How to get the most from an editor
By the time you’re ready for an editor, you’re probably ready to just get rid of the manuscript. I know I was. Well, this might be the hardest part of your revision process because this is where the trained pair of eyes digs in and breaks everything down, depending on what editing tier you choose.
If you’re ready to look for an editor, I’ve written a post about what you should know here. In the post, I cover what you need to consider before choosing an editor and how to find the best one for your book. I include a few disclaimers and reminders that you are under no obligation to choose an editor because you sent them a request. It’s all about you. So, if you haven’t read that post, read it.
What I don’t cover in that post is likely one of the most important things you should know while working with an editor. I’m going to talk about what will allow you and your editor to have a strong, fruitful relationship. This isn’t just for your sake; it’s for your editor’s, too.
What does the editor do?
If you had alpha readers and beta readers, you might think you’ve had enough of those revisions. However, if you built a boat then asked a couple people who know a little about boats to check out the structure, would you take it out to sea before getting a real engineer (or whoever does those things) to confirm all is well?
Sure, the few people who checked out the boat may be knowledgeable, but that engineer (or whoever) is trained to find even the smallest things. They are meant to consider factors that none of your extra pairs of eyes might have thought of. I know nothing about boats so this example is a weird one, but it’s safe to say you’d want to make sure that boat will stay above water. Don’t you want the same for your book?
The editor does many things but summed up, your editor will identify the following:
- Whether your story is publishable
- How to make it publishable
- Character development
- Plot development
- Story arc
- Timeline organization
- Other stuff
Can you guarantee those betas and alphas are considering all those things? I said other stuff, so that list doesn’t even cover it all. Editors identify redundancies, inconsistencies in characters or scenes, narrative voice in comparison to the characters’ voice (if applicable) . . . There are so many things an editor will find that your alphas and betas might not have, and it’s our job to do that. We’re trained to do that.
Formatting for you
Some editors offer formatting as a service, so if you’re looking for that, ask questions. Ensure they format for paperback if you need that. Make sure they format for digital if that’s what you need. Just because they offer formatting doesn’t mean they will format for everything, so ask if they don’t clarify on their site, and ask about packages and pricing. I’ve noticed some websites are vague about this, so please ask questions.
Formatting for them
Yes, editors have formatting requirements. Not all of them mention it on their website, but check just in case they do. These are a few things most editors appreciate, and it would help your wallet and their sanity for you to do these things before sending them your manuscript:
- Double-space your manuscript so it’s easier to read. You can find this in the paragraph formatting section.
- Avoid pre-formatting your book prior to sending it to an editor because they’re making changes. It’s hard to work around the formatting you might want to keep.
- Keep the entire manuscript in one font style unless style requires otherwise, as well as one font size/weight unless style requires otherwise (like labels and subheads).
- Send your editor a doc, docx, or rtf file unless they say otherwise. An editor can’t work on a pdf.
- Mention whether there is anything that you don’t want them to mess with. Please provide an explanation for this. Don’t just tell your editor you misspelled someone’s name on purpose and to leave it alone. Tell them why.
- Insert page breaks before starting a new chapter. This is easier for you because you don’t have to press “Enter” ten times, anyway, but it also helps with formatting later.
- Make it clear what perspective you’re writing in. We want to keep the copy consistent, and it’s hard when we have to figure out whether you’re writing in third person limited serial or third person omniscient. Most request forms should have this question on there, but I’ve received a few “I don’t know” answers on them.
- Indent your paragraphs with the “tab” button. This is usually an easy fix, but sometimes Microsoft Word has a quirk that makes it hard to find all the tabs within a document.
- Indent new paragraphs with spaces. This one is especially important because it’s harder to see and to get rid of. It’s tedious, and you won’t likely put your editor in a good mood if they have to fix this.
- Use two spaces after a period or other punctuation. Sometimes, you accidentally double space anyway, so you have three spaces and it’s more difficult to find.
- Give your editor an unreasonable deadline. Ask when they’re available and what their turnaround time is. If they offer an expedited service, awesome. If not, don’t disregard their abilities or credibility, but you might have to either push your deadline back or find a different editor.
- Ask your editor for a discount because you’re broke, will give them references, want to barter, etc. This is a service, not a market. It’s insulting to start your relationship off with trying to get lower prices; however, if your budget is low, you can politely ask the editor what you should do because your budget is X. If they’re willing to lower their prices for you, they will, but don’t pressure them to do so.
- Give your editor a first draft without having read through it yourself. Your editor is supposed to find what you can’t; few will enjoy reading through a raw manuscript because there are many errors that could have been fixed in just one read by the author. It takes more time, which will likely cost you more money.
I’m sure I could make the list longer, but that would be a bit ridiculous. These are some of the most important things, though, and it’s good to keep them in mind to start off on the right foot. It might seem like a lot, but most of the bullets on these lists are common courtesy, and you’ve likely done them already.
We’re not done, though. That’s what will help you kick off your relationship with your editor, but it’s not just about them, is it?
What to expect from your editor
Before the edit
Before you even choose an editor, get a sample. I don’t care if I’m your prospective editor. You’re getting a sample. I don’t care if ten friends recommended a certain editor. Get. A. Sample.
