Why You Need an Editor and How to Find One

You've spent hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hours working on your novel. You've laughed, cried and given up more than once...ok more like ten or fifteen times. Through dogged determination and refusal to give up you have finally crossed the finish line and have a completed (although not complete) manuscript. So, now what?

Here's where the writing community has some level of debate. You need an editor, right? But what if you can't afford one? What if you're really skilled in the English language, maybe you even have a degree? What if you've had several beta readers and they all scanned for errors as part of their reading? Do you still need an editor then? Yes, you do if you want your manuscript to be the best it possibly can be but this doesn't mean it's the end of the road if you're on a limited income or you don't know where to find an editor you can trust with your work. Keep in mind, not all editors are created equal and not all are right for your project. This may seem daunting, and sometimes it is, but let's go through each step one at a time and I promise it'll be a little bit easier.

Step One: Finding an Editor

This can be the most difficult part of the editing experience so let's tackle it first. For indie authors and really anyone who's not signed with a publisher who takes care of that sort of thing for you, finding an editor can be tough, especially on a budget. But let me say this, the quality of your work will be affected by whether or not you choose to ignore this step in the process. An editor is your best friend when it comes to making sure that the story you're about to present to the world is the best it can be. But that doesn't mean it has to be expensive. Like most things in the world, you get what you pay for and the editors who are experienced, proven, and proficient are also going to be pricey. If you have the budget, this and cover design are the only two places where I suggest you spend the money. This is an investment in your career, your work and your reputation. It's worth making.

If you don't have the money, here's the cool thing, you're not the only one trying to make a name for yourself. There are countless editors in the profession who are just starting out and they're usually willing to offer a reduced rate or even a payment plan in some cases to build up their catalog of references. So, finding new editors can be a cheaper alternative. This does not, however, mean the work should be cheap. A professional editor should and will offer the same level of quality regardless of the fee they charge. The best way to ensure this is to never pay an entire amount upfront but, more importantly, get a sample. Especially new editors should be willing to offer a short (few pages, maybe a chapter) sample of their work. Some will charge for this, others won't, but it's better to get this ahead of time and allow yourself the opportunity to see if the style this particular editor employs is a good mesh with yours. Also, use a contract. You can download sample contracts online or make one yourself IF you have knowledge of basic work for hire laws and can construct one that protects both you and the editor. I would suggest downloading a template from a reputable source like LegalZoom and entering the pertinent information for security's sake.

That being said, if money isn't an issue, I highly suggest checking out resources like Reedsy.com that provide a marketplace for professionals who are looking to sell their services. You can read reviews, inquire about pricing and check out past work until you've found the right person for your specific style of writing. Remember, not all editors are made equal and genres aren't one size fits all. What might be the perfect fit to make someone else's manuscript leap off the page might not work for yours. Shop around.

Second: Vetting the Editor

So once you've decided you actually need an editor it's a good idea to make sure you've found the right one. This goes way beyond checking references and ensuring they're competent with a red pen. You need to know what kind of editor you need. A basic grammar check and punctuation is often referred to as Copy Editing or even Proofreading and is the standard service offered by pretty much anyone who does editing for hire. However, if you feel like perhaps you need another set of eyes to make sure the story lines up well, the character arcs are coherent and complete or that the ending really zings, what you're looking for is a Developmental Editor and furthermore if you're somewhere in between where you're sure the bones of the story are strong but maybe the prose could use a little....oomph, then you're seeking a Line Editor. Any one person might do one, all, or a combination of these things but it's essential you know going in what service you're requesting and whether the person you're considering for the job specializes in that sort of editing and understands what you need when they provide a quote for the service. Understandably, due to the amount of work involved the fee for line editing will be significantly less than a full developmental edit. For more information types of editors go here (when you're done).

Third: Paying your Editor

Once you've received your final manuscript from the editor it's time to pay the amount agreed upon, minus any fees you paid upfront and publish your book; but, wait. Chances are if you've done your homework and properly vetted your editor and received a sample in advance that was up to the standard you expect that everything will be fine but it cannot be overstated how important it is to read through your ENTIRE manuscript and make sure everything is as it should be. This will be your last chance to raise any concerns and ask any questions about the choices your editor has made. Often, your edits will come in the form of suggestions entered in the comments section line by line in programs like Word or maybe Google Docs. Review each of these and understand them before you sign off on the project. A good contract will have a provision included for a review period after delivery and many editors will offer a certain number of revisions (up to a point) as part of their quoted fee. Make sure you're clear about this upfront and utilize the time directly following completion of your first pass check for anything that might need to be addressed. Once you've paid for the service, the contract is fulfilled and all bets are off. Most editors are happy to work with clients who notice issues after the fact, provided it's not too time-intensive, but they are of course under no official obligation and time is money. So, go ahead and check now.

Finally: Rate your Editor!

If you found your editor on a marketplace, rate their work, leave a review. Let others know how your experience went. This works in two ways: it helps other potential clients know that the editor did (or didn't) meet expectations and it's a good way to top off the relationship should you want to return this editor again in the future. If they did a good job, let them know! If they didn't, let others know so they can be aware of the potential shortcomings.

All this being said, there are those that will argue against using editors citing either extensive beta reader feedback, personal knowledge of grammar and writing, or any combination of excuses. To this, I can only say, use your best judgment but an editor's job is entirely different from a whole army of well-intentioned, eagle-eyed betas. An editor's job is to focus solely on specific pitfalls common to EVERY writer. Even the most famous writers use at least one and often time several passes from professional editors to make sure their work shines. It's the nature of the business. And having another pair of eyes is essential. The person who wrote the story or even a dedicated beta who has read the manuscript fifteen times will miss things that would be obvious to an editor because once you're familiar with a story your mind will automatically fill in gaps that you weren't even aware of from repetition and prior exposure. So, you can get by without having someone professionally review your manuscript but it's never the best idea, and your work will always be stronger for the effort.

Of course, if you plan on querying your manuscript the rules can be a little leaner because any publishing house is going to hire their editorial team to comb over your work prior to publication, but you should do a very thorough spellcheck and at least one, if not two or three, proofreads for grammatical inconsistencies.

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(Originally published alongside Stephen King and Neil Gaiman)

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