Hiring an Editor

It seems like all my writer friends are either preparing their manuscripts for their editors or going through the edits that their editors made. I admit, I am one of them, having just sent a novella off to a new editor. I keep telling myself that I can handle the red marks, that I will not freak out and scream and cry that my editor just doesn’t get it when I get that proofed version back.

And yes, I know I am lying to myself about it. My cool, calm, rational exterior is all a façade, masking the knots that have me tied up and anxious and wondering if I can still do that twisty yoga pose I learned fifteen years ago that helped me relax so deeply. No, I am not going to try the yoga pose.

The thing is, I trust my editor because I did my homework before I hired her. I also used a hiring process that helped me identify not only who was the most qualified (lots) and who was within my price range (more than I expected), but also who approached my writing in a way that helped me improve specific areas through meaningful communication. My steps to editing, including finding an editor, are fairly straightforward. [Tweet “I trust my editor because I did my homework before I hired her”]

The Pre-Editor Phase

  1. Write the manuscript. The whole thing. Start to finish. Getting feedback on pieces at a time muddies the water and can cause you to stray from the story or become disheartened by the process. My two unfinished novels are a testament to that.
  2. Edit the manuscript yourself. There are numerous checklists and free editing software platforms online. Now is the time to use them. (My caveat about checklists: If they say always do this or never do that, proceed with caution. For every rule in English, there are multiple exceptions. If you don’t understand the rule, ask someone who does. Grammar Girl is an excellent resource for understanding the nuances of the language.) The goal in this step is to clean up the manuscript as much as you can. You won’t get everything clean, but hopefully you’ll find enough of the problem areas that you can give your manuscript a thorough scrubbing.
  3. Repeat step 2. And again. Yes, I said it. Self-editing is not a one-pass process. You should review your manuscript multiple times, each time doing something different. Try reading on a different screen or in a different font. Read the story backwards. Read it at different times of the day or in a different room in your home. I like to edit my own work by printing it out and taking it to the local coffee shop.
  4. When you feel that your manuscript is as clean as it can get (it’s not, trust me), send it out to beta readers or your critique group. Hopefully your support group comprises a variety of readers, including both authors you respect and non-authors. Listen to their feedback, digest it, make revisions as necessary.
  5. Repeat steps 2 and 3. I know, I know, I am starting to sound a little tedious, but the cleaner you can make your now revised manuscript, the less work your editor will have to do, and less work generally means lower fees. In addition, not that you have some feedback from others, hopefully you are starting to identify your “problem areas” (e.g., overused words or grammatical constructions, action that occurs too quickly or two slowly, stilted or inauthentic dialogue). [Tweet “Self-editing is not a one-pass process”]

The Hiring Phase

Advertise for an editor. Let your friends know you are looking for an editor. If you have author friends whose books you have read and found them to be clean, ask if they will share their editor’s information with you (but don’t be put off if they decline to share; finding the right editor can be challenging and no one wants to have to start the process over if their editor suddenly becomes too busy). Contact professional writing organizations in your area. List a job for free at www.the-efa.org, which is an international organization for professional freelancers. In your advertisements, provide the following information:

    • Genre and number of words in current work. If you have potentially controversial subject matter (e.g., erotica, religion, gore), mention that as well. The more specific you can be, the better chances you have of finding the right editor for you.
    • Your expectations for the editing. There are several levels of editing, but the terminology used is not identical among all editors. To ensure that you are speaking the same language, specify exactly what you want edited: Are you looking for someone to make sure that the grammar is perfect and that there are no typos? Do you want your editor to help with any awkward or clunky wording? Maybe you need someone to look at your transitions between chapters or help with a plot twist that isn’t quite flowing right. All of these are different levels of editing and have different fees associated with them. This is where understanding your problem areas can come in handy.
    • Your ideal timeline. Your flexible timeline. Most professional editors are not sitting around, just waiting for the next client to contact them. They are actively looking for clients all the time. This means, they are often booked weeks and even months in advance. If you simply cannot wait, say so in your advertisement. The last thing you want to do is to spend time wading through responses that won’t meet your needs when you could be writing your next novel.
    • A 500- to 1000-word sample of your writing from the middle of your current manuscript. Yes, the middle—you know, the part where your self-editing might not have been as effective because you were tired of reading it over and over again. Obviously you cannot include the entire sample in your advertisement, but you can put it up on your website and direct interested authors to it. In your ad, ask respondents to provide a sample edit of your writing and include it in their replies. Make sure to note any areas that you are particularly concerned about. Don’t send your applicants in blind; give them the information they need to provide you with a true example of their work.
    • A request for an estimate based on the sample, the length, and the timelines.
    • Contact information and deadline for applying.

Review the responses. I prefer to look at the sample edits first and see which ones force me to dig deeper and generate better writing. No, not all the edits in the sample will be the same. You need to look at each edit and try to understand why that edit was made (if the editor didn’t explain in). It’s okay to disagree with an edit as long as it is for the right reasons (not just as an emotional response). Once I have a pile of hopefuls, I review their other information—namely, their timelines and fees. I also visit their websites, if that information is provided, to get a feel for how that person perceives their own brand. From this analysis, I narrow the field down to a handful of editors (or sometimes just one, if I am lucky).

Follow-up with possible editors as necessary. If I need more information about the editing process or want to review an editor’s contract, now is the time to ask. I also ask about payment options (including deposits required) and whether the editor provides any follow-up editing or clean-up as part of the quoted fee. Finalize the choice and submit the manuscript for editing.

The Waiting Phase

This is by far the most challenging part of the editing process. Your best strategy here is to start writing your next manuscript while waiting for your editor to finish the job (because let’s be honest, if you just sit by your computer and wait for the revisions, you’re going to go crazy). Professional editors often make multiple passes of your work, checking for different issues with each pass. So if it normally takes you four hours to read your manuscript, it might take an editor fifteen to twenty hours to edit it. Be patient. You want them to do the best job that they can.

The truth is that I know I will have an emotional reaction to the edits when I receive them, but I will take my time and review each one honestly because I understand that sometimes an edit is not so much a sign saying “this is wrong,” but rather a flag saying “there’s an issue here.” As a professional writer, I have to be able to step back from my emotional reaction and look at the writing objectively—which is exactly what an editor helps me do. Professional editors do not change your writing for the heck of it. They have reasons for every edit they make. If you are not sure about an edit, ask. The explanation often illuminates a deeper issue that, once you are aware of it, you can fix quite easily. Ultimately, editing is an investment in your product, and a well-edited manuscript creates a more enjoyable experience for your readers. [Tweet “Professional editors often make multiple passes of your work, checking for different issues”]

Your Reaction?

%d bloggers like this: