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With so many authors self-publishing these days, the best independent editors are in high demand, so if you’re looking for a knowledgeable, experienced professional editor to help you make your manuscript the best it can be – and improve your overall writing skills in the process – be sure to take some care with how you seek out and approach them.
Due to the high volume of requests, sought-after freelance editors turn down many more writer clients than they can accept, so it’s important to make a good first impression.
First, make sure your manuscript isn't still in rough draft. Try to find time to hone your craft (see my to-the-point editor's guides to writing compelling fiction), then go over the manuscript a few times to spark up the characters, raise the stakes, add conflict, tension, and intrigue, pick up the pace, and tighten the writing.
Next, do your research and look for editors with good credentials and reviews, who edit mainly fiction and read and edit your specific genre. Google “freelance editors, mysteries” or whatever, or go through an editors' association like EFA.
Then read through the editors' websites to find out about their services, process and requirements. What kinds of problems/issues do they look for? If it’s only grammar and spelling, you can get an English teacher friend to do the same, for a lot less money or even free. To make the most of working with a professional, choose someone who first looks for other, more important possible issues, such as a shaky premise, a boring plot, cardboard characters, confusing viewpoints, stilted dialogue, insufficient tension, slow pacing, plot holes, info dumps, showing instead of telling, and convoluted or too-formal phrasing.
You need an editor who can ferret out big-picture issues and help you with all the various techniques that, when ignored or botched, can sink a novel, and when flagged and addressed, can turn a mediocre or good novel into a real page-turner that sells and garners great reviews.
Once you’ve determined that the editor is up on current fiction techniques and industry expectations, be sure to read and follow their submission instructions. On my website, for example, I specifically request the following from potential clients: the genre, total word count, first 15-20 pages, 10 pages from somewhere in the middle, a brief synopsis (a few paragraphs to half a page), and a brief description of each of the main characters.
Without this information, I have no idea whether we’d be a good fit and I’d be the best editor for you. I can’t assess the level of work required to bring your manuscript up to industry standards or whether your story would fire my passions so I can give it the zeal and commitment it deserves. Nor can I provide you with an estimate of my fees without doing a sample edit or reading several pages to see what's involved. The quality of writing and the storytelling skills vary hugely from one manuscript to another, so of course the amount of work (time and effort) – therefore, cost of editing – will also vary hugely.
Here are 10 tips for attracting a top-notch, in-demand editor for your fiction and getting the best possible edit or critique for your manuscript:
1. Search for experienced, proficient editors who mainly edit fiction and who also read and edit your genre. Most nonfiction editors are unaware of critical techniques such as point of view and showing instead of telling. And an editor who reads only romances and cozy mysteries isn’t in the best position and mindset to help you add tension, conflict, suspense and intrigue to your thriller, for example.
2. Check their testimonials/reviews and contact some of the authors mentioned to discuss the process with that editor.
3. Peruse the editor’s website to find out about their editing process and the services they offer before contacting them. Do your homework, rather than just contacting the editor and expecting them to explain all about their process and services to you, a potential client whose work they haven’t seen and may not want or be able to take on.
4. Follow their submission requirements and provide as much information as possible about your book. If you just contact them and say “How much do you charge to edit a book?” there’s a good chance you may receive no response or a quick rejection.
5. Indicate why you’ve contacted them in particular – perhaps you noticed they edit your genre, you’ve heard good things about them, an author you know recommended them, or you’re impressed by their credentials and testimonials. Show that you’ve done your research and have concluded that they are your best choice/fit.
6. Be open-minded about the possible state of your manuscript. Even if you're an accomplished nonfiction writer, if you're relatively new at writing fiction, you may be unaware of issues in your writing style or fiction techniques that appear amateurish or get in the way of reader enjoyment. Your story may still need some or a lot of big-picture advice, even developmental editing, as well as content and stylistic editing, then rewriting/revising before it’s ready for the final copyediting stage.
An experienced editor will be able to tell quite quickly what level your story is at in terms of the editing process and where they should begin. So if you want a final product that can compete in today’s marketplace, it’s important not to be adamant that it “only needs a light final copyedit or proofread.”
7. Tight deadlines do not produce the best results. Proficient editors are often booked weeks or months in advance, and some juggle more than one manuscript at a time, so start contacting editors well before your manuscript is ready, and leave ample time for the process once it’s begun. If you tell the editor you’re under a tight deadline and need the whole 90K edited and ready to publish within a month, don’t be surprised if they turn it down, especially if it needs a lot of work.
8. Don’t forget your social skills. A “Hi, hope you had a good weekend” or “You come highly recommended” can go a long way. And if you do start working with an editor, for a positive, mutually beneficial working relationship, be sure to continue to add those little friendly or appreciative notes. [Editors should also follow this advice, of course!]
9. The writer-editor relationship requires commitment on both sides. Be sure to express your willingness to apply yourself and do any recommended revisions and even consider deleting or rewriting weak scenes. If you tell the editor you don’t have time to revise those scenes to make them stronger and more compelling, it speaks volumes about your work ethic and motivation and the ultimate success of your project, and can be discouraging to the editor, who may feel that she cares more about your story than you do.
10. Get a sample edit or hire the editor to work with you on a chapter or two first. Maybe go on a 20- or 50-page "date" with a prospective editor. That way you can see how that editor handles your work, and he/she can see how you respond to their suggestions and edits.
Good luck with this very important step in your self-publishing process!
Writers – do you have any questions or suggestions?
Editors – do you have any tips to add for writers who are seeking out an editor?
Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books (& e-books) to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medal winner in FAPA Book Awards, 2013). For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter. To subscribe to Jodie’s "Resources for Writers" newsletter please click on this link and fill out the form.