After working with five editors in the course of publishing my last five books, I have learned the essential elements of establishing a good relationship between my editor and me. Like most lessons, many have been learned through mistakes, some very costly. Since I doubt that my experience is unique, I ‘ll detail the lessons learned and then briefly explain each one.
But first a little background on me and my writing history. After publishing extensively in prior careers, I expected the switch to fiction to be seamless; it was anything but that. Generally, the editorial critiques of my non-fiction works were no-brainers; I accepted most of them without question, made the changes they wanted and we were done. Simple. I assumed the same would be true during the process of editing my first novel, that the editors were expert. I should therefore accept what they say. I was wholly wrong. Since I placed far too much trust in the editorial team assigned by my publisher for my first novel, I missed the fact that essential elements of the plot had been eliminated to reduce the length of the book. Too late in the process, I realized that their editing did not include proofreading. I had been expected to hire a proofreader before the book was published. Therefore, the book was published without professional proofreading.
Hence, my decision to assume the cost and effort for a second edition of the first novel, and move to a hybrid model of self- publishing for all future books. Perhaps my experience will help you if you are still looking for a ‘perfect’ editorial fit.
Here are six tips on how to do that :
- An editor is essential, don’t even think about publishing your book without the careful scrutiny of a professional proofreader.
- You are the expert about your story, not your editor.
- Expect your editor to miss some typos or incomplete sentences.
- Make liberal use of editing software.
- Take time to make certain that you and your editor are clear on definitions that appear self-evident.
- Do not assume that price determines the quality of an editor.
Why an editor?
We live in a time when anyone can write and then publish their unedited book for next to nothing. And many self-published authors do just that. However, if we are serious about our craft, if we aim for excellence, we know better. We go the extra steps and spend our precious time and money in search of a good editor. Our aim, after all, is for our books to be read; the competition for readers is increasingly fierce. Close to 836 books are published daily here in the US. That number is rising just as book sales are dropping; new books now average less than 250 copies sold. Rather inauspicious data, right? But these sobering facts reveal instantly the importance of spending money for a set of experienced editorial eyes on your new baby. The competition is stiff even for great books, but for poor sentence structure, multiple typos and other common writing errors, the market is unforgiving. Frankly, this is as it should be. Perhaps you have purchased a book only to find the book rife with simple errors? An extremely unpleasant experience, isn’t it?
You are the expert on your story.
It took me far too long to realize that my editor is working for me, that I have paid him or her for her opinion but that the decision regarding all major changes resides in my lap. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Yeah, hard for me to believe it too but fact- I figured they are the experts, they know better than I do. Until I got burned in permitting the major cuts I described earlier. It’s a bit of a dance, this relationship between the editor and the writer. The editor can see the structural and organizational elements dispassionately while the writer can seldom detach enough to do so. That’s why we see the raves written about their editors by well- known authors in the acknowledgements. The two have perfected the dance.
Your editor is not perfect.
I am a recovering perfectionist and suspect that many, if not most, of us are also. Therefore, when my four books came back from each editor with numerous proofing errors, I was honestly shocked. These were professionals after all who had been paid substantial sums of money and still I found errors. I suspect that if I ever find a dancing partner on the level of those of Jodi Piccault, Lee Child, Stephen King and Dean Koontz, the final manuscript will indeed be perfect simply because these folks are provided with a whole team of people to catch all of the minor and major glitches in the story. Until then, I have learned to expect errors when the book is delivered from the editor. According to one of my editors, the ‘capture’ rate for typos and the like among editors averages only eighty-five per cent.
Why writing software?
If you search for “best writing software,” you’ll find several pages providing the best free software and ranking for the paid ones as well. I have used three types and find them especially useful in identifying typos, wordiness and other simple writing errors. Since I now expect errors from my editor, running the book through the program saves me extensive time in my still elusive goal to achieve the ‘perfectly’ edited manuscript.
Definitions of proofreading and line editing.
Here is an area that seems wholly self-evident but I have learned it is far from that. While line editing is generally considered to be a line by line exacting read of the book with comments, suggestions and critiques made in the margins and proofreading just an overall read for typos, punctuation and typos, there is extensive variation among editors in their use of these terms. Be sure that both you and your editor are crystal clear, preferably before you hire her.
The variation of price among editors continues to astonish me. It’s not off by a mere few hundred dollars but thousands. Similarly to all purchases, one can get seduced by the slick web site and high price to assume that if he charges that much more than everyone else, he must be the best. Most likely, this is a foolish assumption. Be careful here, use good judgement.
So, what can we do?
Given all of these ‘tips’ that make what looked like a simple decision look terrifically complicated, is there a reasonable solution? There is indeed. Research your editor and scrutinize an example of her work before you hire her. The editor I just hired to proof my next book was one of four who expressed interest in the job when I posted it on Upwork.com. I asked each of the top four applicants to proof the Prologue and first chapter of my book. Comparing the variation in their editing styles was time consuming but a most valuable use of my time. The person I hired had a style that I really liked. Although there were three others who did an acceptable job, Lori’s minor changes showed her to be several levels above a mere proofreader. Her changes in word placement and phrases substantially improved the flow of my writing. If her proofread is consistent throughout the entire book, I just may have discovered my dancing partner!