You’ve finished. You wrote ‘The End’. Now what?
It’s time to engage an editor and turn your labour of love into a masterpiece and set it free upon the world!
The most important thing about engaging an editor, in my view, is that you must trust them with your story. The process of selecting an editor is personal, and I absolutely think you should go with someone you connect with, who conducts themselves professionally, and who will stay true to your voice. You don’t want someone who will hack your manuscript to pieces and turn it into something that doesn’t even look like your work any more.
Passing your work onto an editor is terrifying and thrilling. It’s important to feel like its in good hands. So let’s get down to it!
Types of editing
As I mentioned in my massive post about publishing your book, there are a range of different types of editing. Depending on your skills at self-editing, your time, and your budget, you may choose to engage in one or more of these edits.
There are several editing terms. Some refer to different things, and some are used interchangeably. It really depends on who you ask! I’ve seen developmental editing, structural editing and substantive editing all mean the same thing, but also I’ve seen these as separate types of edits. It seems to come down to the editor or editing service. For the purposes of this article, I’ll define three different types of editing.
Developmental (structural, substantive) editing is usually done after your first draft. It’s what you do when you want serious feedback on the story, plot, characters and style. This is often the most expensive type of editing and can be quite intimidating unless you’re someone who is doesn’t feel vulnerable at a professional inspecting your bare bones. You need to be prepared to take on board constructive (and possibly painful) criticism. Developmental editing is good for beginner writers, but if you can’t afford to spend lots of money on various rounds of edits, you may choose to self-edit and skip this step.
I chose to do three rounds of self-editing, plus incorporated feedback from beta readers before I sent my manuscript to an editor.
Copy editing is for a fairly polished manuscript. This is sometimes known as line editing, but again, some people call that a separate type of edit. To me, they are much the same thing, and this is what I went with for my novel. This type of editing gets into the detail of your work, and the editor will look at style and voice, grammar, punctuation, errors, and other problems. My chosen editor will give me a tracked changes version of my manuscript with her feedback and suggestions, as well as a ‘clean’ copy. Most copy editors should do the same.
I’m expecting a lot of work to come out of the copy edit process. That will be intimidating, but it’s okay. Whilst I think I have a pretty good grasp of writing conventions and grammar, the editor is a professional, and will have much more experience than I. That’s why I’m paying her!
A copy edit will get your manuscript to its best dressed version of itself. The editor will help to shape your story into what you dreamed it could be.
Proof reading is the final pass before publishing. The editor will look over your finished work for those little issues such as spelling mistakes, typos, incorrect punctuation, or dodgy formatting.
If you are confident in your grammar and punctuation skills, have a good eye for detail, and access to tools like Grammarly or ProWritingAid, it’s possible you can save some money and self-edit all the way through. Then you can just engage a proof reader and have them give your manuscript that last look-over before you hit publish!
Make a shortlist
Professional editing services range from tens or hundreds of dollars to several thousand. The sheer volume of editors and difference in pricing can be quite overwhelming. A good approach is to make a short list of five to ten editors you like the look of.
Here’s what I did.
- Researched (Googled) book editing services and pulled up a bunch of sites.
- Looked for recommendations on the selfpublish sub-Reddit.
- Checked an Australian freelance editors database.
- Asked my Twitter followers for advice.
- Trawled through Fiverr; and
- Set up a request on Reedsy.
For each of these, I looked at the sites/profiles of the editors. I checked their credentials, their reviews and testimonials, how good their website looked (including if there were spelling mistakes!), and their prices.
I ended up ditching quite a lot, as many editors don’t seem to list their prices on their websites. I prefer to know what I’m going to be charged from the outset, and I really don’t see why it needs to be a secret. I also set aside those editors who weren’t specifically interested in my genre. My final criteria was the ability to get a free editing sample. That actually whittled it down quite a bit.
In the end, I chose two independent editors, two from Fiverr, and five from Reedsy.
