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So… you need an editor for your book or short story.  Maybe you’ve already published it, and you’ve been hit with reviews crying, “OMG, this needs to be edited!”  Or maybe it’s safely tucked inside your computer, and you know it needs a good overhaul before you even venture toward that “publish” button.

I’m an editor, but this isn’t meant to drive you toward hiring me.  It’s to help you improve your experience with any editor you hire – to make the road easier to travel for both of you.

Ready?  Let’s get started.

You’ve done your research, and you’ve found one or more editors you’d like to contact.  Here’s what to include in your query:

– The length of your story

– What genre it is

– Is it finished, or are you still working on it?

– What publication date you’re aiming toward – next week? Next month? Whenever it’s ready?

– What type of editing you’re looking for

That last one is ultra-important.  If you don’t know the difference between proofreading, copy editing, line editing, and developmental editing, do a bit of Googling and investigate.  If your manuscript is already polished, you probably just need a proofread for tiny bloopers.  If you know your spelling is horrendous and you aren’t at all sure where the commas should go, you’ll need either a copy edit or a line edit.  And if you’re aware that your first draft is a hot mess, but you have no idea how to fix it, you’re looking for a developmental editor who can help guide you step-by-step to a final product with no dangling plot threads, no “WTF?” moments, and no completely unbelievable characters.

Whether you’ve sent a query to one person or ten, give them a little time to reply.  A good-quality editor is probably busy, and it may be several hours, or even a day or two, before you hear back from them.

Key Point: If an editor answers your query with anything other than an outright “no”, respond to them.  You may have already decided to sign on with another editor, but leaving someone’s e-mail unanswered when they’ve expressed an interest in working with you is… well, colossally rude.  Take a minute to write back, “I’ve decided to go with someone else, but thank you for your time.”

Okay, you’ve gone through the process and have chosen an editor who sounds like a good fit.  Don’t be afraid to ask them for a sample edit of a few pages of your book.  Any reputable editor will be glad to do that for you (although they may not be able to do it immediately).  A sample will benefit both of you – the editor can get a sense of your writing style and the condition the manuscript is in, and you can get a feel for the type of editing you’ll receive.

If the sample looks good, now’s the time to lock down dates and prices.  Ask the editor what his/her turnaround time is.  Do they want a deposit up front?  Do they have any special formatting requirements for the manuscript (specific margins, double spacing, etc.)?

Key Point:  Editing may cost several hundred dollars – or more.  Make sure you’ve got those funds available when you send your manuscript to the editor, and that you’ll be ready to pay on the required date.

Aaaaand… the time has arrived!  Time to submit your manuscript to the editor.  Make sure you’ve got it formatted per the editor’s requirements, and that you’ve paid any deposit that’s due.

But…

Say you’ve changed your mind.  The manuscript isn’t ready.  You’ve hit a roadblock, or a real-life situation has interfered.  You may not be ready for another week… or ever.

Contact your editor immediately!

Your editor isn’t a “spirit” out there in the fog of the Internet.  He or she is a real person with a real calendar and real bills to pay.  Your not showing up to keep your appointment means that (more than likely) your editor will have no income for that time period.  How would you feel if someone who promised to pay you a hundred dollars – or several hundred – didn’t show up?

Yeah, not cool.

So do your best to keep your appointment.  But if you can’t, get in touch with the editor right away and let them know what’s up.  Chances are they’ll be okay with rescheduling, though you may not be able to lock down your ideal date(s).

Key Point:  If your editor has agreed to do the work on one specific day, send her your manuscript the night before.  That way it’ll be ready and waiting when she’s got her first cup of coffee in hand.  Don’t wait until late afternoon, or, God forbid, 10:00 at night and expect the editor to sit up all night to do the work.

And…

Key Point:  Keep an eye on your e-mail while your manuscript is in the editor’s hands.  They may have a quick question that needs an answer before they can proceed with the work.  If you don’t answer the question, your editor may have to set the work aside, or make a decision that you may not like, which will result in extra work for both of you.

Woo hoo!  You’ve got your edited manuscript back.

And you may be feeling any number of things.  Excited.  Eager to examine the edits and do that final polish so you can publish.  Or you may be disappointed.  Or even angry, or deeply hurt.  Know what?  You’ve got the absolute right to feel any or all of those things.  Maybe you were expecting the editor to tweak a word or two, insert some additional commas (or take some out), and fix a misspelling.  Instead, your manuscript is loaded with red edits.

I’ve been an author for fifty years, and I’ll agree wholeheartedly: that stuff hurts.  But here’s the thing.  If you’ve hired a good editor, one who truly knows their business, and the two of you agreed ahead of time what sort of edits he or she would make – take a deep breath.  Take a walk.  Set the manuscript aside for a while.  Then come back and take another look, remembering: these are only suggestions.  As the author, YOU have ultimate control over your manuscript.  You can say “the hell with this!” and publish it as is.  That’s your right.

But I’d suggest that you sit down (after you’ve stopped crying, or wanting to punch someone) and examine what the editor is trying to tell you.  Do you use a particular word(s) or type of sentence too often?  Is your dialogue stiff?  A lot of beginners are afraid to loosen up with their dialogue, afraid of using contractions (“I’m going” versus “I am going”) or simpler, everyday words.  There may be other problems you weren’t at all aware of, but which jumped off the page at your editor.  Spend some time looking at the edits and considering them.

If you’re still confused, or upset, ask questions.  Ask the editor to explain what’s going on – what he or she felt you were doing wrong.

Remember, no one’s telling you that you suck.  No one’s trying to hurt your feelings, or tell you that you should give up on writing.  No one’s trying to be mean to you, simply for the sake of being mean.  If an editor is worth his salt, he’ll be trying to help you tell a better story.  To tell your story in a smoother, more professional way that will appeal to more readers and will help you avoid those dreaded one-star reviews.

I’ll offer you a quote from one of my writing mentors, a man who was in his 50s at the time and had an enormous amount of success under his belt.  I sent him some of my work to look at, and he sent it back with this note:  “It’s okay… but it needs to be more than okay.”

Keep that in mind, because more than likely, it’s what your editor is trying to tell you with all of those nasty red edits.

IT’S OKAY, BUT IT NEEDS TO BE MORE THAN OKAY.

Again, the final choices are up to you.  When it comes to your book, you’re the boss.  (Hooray for self-publishing.)  It could be that your editor actually did go too far – tried to turn your story into their story.  That they changed your voice, and the story you were trying to tell.  If you’re a beginner, it can be tough to sort out good advice from bad, and “enough” from “too much.”  You may feel like you don’t know what to accept and what to reject.  In that case… just go with your gut.  Remember that your editor is trying to help you move past okay to terrific.  From meh to OMG I love this book!  If you’ve found the right editor, he or she will be a solid part of your publishing team… and will be standing at the finish line applauding you as you start collecting those 5-star reviews from your readers.

Be proactive, and interactive.  Make it work.

My final note to you?

Good luck!!!

(P.S. – Feel free to ask questions in the comments.  Are you confused as hell about something?  Have no idea how to find a good editor?  Want to vent about something?  Go right ahead!  If you need help, I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.)

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