No matter how competent an editor is, the sample edit benefits both parties by showing the writer and the editor what to expect. The editor might not be willing to take on certain projects, and the writer might not think the editor has the same vision. You both must agree on things to an extent because it will make discussing the things you do disagree on much easier, and it will allow you to enjoy the revision process when you go through all the things the editor changed. It will also let you know what to expect so you don’t happen to hire an editor who doesn’t meet your expectations. You’ll know up front.
When an editor tells you how long it will take to edit your manuscript, keep this fun fact in mind: we’re human. It might not happen often, but on the rare occasion that an editor misses deadline because of a family issue, unexpected incident, or whatever else, try to be courteous. Now, I’m talking about a day or two. If it’s more than that, hopefully they’re communicating well with you so you know why and what to expect.
Don’t let that scare you, though. Like I said, it shouldn’t be common. Another reason an editor might be late is if your manuscript is taking more work or time than they originally estimated. Don’t be insulted. This happens, too. There are usually pockets of a manuscript where a writer struggles most, and that’s not always in the sample. The editor could not have foreseen it, but they’re still going to put all they have in it.
For the most part, though, expect your editor to be timely. If they say two weeks, expect two weeks. If they charge by the hour and give you an estimate of the number of hours it will take, ask what to expect if they have to take more time than estimated. Some might request the extra amount, and some might not. I don’t, and I know other editors who don’t.
Always ask questions. Treat the editor as you would want to be treated if you were handed someone’s pride and joy. With patience. With understanding. With respect. Why? We’re doing the same for you.
I want to say this should not happen, but I can’t vouch for every editor when I say half the things I’ve said. I definitely won’t vouch for every editor here. Everyone has a different policy. If you add on a service, of course the price will change. But, I’d ask about what would constitute an in-process price change so you aren’t hit with a curve ball without first knowing it’s a possibility. It will also allow you to protect yourself. Again, I can’t vouch for all editors, and any freelance service comes with a sprinkle of people who abuse the business. It stinks for the honest freelancers, but it’s how life goes.
No, in-process price changes aren’t a scam. But, if you don’t cover these things and your price goes up, you’ll feel a bit betrayed because you didn’t know.
I mentioned earlier that you shouldn’t ask for a discount just because you will provide referrals or the editor is your friend or whatever else. If they have a discount available, however, of course you can ask about it.
For example, Authors’ Tale members of two years or more receive discounted pricing on my services. I also offer a discount on my Red Pen Consultation when a friend refers someone to me if a contract is signed. My former client gets a free consultation, and the referred friend gets it half off.
Many editors will have little things like this, so it won’t hurt to ask. What I mean by being rude is claiming entitlement because you’re a friend, you can refer people to them, or because you have another reason that would also imply you deserve a discount for being you.
Discounts are cool. Take advantage. Just don’t take try to advantage of your editor.
After the edit
You’ll receive a document with a bunch of red lines on the left side and comment bubbles on the right. Click them, and your page will bleed red with their changes. If you don’t know how to use Track Changes, I wrote an article on it with images that should help.
Show your editors you care; they showed that they care for you
Leave a review. Seriously, that’s the second best thing you can do for your editor. The first best thing is to refer them to people. If you like what your editor did for you, what’s the harm in referring them? That’s how many editors get their work because large sites can afford ads, and they have a lot more traffic. That pushes the freelancers down and hides them away from many visitors.
Make sure your editor is the one you’re looking for, then consider these things because your editor should know how to treat you. Hopefully, you’ll try to learn how to be the person on the other end of the table because it’s a different experience for you. Love your editor because they love you. Not like that. Think platonic.
Editing is a partnership
Your editor is taking a journey with you, and you want to make the most of it. If you give them a raw manuscript, you’re not putting a valuable stamp on it, and you’re creating a larger problem for yourself and for your editor. Can you tell whether a septic tank is functional if you can’t even find the tank? Smaller problems hide bigger ones, and vice-versa, so you want your book to be as ready as you can make it.
Editors will put plenty of effort into your work, so it’s only fair that you do the same. It’s yours, after all, and the more you do for your book, the more an editor can do for you.
Finding an editor
As I said, you want a sample edit. A sample is free, so it won’t hurt to get more than one. If you’re ready for an editor, let me know, and I’ll be more than happy to provide a ten-page sample edit. A proposal comes with the returned sample, but I’ll say it again: You’re not obligated to accept anything from anyone. Be sure of yourself. I also have my formatting requirements available here, though they are stated in this post in the bullets.
Ask yourself whether you like the editor’s style. Wonder what type of questions your editor might ask and if those questions will help you improve your story. Consider whether your editor is seeking to change the direction of your story, and is that possibly a good thing? Ask yourself whether they catch a few things you wouldn’t have even considered. Then, ask yourself whether you want to take the journey with that editor because it will, indeed, be a journey. Not a long one, but it’ll still be one.
I hope I didn’t scare you with this long post. That’s what happens when I talk about something I’m passionate about. Remember that every editor has a different process, but these are things I feel cover a lot of what you’ll experience with many of them. Feel free to ask questions, and feel free to chase down referrals from fellow writers.