The following is part one of a guest post from my editor, Brenda Erricheillo.
From the outside, the editing process can be quite intimidating. When you send your book out into the world, it’s hard to tell how your friends will react to it, let alone a professional editor. Plus, you’re sending out your manuscript. You’ve been working on this thing for months, maybe years, and now you have to send it to a stranger? So they can change it? It’s no wonder the revision process is met with such dismay. It’s not easy to let someone else plunge their hands into your creative work.
Ryan did that very thing, however, when he contacted me to edit his recent release, What We Saw. While we were working together, we thought it might be a good idea to give everyone else some insight into what goes on behind the scenes during the editing process. After working with me for several months, I think Ryan would agree with me when I say that the editing process is a lot less intimidating from the inside.
So, what can you expect when you sign up to work with an editor?
First, you’re going to have to decide how much input you want from your editor. Some writers are looking for someone to make sure everything is sparkling and just want a second pair of eyes to look over their nearly-perfect manuscript—if this is you, look for a proofreader. Some authors are looking for an editor to help identify and troubleshoot language and grammar concerns—a line editor or a copyeditor can do this for you. Others look for an editor that can help them strengthen the foundations of their story and are looking for feedback on conflict, plot, structure, and pacing—developmental or content editors cover this arena. Some editing services offer all of these options, and some don’t. Before you begin looking, I would suggest that you get clear on what kind of feedback would be the most useful to you.
I can’t speak for all authors, but the clear majority of the writers I work with—Ryan included—opt for my comprehensive package, which includes all three levels of editing, plus a critique of the novel’s strengths and weaknesses. While this isn’t a great fit for everyone, opting for a comprehensive package like this will help you and your editor address all of the concerns about a book—if you hire someone to line edit only, they may or may not point out plot holes or larger structural concerns. If you’re not sure about what level of editing may be right for you, ask. It’s perfectly okay to email an editor and ask them if they would be willing to give you a recommendation for the proper level of editing for your book. (Pro tip: Most editors will not charge for this.)
That being said, please understand that most editors are going to be very honest with their recommendations. If you ask an editor which level of editing is good for you—or if your editor contacts you with a suggestion—I would generally recommend that you take them at their word. I care very much about the writers whose books I edit, and I very much want them to be the best that they can be. When someone contacts me asking for a proofread and I suggest a line edit instead, it’s not that I’m trying to upsell them—it’s that their book needs a line edit before we can polish it for publication. Ultimately, I just want to encourage you to have an open mind about your editor’s recommendations (or get a second opinion) before making your final decision.
The next step in the process is to actually choose someone to work with. This can be overwhelming because the internet can make it easy for people to say that they’re qualified to do something that they’re not. Still, most editors are fabulous to work with and will help you make your book better. If at all possible, though, ask other writers for recommendations. Most writers will love to pass along their editor’s info if they’re happy with their work, and this is honestly how I get most of my business.
If this isn’t an option, I would recommend selecting an editor based on a few considerations. First, look at the editor’s philosophy and background. Some editors are very adept at making books salable. These editors may suggest drastic changes, but also may have some publishing industry experience and connections to draw on. Other editors focus on bringing out the best version of the story you want to write. These editors may have more of a literary or creative writing background, and while they may suggest changes, they probably will not be primarily concerned with your marketability. Some editors —like me—fall somewhere in the middle.
It’s also not a bad idea to see if the editor’s personality jibes with yours. Read their website. Email them. Do you feel good about interacting with this person? Do they seem like someone you’d like to have a cup of tea with? You’re going to have to feel comfortable talking to this person about things that are really important to you, so if their emails rub you the wrong way, that may not be a good sign. And it’s never a bad idea to ask them to do a sample edit for you. Most editors will be willing to do a 5-10 page sample edit for free or for a nominal cost. This way you can see if you like the way they deliver feedback. Working with an editor is useless if you can’t bring yourself to read their comments!
Thanks very much for this comprehensive post, Brenda! Part two will follow next week, with a specific focus on how to handle editorial feedback. If you are interested in Brenda’s editing services, you can check out her website here, or follow her on Twitter here.
Image courtesy of jjpacres via Flickr