Editing is hard work, and it requires a great deal of time, focus, and concentration. An editor does not approach an editing job as if it is a pleasure read. This is meticulous work. As such, a book that may take the average person 8 hours to read for pleasure will take far, far longer for the editor to edit. And by far, far longer, I mean weeks, or in the case of nonfiction manuscripts with footnotes, I mean months (really awful, horrible months…but I digress).
If you are hiring a professional editor, then you need to be aware that each job they accept requires weeks or months of their dedication and commitment. Because of the large chunks of time required for a manuscript, they need to be able to schedule in advance, and they need authors to have reasonable expectations about turnaround time.
Scheduling: Don’t Treat Your Editor Like a Supercuts
At Supercuts, walk-ins are welcome, and appointments are unnecessary. You can walk in on a whim and get a quick cut and style and then walk out an hour later with a new look. But not all companies can operate profitably and effectively using this business model. Whereas a stylist can perform a buzz cut on a male in ten minutes and please their customer, editors cannot be nearly as spontaneous or fast with a manuscript. Authors should want to offer readers the best book possible, and because of the time and effort required to hone each book, good editors need to be scheduled in advance, and they should be allowed adequate time to perform their job.
- Walk-ins Unwelcome: Unless they have a sign on their virtual door that reads “Walk-ins Welcome,” then you need to contact the editor and schedule your book in advance. Phone or email your editor 1-3 months before you anticipate that the book will be ready for them. Let them know when you’d like to publish, and ask if they can work with that timetable. Reserving time may sound impossible as an indie because there are all kinds of problems that may cause delays, but you can give them a rough timeframe.
- Time “in the Chair”: Talk to your editor about her time requirements, and be sure to realize that good editors will likely take more than a few days to turn around a novel-length manuscript no matter what level of editing you request. (Below, I’ll share more of what’s involved in each level of service.)
I like to contact editors 1-2 months in advance of when I think my manuscript will be ready for them, and then I allow 30 days for them to perform their job. That means a full month of my book-writing process is devoted solely to editing, and that doesn’t include the pre-readers who see the manuscripts in their earlier stages or the proofreaders at the end.
Levels of Service: Trims, Cuts, and Makeovers (Am I taking this analogy too far?)
- Proofing: The editor performs a line edit on your manuscript—either using corrections mode in Word or ink and proofreaders’ marks on a hardcopy—to correct errors in the rules of standard written English, which include the following: grammar; punctuation; spelling; sentence structure; shifts in tone, tense, person and number; subject-verb agreement; modifier placement; mechanics; and more. Proofing is meant to be a final check on a manuscript that is already polished for publication. Proofers do not comment on story or style. It’s just typos and grammar here. It is the most basic and least expensive service.
- Copyediting: This service is one part in-depth proofing and one part light story editing, and it’s an important.
- Mechanical Editing – This process involves a close reading of the manuscript with an eye to such matters as consistency of capitalization, spelling, hyphenation, and punctuation; agreement of verbs and subjects and other matters of syntax; number of ellipsis points; treatment of numbers; treatment of quotations; use of abbreviations and acronyms; use of italics and bold type; format of footnotes; and many similar details of style.
- Style refers to rules regarding the mechanics of written communication as prescribed by specific publishers or by the author. Style also refers to an author’s literary expression, which is taken into consideration during the second, nonmechanical, part of the editorial process.
- Substantive Editing – This process involves suggestions for rewriting, reorganizing, or presenting material in other ways. A good editor will not alter an author’s style but will ensure that the expression of the author’s style will not interfere with the reader’s understanding of the material.
(Adapted from The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. [The University of Chicago Press, 1993] 65.)
- Story editing: Story editing involves a critique of character, plot, voice, pacing, style, etc. Many indie authors replace professional story editors with beta readers, and this is a good option if the beta readers are extremely honest and have some skill in articulating the problems with the manuscript and making suggestions for correcting them. It is difficult for friends and family members to perform this task adequately because they have to navigate the “friendship/kinship issues,” and they also have to have an in-depth understanding of book mechanics.
When I look for story editors, I always enlist the services of people who have experience in editing or publishing, and I like to keep it strictly business between me and the story editor. I want their honest reactions, and I want them to be harsh. In fact, I look for the most blunt story editors I can find. (I mean the ones who have absolutely no compunction about telling me how awful a scene is. I’d rather hear it from an editor before publication than a reviewer after the fact. By the time my book hits the market, I want to have heard the worst things I can possibly hear and then have corrected the problems.) I hire the most publishing savvy people I can find because not only do they have to tell me how awful a scene is, but they also need to tell me why and give me ideas for fixing it.
The cost of this service can run the gamut from free (for beta readers) to fees similar to or exceeding copyediting (for editors with experience in this field).
When a book is traditionally published, it (usually) goes through all three types of edits. There is a lot wrong with the traditional publishing world, but the editing process is something indies who are attempting to become professional writers should strive to emulate. Why? Because it actually works. Story editors address global issues, copyeditors handle in-depth mechanical and style issues, and proofers get rid of the typos and silly errors at the end.
Are traditionally published books perfect and error free? No.
Will hiring an editor make your book perfect and error free? Nope. Mistakes happen.
But think of how many times you’ve read reviews of indie books that complain about the volume of grammar errors or typos. Grammar and typos seem to be issues that set apart indie-pubbed books from most put out by traditional houses. Every writer, whether trad pub or indie, should want to put out the best books possible, and that means editing, editing, editing!
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