This is part 2 of my series on “An Editor’s Comments.” These are from actual comments I’ve made to clients, and are directed to their particular needs, so they are sometimes quite different than what you’ll find in a style manual or other editing book. I hope you’ll find these thoughts helpful! If you want to learn more, check out the rest of the articles in the “Editor’s Comments” section and the “Various Editor’s Tips” section in my “Writing and Editing Articles” table of contents.
Beta Readers and Other Critiquers
I would highly recommend that after the edit of your first draft has been done (whether that is a strong self-edit, or a first-time-through edit by an editor) you ask at least 3 or 4 friends you trust to do a beta-reading. They should be people who you trust to give you honest feedback. Ask them to mark anything they have questions about (content issues) or any grammatical errors they find. If you made up a list of things you’d like people to comment on, it might not be so overwhelming to them. Maybe a maximum of 5 or 6 things you’d really like input on. Tell people not to worry about spelling, punctuation, etc., though it’s fine if they notice things. You can also ask them to watch for specific things you are concerned with. And just ask people to answer in no more than 2 or 3 sentences or so for each question. Then they wouldn’t find it such an overwhelming task If you provide specific direction, you’ll most likely get more helpful responses. [You can find a list of sample questions here and here]. A good idea is to take your beta readers all out to dinner together as a way of saying “thanks” for the time they’ve spent on your manuscript, and after eating, have a group conversation about the book. It’s a great way to get some really useful input.
I am so pleased that J. provided you with such a great critique. A fresh set of eyes is always valuable. Even the best writers, in their best works, can always use some more critiquing. It is awesome that you have reached out to a variety of people to ask their input and advice on your novel. Whether you do a re-write of the book and add more detail, or more likely, write a sequel that adds some of the detail the first novel was missing as well as continuing the story, your willingness to seek out critiquing and your openness to learn and improve as a writer suggests that your audience will be expanding as your skills also grow and develop. No one editor, no matter how skilled, can help a writer create “the perfect book.” Many insights, from many perspectives, are necessary!
Find An Appropriate Editor for Your Book
As an editor, I am becoming more and more particular about what kind of manuscripts I will edit, as I’m realizing more and more that I can’t give really good advice for things I’m not really familiar with or that I don’t enjoy. For example, I will not edit thrillers or erotica. However, I am happy to tackle memoirs, historical fiction, non-fiction on topics I am familiar with, and other genres I know and enjoy. If it’s just a matter of proof-reading, I’ll consider tackling a wider variety of genres. And as a writer, you should be equally particular about what kind of editor you hire.
When you are looking for good advice, it is wise to ask the potential editor what her areas of editing specialty are–or at least if your genre is included; if the editor is also a writer, you could ask in what genres she has written and for what kind of publications–magazines, corporate newsletters, websites, novels, non-fiction works, anthologies, media releases, etc. If the editor teaches writing courses, check those out too; likewise, related educational background. Much of this information will be available on the writer’s website (a Google search for other information can also be helpful), but if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask. When you are talking to a potential editor, make sure you’re very clear about your purpose, vision, and goals for the book. This will be very helpful in building a solid writer and editor relationship.
So now it is up to you. You can decide what you want to do next–and also whether you want to continue working with me, or whether you want to try to find another editor. Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best, and I commend you for all the work you’ve already put into this project!
What? Editing is a Process?
Of course, once your editor has done an initial edit of the whole document (after you have self-edited your first draft and hopefully had some beta-readers help you), you will still need to go through and make the changes you agree with. Sometimes, an editor will have found major issues, and then it might even be a “back to the drawing board” situation. But even if the issues are relatively minor and quite easily fixed, you will most likely want to resubmit it for another check-through. It is very wise to do a minimum of editing twice through (though writers who want to sell a lot of copies often do as many as five times through, and that includes many very famous and successful writers). On the other hand, since you said you are just doing this for your mom and your friend, you’ll probably be fine with one thorough go-through, and then one more quick go-through to catch any remaining issues. People who want to publish their books for the public to purchase and read, naturally will want to make their manuscript shine, which usually requires multiple edits, as well as having help from beta-readers and writers’ groups.
And once you feel you have made your manuscript as best you can make it, I would recommend having someone who is very good at catching small errors do a final proofread to catch any remaining minor problems like spelling errors, small words missing, punctuation errors, etc. This is usually done after the book designer has completed his part of the process; it may be done on the manuscript, or even better, the printer may run off a couple sample copies, as this is an excellent way to really catch unexpected problems and fix them before the actual print run. It is wise to have a “fresh set of eyes” to do this (another reason why it is good to have a couple more beta-readers at this stage as well), so a separate proofreader is a good idea, though your editor might be willing to do it.
Edit all at Once or in Parts?
If you would like, you can send me the document in sections, and after I have done a chapter or two, you can study what I have done and, if you wish, “learn from it,” make corrections, and also make self-editing changes in upcoming sections before sending the next section to me. This will not only help you improve your writing; it may also possibly save you a bit more money as your manuscript will need less editing. But if you choose this path, don’t wait too long before sending me the next part, or I may have forgotten some of what came before! Of course, you can alternatively send me the entire manuscript, and I can edit it and return it to you. If you are a new writer, it can be helpful to allow the editor to do a quick read-through first and send you general comments (plus specifics about common errors) so you can work on it more before an actual edit. I can then do the full edit, or I can alternatively return it in sections (for example, ¼ or 1/3 at a time), so you can check my work and decide if you want me to continue, or if you want to do more work on the manuscript before I carry on editing.
But I Want to Get This Published Right Away! Won’t This Process Method Take too Long?
It seems that nowadays there is too often a great rush to get our works published; with self-publishing and e-books we can get them out there quickly–maybe way too quickly. In traditional publishing, there would be a long time between the submission of the manuscript (possibly with rejections from many publishers and/or agents, and then, on acceptance, many rewrites in order to improve the work). The long and complex editing process could easily take 2 to 3 years. Unfortunately, many traditional publishers now depend on publishing work by well-known writers or at least well-known people who want to try their hand at writing. And the pride in publishing a good book is often precluded by competition with the endless verbiage that is being produced in non-traditional ways, by a lack of discriminating readers in a society that seems to worship pop-culture, and of course by the wavering bottom-line in an industry that is being forced to re-make itself or wither away. So many writers are turning to self-publishing–which is not a bad thing IF you as a writer are as strict with yourself about your writing as you would have been under the direction of a traditional publisher. If you slow down and take the time necessary, you can self-publish a high quality book. It’s so worth it!