As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, every author, regardless of experience or genre, needs an editor. There are no exceptions. However, finding the right editor for your book may be daunting. Particularly if you’re a new author working on your first book.
The best way to find an editor is to ask for referrals through writers groups, forums and associations. Then, once you have a few names, the next step is to reach out to them to see if they would be a good fit for you.
Your editor is your writing partner, so chances are you’ll be working closely together. He or she will also be working for you. So, as with any job, you’ll need to conduct a job interview. The following questions are a guide to help you determine if your prospective editor would be the best fit for you.
Do you edit books in my genre?
Do you charge be the hour, or by the word count?
How much will you charge?
Do you offer manuscript evaluations?
How long is your turnaround time?
Would you have any issues if my manuscript should contain graphic violence, sexual content, or harsh language?
I found Cynthia, my current editor, at a writer’s association meeting. We were both surprised to see one another as both of us were, at the time, also performers in Tombstone, Arizona. Because we already knew one another we knew we would be a great fit as we shared other interests besides writing. We also have the same twisted sense of humor. Never underestimate having a good sense of humor. The relationship between author and editor can be intense at times, so being able to crack a joke relieves a lot of tension.
There is nothing quite like the thrill of finishing your very first manuscript. If you’re like most new authors, you probably can’t wait to see your book in print. However, there are a number of steps you need to take before you’re ready to publish. The following checklist will help you determine if you are indeed ready.
Have you determined if there is a viable market for your book?
The old adage that there’s an audience for every book is generally true, but some genres are more popular than others. That said, some niche authors do very well. I know a gay man who writes romance novels for gay readers, and he built a following rather quickly
Have you completed your research and listed all your sources in a bibliography?
This mostly applies to nonfiction works, although I included bibliographies in my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. The series was written to teach actual historic events in an interesting and entertaining way, and it was geared toward educators.
Have you gotten two to four manuscript reviews to use for your back cover blurbs?
It’s an important step which many new authors miss. Having a back cover blurb gives you more credibility. I’ll ask other authors for reviews and let them know there’s some free publicity for them, as their name and book title appears on my cover. Authors associations and online forums are a great way to connect with other authors.
Have you obtained written permission for all the visual references you’re including, such as photographs or charts?
This is a biggie, and never assume it’s public domain because it’s a historic image or it’s royalty free. Copyright laws changed dramatically in the 1970s, and some museums own the rights to images in their collections. Also royalty free doesn’t mean copyright free, so read the terms and conditions carefully when purchasing stock images. When in doubt, ask. Better yet, create it yourself if you can.
Have you used your spellchecker?
Seriously. Even the best of us make silly mistakes, and double checking your spelling will make your editor’s job a little easier.
Have you decided how to publish your book?
Gone are the days when big publishing houses dominated the market. Today’s authors have many options. Please refer to my post, The Three Options for Book Publishing, for more specific information.
Are you prepared to deal with the possibility of rejection letters or receiving bad reviews?
Not everyone is going to like your book, and those who choose to find an agent or go the traditional publishing route will have to deal with rejection letters. However, you needn’t fear an occasional bad review. It means that you are real.
Are you willing to accept editorial changes?
This is another biggie. Your editor is a fresh pair of eyes who goes over your manuscript to give it the polish it needs to help it become successful. They can and will make changes. Therefore, it’s important that you find someone you feel comfortable working with. Once again, author’s associations and online forums are good places to ask for referrals.
Have you planned a budget to cover expenses such as software, editors, and other out-of-pocket costs?
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, writing a book is a business venture, and you will have some out-of-pocket expenses. Even traditionally published authors have overhead expenses, such as computers and software. Grants, endowments or crowd funding may be available for those authors in need of financial assistance.
Do you have a plan for marketing and promoting your book?
Marketing the book is the author’s responsibility, even if you are traditionally published. Thankfully, there are many how-to books out there to help you with your marketing plan.
If you answered no any of these questions then you’re not ready to be published. However, this checklist may be a handy guide for doing what you need to be ready.
Remember, book publishing is a team effort. So for best results, you must be willing to work with others and be willing to consider whatever suggestions or advice they may offer you.
According to a political slogan in the 1990s, it takes a village to raise a child. Here’s the version for authors. It takes a team to write a book. So who’s on the team?
The author is the team captain. He or she is the star of the show. For some, the word, author, may bring an image to mind of someone in an isolated house by the seashore, working away at their typewriter, pounding out perfect prose with the very first draft. If only it were so. Most of us are working on laptops in our dens or bedrooms, when we have the time. For many of us, our jobs, families and social obligations take priority. However, those of us who are serious about our writing will make the time.
The beta reader. The first person on the team is the beta reader. He or she should be an avid reader, but not necessarily a writer. If willing, your spouse, your mom, or your best friend can be your beta reader. The beta reader goes over the early drafts to let the writer know if their story makes sense or if they’re communicating their point clearly. I’ve had friends and family members as beta readers, and they’ve all done a good job. .