Of the two independent editors, one never responded. Of the two Fiverr editors, one didn’t seem to understand my request for a sample edit (!), and from Reedsy, two declined my request as it wasn’t their area of interest (even though they said all fiction…)
Get a sample edit
Given the range of prices in the editing market, I think it’s particularly useful to get a sample edit before deciding on who you will go with.
After my initial shortlist, I was left with five editors to compare. I prepared a 2000 word sample to provide, which was the general standard length offered for free sample edits. I advised the length and genre of my full manuscript, with a very brief one or two line description of the story. I also mentioned that I had beta feedback to incorporate and would have the manuscript ready for editing after that.
The remaining Fiverr editor’s standard offer was for a 500 word sample, but when I asked if she’d up that to 2000 words for comparison, she was more than happy to oblige. The Reedsy request suggested a 2000 word sample as a default on the form, so I was a bit surprised when one editor came back saying she’d only do 500 words because otherwise it would take too long. Okay…
The five editors were given the same sample, and they came all came back within a week or so. Each sample was accompanied with a quote, most in US dollars (one was in British Pound).
Compare the samples
To say the quality and range of feedback was broad was a bit of an understatement. The prices were equally varying. The lowest price quoted was a mere $280US. The highest was $1800US.
You might be quick to go with the cheapest option, or perhaps you are someone who thinks quality means a high cost. What I say to both schools of thought is to not base your criteria solely on price. You must be confident in the ability of who you choose, and you must feel comfortable with the kind of feedback given.
What I did was print out each sample with the marked up changes/feedback, and note the name and price of the editor on the front page. Then I laid them all out in front of my on my kitchen table, and went through them line by line, comparing each piece of feedback.
It was an interesting exercise. There were two standouts for me. Both of these editors found errors that the others didn’t, both seemed to quickly grasp the language and style of my story in the short sample they had, and both gave constructive supportive feedback that I could immediately apply to improve the flow of my work.
The others had some strange ideas, including one who focussed almost entirely on formatting issues (given this was a sample, not a finished product, I found that quite surprising), and one who de-capitalised the title of what was obviously a key character.
I was quickly able to discount three of the editors as not suitable for my requirements. That left two. These two were also the most responsive and friendly in my interactions with them.
They were also the cheapest ($280US and $800US, respectively).
In this instance, I went with the cheapest one because they were both as good as each other, so the next comparative factor was price. Incidentally, the editor was one I found on Fiverr. Fiverr gets a bad rap a lot of the time, but I think that’s down to people not really understanding that there are plenty of quality providers there. Fiverr – and other marketplaces like it – offer a layer of security to both buyers and sellers that isn’t always there for independent freelance providers. Just like anything, do your research, test your prospective provider and make an informed choice.
Accept the offer
Once you’ve chosen the editor you want to go with, let them know, and ask them questions like when they will be able to complete the job, is there a preferred format they want to work in, what is their payment breakdown (e.g. half up front, rest on delivery, noting that some of the marketplaces like Reedsy and Fiverr have this process already built into their job system), and any other things you’d like to know before you send off you manuscript and lay down your cold, hard cash (or credit).
When you’ve both agreed on terms, prepare your manuscript to its best formatted version. I use Scrivener to do my writing work, and it sometimes does some weird stuff with formatting. I’ve learned that it considers each document in the binder of your manuscript as a separate entity. This means the formatting may not be consistent. Take some time to make sure the output of your manuscript looks good. Add the title of the novel (if you have decided on it), your author name and contact details, and a simple copyright with the year. Adding page numbers is nice too.
Pay your deposit or full amount depending on the terms and conditions of the editing job, and send the manuscript through. Follow up with an email or message to thank the editor for their upcoming work and that you are looking forward to working with them. Then treat yourself to a drink or a snack, because holy cow, you just submitted your novel to an editor!! Congratulations!
A final word
Now that you are celebrating this huge milestone (congratulations!), take the time to politely decline the other editing offers. You may wish to use their services in the future, so it is a good idea to maintain your professionalism and keep them as a contact. You never know when an opportunity may come up that involves someone you’ve connected with previously.
My manuscript is due back in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes!