So you think you’d like an editor?

As part of my rebranding and remessaging, I thought I would offer this brief insight into the work of a freelance editor. There is a lot of confusion out there about what we do, why we do it, and what we require from our clients to do our job.

what editors do

This is why I just tell people I read books for a living. So much easier to say.

I discuss this in short form frequently on my facebook page and twitter. I post about industry expectations, common pet-peeves, and things that literally make me scream out loud at my computer. (Apologies to my office neighbors. I’m not being killed by a psychopath. Really.)

I thought perhaps a full post was in order, a brief introduction to hiring, retaining and getting the most out of your indie-editor relationship.

We are professionals. We do this for a living.
Those of us who are good at what we do keep our fingers on the pulse of the publishing industry. We follow industry news, we read books like crazy, we stalk agents, editors and publishing houses on social media. We know what the expectations are in our genres.
(Not all genres. For instance you don’t want me to edit your western. I don’t read westerns, I don’t know the formula and I don’t enjoy the subject matter. However, if you write fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers (even the romantic kind), horror, YA or gripping non-fiction (yes, there is such a thing) I just might be your girl.)
As professionals we try to stay busy. Expect a good editor to be booked out for 1-3 months in advance. Get in touch early and get yourself on their radar and on their schedule – and then, deliver your manuscript on time or you may lose your spot in the queue!

Rates vary. Generally they vary based on experience. (And a little on geographical lines.)
If you are self-publishing, budget the cost of a good (ie; not the cheapest) editor into your expenses.
A traditional Big Six house will do three rounds of edits on a manuscript they buy.
That’s after it has been through a round or two of edits at the agency.
And before that it most likely went through a few rounds of critique from a critique group or some deeply honest beta-readers.
Jeffery Deaver famously edits and revises EVERY SINGLE manuscript 30+ times before he allows his agent to see it. Then they do another round or two, then he still gets 3 rounds at the publishing house.
Editing is important. Don’t skimp here.

There are different levels of editing.
Critique – This is not editing, this is having someone read your book and tell you what they think of it. Some editors offer this service and their critiques are likely to be more detailed and in depth as well as more specific than average. We’re professional readers, so we tend to catch things that casual readers miss.
Content, substantive or developmental editing – This looks at the structure and content of your story. Character arcs, plot holes, flow and structure.
Line editing – This looks at the details – Point of view shifts, word choices, verb tenses, and fact checking.
Copy editing – This is the final nit-picky comb through to make sure that all the details are buttoned up, the grammar is in line, wayward commas have been expunged and all the ts are crossed.

*Not all editors offer the same services. Alice Levine is America’s best copy editor. That’s it, that’s her thing. She does the final comb through to make sure every dot is in line and every grammatical faux pas has been untangled. Others do only big picture edits or critiques.
Check to see what services are offered before you approach an editor, make sure they offer what you’re looking for.

This is your chance to learn standard manuscript formatting. Most freelance editors base their rates on a standard MS page.  When we bid jobs, we do so based on our reading speed of a standard MS page.
If an editor quotes you a price and then you jiggle the formatting to fit extra words on the page, it will NOT reduce your bill.
It will, generally, raise it as your self-respecting editor will charge you for the time it takes them to reformat it correctly.
If you send them a hard copy that is formatted incorrectly, your self-respecting editor will send it back to you unedited and charge you for the postage, costing you additional time and printing/shipping costs.
See item 1, we are professionals, treat us as such.
You want us to help you, right?

Run spell check.
Before you submit your MS to anyone, anywhere – run spell check. It won’t catch everything, not by a long shot, but it will catch some obvious stuff.
When I get a MS that clearly has not been run through spell check – I run it. And I charge for the time. I once had a manuscript that took me 3 hours to spell check due to an exceedingly large number of unfamiliar, complex terms that required me to toggle between the manuscript and The Google.
That’s a serious chunk of change to shell out for something that you can easily do yourself.

Know what you want to get from the editing job – Tell the editor your goals.
Are you submitting to agencies, publishers, or are you planning to hit print after you “accept all” on the suggested changes?
(And – don’t do that. Editors have not so sneaky ways of making sure “Accepting all” is a bad idea, like inserting comments inline, not just in the margins.)
Let us know if there is something specific you want us to look for – do you know you have a bad habit of starting every sentence the same? (Especially common in first person books.) Are you unsure of your character arc, do you know you need to ramp up the tension but you’re not sure how? Share your concerns with us so we can help, after all – you’re paying us.
If you send us in blind, we might not shine the light in the places you were hoping for.

Remember, you’re paying us for our honesty. If you want sunshine and roses – send it to your grandmother.
Editors are in this business because we love books, we love words and we want to help writers tell their stories and expand their craft.
We’re not dissing you, or your precious. We’re helping you to see missed opportunities, to fill in holes, to reach the highest peaks of your story and character arcs, and to make your story shine like a beacon for the audience you hope to reach.
We are your book’s BFF, helping it come out of the closet and show you its truest self.

A good editor will not re-write your book for you. (That’s what ghost writers and book doctors do, and that is a whole other post and a much bigger budget…)

tell your story
A good editor will bring out your best writing, showing YOU how to deliver on your promises to the reader and how to get out of the way so your characters can tell their story!



Filed under Books, Business, Writing

6 responses to “So you think you’d like an editor?

  1. Great post! Very informational and honest.

    • Thanks. It’s information I find myself giving a lot. Apparently it needed to be said. I hope it helps a few writers navigate the murky waters of indie editors.
      Next up – what an indie author ISN’T 🙂

  2. How about an “So You Think You’d Like To Be An Editor” post?

  3. “To be”…or not “to be”…that is the question! Whether tis nobler to be an editor…

    Nah, I wanna be a writer. :-]

    Great post…but are we missing something in the title…and was that copy editor humor…?

  4. You know, I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before on but immediately after checking at some of the material I realized it’s new for me.
    Still, I’m going to bookmark this blog and start following it frequently.

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