|a section of Jodie's reference library|
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 fiction 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 or EAC.
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, inconsistencies, 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, including checking over all your subsequent revisions!
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 has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for he third book in the series, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her other blogs, Resources for Writers and The Kill Zone, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.
I've used a few editors now and have enjoyed working with each one of them for different reasons. Overall, I find the editing process to be an exciting time in the development of a story.ReplyDelete
Great attitude, Ian! Exciting, and often critical - can make the difference between a mediocre novel and a good one, or a good one and a stellar one!Delete
Thanks for dropping by and commenting.
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Hit the wrong button, so here are my comments again. As a freelance editor, I appreciate the accuracy of your posting. Being open-minded to an editor's findings is not easy (I speak as an author as well.) but it is imperative that writers be willing to listen. The editor must listen as well for it to be a constructive conversation. Your points about deadlines are spot on as well. I too often hear something like this, "It took me twelve years to write it, and it's ready to go. If you could check it over for typos and things, I'd like to get it out by January 1st." The date they call is December 8. I hope many people see this and I'm sharing it on FB.Delete
Thanks so much for your comments, Mahala, both as an editor and an author! So true about being open-minded to suggestions and having constructive conversations!Delete
Jodie, this is a much needed post. I hope every writer - and editor - appreciates your generosity. (Just one small nit - English teachers (we are one:) should also be paid, and while not all of them are editors, some are, and darn good.)ReplyDelete
The networking of independent professionals has such potential, a writer - or editor - has to be excited. Of all the services the Big 6 offered, editing was, or should have been, the most valuable. Especially in genres, word of mouth did the marketing.
One other point, or a sub-point: leave your ego at the door. The editor should be the beta-plus-alpha reader. Every writer needs an editor. Even an editor who writes needs someone else as editor.
An important post. Thanks, Jodie.
(It's good to be back.:)
Good to have you back, David! As a former English teacher, I didn't mean to imply that they should work for free, but when I was an English teacher, I often checked over the resumes and essays, etc. of friends and family for free. Emphasis on the "friends and family" part! :-)Delete
This is timely and appreciated. The number of people who simply contact me and ask "How much for 80,000 words? I need it next week" has grown wearisome. Some claim to have read the submission guidelines and clearly have not. On behalf of editors everywhere, Jodie, thank you!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Wendy. I can't agree with you more! It's frustrating to get that same question over and over, when all they have to do is read the website info and submission guidelines! Their manuscript is precious, so they need to take an active role in ensuring they find the best editor for it!Delete
Another possible way of finding an editor is by looking for a lead in the acknowledgements section or copyright page of a book, in your genre, you enjoyed. Of course, this works especialy well with self-published books.ReplyDelete
Great post, Jodie!
Good idea, Peg! I love it when authors thank me for my dedication and hard work in their Acknowledgments page - which is pretty much all the time these days! :-)Delete
Important post, Jodie. I hope people are listening. Responding to email from clients who aren't serious can be a huge time waster. And from what I hear from others in the business, "writers" can be the worst clients.ReplyDelete
Thanks, LJ. It's a matter of showing some respect and consideration for a busy, sought-after professional with whom you'd like to have a good working relationship! So it's critical to start off on the right foot so you don't get rejected as a client before you've begun. Thanks for your supportive comment - from an ideal writer client!Delete
These are excellent tips, Jodie. As a book publicist, I can't tell you how many books I receive that have not been professionally edited. And your 10 tips apply for queries to publicists, as well as editors. Great post!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Paula! I'm sure that is so true!Delete
Excellent post (as always), Jodie! You packed a lot of good detail in here, and your tips are spot on.ReplyDelete
It's critical for writers -- even first-timers -- to know the difference between a rough draft and a manuscript that's ready for editing. (If you're a writer and don't know the difference between the two, you've got more research to do.)
As you noted, Jodie, writers have plenty of options and resources to help them whip a manuscript into shape. A writers' group or critique group may be a good place to start, or enlisting beta readers to offer a critique and help identify any glaring errors. Your book, Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, and James Scott Bell books are great resources on plot, pacing and conflict.
The only thing I would add in regard to enlisting the English teachers to proofread is this: while these folks will do a great job helping a writer with grammar and syntax, that person may or may not be aware of common style rules used in publishing. So, writers, your English teacher and/or English major connections are a great resource, but be sure to still run your manuscript past a professional book editor before you publish.
Editing is a big expense for self-publishers, but definitely a worthwhile investment. And the writers who take your advice, Jodie, will get the most value for their money because they're not only approaching their project in a professional manner, but their editor as well.
Thanks so much for your astute comments, Diane. The other problem with enlisting the help of English teachers is that, unless they're huge fans of fiction and your genre in particular, they may end up overcorrecting your work and making the dialogue too "correct" and stilted, and basically sucking the life out of your casual, fiction "voice". Not to mention they may not know about the critical techniques of point of view, showing instead of telling, pacing, adding plenty of tension & conflict, etc., etc.Delete
My point was that if writers are going to insist that all their story needs is a quick run-through for grammar and spelling, they're better off to get a friend to do that for free. But they're probably (very likely) deluding themselves that that's all their story needs!
I had my last book proofread by an English professor. He wanted me to add the word "that" in about a gazillion places. He's much more literary and even though he reads widely, he had a hard time with my style.Delete
I hope you were firm about not tampering with your voice and style, Peg! Trying to make a fiction piece more "correct" could have devastating results, if carried too far! That's why it's so important to get an editor who loves and reads novels in your specific genre, and knows what readers (and agents and publishers) look for in stories in that genre.Delete
Jodie, such an excellent — and needed — post! I wish all my potential clients heeded your advice. The worst are those that dash off queries via their smartphone, replete with typos, sentence fragments, and not even expressing what kind of help they're looking for.ReplyDelete
All of your points are excellent. I would also add that sometimes it helps to bring an editor in at the early stages of a project. A good developmental editor can help guide you in making story and character choices, as well as avoiding some major pitfalls down the road.
So true, Diane. Newbie writers often get bogged down and need a savvy story coach or developmental editor like you! "Book doctors" who know their stuff are worth their weight in gold!Delete
Once again you've hit the target dead center!
The relationship between author and editor is a collaboration. Mutual respect, honesty and consideration are essential.
As you note, it should start from day one. Do it right and everyone wins because the book will be improved.
And you might even find a friend.
Thanks, Tom! "... a collaboration. Mutual respect, honesty, and consideration are essential." I like that! So true. And wise words from another one of my "ideal" clients - and one I can now count among my good friends and mutual supporters in the writing and publishing biz. :-)Delete