Exactly How to Find an Editor + the Privilege of Having One
So, I posted this on Twitter a few days ago:
And I got an overwhelming response of people with questions about editing, who aren’t sure how to approach editing, who need more information, who have been misled, who have editors they love, who have a solid process, who don’t, and even a few who don’t believe in editors at all. SO. In response to all that, and because, honestly, the writing community at large needs a solid understanding of editing, editors, and how we function both in the self and traditional publishing worlds, here is my spiel about the art of editing + serious tips and guidance about finding and utilizing a professional editor:
The Art of the Editor
Editing is an art form. For those of us who have invested our time, money, and intellectual and creative energies into honing our craft, we recognize that editing is a separate and necessary portion of the writing process. We are plot technicians—helping stories find their shape, sharpening the edges of fictional constructs, making sure that worlds are built with integrity and that characters remain true to the boundaries of their specific nature.
We are puzzle makers—re-arranging events and objects to help them find their organic places in the story. We can see through the problems of a draft that suffers from plot holes, underdevelopment, inconsistent emotional motivations, and have the ability to merge symbolism and meaning with the mundane landscape of everyday life.
We are puppeteers—sage marionette makers, helping to pull the right strings of a story to create tension where tension is needed, to create softness where tenderness is needed, to create turmoil where chaos is needed, and to create clarity where a resolution is needed.
And beyond the developmental foresight of an editor, we shape worlds and stories through words and phrases and punctuation. You want your story to be correct and proper on the page, but you might not realize how much work a single comma can carry on its back—or how it might change a character’s intentions to end a paragraph where you previously thought it should meander on. For an editor, the physical words of a story are a gushing river, and the wrong punctuation can dam up the river very quickly, and the right punctuation can propel your reader off a waterfall of imagination. It’s all in the details.
An editor is your partner in the writing process, not your critic.
Sure, it’s an editor’s job to offer you constructive criticism, to critique your work, to play devil’s advocate, to make you consider your story from every angle—even when that’s tough—but an editor is there to be your partner, your helping guide. They should serve as Sherpa of your writing experience, shepherding you through the editing process. You should never feel torn down by an editor, rather they should make you feel hopeful by lending you the knowledge and tools they have to make your story shine as brightly as it can.
Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: Do I Need an Editor?
First of all, there are many different types of editors. Traditional publishing houses use acquiring editors + contracted editors to work on your manuscript and to navigate the revision process with you. One of the comments on my Twitter post lamented that you don’t need to hire an editor if you’re pursuing traditional publishing because you’ll work with one if your book gets picked. That’s true, and I mostly agree with that, with one looming stipulation: IF your book gets picked up.
Before an editor ever begins work on your book on this path, you have to first acquire a literary agent who then must be able to sell your manuscript to a publishing house. THEN you get an editor. And hey, listen, DO query your manuscripts without having them professionally edited. Why not give it a shot, right? You might just get picked up! But if you query several agents and you keep getting rejected, you might need to think about hiring a professional editor to review your work. I’ve worked on TONS of manuscripts for writers pursuing traditional publishing, and I can say without a doubt that your chances of being successfully agented are much higher if you’ve worked with a professional editor to clean up your manuscript, and your chances are exponentially higher if you’ve worked with an editor or book coach who is trained in and familiar with the traditional publishing world.
If you are self-publishing, please hire a professional editor. The market is saturated with unedited and poorly edited books, and as an advocate for the self-publishing industry, I implore you to work with professional editors to not only uphold the integrity of the market but to also create content that is the best representation of your capabilities! As writers, our stories are our hearts. Our stories take up so much space in our minds and in our lives, and they deserve to be polished and pampered.
…But Beta Readers and Friends…
Yes. Use these, too. Beta readers are a great first stop for a draft. Giving your story to beta readers helps you initially gauge which portions of your story might need more work or even major revision. Same thing with your friends and writing groups. Share your story far and wide for feedback, inside and outside of the writing community, so you get a breadth of commentary. But understand something: this should never replace a professional editor. Also, remember, the stakes for beta readers are low. Being that they’re offering you a free or low-cost critique, probably because they just like you and/or reading, realize that their feedback is likely not the most detailed or thorough.
Professional editing is the next level of polish. A professional editor understands how story structure should function specifically in your genre. They understand how to fix problems with character development, they understand how to shape and mold a memoir, they know where to direct your attention and how to guide you through prompts and suggestions, they know how to elevate your craft as a writer, how to enhance your authorial voice. A professional editor can clean up the language of your story, making sure it is as cohesive as possible. Your English major friend from college may be a GREAT beta reader, but they do not have the same trained skills as a professional editor who works in the industry and who is familiar with contemporary publishing standards that will help your book shine in the marketplace.
The Privilege of Having an Editor
I’m going to tell you exactly how to find the right editor for your book project, but first, I want to clearly address a comment on my Tweet. Unfortunately, it seems as though the author has deleted their comment after the fact. I wish they hadn’t, though, because it is an incredibly valuable point. But the premise was that the expense of hiring an editor makes it a privileged service, and, essentially, when we propagate the idea that editors are necessary that we marginalize writers who can’t afford them. It would be irresponsible for me to not address this.
YES. Editing is expensive (I mean, depending on your definition of expensive, I guess). But editing a full-length manuscript is a full-time job that requires upwards of 30-40 hours of work. But you also have to remember that having your book edited is an investment in yourself and in your art—that working to make that investment is not a bad thing, and that doing so is an act of self-care because you are choosing to believe in your own capabilities enough to fully evolve them through a professional.
However, if you truly can’t afford any editing services, editors and the publishing industry are NOT interested in pushing you aside! In fact, there are a lot of work-arounds here:
Offer what you can in exchange for help. I have bartered with many broke writers for editing services (I was a broke writer once, too, y’all). I even once had a woman send me pre-packaged meals in exchange for editing, which worked out because then I didn’t have to spend money on groceries that week. Just saying. We’re people, too. Never hurts to ask.
