Indie's Guide to the Self-Publishing Galaxy: Finding the Right Editor (Part 1)
So, I know if you've already perused the awesomeness that is Google, you're probably already familiar with the TONS of resources for writers in regards to determining the kind of editor you need and at what stage--maybe even information on what to look for when hiring one! With that in mind, I'm not going to bore you with rehashing a lot of that stuff. What I can share with you is my own personal experience and let you know what tidbits that I found during my research was found to be true during this process. I will break this up into parts as to not overwhelm you.
Yay! I completed my draft! Aww $#@!, it's just the beginning!
To be honest, for the longest time I kinda sat back and gloated at how I'd finally finished my novel draft. I mean, c'mon. How many people can brag about writing a book? Like actually complete writing a book? But in reality, as the time after I finished the draft started to fade in and out, I realized that finishing the draft was just a small (yes, small) step up on the giant hill that is the mountain of publishing. Now, I had to go through the dreaded revisioning process. This is when you leave the manuscript alone for a few weeks and let it age, then pull it back out with fresh eyes and comb through it to polish. This can be anywhere from, changing the title to filling plot holes, to even changing verb tense and spelling. It's all up for re-examination: your characters, plot development, dialogue and tone.
Tip#1 : Each round of revisions you make, you need to focus on 1 task at a time. For example, to me, the first wave of revisions will be around character and plot development, because those are the big mamma-jammas. The last would be spelling and grammar, because that task kinda adds the necessary and final touches to your polished manuscript. Fight the temptation to update grammar when you're really looking through for plot development. That's super-distracting and you'll just overwhelm yourself.
You simply can't afford to overwhelm yourself so early in the game of publishing. Besides, this is just a tiny foothill in the grand scheme of things, but a pretty damn important one as well. So take your time and do your revisions systematically. Also, if you get tired of looking at your manuscript over and over, just set it aside and give yourself a few days to break. It's okay...you're the boss and you can come back to it when you're ready.
Now, after all of the revisioning you can muster is done (and you feel fairly confident about it), you're probably ready to find an editor or an editor "dream team". You may be asking, "Why would I need an editor? I'm self-publishing!" That is exactly all the more reason you need a professional editor. It's great to have your scholar buddy from your English class or your Aunt Millie to proofread your work, but in the end, you really owe it to yourself (and your book) to invest in hiring a professional editor(s).
Tip#2: Do as much editing on your own BEFORE you invest in an editor. You are the writer, after all, so you should be doing your own rounds of developmental editing and proofreading. It's good to hone your editing skills and the more you do, the less the editor's job will be on your work. This also saves money that could be moved to your marketing budget.
Tip#3: Research the different types of editors and decide what help you need. Remember, there are different types of literary editors. Make sure you ask the right questions and decide which you need to polish your novel. Some independent authors have managed to find an editor for free, to which I give an air of caution.
The Problem with FREE Editors
The old adage, "You get what you pay for", didn't get old for nothing. It's tried and true for a reason. Now, that's no disrespect to any professional editor that made a decision to offer their services for free, nor the budding editors out there willing to waive service fees for some reason or other. This is just from my experience. I frequent the Wattpad community a great deal and many people put themselves out there as editors. Most are willing to provide services in exchange for a book dedication or follow, but in essence, they are not charging fees to edit your work.
Sounds awesome, right? If you can shave $2,500 in editing costs this way, then good for you. I, at first was interested as well. After 4 months and 3 different inquiries out to edit, ZERO editors completed editing, followed up with me or even provided a timeline for completion. It was disastrous. Here I was, with a finished draft, that I have already combed through, waiting for an editor who had committed to working my novel--only to have them ghost me.
That reminded me of the problem with FREE services:
- No obligation/commitment. I used to be a wedding photographer and one of my prospects urgently became a client the morning of their wedding, because they at first asked their friend to shoot the wedding for free. However, on the morning of the wedding, the friend bailed saying he was sick and didn't feel like coming. Big fail for bride and groom right? Aside from being their friend, there was nothing holding him accountable for providing those services to them. No contract, no deposit. Nothing but his word, that sadly was shot to hell that morning. I had to come to the rescue, because unlike their friend, I was a professional that relied on business. I charged the fee to provide these services along with a contract, so clients know that I am committed to servicing them. That's the problem with free editing. In the publishing world, life is about deadlines. Your editor needs to be committed to working with you to deliver the goods on time.
- Quality of work. Free editing services are usually not from a professional editor, because pros need to (and should) be paid for their time and expertise. You're paying for the quality of work and making your work shine. If the editor isn't charging, you need to ask yourself why. Be sure to get a sample edit (all serious editors offer this) and see what you could expect from their skills.
- Communication problems. When there's no commitment, there's nothing keeping the editor from engaging with you on a regular basis. This was the ultimate frustration when engaging editors on Wattpad. I would email them, iron out details then a week would pass...I follow up...another week, then finally an email. In those 3 weeks a several chapters of editing could've been completed! When someone is offering their editing services for free, it's generally in their "spare" time. Meaning, if life gets in the way and they have no spare time, it's tough luck for the author.
Now, that is not to say that just because you paid for an editor, you won't experience these issues either. You need to vet your editors carefully, regardless of how you acquire them. I'm saying from my personal experience, the risk of those issues were less when dealing with a professional editor. So, be sure you know what you're getting into and find an editor that is engaging. If you're finding yourself chasing them, it's a red flag to move on and find someone else.
When I switched my tactics and started searching for a freelance editor, my world changed. I met some very cool, very deliciously nerdy author-lovers who are pros at what they do. And when I found the one, it was like wedding bells in the air! We got along, she understood my writing style and her work was amazing. I knew when I paid her fees, it was worth the investment and we would be working together a lot.
