You’ve spent the past six months—or twelve, or twenty-four—slaving over your novel. And whether your book is going to an agent, an editor at a publishing house, or Amazon through self-publishing, you’ve personally done everything you can to make your novel the best it can be.
(Imagine scary music playing in the background here.)
I say you need to hear scary music, because having your novel edited can be very, very scary. A bad editor can suck the life and originality from your novel. A bad editor can obliterate any semblance of your personal voice until your novel sounds like something written by a computer. A bad editor can, quite simply, kill your story.
But just like a bad editor can kill your story, a good editor can take your novel from pretty decent to astounding. A good editor will enhance your story, making the plot tight and flawless and your voice sparkle. So how do you know whether an editor is good or bad? And if you’re looking for a freelance editor, how do you know whether an editor is worth the price they quote you? (Some of those price quotes can be quite astronomical.)
I experienced my own editing horror story this summer, when I learned that my usual line editor couldn’t edit my new release Love’s Sure Dawn. Since I do a bit of freelance editing myself and belong to The Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), I didn’t think finding a good editor would be hard.
Boy was I wrong. Half the editors out there don’t post prices on their websites, and the ones that do all seem to want $2,000 for touching your novel. After spending two weeks searching and getting sample edits done, I ended up with one, maybe two, editors from the long list I’d started with.
I’m fairly experienced author. I’m traditionally published and award nominated with an English degree in my back pocket. So I had the expertise to write off some of these editors after one glance at my sample edit. But I’m well aware all authors looking for editors don’t have my experience. I was rather horrified when I realized that there are editors getting unpublished writers to pay $2000 for a horrendous edit.
So in an attempt to save poor little authors from being abused by big bad editors, I decided to make a list for my fellow Seekervillagers.
The Editor You Hire Needs to:
1. Be Familiar with Fiction
Look for an editor experienced in fiction. This can be tricky if you’re hiring a line editor or proofreader. A lot of nonfiction editors think that they can edit fiction because they know grammar, but the rules for fiction are much different than the ruled for nonfiction. Furthermore, you need an editor who knows enough about craft and story structure to either make suggestions or refer you to a developmental editor if they spot larger problems in the story.
If the editor doesn’t have experience, then they should be editing your novel for free in exchange for learning and using you as a reference in the future. And if you agree to be an editor’s guinea pig, go into the experience with eyes wide open and be aware that not everything the editor says will be correct. An editor’s website should have a list of fiction authors they’ve worked with.
2. Understand Informal Grammar
Your novel shouldn’t sound like a legal brief, yet some editors edit that way. This is the difference between formal and informal grammar. Novels are written with informal grammar so that they express the way people talk and think. If you find your editor turning fragments into full sentences, crossing out and and but at the beginning of a sentence, or inserting he or she for the word they, then turn down their services unless you want your novel to sound like something written by a robot.
Example: I know of an editor that charges $50 an hour and doesn’t like using they as a singular pronoun. Note my sentence above: “If you find your editor turning fragments into full sentences… then turn down their (not his or her) services.” Using they like this is perfectly acceptable in informal grammar, but not for formal grammar. Yet this editor doesn’t like using the word they informally, and so she rewords sentences for her clients to avoid using both they and he or she. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty steamed if I paid $50 an hour for a professional edit only to have the editor charge for rearranging perfectly fine sentences.
3. Correct Only the Things That Are Wrong or Confusing
I know, I know, we’re told to tighten our writing so that there are no extra words, cut out telling words like felt and know, write with active voice, etc. It’s true that an experienced writer isn’t going to do any of the things I just mentioned very often. However, these things should be the author’s choice, not the editor’s. If you have an editor that’s crossing out every single time you use the word very, then the editor is probably also crossing out a lot of other things that could stay in your novel.
Over-editing is an actual thing, and this is probably the trickiest thing for an author to discern about an editor, which is why you should always, always, always get a sample edit before ever sending an editor a penny.
|Love's Sure Dawn|
Example: “Why did he try keeping up with his brother? He would only fail in the end. Always had.”This is from the second page of my novel Love’s Sure Dawn. One of the people who gave me a sample edit crossed out in the end because she deemed it unnecessary. While that phrase doesn’t have to be included, it does help complete the idea I’m trying to convey.
This editor was a little difficult for me to turn down because she caught things that were genuinely wrong with my sample. But she also marked up several other things that were opinion. I ultimately decided not to hire her, because I didn’t want to pay an editor to markup things that were fine, nor did I want the hassle of asking myself, “Is this actually wrong or is she being overly zealous?” for every single comment and change.