If you want to pursue traditional publishing and you just need some guidance, reach out to a book coach. Often times, it’s a lot cheaper to hire an editor for a publishing consultation to get you started down the right path.
Get a manuscript assessment. Many times, people will submit their manuscript to me for an overall critique and broad assessment to give them some general revision direction. This serve is much cheaper and faster than a full editing package.
Ask for payment plans that fit your circumstances. It’s that simple. And beware of editors unwilling to reasonably accommodate you. More on that below.
Immerse yourself in the industry and network. If you really want to be an author, it would be good for you to network anyways. Go to writers conferences, literary events, join writer’s groups, etc. etc. Anywhere you can meet industry professionals, go there! And you never know, you just might meet people who will help you, but you’ll definitely learn enough to navigate the publishing world!
We’re not all sitting in our ivory towers, turning our heads unless you have a wad of cash. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Editors are lovers of words and stories, and are often writers themselves. We are helpers, and we want to spread our insight for the good of storytelling, not in service of cash.
All that being said, there are a lot of frauds out there. A LOT OF THEM. And if you know me, you’ve heard me harp on this a million times, but it’s SO important. I can’t tell you how much time I spend fixing other “editor’s” mistakes, and it breaks my heart for all the writers who are getting swindled. I’ve had people come to me after spending four, five, ten, twenty thousand dollars on “editors” who had no qualifications and no business warping the passion projects of writers. It sullies all of our names, and there many replies to my Tweet that sounded disparaged after having worked with someone like this. So, let me tell you EXACTLY how to find an editor.
What to Look For
CREDENTIALS. QUALIFICATIONS. A DEGREE. CERTIFICATIONS. EXPERIENCE. TESTIMONIALS. A RESUME. A PORTFOLIO. SAMPLES.
I don’t know why people seem to not hold creative professionals to same standards as others, but not asking for credentials and proof of expertise has gotten us into a real quagmire.
Editors should be TRAINED. It’s not enough to just feel like you understand how to developmentally edit stories, and it’s not enough to just feel like you have a grasp on grammar and punctuation. You wouldn’t trust a doctor who just feels like he understands the organ he’s about to conduct surgery on, so why the hell would you trust an unqualified editor?
After two degrees, three universities, study abroad, in-house publishing experience, a certification, and many years of continuous training, it makes my blood boil that people are just out there calling themselves “freelance editors.” They have no right to do so, and they are not qualified to manage your creative property. Editors should be TRANSPARENT. You can literally download my resume and portfolio directly from my website for this reason.
Finding an editor is like shopping for a therapist. They need to be the right fit for you, so you don’t need to stick with your first choice. Make sure the editor you choose is fluent and experienced in your genre, that YOU LIKE THEM (you’re going to be spending a lot of time talking to them and trusting them, so you better like them), and that they understand your goals and know how to help you accomplish them.
What to Expect
Okay, listen. Every editor works differently. I can’t tell you EXACTLY what to expect because we all have different processes, but I can tell you my process for comparison purposes.
First of all, I always start with a consultation call. This is as much for the client as it is for me. It helps me assess whether or not I’m the perfect editor for this client, or if I need to offer them a referral (because, at the end of the day, I’m more invested in writers finding the perfect editorial homes for their wok than I am in my pocket book. Plenty of projects that are right for me come my way, and I am grateful for that, so I respect when they’re not right for me). On this call, I assess the client’s goals and which services they specifically need.
Next, I email the client a quote. Simple step. Let’s agree that they decide to move forward with the services in this quote.
So many people—freelance editors and writers—skip this very important step. Get a contract. Seriously. It’s as much of a protection for you as it is for the editor. A contract offers both parties recourse, terms, stringent outlines of the services agreed upon, timelines, payments schedules—PUT IT ALL IN WRITING. Protect yourselves.
I rarely agree to complete a content edit without a copy edit. For me, I believe in the importance of having one editor, if possible, complete both so that everything about the manuscript is tight and cohesive. A content edit is also called a developmental edit, and it examines the structure of your manuscript and informs you of any revisions needed in the way in which your ideas are conveyed, ordered, or presented. Through an in-depth professional synopsis, this type of comprehensive edit also offers you suggestions on how to improve your manuscript both in concept and delivery.
It’s not enough, in my opinion, for an editor to simply deliver your content edit to you without any tools or resources on how to enact the suggested revisions. I go over the content edit with my clients over a coaching call, and we create a revision plan together that includes several more calls, actions steps and milestones, + any resources or teachings my client might need.
A copy edit corrects all grammatical errors in your manuscript. This includes punctuation errors, spelling, tense, an evaluation of syntax, sentence structure, format, spacing, and style of the piece. Once revision is complete and we’re both happy with the final draft, a copy edit provides the client with a “clean” document, ready to embark on its publishing journey!
PUBLISHING + BEYOND
As a book coach, I also offer a myriad of other services to help writers agent or publish and market their books. In the simplest of terms, a book coach is an editor with the capabilities and knowledge to lead you all the way through the publishing process and beyond. And we’re an important component of the publishing world because the industry can be confusing, and amidst that overwhelm, a book coach has the knowledge and expertise to singularly guide you through every part of your publishing journey, whether it’s self or traditional.
A Closing Note
I can’t stress enough how imperative it is to ask professional freelancers for their qualifications and to protect yourself and your writing. You are a gifted, magical being with a passion for storytelling, and those stories and that gift deserve the proper special care that an editor or a book coach can offer, so don’t shy away from editors. We really are here to help and nourish your work the best we can, because we, too, carry a deep love for writing and stories.