read. Whatever else, all books should be proof read before publication. It should be law.
There are many sources to find editors. There’s me—I do all three types and I’ve got a lot of well-pleased clients! Reedsy has many free-lance contacts, as does She Writes. There are professional editor organizations: ACES has a very good list of freelance editors. Do an online search. Ask fellow writers; a personal referral is best. Be cautious of those “Publishers” that offer editorial services. A freelance editor with no vested interested in publishing your work is apt to provide more honest input.
The Indie Revolution is the most exciting innovation since Google; it’s more refreshing than the demise of the mullet. It’s such a grand opportunity! It’s so… democratic. Anyone with the passion and discipline to write down the stories that live in their head can offer their work to the world. There are no subjective, judgmental, economic barriers blocking the way. Every avid reader can troll the newest book offerings looking for that next great discovery. When I find a fresh new voice with an exciting sense of drama, fascinating characters and a unique tale to spin it’s like winning the lottery (at least I imagine it is, having never won myself).
And we all know what they say about opportunity—it’s something to make the best of. That’s why I am so amazed how many Indie books contain errors of the sort that any good set of editorial eyes would have found and corrected. It’s a message to me, the reader, that I’m not important enough to make the book right. Or worse, the author thinks so little of me that I’ll accept any error, that I won’t notice or care.
How can I not care when DCI Stewart, ruggedly attractive in a wry funny way (this narrative already has me considering Book Two) has just gone through XXI chapters of intriguing madness to finally find the decisive evidence and as he lifts the shredded ribbon from the debris of the broken vase he cries, “Waa La!”. What!? Waa La? I’m out of the moment now, jerked rudely from the mounting tension. DCI Stewart is no longer clever or ingenious; he’s an idiot. Give the poor man a “Viola!”. I can’t bear to look at any more.
It’s a different kind of awful when the whip smart heroine finally descends the grand staircase to face her treacherous half siblings and the room falls silent, “the rustling tool of her elegant gown the only sound”. This instantly conjures hysterically unintentional images. Yikes, it’s toile. I want to scream. The story has lost all credibility. I can’t get my reading mojo back. Why didn’t this author care?
It’s one thing to accept a typo or two, even a few missing prepositions are forgivable (just remember all those reviews that say it would have been a 4 star except for the typos) but it’s a lot to ask your audience to overlook faulty word choice, a change of voice in mid-chapter, a glaring hole in the timeline, a nonsensical plot point or character traits that shifts mid stream.
Such errors are forgivable in any draft—that’s where the author gets the story down and who cares if a character proclaims it’s a “mute point”. Under the fresh, critical eye of an editor it will become a moot point. This is the stage where an objective eye sees what the writer has missed by staring so long at the trees. Maybe the story arc lags, maybe the narrative or characters are inconsistent, a good editor and the writer can fix it. Doesn’t the writer want it perfect?
Indie publishing is such a golden opportunity and writing a good book requires so much personal investment to get to a good draft it’s sad how many writers just blithely publish, warts and all. Take the extra step and work with an editor. Your book and your readers are worth it. We editors can to save you from shooting yourself in the foot.
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