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What to Consider Before Working With an Editor

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Guest post by Sebastian Hetman

Today the market for writers and editors is bigger than ever. Which is wonderful in some ways, but overwhelming in others. Especially if you don’t know your way around yet.

This article is meant to help you. Editing services come at a premium and for good reason. You get to work with a professional, an expert in their field, someone who can help you make your story the best it can be.

But, before you decide to spend any money, consider the following.

The Kind of Editing You Need

There are nine different types of editing out there, and that’s just the major ones. Do you know which one your story needs the most? Here are the three most popular types:

  • Developmental editing helps you tell better stories. Developmental editors work on story structure, character arcs, and conflicts.

  • Line editing helps you tell stories that read well. Line editors work on style, flow, and language consistency.

  • Copy editing helps you tell stories with clarity. Copy editors work on spelling, grammar, and word usage.

Like Writing, Editing is Subjective

There’s no way around it. Editors may be highly trained experts, but they are not human algorithms. They put in as much art and finesse into helping you with your story as you’ve put into writing it.

This is true even of the copy editors, who use hefty volumes of rules like the Chicago Manual of Style in their work.

You will be working with a human being. That’s why good chemistry between you and your editor is so important.

You are the Creative Director

Editors speak with the voice of experience and authority. That’s our job. But we’re working on your book, and that’s why you get the final say on pretty much everything. You don’t have to agree with what editors say, and that’s okay. Great editors respect your creative direction.

The Ego in the Room

The human brain is not wired to take criticism in large doses. Our ego tends to induce anxiety at the thought of someone judging our work.

But here’s the thing. Editors don’t judge. They do what they do because they love their job, and they’re there to help you get better. They’ll make you feel good about the process, too.

Editing, an Example

Emma asked me to give you a short example of the kind of work I do. So here it is, courtesy of my good friend, author Aura Clift, a paragraph taken from her story The Vessel. The heroine is thinking about her grandfather, who recently passed away.

Before edits:

Through the recollections of my mother’s dreams, where he visited and especially through my grandmother anecdotes. It was my grandmother's words that brought me to the realization that blood isn’t water. I am so similar to him it scares me. No, not in the physic, in my thoughts process, my likings, my shortcomings, my soft heart.

After edits:

The more I heard my grandmother talk about him, the more he seemed like an older, wiser, and better version of myself. Not in the physical sense, of course, as I was never particularly strong, but in what he liked and disliked, the things he held dear, and yes, his short temper too.

The majority of my work focuses on story structure, character arcs, conflict, and the like, but that would be hard to demonstrate without having you read a full manuscript, so this instead was what I do with people’s prose. I tidy it up, make it clearer, tighter, and presented in a way that makes it read better.

Find an Editor You Can Trust

Initially, we wanted to put together a list of red flags to look for in an editor, but we decided against it. Red flags make you paranoid, and you shouldn’t be. The industry is filled with wonderful people who are a joy to work with.

Use your best judgment when looking for someone to edit your work. Find an editor you can trust. Talk to them on Twitter, see how you get along before you mention that you have a manuscript that needs editing. These initial impressions are usually a good indicator of the kind of interactions you can hope for once you start working together.

If an editor can be kind and generous to a total stranger, they will be even kinder and more generous to a client. If they’re distant and too busy to reply, they will remain distant and busy even after you pay them.

Above all, remember that you’re looking for a human being, not a human algorithm. Any Uber driver can get you from A to B, but only an editor who cares will help you make your story the best it can be.

Is it Time?

Working with an editor can be an excellent investment in your writing career, but only when you feel you’re ready. If you’re not, try working with some beta readers or critique partners first. There are fantastic groups out there that can help you find them. #WritingCommunity on Twitter is one such group.

Check out Barbara Linn Prost's post: Beta Readers: Who, When, Why, and so What?


Sebastian Hetman is a Developmental Editor, offering premium editing services for writers of fantasy and science-fiction.

You can find him on his website, where you can find testimonials and pricing.

You can also follow him on Twitter.


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