Writer’s associations and critique groups. Not everyone will have someone in their circle who’s willing to give them honest feedback. If that’s the case, check with some of your local writers associations, and try to find a critique group. Critique groups typically meet once a week, either in person or online, and they’ll read, and critique, each other’s work. Like a beta reader, they can help save you the time, and the hassle, of having to do a major rewrite later on.
By the way, if you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend joining a writer’s association, especially if you are a new or first-time author. Some associations, such as Romance Authors of America, are genre specific. Others are open to the writing community at large. Typically, these associations will have monthly meetings with a guest speaker. They are invaluable for learning your craft and networking with other authors.
The first officer
If the author is the captain, the editor would be the first officer. I’ve posted, many times, on this blog about why every author needs an editor. Simply put, your editor will go over your work and correct the gaffes, punctuation errors, inconsistencies, grammatical errors and other problems that you, the author, cannot see. It’s the editor who separates the pros from the amateurs.
Please note that unless your spouse, your mom, or your best friend has a background in journalism or teaching English, they aren’t qualified to be your editor. When it comes to editing, working with a professional is a must. I found my first editor through my first publisher, and my current editor through a writer’s association. Be sure to find someone you feel comfortable working with, and, most importantly, check your ego at the door. My editor and I have a great relationship. She fixes the problems without changing my voice. As an added bonus, she also makes snarky comments in the sidebar. Over time I’ve learned not to drink coffee while I review her changes, lest the coffee go up my nose.
The next team member is the proofreader. Proofreading is sometimes referred to as the second edit, as the proofreader goes over the final edited version of the manuscript to catch the errors that you, or your editor, may have missed. Typically, these are the tiny errors, such as a missing quotation mark. If your spouse, or you mom, or your best friend has a good eye they can probably do your proofreading. I would, however, advise against having your beta reader do your proofreading. For this job you really do need a fresh pair of eyes, and again, your publisher, or writing group, may be able to refer a proofreader.
Other team members
Depending on your genre, your team may also include photographers, illustrators. Some of you may be tempted to use your own visual art, but I would advise a word of caution. Unless you’re a professional, or have had some professional training, I would leave it to the pros. Drawing, painting and photography are disciplines which take many years of formal training and practice to master, and an amateurish photo or illustration can make you book look amateurish as well. Also be cautious about using stock images, especially for your cover. You won’t have exclusive rights, which means another author can come along and use the same image for their cover.
The last member of your team is your publisher. You have some options here, and you may wish to read, The Three Options for Book Publishing, as it discusses those options in detail. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you, the author, to determine which would be the best for you.
Some of you simply may not have the means to hire all these professionals. If that’s the case, and you can only hire one person to work with you, make it your editor. Your editor is the most important member of your team. He or she is the one person you simply cannot work without.
Never, ever assume your reader is stupid. He or she has paid good money for your book. He or she used to reading well written and edited books and expects your book to be well written and edited too.
It’s also a given that not everyone will like your book. The subject matter may not be of interest to the reader, or the reader may not agree with your point of view. As writers we expect to have a small percentage of readers return our books and ask for refunds. It’s part of the business of writing and publishing books. However, the last thing any writer wants or needs is for a reader to reject the book because it was poorly written or edited.
Don’t let the joke be at your expense
None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, but because we can’t view our work objectively we oftentimes miss our gaffes. The list below came from one of my writing forums, and it’s typical of the mistakes we all make. I’ve paraphrased it to protect the guilty.
A character gets into a Handsome Cab. (As opposed to a hansom cab. Perhaps the cab driver was handsome.)
The lead character is locked in a dudgeon. (That must be where the threw the stupid prisoners. No doubt the others were locked in the dungeon.)
He wrapped his arms around her waste. (Yuk! I’m seeing a really nasty visual here. Hopefully the next time he’ll wrap his arms around her waist.)
During a sex scene a character is having an organism. (There’s an interesting twist to a love scene. After the tryst is over he or she will need to see a doctor.)
He would gather her up in his arts. (What? You mean he put her body parts into his sculptures? Like Vincent Price did in the movie Wax Museum? I’d much prefer that he gather her in his arms.)
What do all these faux paus have in common? They all, allegedly, were found in self-published books. And while it may be funny to us, it’s certainly not as funny to the authors who wrote them. These are just a few of the mistakes that a good editor will catch, and correct.
So you still think you don’t need an editor? Well, if you don’t mind being laughed at on a public forum then maybe you don’t. However, if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and if you want your book to be successful, you need find yourself a good editor.
In my previous article,So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor–Part One, I described what an editor does, and how he or she goes over your manuscript to give it the polish it needs to become a successful book. In this article, I’ll be discussing who you should hire to edit your manuscript.
I understand money is an issue for many of you. However, unless you’re one of the very few lucky writers who lands a deal with a traditional publisher, you’ll undoubtedly be investing your own money into producing your book. A professional editor will typically charge one to two cents per word. This means an 80,000 word manuscript may cost about $800 to $1600 to edit.
Why working with a professional editor matters
I know. It’s a lot of money, and many of you are working with small budgets. Therefore, you may be tempted to take some shortcuts. My advice? Don’t do it! Asking your friends, your cousin, your spouse or your mom to edit your manuscript may seem like a good alternative. However, they would have to have experience in journalism, teaching English, or other professional writing experience in order to be qualified for the job.
