How to Be a Better Writer #3: Get an Editor

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Yup, it’s true that your writing will improve if you proofread it, but guess what: You can take it leaps further.

When I was interviewing renowned indie author Helen Hollick for last month’s Post she had nothing but praise for her editor, and with good reason. A fresh set of eyes makes a world of difference.

“A good editor is a must for indie writers—not only to ensure the final proof has as few typo errors as possible, and for the obvious grammar, punctuation and spelling bloopers, but also to assist with the writing process as an overall experience,” Helen says.
Editors vary greatly when it comes to their services, editing styles, pricing structures and so on. I got in touch with editor Dulcie Shoener, so we could offer a big-picture look at what you can expect from the experience.

Why consider professional editing?
Simply enough, hiring a pro has major benefits. First, editing is his or her job. He or she knows how to hone your language, plot flow, character development and all the other components that will keep readers engaged from the very first page.

“Every sentence should be a good sentence,” says Dulcie, who’s been editing newspapers, magazines and books for more than 30 years. “When a reader stumbles over poorly written sentences, he or she may give up on your book.” But you’ll never finish writing a paragraph if you dwell on every word of the first draft. That’s something editors can do for you.

An experienced editor also has an efficient proofing system in place. By seeing a sample of your work, he or she can give you a pretty good idea of the type of edits you need and how long it will take. And that means you can stay true to your production timeline.

Last, he or she is naturally objective. While a close friend or family member may be a good editor, and the friends and family discount is tempting, collaborating on a project like this can put a big strain on your relationship. Your connection with a pro is strictly that—professional—he or she can offer suggestions and constructive criticism without worrying that you’ll act weird at the next reunion.

Once you pick an editor, you’ll have packages to choose from, too. Usually, they’re something like:
• Proofread: corrects spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax—sometimes basic facts, as well
• Copyedit: in addition to proofreading, includes some structural suggestions and wording reworks
• Comprehensive edit: includes all of the above, plus helps develop storyline, smoothes out flaws, proofs formatted text and fact-checks

When should you hire an editor?
Some editors are involved from the very beginning. If you want a sounding board as you write, this is the way to go. Just ask Helen.

“Initially, we discuss any holes in the plot or out-of-place oddities for the characters,” she says. “If I get stuck on a scene that isn’t working as well as I had hoped, we discuss possibilities—usually resulting in a eureka-type moment for me.”

If you’re halfway through your book and are feeling confident, hire an editor to scrutinize the finished manuscript. That’s where editors like Dulcie and me come in.

“This editor doesn’t know what you’ve rewritten 12 times or what you’ve had on paper since the beginning,” says Dulcie, who has been editing indie books, including Even Sunflowers Cast Shadows by Douglas Armstrong and Badlands by Thomas Biel, since 2010. A finished draft lets your editor approach the book from the same perspective your readers will—being introduced to the characters, plot and your writing style in one complete package.

Where can you find one?
Just like any other service, the Web and word of mouth are good routes. Your indie publisher might also have editors in-house, or be able to supply you with a list of approved ones. You could search the Web for big editing groups that have the process down to a science, like Kirkus or FirstEditing.com.  For an experience that’s often more personal, look for pros who run a one-person operation. At a site like the Editorial Freelancers Union, you can answer a couple of questions and you’ll get matched up with a pro whose services match your needs. Or go local and find editors in your city or state—google something like [your location] + editors or browse the “write/ed/tr8” board on your area craigslist.org page. You could also call local universities and ask the English or journalism departments if any of their professors or grad students do this type of work.

How does the editing process go?
Many editors, including Dulcie, do their work on paper—and, actually, some authors require it for proprietary reasons. Others, especially Web-based editing groups, make changes via computer, usually in Microsoft Word.

“I truly believe that printing the document out is the best way to catch errors that can fool the eye on a computer screen,” Dulcie says. Once the manuscript is in hand, she hand-writes her corrections, suggestions and notes. Editors who do digital work typically track changes in a word-processing program.

“I sometimes tell the author about a discrepancy that needs to be resolved one way or the other so that I can proceed correctly,” says Dulcie, who sometimes edits in Word, too. “But for the most part, I read the novel from start to finish, making notes about names, places, times, events, etc. And then I’ll read it again, making more notes.”

But when your editor returns the manuscript, the changes you decide to make are your prerogative. You’re the author.

So, what about cost?
This depends on the services you need, plus the editor’s experience, willingness to consult, turnaround time, how many rounds of edits you want, and other factors. Basically, the more an editor touches your book, the more you can expect to pay. I’ve seen figures in the low hundreds to many thousands of dollars. When you’re shopping around, be sure you’re making even comparisons—editors usually charge by the word, page, hour or project, so do the math before you decide.

Sometimes editors, especially indie ones, are also willing to negotiate on price. “Don’t ask for a quick turnaround by a firm deadline,” says Dulcie. “If an editor has flexibility in when he or she can edit your document, you may get a break on the price if you ask. Also, if you’ve had another copyeditor read the document first, I will definitely quote a lower price.”

“And, you have control of one of the best ways to keep the price lower,” she continues. “Write concisely and edit your own work so that the document is not 400 pages when 365 would have told the same story more gracefully.”

What’s in it for you?
“Writing can be a very lonely occupation,” says Helen, whose most recent book is Discovering The Diamond Discovering the Diamond [http://www.helenhollick.net/revudtd.html]. “Having a trusted editor there as someone to chat issues over with is such an advantage.”

It might take a little back-and-forth, but in the end, your book is sure to shine. And when you see that it does, there’s a sweet little way you can thank your editor without shelling out another penny: Give him or her a shout-out on your acknowledgements page in thanks for a job well done. After all, your book is about to fly off the proverbial shelves.

Have you worked with a professional editor? What was your experience? Please share it in the comments.

Special thanks to Helen and Dulcie for starring in this post! Reach out to Dulcie on Twitter  or Linkedin . Helen’s on Twitter, too.

I’d love to know what you want to read about in future indieBRAG blog posts. Email me  your questions and ideas, or click over to my website to learn more about me and my work.

One response to “How to Be a Better Writer #3: Get an Editor”

  1. Derek Birks says:

    I couldn’t agree more with all that is said here. Without an editor the indie writer is literally in a world of their own – not good when the reading public is outside that world. An editor gives you perspective. What I would say is indie writers are often quite fragile in terms of confidence and therefore it is crucial that the editor is involved early on as a critical friend.

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