If you’ve gone to a writers conference recently, you’ve heard that you need an editor. Even after you’ve revised and polished your manuscript, you’re told, hire an editor to go over it. Most freelance editors charge for their work, but the quality of editing tends to vary widely.
Writing Tip for Today: What should you look for (and beware of) in a freelance editor?
Different Editor Flavors
The first thing you will want to do when you consider hiring an editor is to figure out what type of editor you need. If you’ve just typed THE END on the first draft of your book, set it aside for a cooling off period before you hand over fistfuls of cash to an editor. You’re too close, and the objectivity you need won’t emerge until you’ve walked away from the project for a time. After the “gestational” period,” reread the draft yourself, marking places to change and devise a sort of storyboard in order to view the story as a whole. After that, print out a few copies (or make a pdf) and allow 3-5 “beta readers” to weigh in.
Only then do I recommend you hire a professional editor to help you. Some editors are “content,” “developmental” or “macro” editors, that is they evaluate and make suggestions for changing how the story unfolds, where the story speeds too fast or drags too slowly and how characters can become more fully realized. Content editors also will help you on a scenic level–pointing out places where you’ve told instead of shown or made errors in dialogue, logic or emotional connection. Other editors are “copy” or “line” editors. They may smooth out awkward sentences, but mainly their job is to spot typos, mis-uses of grammar, punctuation and usage. A copy editor is a great resource when your book is nearing the submission or self-publishing phase. Some editors “do it all,” but most of the time a good editor will work with you on the BIG PICTURE (story) before the small stuff.
Editors Are NOT Created Equal
You’ve decided on what sort of editor you wish to hire. Great. But buyer beware: Editors are not licensed in the traditional way, like plumbers or electricians. ANYONE can call herself an editor. The quality (or lack thereof) you receive for your editor’s fee tends to run the gamut. Whether it’s a face-to-face encounter, a phone chat or over the internet, shop for an editor who has a track record. Your best friend’s mother who taught English in the 70s, isn’t likely to be what you need, especially for a first book. Yes, she may know proper grammar and spelling but her “story” skills (judging character, plot, pacing, etc) may not be as knowledgeable. For help, consult writing organizations (there’s a huge difference between editing a children’s book and editing adult novels), ask other writers or look for testimonials on the web. Even with recommendations, editing can be fairly subjective. Ask for a brief sample (good editors will give you 3-5 page edits as tryouts). If you aren’t convinced the editor has a good vision of your story, try a couple others. NEVER pay the full fee upfront (most eds. ask for half), and ask for a contract to spell out how many revision edits the editor will do, the anticipated delivery date and a way to work out grievances.
Whole Enchilada or a Manuscript Review?
It can be tempting, when you’ve worked so hard, to think you want the entire manuscript edited as a first step. Personally, I think writers waste a lot of money doing this. Why edit the whole manuscript if the story needs help or there are structural problems? In my opinion, it’s better to find an editor who offers Manuscript Evaluation services. This entails a review of your novel’s synopsis and the first 50 pages of the work. Usually, a mini-eval such as this will diagnose major problems and give you a chance to remedy before you lay out the big bucks. While you may think an editor can’t really know your story in 50 pages, if relatively little happens in those chapters, you’ll know you need to get the action going much more quickly. A lot of first novels contain one or two opening chapters of throat-clearing narrative and back story, which makes sense to you but won’t excite readers. A Manuscript Evaluation can help you prepare emotionally for cutting pieces you are attached to but which don’t perform.