I have over 18 years of experience writing about, researching, and analyzing complex public policy, historical, political, and international affairs subjects ranging from UN peacekeeping to ancient Rome and my work is regularly published online by a variety of websites. Published in Newsweek, the Modern War Institute at West Point, Mic, The Jerusalem Post, The Jordan Times, and other publications.
I have heard so many horror stories about editors and experienced a few myself. If an author is uncertain about an editor, most editors will do one sample chapter or 10 pages (whichever comes first) for free to give the author an idea of their style. Edits can be very intense and I would encourage authors to listen if they keep hearing the same things about their work from different sources. That said, they also don’t need an editor who is so brutal they never want to pick up a pen again.
As for multitasking, believe it or not, I try to schedule so that I am only working actively on one book at a time. Research keeps showing that “multitasking” is actually less efficient, because of the time lost to leaving behind one task to restart another. (Think of it this way: If you take on two clients at once for work that would take one week each with your full attention, either you can tell both clients the work will be done in three weeks because you’ll be alternating between them, or tell one client it will be done in one week and one that it will be done in two weeks, because you’ll complete one before you start on the other. Which of those makes more sense?) Obviously, with back-and-forth communications, sometimes complete “monotasking” is impossible, but I think it should be considered the ideal.
Not that I’m not looking forward to seeing the author’s work. I am. Seriously, I am! Book editing, despite the sticker shock first-time authors often get when they hear the estimate, is not a profession anyone enters in hopes of getting rich. I truly love helping a writer make his or her work the best it can be, and I’m always eager to get started. But I realize the task of writing takes time, usually more time than the author (even many an experienced author) expects.
It’s difficult to answer this question without first addressing what an editor actually does. Editors can review the content of your writing (characterization, pacing, plot, etc.), which is often referred to as content editing; the form of your writing (the grammar, the punctuation, etc.), which is often referred to as copyediting; or both. (By the way, proofreading is indispensable, but it’s the final step of checking for typos and other glitches once the book is ready for print—any writer who thinks that proofreading is editing is in grave danger of getting ripped off.)
Before we explore what you ought to be looking and asking for when you hire an editor, let’s talk about you, the author of the work, for a moment. On the one side are authors who, in response to an editorial query questioning the reason a particular scene was included, immediately suggest ditching the whole thing. On the other side are authors who will fight editors to retain even the slightest word changes. Before you embark on an editorial journey, ask yourself which side you fall on, and then own this truth and be willing to share it with the person you hire.
First, decide whether your time or your money is worth more to you right now. You can greatly reduce the amount of money your project will cost by investing more time, and vice versa. If time is no object, you may want to spend some hours in the library reading style manuals and going through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb so that when you do hire an editor, (s)he will be able to zip through it quickly. If you end up deciding that’s more effort than you want to invest, then you will at least find the monetary cost of hiring someone to do it for you a less bitter pill to swallow.
Send a letter or email to the author of a text and ask them. If a book is self-published or printed by a smaller press, finding the editor can be tricky. The author of a book will be sure to know who edited their work though! Perform an internet search and look for an author’s website or personal information. Most author websites have a contact tab with information on where to send a letter or email.
When you’ve found someone who seems like a decent candidate so far, make first contact. (The contact form on the website is fine as a first step.) Introduce yourself and state what you are looking for (a developmental critique, copyediting, etc.). Give a very brief description of your project, including its genre and approximate length. Give an idea of your planned next step and any deadlines (even if only approximate ones). For example, have you already signed a contract with a subsidy press for publication next fall? Are you planning to submit the manuscript to publishers and/or literary agents after editing?
Developmental editing (may also be called structural or content) – looks at the book’s big picture and overall structure in nonfiction or plot and characters in fiction. Developmental editors may assess a book idea, outline, or early draft to tell authors what works and what could be better. The big picture questions need to be answered first before an editor ensures your words are polished and used correctly.
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I've done four covers through Ebook Launch for two different series, and they've knocked it out of the park every time. In one case they were creating brand new covers based on a high-concept mashup idea. In another, they were following in the footsteps of a different designer, who'd already established the look for an existing series. Both times -- whether coming up with something totally new or sticking to an established style -- they did fantastic work. I love my Ebook Launch covers!
Specialty – Do you want a copy editor who will strictly follow the rules in the Chicago Manual of Style? Do you want someone whose specialty is line editing and can write smooth, clear, and creative sentences? Are you looking for someone to make sure you don’t have any glaring grammar or spelling mistakes so as to avoid the brutal grammar police reviews? Or do you want someone to look at the overall structure or plot of your book?
Copy editors catch spelling mistakes, errors in grammar, and inconsistencies in your text. They know when compound words are hyphenated (or not), whether the book is ‘laying’ or ‘lying’ on the table, and whether eagles have ‘talons’ or ‘claws.’ They’ll go through your manuscript line by line for accuracy and consistency of style. A good copy editor will make sure that your voice remains intact while restructuring sentences, and substituting weak word choices for stronger ones.
From your comment, you may be in search of a manuscript critique, where you pay a professional to essentially conduct a beta read with the added benefit of their experience and knowledge about the craft. Then they’ll give you a few pages’ worth of considerations. When I don’t have the time for such critiques (and I only critique nonfiction), I refer my clients to andilit.com.
Good article. I especially like to see mention of the different types of editing. I find that a lot of new writers don’t know this; they get a copy edit and think everything is nicely edited only to discover once they’ve published that people are saying the book needs a good edit. That’s because it needed developmental and line editing as well. I often find that indie books could do with a line edit. I think it’s the most neglected area of editing.
We may be talking about different services. I’m referring to a full read that usually creates a 5-10 page edit letter–no in-line editing. Or, perhaps we’re just working in different corners of the market. I’m around those who are freelance editing pre-query for writers hoping to traditionally publish their genre fiction, not the kind of rigorous editing a self publishing author would need, which should rightfully be much more expensive! It’s true that most people doing freelance editing at the lower rate/rigor aren’t doing it full time. It’s an optional step for those traditionally publishing, and the prices reflect maintaining access for those writers, I believe.
Great article, Blake. I often receive ‘undercooked’ manuscripts from writers. Two other points come to mind: 1) Budgeting for an editor is important. You should start putting some money aside for editing fees whilst you’re still writing your first draft (preferably tuck it into an interest-earning account!). 2) Don’t leave it too late, either. Often writers don’t realise that editors are booked up several months in advance. Start contacting editors whilst you’re still at the self-editing stage or have your MS with beta-readers, to find out what their availability is.