Last month, I was invited to talk to a group of aspiring authors at the Book Brilliance’s monthly Voice and Pen networking event on the topic of the importance of editing. It was lovely to hear from so many motivated and talented authors about their current projects, and it was a privilege to be invited to speak.
However, for those of you who were unable to make the event, I wanted to make sure I was able to share my advice, so I’ve converted my speech into a two-part blog, all about the importance of editing.
In Part 1, I discussed the reasons why you should work with an editor, such as an editor adds a fresh and objective eye to your work as well as brings years of experience to your manuscript (to find out more, check out Part 1 here). Now, I’m back with Part 2, which is a collection of handy tips and tricks to consider when searching and working with an editor.
If you’d prefer to watch the full talk, the event was recorded, so you can check out the full presentation here. But if not, dive into Part 2: Finding and Working with the Right Editor for You.
When you’ve decided that working with an editor on your manuscript is the right thing for you (to find out more about why you should work with an editor on your latest novel check out Part 1), it’s now time to embark on the task of finding an editor. It can be a bit daunting, but the the most important thing to bear in mind is this: it’s not about finding the best editor ever but finding the best editor for you.
Before you start…
However, before you even starting googling ‘best book editor’, I want you to stop and take a step back and ask yourself, are you and your manuscript ready for editing? If you’ve just finished your first draft, then the short answer is, no, you’re not. Because the best way to make the most out of your editing experience is by doing as much as you possibly can yourself so that an editor can take over the reins and guide you the rest of the way. Therefore, before you even consider working with an editor, you need to have self-edited your manuscript – remember that 80% or writing a book is revision.
No first draft was ever perfect, ever! And that’s because by the time you finish your manuscript, you’re a much stronger and more experienced writer than when you began chapter one. So, first off, give yourself a pat on the back and a huge hug because you deserve it – you just finished writing a book. And then, the work begins again. I won’t go into self-editing here (that’s a topic for another day), but there are lots of useful resources out there – I’d recommend Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King (review coming soon) – that will help you on the first step in your journey.
This is the point when some writers baulk at this suggestion. But aren’t I paying you to edit? Yes, but if an author sends me a manuscript that is their first draft, I often tell them to go back and revisit the manuscript themselves, because, usually, at the early stages of writing, an author is able to rework their manuscript and notice any obvious plot holes or inconsistencies themselves, and when you’re working with an editor, you want them to spend their time offering feedback to you on things that you didn’t consider, as opposed to the ones that you could have picked up on yourself. On that first revisit to your manuscript, you’re bound to find those clanger plot holes – Charlie can’t go to the chocolate factory, he’s lactose intolerant! – and points where the narrative isn’t as strong. Sorting these bits out yourself, or even just finding them to highlight to your editor once you’ve had a good go yourself, will improve your editing experience exponentially because rather than having their vision muddied by the obvious, the editor can get stuck in to parts you may not have thought about. An author will get the most out of the editing experience if they can send their editor their best possible manuscript.
If diving back into your edit straightway unassisted sounds scary, my best advice is once you’ve finished your first draft, put the manuscript aside for at least three weeks – longer, ideally if you can resist the temptation to touch the manuscript. After those weeks have passed, when you revisit the manuscript, it will feel very different, and you’ll be able to revise it much more efficiently because you’ll have a clearer and more energised head. Also whilst you’re not consciously thinking about the text, your brain will be working out those plot holes for you so when you sit back at the manuscript you’ll know exactly what you need to do!
If you find it impossible to leave your manuscript alone , try working on a different project to distract yourself for a few weeks. You can still flex your writing muscles, but on a different exercise.
Finding an editor
When you are approaching the stage where you can do no more for yourself, then it’s time to think about finding an editor. But note I say when you’re approaching this stage, because you don’t want to leave it too late. The best editors tend to be booked up months in advance – at the time of writing, I’m taking bookings for August onwards, so five months away! – so you need to make your enquiries perhaps a couple of months before the manuscript is ready.
So you’re working away on your self-editing and you’re ready to start researching editors, so how do you find the best editor for you? Well, here are a few key points to bear in mind.
- What edit you need?
There are a myriad of different edits which suit different needs, but they fall into the three main categories of developmental or structural editing, line/copy-editing and proofreading. These all offer various levels of feedback, for example, the Development Edit focuses on big-picture issues such as structure, plot, character development (find out more here), whereas a Proofread is all about the final polish. Different editors will have different service offerings, so you’ll want to make sure that the editor you want provides the service you’e looking for. (To find out more about the services I offer, please check out the Services page).
