Beginning the process of finding the right editor for yourself and your manuscript can be daunting. Even thinking about handing your hard work over to a stranger might make the task seem insurmountable, but I would like to begin by telling you why I want to be an editor, and the reason is twofold: to help make your story shine, and to make absolutely sure you feel more confident about it than ever before, once the edit is completed. This is the mindset (well, it should be) of every editor out there.
If you look at it from that angle, then the task isn’t really you handing your manuscript over to a stranger, it’s you handing your manuscript over to a vetted editor, whom you feel comfortable will provide you with constructive feedback and awesome support, no matter what stage your manuscript is at.
Do I Need An Editor?
Short answer: yes.
If you’re unsure of whether to believe this or not, a good way to find out is to begin with sending your manuscript off for an editorial assessment (more on that below) and making your decision based on the notes you get back. Most likely you will find that the editor has spotted plot holes you didn’t even realise were there, is asking questions regarding character motivation that, if sharpened, will make their journey more believable and relatable, and that their helpful observations are all about turning your good manuscript into a great one. It’s not about moving a few commas around, it’s about getting at the very heart of your story, and making sure that heart is showing to the reader.
Finding the right fit for you…
There’s no way around the necessity for you to do some research when it comes to finding the right editor (Google is a friend). Perhaps you’ve already heard of larger editing websites like Reedsy, or found your way to Instagram hashtags like #editorforhire, either of which may generate suitable results. You can also do a search for freelance editors (people of my ilk) and their websites.
Editors specialise in different aspects of editing, so it’s always a good idea to know what type of editing you’re after before approaching an editor for a quote. If you find an editor that sounds like they’d fit you brilliantly — your genre, your mentality as a writer, your budget — but they only do developmental editing when what you really want is a thorough copyedit, then safe to say you shouldn’t have high expectations that they’ll take you on as a client.
That said, it never hurts to ask, only make sure to do so upfront. Clear communication of your expectations of the edit, as well as what type of attention you feel your manuscript needs, is key to a good working relationship with your editor. If you’re ever unsure, then communicate that — the editor will most likely not hesitate to help iron out any question marks, or give you a solid referral to a fantastic copyeditor.
Four Different Types of Editing
Editorial Assessment: the editor reads through your entire manuscript and provides you with a document of detailed notes on every aspect of your narrative — character, plot, world building, tone etc. — highlighting both strengths and weaknesses, providing you with the foundation for any needed rewrites.
If your manuscript has been through a round, or even two, of beta readers (advisable) and all the self-editing you can muster, making you feel confident that it’s as good as you can possibly get it, then investing in an editorial assessment is a great way for you to get professional and in-depth feedback. It’s the perfect option if you know you’ll most likely need to do one final rewrite before sending your manuscript off for a developmental edit or a copyedit (I would suggest you ask the editor doing your editorial assessment what they’d advise your next step should be, as it will undoubtedly save you some money).
Developmental Editing: A developmental edit looks at all the building blocks of your entire narrative and involves a whole lot of hands-on restructuring, meaning parts of your text may (and most likely will) change shape entirely, or even be cut, all to promote clarity and consistency. Don’t worry about your original idea being completely lost and your work not feeling like your own anymore; your editor will always stay as true to your voice as possible — plus you have final say on any edits made.
Along with these hands-on edits, there will also be continuous constructive criticism, as major changes will come with notes attached, explaining the reason for the proposed revisions, giving you the chance to dig into your narrative alongside the editor at every stage.
Approach the developmental edit prepared for the probability that your text will change quite a bit, and remember that the red markings of the editor’s revisions is their love of your narrative traced all over the page. Because that’s really what it is.
Copyediting: If your manuscript has gone through self-edits, an editorial assessment and/or a possible developmental edit, and you feel confident it’s in the shape you want it to be, then the copyedit will get you almost across the finishing line when it comes to it being ready for publication. The copyeditor will work to ensure your tone is consistent, your pacing flawless, your structure impeccable, and will catch any lurking inconsistencies, grammatical mistakes, poor choice of punctuation and any wayward typo that would interfere with the reader getting completely absorbed in your narrative.
Proofreading: The proofread is the final stop before publication. This edit combs through the text for the very smallest of grammatical mistakes, ensuring there are no hidden misspelled words, glanced over repetitive description or errors in punctuation.
An established publishing house will have editors specifying in each of these types and in such an environment your novel will go through every stage of editing before finally going to print, which is why it’s a sound idea to aim for the same standards — whether you’re self-publishing, or about to query literary agents with your manuscript, making that extra effort won’t go unnoticed.
What It’s Like to Work With an Editor
Working with a good editor should be inspiring, liberating and engaging. Sincerely. A good editor will take your text, present you with an edit and (such is the hope) make you look at your work in a whole new light. That’s the inspiring part, because it should make you immediately feel like you can see ways to improve your manuscript and, boy, do you want to get in on that action, cutting the unnecessary to make way for clarity.
The liberation comes from no longer being solely responsible, in love with and/or protective of your book baby. You have someone to help carry the burden, someone who will equally cry blood, sweat and tears every day until you reach the joy of publication. Someone who will dance with you on the day you’re holding your first printed copy in your hands, equally invested in seeing your dreams a reality.
A good editor will actively want to discuss your book, any questions you may have regarding the editing process, any worries, any concerns — that’s the engagement. They’ll make time for you, they’ll respond to your emails, they’ll keep the line of communication open and they’ll make you feel safe in the knowledge that they not only care about your book, but about your journey through the editing process as well.
A good editor will be honest with you, while being mindful of your relationship with your manuscript, but honesty goes both ways: where a good editor will offer you all of the above things, to avoid any unnecessary misunderstanding, it’s best to hire an editor when you feel ready to come into the editing process with an open mind, aware that you’re going to have your baby questioned, constructively critiqued and about to go through changes. (by the way, beta readers are a great testing ground for your ability to have someone else give you their sincerest opinion on your work) (bless the betas).
How to know that you’ve found the right editor…
Some editors are well-established and will list authors they’ve already worked with, which will give you some idea of what kind of genres they enjoy. Does that mean that they’re the right fit for you? Not necessarily.
Many editors will do a thousand words or so for free as a sample edit. Check their website or send a brief query to see if they offer this service, and if they do — use it.
As an example, when I do a sample edit, I do a mix of developmental editing (direct changes of the text itself), extensive notes (if needed) and a copyedit (cleaning up grammar and punctuation). I’ll also often add a briefer version of the editorial assessment in my email to a potential client, explaining the strengths I saw in the text, as well as any possible weaknesses, and — if I feel I should — clarifying the reasons for any major changes I’ve made.
As for knowing if you’ve found the right editor for you, I suggest laying the groundwork and familiarising yourself with their social media, their LinkedIn, their website, in order to get a sense for who they are, not just as an editor, but as a person too. Are they editing the genre you’re writing in? Do they have testimonials on their website from previous or current clients? And, importantly, do they seem to align with your worldview? Finally, all you can do is send them your sample and wait for their edit to appear in your inbox. If their notes on your words are fair, honest and supportive, chances are you’ve found a good ‘un.
Follow Annelie on Instagram (@youreditorannelie) and check out her website at http://www.yourpersonaleditor.uk/