Now, let’s say you have a friend or family member with one or more of these qualifications. Does this mean you can ask them to edit your manuscript? Well, maybe. However, you need to be aware of another caveat. As I stated in my earlier article, your editor needs to be objective. Your mom may be a retired English teacher, but can she really be objective? If your mom is anything like my mother was, she may be overly critical. If so, can you handle it? After all, it’s one thing if a stranger is overly critical of your work. You won’t be spending Thanksgiving with him or her, and if you feel your working relationship is too toxic you can replace them with another editor. But if your mom is also your editor, it can get really awkward. Ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself if working with a friend or family member would be a good option or not.
Where to find a professional editor
I found my first editor through the small press publisher I was working with at the time. She was an absolute joy to work with, but then she decided to change careers. I found my next, and current editor, through a local writers association we both happened to belong to at the time. If you know any other authors you can ask them for a referral. Online author’s forums are another good place. Simply post the question.
Just as authors specialize in writing nonfiction or fiction, editors will also specialize in what kinds of manuscripts they edit. So if your manuscript is science fiction or fantasy, be sure to find an editor who has experience in editing science fiction and fantasy.
Writing a successful book takes time and money. If you want your book to have four and five star reader reviews, then you’ll need hire a professional book editor. Nothing will end your writing career faster than a poorly-edited book with bad reviews.
“I don’t need an editor because I do my own editing.”
I often hear this comment from first time authors. It’s the voice of inexperience or an over inflated ego. Sometimes both. It also has a familiar ring to it, as I resemble this remark myself.
My very first book was a historic cookbook titled, Anna’s Kitchen. At the time I wrote it I too thought I didn’t need an editor. In fact, I was such a smart aleck at the time that I thought I knew everything. Never mind the fact that I had never written a book in my entire life. As far as I was concerned, the spell checker in my word processing software was all I needed. So how did I do? Well, you may want to refer to my post titled,Just Add Two Tablespoons of Fate. Sure, I can laugh about it now, but it’s a splendid example of why all authors, especially newauthors, must have an editor.
Why every author needs an editor
An editor is a fresh pair of eyes to go over your manuscript. They give it the added polish it needs to turn it into a great book. They’re not as much concerned about the content of your work as they are the structure. They look for things such as misspelled words, typos, and comma spliced sentences. They also look for dangling participles, incorrect homonyms, redundancy, and the dreaded passive voice. If you write fiction, they’ll look for inconsistencies in your story and character arcs. In other words, they fix all the gaffes that you, as a writer, may have overlooked. The reason why you’re not seeing them is because you’re too involved with your own work to see it objectively. This is normal. As human beings, we can’t be objective about ourselves. This is why it’s difficult for us to see our mistakes. It’s the same reason why doctors don’t treat themselves or members of their own families.
Some of you reading this may still be skeptical, or you may even think your writing skills are so superior that you simply don’t need an editor. If this is the case, then you’ll soon find out for yourselves that writing is a very humbling experience. There is nothing quite like having your readers point out all your errors for you, and then posting them on an Amazon review for the entire world to see. Once that happens, your credibility as an author is pretty much done, and you can kiss your writing career goodbye.
What do Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Dean Koontz all have in common? They all have editors. So if these famous authors all have editors, then what makes you think that you don’t need one? Just asking.
My very first book was a historic cookbook called Anna’s Kitchen. I produced it entirely on my own. I did my own writing and editing. I did my own proofreading. I did my own typesetting and cover design. (Okay, I had an advantage there. I was a professional graphic designer before I became an author.) I’ll admit that in hindsight, it was an incredible learning experience as I soon realized just how much hard work goes into producing a book. I also learned why teamwork is so necessary.
Lessons learned the hard way
Being a newbie, I used my spell checker as my editor and proofreader. At the time I honestly believed it was all I needed. Later on, realized I had made big mistake. It’s how I learned, the hard way, why every author must have an editor.
Before my book went to print I went over my manuscript many times. Everything looked fine, at least to me. However, once the book was printed, I found all kinds of errors. Murphy’s Law really is a thing. All those errors were well hidden, until the book was printed. Then they jumped off the page as it to shout, “Ha ha! You missed us! You missed us!”
As fate would have it
One of my friends came across something in a gravy recipe he found particularly amusing. It said, Add two tablespoons of fate. He laughed and laughed. Then he asked me if it meant that we were supposed to pray over the gravy as it was being prepared. Now mind you, it’s not a bad idea. I pray over the little everyday things much more than the big things. In this case, however, it was a typo the spell checker had missed. The word, fate, was spelled correctly, but what it should have read was, add two tablespoons of fat.
This is why every author needs an editor and a proofreader. We simply cannot be objective when it comes to critiquing our own work. Perhaps someday someone will invent an AI book editor, but even then, a machine cannot make a judgement call like a real person can.
Suffice to say that you need a couple tablespoons of fat if you’re making gravy. However, when it comes to writing and publishing a book, you may need to add two tablespoons of fate, along with a good editor and proofreader. Just saying.