Finding an Editor for Your Literary Baby, by Shonell Bacon
First, I want to thank Karen for allowing me to come here and litter her blog with some of my words! I appreciate it.
Today, I want to share with you some thoughts on finding an editor for your book.
Your book is completed. You’ve read through and revised as much as you can as creator, and you have formatted your manuscript according to traditional specifications (unless you are laying it out for publication).
Well, before you get all gung-ho and start submitting your book to publishers and agents, you should first send it to an editor.
Because as creator of the project, you are very close to the characters, the storyline, and all other components that make your book – in your mind – sing.
It often takes a second set of eyes – and sometimes a third set (or more) – in order to see spelling and grammatical errors, holes in plot, weak characters, etc.
First thing to ask yourself is “How publication-ready is my manuscript?”
The answer to this will help you discern if your book needs proofreading, copy editing, or substantive editing—to start. Below, I talk a little about each.
If you have just finished your book and are looking to have it edited for the first time, then you will more than likely want someone to conduct substantive editing to your novel. Substantive editing seeks to achieve clarity of subject, logic, and consistency. The development of the STORY is key in this level of editing. An editor will be looking for holes in plot, weak characters, development of beginning and ending, strength in dialogue—essentially those components that make your book a book. It doesn’t make much sense as an editor (or a writer performing self-edits) to dive-in headfirst looking at grammatical and mechanical errors. If the story itself is riddled with problems, a spelling error or a comma out of place means nothing. Once an edit for the soundness of the story is conducted, copy editing then becomes key.
When we look to copy edit, editors tackle the manuscript line by line, paying attention to small (yet oh so important) details like grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, passive voice, word choice, consistency of detail, spelling, and consistency of style. I like to refer to copy editing as the yin to substantive editing’s yang. Every story needs to be checked for development of the story and development of the words and punctuation used to develop that story. Copy and substantive editing provide this.
If your novel has already been edited and has been given thumbs up on story and on details, such as grammar and punctuation, and you have even formatted your book for publication if you’re going the self-publishing route, then proofreading would be your next hurdle before the finish line. Proofreading tends to focus on two things: 1) final check of spelling, punctuation, and serious grammatical errors and 2) problems that arise from layout, such as errors in headers/footers, page numbers, and widows/orphans.
Although there are some editors, like myself, who blur these types (I’m always, first and foremost, looking to develop the story, but I can’t help but to look at the minute details, too); it is important to know that you will probably need more than one edit.
Editing is an important process in getting your manuscript to shine; as a result, you should make sure you have your work edited more than once. In the initial stages, having a strong story is important; hence, you would look at substantive editing. As the “story” is perfected, you would look toward getting your manuscript copy edited, and in the final stage, once the manuscript is in layout form, you would seek someone to proofread your manuscript.
When you find an editor you’re thinking about using, be sure to talk with him or her before agreeing to have the person edit your work.
What kinds of questions could you ask?
1- Do you have any clients/references that I can contact about your work?
2- What is your editing philosophy?
3- What is the process in which you edit and communicate with a client before, during, and after an edit?
4- Do you provide a free sample edit so that I might see your work before making a decision?
This last thought has more to do with YOU than with the editor.
I have had people in the past come to me for editing, thinking I would have their book done within two weeks and they would be ready to send it out to be printed as soon as the book is in their hot little hands.
NEVER is that the case.
Here’s a drop of wisdom – you may have finished your book, but it’s not perfect…or as perfect as it can reasonably be.
When you send a book to an editor, prepare to have it returned with revisions (sometimes major) to be done. Editors do not write your books to make it better; that’s a ghostwriter, and s/he is paid a lot more money to write your book than we do to edit it.
Editors, and I’m speaking from my own experience, clean up errors and make a lot of suggestions. If I see a hole in the plot, I state where I see it and make suggestions on how to fix it. If I see weak dialogue, I explain why it’s weak and offer suggestions on how to fix it. If I see an underdeveloped main character, I point this out, explain why I think the character is underdeveloped, and offer suggestions (or ask questions) that can help the writer develop the character further.
The editor’s job is to fine tune, but most importantly (and specifically) the job is to help YOU make your book the best book it can be. We offer you the advice, suggestions, and tweaks that YOU – as creator of the work – can go back and develop to make your literary work shine.
Be prepared to put in the work needed in revising and don’t be in such a rush to have a book in between covers.
You’ll thank me later.
Shonell Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, educator–everywoman. She has published both creatively and academically–novels, short stories, essays, and textbooks. In addition to her love of writing, she is also an editor (12+ years in the trenches) who loves helping writers hone their literary craft. She is an educator, having taught English and mass communication courses in addition to fiction writing. Shonell also finds the time to pursue her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.
I realize that not every editor/proofreader is perfect for every writer. This is why I am presenting the series, Editor Spotlight. If you know an editor or proofreader who would like to participate, ask them to contact me at karenselliott AT midco DOT net. The Editor Spotlight series will be presented throughout the next several months in between my regular blog posts and special theme weeks. – Karen S. Elliott