In the last post, we talked about what to do when you’ve paid to have your manuscript edited, and then you get some poor reviews. Today, we’ll continue with some other thoughts on this topic.
Be realistic about your editing needs:
- Each level of editing (from substantive, through stylistic, copyediting and proofreading, plus other specialities) takes a different amount of time. Time also depends on the quality of the material the editor has to work with. If you’re a new writer, you might discover that your work is going to take more editing than you thought.
- Realize that starting with a proofread or even a copyedit can be a waste of time and money if your manuscript has major issues with clarity, cohesiveness, readability, characterization, plot arc, theme, readability level, continuity, logic, style and tone, plausibility, a strong conclusion, and so on. It is a good idea to have responsible, experienced beta readers and/or critique group members check over your manuscript and point out these kinds of problems before you decide what level of editing you may require. After you deal with the big issues, then you can take care of more nit-picking issues.
- Consider asking for an edit of a chapter or two to start. Ask the editor to do a thorough edit of this material, commenting on all the different issues that show up in your piece, then sit down with you and explain how you can improve your writing and your story. Then do another self-edit of your full document, taking the editor’s advice into consideration.
- If you have a serious problem with some area of writing, you might want to take a workshop or course on that topic before rewriting. Be sure to have a good style guide at hand; study it and use it. Choose the appropriate guide for your type of writing; for example, use the Chicago Manual of Style for fiction, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook for journalistic writing, or the APA Style for writing in the social sciences. There are also guides for specific purposes, such as The Canadian Style Guide with information such as Canadian spellings, regional information, etc. The cleaner your manuscript is, the less time and cost for the edit–and your editor will be able to focus on the storyline, your writing style, and other issues that result in a great story, instead of being tangled up in endless punctuation and other grammar issues, homonyms, and other items you can fix yourself. A good grammar check software program will help you, too, though they aren’t infallible.
- If your writing background is in an area such as report writing, and you decide to try something really different such as fiction writing, you may actually need a ghostwriter or co-author (rather than–and/or prior to–an editor), who can help you write in a style suitable to the genre or topic you have chosen.
- Realize that it is very difficult to be objective about our own writing. We have a strong personal passion for our topics and can end up being self-indulgent and subjective. It is often very difficult for us to “kill our darlings.” So listen carefully to your editor–and ideally to your whole team: writing/critique group members, beta readers, editor(s) who focus on various levels, proofreader. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your editor and team are–if you aren’t willing to take advice, those poor reviews will likely continue.
Choosing a different editor:
- In most industries you’ll find some unqualified or underqualified people–and that includes editors. Good editors will honestly tell you exactly what kind of editing (and genre or topic) they specialize in, and if they think they can’t do a good job of your manuscript they will tell you and will likely be able to recommend a different editor. They will be able to make a good decision based on discussion with you about your story/topic, and by doing a sample edit of a few pages of your work.
- Check out editors’ websites. What are an editor’s qualifications? What has the editor worked on before? Sign out some of the titles from your library (or purchase your own copy so you can mark it up), and study the quality of the books’ editing. What have been the editor’s education, career path, and related activities (teaching, workshop leader, writer)? You might consider contacting the author to ask specific questions you may have about the editor.
- Try to find an editor you are compatible with. If possible, have a good chat with the editor before hiring, and have a list of things that are important to you in an editing relationship. Ask questions about those things–and ask the editor what is important to him or her, too.
- If an editor suggests major changes that could affect things like your manuscript’s purpose, focus, audience, tone, or voice, you may want to find another editor who is more accepting of those things (but at the same time, realize that you actually may need some improvement in those areas).
- A good idea is to prepare your query and a synopsis of your story (for a fiction work), and a proposal (for a non-fiction work) before you hire an editor. You might think these items are only for an agent and/or publisher, but they can be very helpful for an editor, too. The editor will then understand your story arc, theme(s), your goals/purpose for the piece, thesis statement, point of view, your audience, and so on. The editor will be able to discuss with you more clearly your editing needs and will have a better idea of your overall goals. And in the process of writing these documents, you will have a clearer view of your work, too, and be able to do some good self-editing first. It is a good idea to prepare these documents early in your writing process, as they will keep you on track as you write. Yes, you may need to make some changes along the way, but it’s good to have a trail laid out from the start.
- Be prepared to negotiate with your editor. The more you can clearly explain your needs to the editor, and the more willing you are to do plenty of self-editing, the more likely the editor will take into consideration your time and cost needs. If you have decided you really would like to work with a particular editor, but you feel you can’t afford the quoted rate, discuss what you could do to decrease the cost (for example, doing a rewrite based on one or two chapters, before having a full editing). Perhaps the editor can spread the job over a period of time, and you can pay in increments. See what the editor might be willing to do.
- If you’re having difficulty finding a suitable editor in your area, check out editors’ groups such as the American Editorial Freelancers Association or Editors Canada for lists of editors. These editors generally have accreditation and/or good editorial education, and may even have experience as editors in the publishing business. You can post your job on these sites, state how much you’re willing to pay and your requirements, and editors on these sites will reply directly to you.
What about contracts?
- A contract between the editor and you is a wise decision. Most editors have a standard contract, which indicates things such as the genre and length of the book, an estimated price (and possibly a cap price) based on a sample edit, exactly what kind of editing you want done, the length of time for the edit, how many pass-throughs will likely be necessary, the form of payment and the payment schedule, what will happen if you or the editor decide to end the arrangement before completion, and so on. Read the contract carefully, and discuss it thoroughly. If you have concerns that aren’t in the contract, ask to have them included. A good contract will serve both you and the editor.
Now it’s your turn…
What tips do you have for writers who may have received poor reviews, and/or are disappointed in the job their editor did? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!