Example: Look at the opening line to A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” One of the most famous novels ever starts with passive voice, and not just passive voice, but it plus a linking verb. Everybody knows not to start a sentence with it or there plus a linking verb, right?
I’m really glad Dickens’s editor didn’t tell him to change the sentence. And the same can be said of the first line to Pride and Prejudice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Unfortunately there are editors out there who would mark up both these opening lines. You don’t want these people editing your novel for free, and you certainly don’t want to pay them for an edit either. Find an editor that respects your voice and focuses on correcting things that are wrong rather than rewriting your novel in their own words.
Now that I’ve covered what your editor needs to know before you hire them, let’s talk about what the author needs you need to know regarding editing in general.
1. Know what type of edit you need.
Edits come in three stages: macro (or developmental), line, and proofread (or copy edit). Please don’t ask me why there are a couple different names out there for the same type of edit. I have no idea. It’s yet another point on the long list of Things That Don’t Make Sense in Publishing.
A macro edit looks at the entirety of your story all together. It looks at whether your characters are deep and have a strong enough goal and motivation to propel them through 300+ pages. It looks at whether your plot is cohesive and you have enough tension in the story to keep readers’ interest. In short, a macro edit looks at all the craft aspects of a novel. It doesn’t look at individual sentences or words, nor does it look at small errors. It asks, is this story publishable? And if yes, can the story be strengthened before it goes to press?
Example: A comment bubble that looks like this: “This chapter has a lot of internal tension, but no external tension. If Evelyn’s goal is to find a place to live on her own, then you need something to go wrong with that goal. Yes, it’s good that she ran into her former beau and that exchange is just rife with internal tension, but still, you need something to hold Evelyn back from procuring that apartment. Maybe the boardinghouse owner tells Evelyn she can have the room, but at the end of the chapter, the owner changes her mind and decides to rent the room to her niece instead. It doesn’t have to be that, exactly. But you do need external conflict along these lines in this scene.”
A line edit looks at the flow of the novel. All the big problems with your story have been solved during the macro edit stage, so this edit focuses on any smaller parts of the story that might be confusing or need more explanation. It will also look for consistency errors and anything that might be unrealistic.
Example: A comment from your editor that looks like this: “You have Ella entering the conversation in the parlor here, but on the previous page, Ella was in the kitchen baking with her mom. You need to either have Ella come into the room at some point between this page and the last one or cut the line.”
A proofread is the final edit your novel gets before being published. All craft and story problems, big and little, have been handled by this point. And the proofread looks mainly at grammar, spelling, and other little inconsistencies. A good proofreader will create a stylesheet for your novel, which records specific details, names, and grammar rules that affect only your novel.
Stylesheet example: Are you going to use a serial comma or not? Are you going to use a comma before words like either and to at the end of a sentence? (Personally, I don’t put commas like that in my indie novels. That type of comma isn’t needed for clarity, and I think stories in general read better when they’re not broken up by unnecessary punctuation. I encourage my editing clients to move in that direction for their indie novels too.)
|Love's Unfading Light|
Proofread example: “Your heroine’s name is Tressa Danell, but here you spell her last name Dannel instead of Danell.” In a proofread, this change will be made via track changes, and you won’t get a comment in the sidebar. And unfortunately, yes, this is a true example from my own novel, Love’s Unfading Light. It’s been published for seven months, and I just found the misspelling last week. Ugh!
2. Understand that your crit partners, as wonderful as they are, probably aren’t experienced enough to spot all the problems with your novel.
“My novel has been through my critique group, so it’s going to be really clean when I send it, and you shouldn’t find much wrong.” I hear this from 90% of the unpublished writers who contact me asking for a price quote and sample edit. But unless your crit partner is a multi-published, award winning author, she doesn’t know everything about story craft and editing. If your crit partner(s) have never even been traditionally published, then your novel needs to go to a professional if you’re planning to self-publish. If you’re sending your novel to an agent or publishing house, then it’s your choice as to how much editing to give your novel. Agents and publishers expect novels to be somewhat rusty when they’re acquired, knowing full well the novel will be polished during the in-house editing process. However, keep in mind that while agents and editors will acquire novels with misplaced commas and dangling modifiers, no agent or editor is going to acquire a novel that has huge craft problems. If traditional publication is your goal, hiring a writing coach or developmental editor is probably a better move than hiring a line editor or proofreader.
