Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Guest post by Michael Ross
Are You Ready to Publish?
You had a killer idea, an inspiration, and you worked hard to bring it to life – your very own novel. You’ve finished the first draft, maybe a second – you’ve edited, spell checked, grammar checked, and had your best friend from third grade read it over – who, by the way, pronounced it excellent!
You’re ready for the New York Times bestseller list, right? Unfortunately, the answer is: Probably not.
Even if you have read your manuscript over one hundred times, you probably haven’t caught all the flaws and errors. Your Great Aunt Minnie, who was an English teacher, won’t either. After all, even popular bestsellers have a few mistakes. Errors have a way of pulling your reader out of the story and activating their critical eye.
Making your manuscript as error-free and engaging as possible is much more likely to spell success.
What Does Success Mean to You?
You need to think clearly about what success means to you – who is your audience? Is your goal to be traditionally published? To make the bestseller list? Or are you writing for enjoyment, maybe family and friends? If you aren’t trying to make money from your writing, you may not need an editor at all. Almost anyone can write a book these days, and put it out on Amazon. Nearly twenty million people a year publish a book. Only about thirty percent of those sell over one hundred copies. If your goal is to be an author that makes sales, keep reading.
What to Do Before Looking for an Editor?
To improve your manuscript, after making your self-edits, read it aloud to yourself, making notes. You’ll be surprised about the number of errors that were lurking. My audiobook reader discovered mine, and I learned my lesson. When you’ve made those corrections, it’s time to look for an editor – but how?
What Kind of Feedback Do You Want?
Ask yourself what kind of feedback you want – there are different types of editing.
Developmental edits take a raw manuscript and examine it for the plot, character, pacing, and factual errors. Developmental editing also catches point of view errors, or “head-hopping,” where you use more than one point of view within a single scene. It’s essential to get the story right before worrying about picky details of mechanics. Often with developmental editing, you need to find someone who understands your genre and has a track record editing books with sales in that genre.
There are two primary ways of doing this: first, attending a writer’s conference specific to your genre. You’ll almost certainly make connections. You will find editors attending the conference and network with other authors at a personal level to see who they use. You may even find that an editing session is available as part of the conference, to give feedback. Some agents also offer editing services – don’t neglect the conference pitch sessions, if provided.
Second, look at the acknowledgments in books you admire. Often you will find an editor listed among them. Check the editor’s website to find other books they have edited. If their style and price suit you, many editors will agree to a free or low charge initial consultation – the purpose is to find whether they believe they can help you and whether the person’s personality is compatible. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $5000 depending on the editor, the length of your manuscript, and the editor’s track record. Remember, you are paying for their advice. You don’t have to take it – but think long and hard before you completely ignore it.
When interviewing editors, ask if you can speak to other clients, or get the clients from the editor’s website and contact them. Most authors would be willing to answer a short email about their experience.
Copy editing looks at grammar, punctuation, and word usage. Copy editing catches those howling errors that happen because you’ve read the manuscript with the spelling error or the homonym error so many times that your eyes pass over it.
Comma usage and incomplete sentences can make the difference between a polished book and one that screams amateur.
If you’ve worked with a developmental editor, ask for references for copy editing. Otherwise, reedsy.com and upwork.com will have choices that will fit your budget. Copy editors charge by the word or the hour. The longer your manuscript, the more it will cost. It pays, therefore, to examine your writing and eliminate unnecessary words. If you are targeting your book to particular publishers, determine their preferred style guide. The Chicago Manual of Style is the most common. Ask which style your copyeditor targets. Mechanical editing is often included in a copy edit, checking for style.
Line editing is a cousin to copy editing, but focuses on your book line by line, checking sentence flow, word choice, and whether different phrasing would yield a more powerful result.
Meet Your Editor, If Possible
It is an excellent idea to meet your editor in person, if possible, or on a video call. You’re going on a journey together – make sure you have a willing and amiable traveling companion.
Michael Ross is a lover of history and great stories. He’s a retired software engineer turned author, with three children, and five grandchildren, living in Newton, Kansas with his wife of 39 years. Michael graduated from Rice University and Portland State University with degrees in German and software engineering. He was part of an MBA program at Boston University. He was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. He’s written short stories and technical articles in the past. “Across the Great Divide: Clouds of War” is his first novel.
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