In Part 2 of this blog series, we'll cover the type of questions and traits I looked for when finding "the one."
Now, what are the types of fiction editors:
Developmental editors work with the author to craft the manuscript, looking at structure and argument in non-fiction or plot and character in fiction. (In traditional publishing, these are usually the acquiring editors.)
Line editors (also called Copy editors) also look at the manuscript as a whole, but generally don’t work as closely with the author and aren’t expected to edit as deeply. They concentrate on the language or copy and focus on trying to make the style of the manuscript clean and consistent.
Proofreaders are usually the last folks who look at a book, in galley or proof form, as it’s about to go off to be printed (or, in the case of ebooks, as it’s about to enter distribution). They’re looking purely for misspellings or errors in style, such as improper punctuation, grammar or formatting.
Most articles will tell you that you need all of these editors, which is ideal, but speaking realistically as a self-publisher, sometimes your budget is too tight to hire them all. Good editors are have a high ticket value (for just cause). If you're a self-publisher, you need to invest your dollars wisely for the good of your novel and your growth.
Being an independent author is behaving like a business.
Your novel is your product and you want to sell a good product, right? So, if you have the funds, then research and hire an editing dream team. If not, you'll need to focus your resources on the editing you need the most. What I will suggest is that you focus on hiring a Developmental editor and and a line editor.
In my opinion, these two are paramount in polishing your novel. You need a deep dive into your book and someone to dig in for uncover plot holes and character dev issues. Every author on those bestseller lists has editors, as an indie author, you should be no different.
I was fortunate enough to find a Line editor who also worked on a copyediting level. That is how she worked as many editors find Line and copy editing too close to separate. Not all editors work that way, but it couldn't hurt to find one!
What about copyediting and proofreading? What should I do?
Tip#4: Indie Authors are resourceful. Get creative with your needs for editing. Now, I'm not talking about going back to your friend from English class, but I'm talking about a plan to make sure all your bases of editing are covered as cleanly as possible.
For example, for Tall, Dark & Deadly, I knew that after I made all the changes from developmental and line editing that I still needed to do some proofreading again before distribution. I did a lot of my own proofreading and changes before I sent it to my line editor (See Tip#2) so the big sin I consistently had was verb tense issues. So, I knew that after I made my final edits, I needed to proofread to make sure everything was kosher before publication.
So I built this system of several "virtual proofreaders" to help me out:
Google Docs: I don't know about you, but I love working in Google Docs for my drafts. It auto saves my work and because I can pull it up anywhere and start working, I never have an excuse of "I need to go home and write." What Google Docs also has is a pretty sweet Spelling/Grammar check. It's more advanced than Word in that it looks at things such as using the wrong word (homophones like their/they're and some verb tense issues) It doesn't catch other deep dive grammar issues, but it's good enough for a good first pass! I recommend it.
ProWritingAid: ProWritingAid is one huge step up from Grammarly because it looks at several angles of writing (style, clichés, grammar, spelling,) just to name a few!
Grammarly: I don't really remember what life was like before this tool. Okay, I do remember, but I'd like to forget! If you aren't familiar with the program, I seriously suggest you look into it. There's a free version, which is okay, but if you want to use it as a team of "virtual proofreaders" I suggest you spring for the premium version. It's a monthly fee and well worth the investment. Now Grammarly (Premium) looks at the nerdy bits of grammar in your work. The "Grammar Nazi" stuff. Trust me, that's exactly what you want! Things such as verb tense, dangling participles, dangling modifiers, possible word confusion, bad word pairings, (sighs) you get the picture. Grammarly highlights all that stuff and I love it.
Another reason why I love the Premium version, is that it comes with a Microsoft Word plug-in, so I'm able to ditch the regular Spellcheck tool in Word and have Grammarly review it.
Another thing; Grammarly doesn't care about your writing style--it just points out the grammar issues, so you can choose to ignore some of their suggestions and accept the ones you do. In any event, it forces you to think about your wording and sentence structures and decide what flows for your story. For instance, I often write in fragments. Grammarly HATES that. However, like my line editor told me "sometimes they work, and sometimes they just don't" and she's right. Between her and Grammarly, it forces me to examine my writing style and ask myself "Does this really work?"
After the virtual proofreaders, you should make one last ditch effort to let another set of eyes review. So if your friend from English or your Aunt Millie wants to take a stab at it, go for it.
Don't forget Beta Readers!
Beta readers are awesome and are extremely useful for independent authors! Beta readers are the cool folks who read a draft of an unpublished manuscript with the intention of providing the author with their notes, thoughts, and opinions of the story. They focus on character development, plot holes, inconsistencies, and general things they love or disliked, similar to the traits of a developmental editor. It's important to understand that Beta readers, by definition are not editors. Editors can be Beta Readers, but don't assume all Beta readers are editors. Sometimes, they look for nit-picky things like grammar, word choice, and typos, but again, they are not editors. You should do an outreach to find beta readers for your books and after your final development revisions you should tap a few beta readers to review your story.
Quick tip/etiquette: Your book should be fairly polished before it hits the inbox of a beta reader, meaning, it should not be the first draft. Be sure to clean it up a bit first as a rough draft can be quite distracting as a reader. Remember, that is what a beta reader is by definition: a reader.
Alternative to Developmental Editors?
Some indie authors have shared that when the chips were down and funding was low, they turned to a bunch of beta readers to help them do developmental editing. I, personally have a few reservations toward that, but I was surprised to read some work where beta readers were the sole contributors to finding plot holes, continuity issues and the like, and the book was pretty decent. In that regard, I will say this: Use the resources available to you, but look for quality in EVERY resource you use. Case in point, the indie author found beta readers who had a background in editing:) A cheat, I admit, but it worked for him.
In the end, it's your book. That's why you chose to be a self-publisher.