What to Expect When You Hire an Editor
In the past few weeks, I’ve given workshops to beginning writers, and some frequent questions that pop up are, What is like working with an editor? Should I do anything to prepare for an editor?
These are GREAT questions, and if you’re asking them, that means you’re already doing what you’re supposed to. Let me preface this post by saying all editors are different (well, duh, Tiffany). Okay, I know, that was an obvious statement. But what I’m trying to say is that in this post I’m going to give a general overview of what it’s like working with an editor. Of course, this perspective is slightly skewed to how I operate. Having said that, I have many editor friends. I, myself, have worked with multiple editors, and so in this post, I’m trying to combine all of those experiences into one that will give you a good idea of what working with an editor should be like.
Should I Do Anything to Prepare for an Editor?
Sweet baby peach, YES. Do yourself and all editors a favor and make sure your book is in the best possible condition before hiring an editor. Connect with critique partners and beta-readers to give you feedback before hiring an editor. The reason for this is simple: If you decide to send your first draft to an editor, the editor is going to be focusing on obvious mistakes that could’ve been cleared up by beta readers. That means, the editor isn’t going to be focusing on more nuanced issues that beta readers and critique partners would likely miss.
On top of making sure your manuscript is in the best condition possible, you’ll want to shop for editors early. Editors’ schedules fill up in advance, so while your manuscript is still out with betas, that’s the perfect time to start looking for an editor. Ask friends for recommendations, check out the editors’ social media profiles (if they have them), and contact editors with any questions you may have.
And the last thing you’ll want to do in preparation for an editor is the least fun thing ever. Save up. Editors aren’t cheap, and there’s a reason for that (mainly, we have bills to pay too). A good editor is well worth the cost; a bad editor is well worth the regret. Of course cheaper editors aren’t always bad, but before you go on Fiverr and find an editor that only costs $200 to edit your entire manuscript, you should ask for references, a sample edit, and qualifications. I’ve had multiple clients come to me after hiring a bad editor. I fix their manuscripts, but they wasted money in not hiring someone more qualified in the first place. Moral of the story? Start saving your money if you know you want to hire an editor.
What is the Editing Process?
Again, this section will be slightly geared toward me, but I will try to point out places where other editors might do things differently. Also, the process is going to depend slightly on what you hire an editor to do. Developmental edits will differ from copyedits.
Before the edits get started, your editor will send you a contract to sign. Some editors require a deposit, some editors don’t, and some editors require the full payment upfront. I require a 50% deposit and a signed contract to start the edits. Your editor should create a clear timeline so you know when to expect the edits back.
Below, I’ll detail the process for each type of edit. If you don’t know the different types of editing, check out my blog post about it!
Developmental Edits (sometimes called manuscript critiques or manuscript assessments)
Your manuscript is polished, critiqued, and beta read. It’s time to send to your editor. When doing a developmental edit, I’ll read through the manuscript first without making any comments. But I will keep a separate document that details a whole host of plot, character, and story elements. I’ll make detailed notes in this document as I read. Then, I’ll go through my notes and process any big story or character elements that I noticed. Sometimes, I’ll start the editorial letter at that point, and I’ll write down what issues I’ve identified. Sometimes, I won’t. Then, I’ll read the manuscript a second time, this time, making comments throughout. After I’m done reading the manuscript a second time, I will finish writing the editorial letter.
I’ll send you the manuscript with the editorial letter. Sometimes, editors will offer a second pass (this will depend on their pricing). The second pass allows you to edit your manuscript, make all the changes, and send it back to the editor. I don’t charge high enough prices for a second pass but do offer authors the chance to pay a smaller fee if they want their manuscript looked at again once changes have been implemented.
Line Edits (sometimes called substantive editing or heavy copyediting)
For line edits, I go through the manuscript, reading very slowly line by line, making comments, and editing for passive voice, clarity, and flow. While I’m reading through and making comments, I’m usually also writing the editorial letter and adding in any bigger issues I see. While I’m doing this, I’m keeping tracked changes on so that all of my edits are being marked for the author to see. Then, I read through the manuscript a second time. This time, I turn off “markup,” so that I can see what the manuscript looks like without all the markings. Afterward, I finish the editorial letter and send it to the client. Again, depending on pricing, some editors will offer a second pass and some won’t. For line editing, I do offer a second pass. So once clients finish with their line edits, they send the document back to me. I look over it again and make any last notes or comments. This last pass does not include another editorial letter.
My process for copyediting is about the same as my process for line edits. The only difference is I don’t write an editorial letter for copyediting, unless I feel like the author really struggles with grammar and punctuation. What I’ll usually do is send the author an email with their edits attached. In the email, I’ll detail any major patterns I noticed, and I’ll give a mini grammar lesson on how to fix them. One of the biggest differences between a line edit and a copy edit, is a copy edit should come with a style sheet. This style sheet is one that the editor fills out while reading the manuscript. It details character names, places, sometimes timelines, etc. It also notes the style guide used and any major stylistic choices used for editing. It’s a way to make sure there’s consistency throughout the manuscript. I send my clients the style sheet with their final edits.
Then, like with line editing, I offer another pass for the author to send me the document so I can look over it a final time.
What Should I Expect (and not expect) from an Editor?
There are a few things. First, I’ve had clients come to me, complaining that their previous editor was mean. Your editor shouldn’t make you feel bad. An editor’s job is not to judge or rebuke clients. If you have an editor that makes you feel terrible about your writing, then it might be time to reconsider the relationship. Second, unless specifically asked to do so, an editor shouldn’t rewrite paragraphs or lines for you. Sure, sometimes I’ll rewrite a line with obvious passive voice or I’ll add a dialogue tag to clarify who’s speaking, but too much rewriting begins to change the author’s voice and tone. I once hired an editor (before I myself became one) to do line edits for me. She didn’t make one single comment in my manuscript. Instead, she went through the entire thing and rewrote line after line. She didn’t explain anything, so I had no idea why she rewrote the lines that she did. I learned nothing about my writing from her. THIS IS NOT NORMAL. And that leads me to my third point. Editors should explain changes they make. Does that mean every single comma deletion and passive voice rewrite needs to come with a comment? No. But, if I notice major patterns (which I often do, because every writer has patterns), I note them in my editorial letter or I comment one time in the document to let the author know I’m rewriting every instance of passive voice that I think needs to be rewritten. Fourth, you should expect to learn from your editor. Good editors should use editorial letters and comments to teach their clients harmful patterns in their writing so that the client grows as a writer. And last, you should expect an editor to be blunt. There’s a big difference between being mean and being blunt. I can be nice and still be clear about ways the author can improve.
What Happens After I Receive My Edits?
Congratulations! You’re done (almost). Some editors won’t send you the final manuscript until you’ve paid your balance. Others give you a day or two after you receive the edits to pay your balance. Others ask you to pay in full before the process ever begins. As you can see, it varies widely. But once you’ve received your final manuscript, your next steps will depend on which edit you recieved. If you received a copyedit, I (and every other editor on this planet) beg of you DO NOT MAKE ANY MORE CHANGES TO YOUR MANUSCRIPT. You might think it’s harmless to add this little line of dialogue. But do you know how to properly punctuate action beats that interrupt dialogue? If not, then don’t do it. By adding new material or line editing already edited material, you risk introducing new errors into your manuscript. Do everyone a favor and resist the urge.
If you have any final questions, now’s the time to email your editor! I have clients who email me months after they’ve received their edits with questions about this or that. That’s fine! It all depends on the relationship you have with your editor.
So that’s it! The editing process revealed! Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave a comment below!