You’ve taken your novel as far as you can. You’ve reworked it until you can’t really see it anymore, but still feel there’s something wrong somewhere. Or maybe your family and friends have raved about it, but have lots of questions about your plot and characters. Or your critique group agrees on the problems, but isn’t giving you any hints as to how to fix them. Maybe you just want to make sure the book is as strong as it can be to impress your favorite agent. In any case, you’ve decided it’s time to call in a professional editor.
A quick search uncovers a lot of editors on the market with varying degrees of expertise and honesty. How do you find the one you can rely on to help you bring your vision to life? How do you pick your editorial soul-mate?
One clue that will help you weed out the less competent is price. Editing is a profession. Skilled, experienced editors charge accordingly. My own hourly rate is a little more than a mechanic’s and a little less than a psychotherapist’s, which strikes me as the right balance. Editing is also time-consuming. You can’t skim through a manuscript and then know how to shape someone’s character voice or build tension toward an upcoming plot twist. When I’m working at my best, I can usually read no more than forty pages an hour, or edit eight to ten. So if you find someone who is willing to edit your manuscript for two dollars a page, don’t expect a considered conceptual edit. Chances are good you’re going to get a superficial proofread — occasional corrections to your grammar and punctuation and not much else.
Note: I’m not disparaging proofreading. I have a lot of respect for good proofers, and they provide a valuable service. Copy editors — who will often correct stylistic problems as well as grammatical ones – can be helpful as well. But if you’re not sure your story as a whole works, then it’s too soon to call in the proofers. The time to make every page perfect is after the plot, characters, and style are as strong as you can make them.
Look for an editor with experience, as well. You want someone who’s been in the business long enough to expose themselves to a wide range of writing styles – and learning styles. Some of my clients just need me to give them a few hints and then step out of the way. Others want more detailed, hands-on guidance. If you get an editor who doesn’t recognize how you learn, you’re likely to get good advice you won’t know how to apply. Reputation also counts for a lot. Ask other writers you trust for recommendations. [Read more…]