3. Understand that no editor is perfect.
Yes, I get that you’re paying good money to have your novel edited, but the truth is no editor is perfect, and if you have a 100,000 word novel, a handful of things are still going to be missed. You’ll end up with fewer errors if your line editor and proofreader are different, but even traditionally published novels have errors. Editors are people just like everyone else, and words like through and though are easy to mistake when reading because your brain looks at words as a whole and reads the word that makes the most sense in the sentence. In my opinion, five errors or less is a realistic expectation for a full length novel, and this is true of both traditionally published and self-published works.
4. Understand that editors deserve to be paid a fair wage for their labor.
Since I straddle the worlds of both publishing and editing, I’ve realized that there’s a huge disconnect between how much money authors make and how much editors think authors make. Unless you’re an Amazon bestselling author with several titles constantly ranking in the top 5,000 on Amazon, you can’t afford to spend $50 an hour on an edit. The problem is that some editors are very good and very experienced, and they are actually worth $50 an hour. If you need to hire a freelance editor, you’re best option is to find a decent editor who will work for a fair price. Your low end prices for a good edit will be about $20/hr., $1.25/page, or $0.005/word. (You can probably find edits cheaper than this, but likely not from editors with credentials, experience, and a solid resume.)
Again, unless you’re one of those bestselling authors, you’re probably not making $20/hr. writing, which means that editing costs are a definite loss from a business perspective. It’s not fun, I know. But just because you’ve chosen a job that pays $10/hr. or less doesn’t mean that everybody you hire can afford to work for that same pay rate. I guarantee you’re paying your cover designer and formatter more than $10/hr. as well, but because both of those jobs take a lot less time than an edit, you don’t notice the wage discrepancy as much.
In Conclusion—Looking for an Editor:
So if you’ve read all this and you’re looking for a recommendation for a freelance editor… It’s complicated. I recommend myself, of course (you can find the editing page of my website here), and I can recommend a couple very experienced fiction editors, but you’re looking at $50 an hour and a price tag of at least a couple grand for any of those.
My personal theory is that if you find a traditionally published author who moonlights as an editor, then you’ll be in good hands. A traditionally published author has been through all three stages of the editing process for their own work, and they innately understand how much editing is too much. They’re going to be more inclined to leave your voice and preferences alone and focus on only thing things that are wrong or unclear. Just like an author wouldn’t want an editor coming in and neutering the life from their novel, they’re not going to do that to you. When I did my editor search, Liz Tolsma was the one affordable, good editor I found. You might also have some luck with Robin Patchen who is a more hands on editor. For all three of us editors, you’re looking at the prices I gave you above, which amounts to $400-$1,000 for a full length novel edit. The more specific price will depend on what type of edit you want and how clean your manuscript is.
Have you ever had one of you novels professionally edited, and if so, what did you think of the experience? That seems like the most logical question, but I'm guessing most readers will just answer no. Maybe, Have you had any scary editing experiences, either with crit partners, contest judges, or professional editors? If so, share in the comments below.
Love's Sure Dawn
No matter how hard she tries to help, Rebekah Cummings always ends up causing more problems than she solves. This time, though, things will be different. She'll find a way to pay her family's debts, even if doing so requires leaving Eagle Harbor. Maybe then they'll finally accept her.
Gilbert Sinclair is going to marry an heiress. With his latest business venture sunk at the bottom of Lake Superior, he needs money to replace the steamship he lost, so he heads to Chicago where his father's business connections should land him a suitable wife. Like most things in his meticulously planned life, everything goes as expected—until he discovers Rebekah Cummings working as the new cook on his ship.
Though forgotten feelings might swirl between Rebekah and Gilbert, so do the storms of expectation. Gilbert can't afford to pursue a working class woman—no matter how badly he might want to. And Rebekah well remembers the pain she endured the last time Gilbert broke her heart. Should she step aside and watch him marry a stranger for nothing more than money...or can she convince him he deserves so much more?
Naomi Rawlings is a mother of three who’s exhausted after writing the longest ever Seekerville blog post and getting woken up three times last night. And speaking of getting woken up, her baby just woke up and is screaming, so Naomi doesn’t have the time or energy to write a creative bio. But if you want to take pity on this poor, sleep-deprived mother, you can head on over to Amazon and check out her Eagle Harbor Series, starting with Book 1, Love’s Unfading Light.
|Eagle Harbor Series|
And Seekerville is throwing in this fun editing mug a writer. Raise your hand if you want your name tossed in the mug for the book or the mug! Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.
|Can you relate?|
|Additionally, anyone who comments today is entered into this week's final drawing.|