To many new writers, the different edit terms don’t mean much, so if you’re not sure which edit you need, ask! Most editors will be more than happy to help you find the edit that will most suit your manuscript; for example, you may think your manuscript is ready for a copy edit, but an editor may suggest that to truly make your manuscript as strong as possible, it would benefit from a little more big-picture work first. Or you may think you need a more substantial edit, but the editor may suggest that only a copy edit is needed to bring the manuscript up to publishable quality.
- Genre speciality
Look for someone who specialises in your genre. As I mentioned in Part 1, one of the benefits of working with an editor is that you have access to that editor’s years’ worth of experience. For example, I specialise in crime, suspense and thriller, and so my years of experience and personal passion for the genre means I can give a manuscript in that genre an extra push that will help it to really appeal to its target readership. Whereas a romance editor, for example, would still be able to help you improve your manuscript, but they won’t have that specialist knowledge to add that extra sparkle (or thrill, in this case).
- Sample Edits
When approaching editors, be sure to ask for a sample edit, not only so that you can check that the sort of edit you’ll receive is the one you’re looking for, but also so that you can check that you’re a good fit together. As I said above, the most important part about working with an editor is finding not only the right editor for your manuscript but for you as a writer too – it’s why so many authors work with the same editor throughout their writing careers. You want someone who gels well with you and your manuscript and understands what you’re aiming for and knows how to help you get you there!
Be upfront and honest about your budget – yes, editing can be expensive, especially if you’re self-publishing and footing the bill yourself, but many editors are understanding of this and can often work with you to come up with an approach that fits your budget. However, if prices feel too good to be true, they probably are! Remember that publishing is a largely unregulated industry and there are some charlatans out there, so do your research (see my final point), or if in doubt seek the advice of professional bodies such as the Alliance of Independent Authors or Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders.
Being up front also extends too scheduling. As mentioned above, the best editors tend to get booked up, so preventative planning is the best approach. Enquire early. If you leave it too late, your editor may not be able to allocate you the slot your want or a tight turnaround may incur a rush fee.
- Do your research
There are hundreds if not thousands of editors out there, but not all of them will be delivering the same standard of service. So the best thing to do is treat the editing of your manuscript like buying a car, or a house, or another big purchase and shop around. Do your research and always query multiple editors. Not only will this help you get a good idea of the price range on offer, but also the different vibes that different editors have, so that you know which one is the right fit for you. Editors will be aware that you’ll be talking to other editors, and will be happy to answer questions about their services, but remember that they are humans too, and so treat them with respect and professionalism. As our parents always said, treat others how you want to be treated.
So you’ve secured your editor and your ready to go. Any final tips?
When you do send your manuscript to your editor, ask them if they have an preferences for how the manuscript is formatted. May won’t or will adjust it themselves but this is especially important if you’re using writing programmes such as Scrivner to ensure that the editor receives the documents they need. However, irrespective of the formatting, also ensure the manuscript is the cleanest you can make it – and by ‘clean’, I mean as error free as you can. Yes, it’s an editor’s job to point out the errors, but if you’ve not even bothered to run a simple spellcheck through your document, you’ll make it much harder for them focus in on focus in on what you want them to, which increases the risks of things being missed. They’re only human too!
And also, my parting titbit is to keep an open mind. I know how scary it is to send your manuscript out into the world for someone else to read, but an editor’s job is to help you push your writing to the best it can be, so keep your mind open when they provide you with feedback. You may not agree with some of their suggestions, but be sure to consider them carefully and appreciate the alternative point of view as it’ll help you look at your own work in a different light.
Working with an editor is a truly rewarding experience and can not only improve your current work-in-progress but all those manuscripts to come, as they help you to build confidence and be more discerning about your own work. As I said in Part 1, there is nothing more rewarding for an editor to see their author improve with every novel so they really want to help you improve your manuscript. The irony of an editor’s role is that the sign of a job well done is that your client’s need you less and less each time!
Top tips for finding the right editor for you:
- Always self-edit first
- Find out what edit you need
- Look for a genre specialist
- Be upfront about your budget
- Enquire early
- Do your research
- Keep an open mind