Nov 12 2012

Cart? Horse? When to hire an editor

Here’s some unsolicited advice from an editor to writers. I’ll start with a message I receive way too frequently (a composite paraphrase of multiple emails here):”Dear Robb, I found your website (or were referred to you). I have spent the past 6 months (or year, or 5 years) writing my first novel. It is a 150,000-word epic saga, the first of a planned trilogy. I have decided to self-publish, and have set a launch date, have a book-signing event set up, ads on Facebook promoting the upcoming debut, and the cover art designed. The launch date is set for the first of next month. Would you be able to edit my manuscript by next week?”

Um. No. Cart? Horse?

If you spend six months or six years writing a novel, plan for the editing and revision process too. Make sure you have completed the editing and revisions, and that you’ve had a thorough final proofread done and complete before you announce a launch date or start submitting to agents and publishers. If you’re self-publishing, you’re setting your own deadlines. Why set it up so that you don’t have adequate time for revisions and editing?

An editor may be booked up with work for weeks in advance. So you’re out scrambling to find an editor who happens to have an opening next week. Hmmm. An editor with no work on his schedule? It happens to all of us at times, but any editor who has been doing it for a while and has a good track record probably isn’t sitting around hoping a new customer walks in the door because they have no project scheduled for next week.

Once the editor begins works on your manuscript, how rushed do you want him or her to be? Or do you want your editor to take his time and be thorough? Allow your editor at least a month to spend on it. At 150,000 words, maybe two months.

When the edits have been completed, how much time do you think you should spend going through those edits? A day? A day and a half? Maybe you should plan on at least another month to make the edits and revisions. Maybe you’ll have questions for your editor and will need to have conversations back and forth to figure out the best solution for a particular issue. Maybe you need to plan for more than one edit of your manuscript with a series of revisions to be made.

Why the rush? You’ve spent hours and weeks and months and maybe years to craft your story. Take your time with the editing process and put out a product you will be proud of and readers will enjoy.
There’s no benefit to publishing it a month or two earlier rather than a month or two later, especially if your book is considerably better a month or two (or six) later.Take a breath. Horse. Cart.

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3 Responses to “Cart? Horse? When to hire an editor”

  • Paul Callaghan Says:

    This is so true. I have to admit that once a draft is done I want to publish. It’s one of the things that I have to stop myself doing, like stuffing the story with adverbs and back story. It’s all part of this wonderful and frustrating craft we have chosen to drive ourselves mad with :)

  • Marie Clair Says:

    Indeed. The cart before the horse, publishing before professional editing. My rationale, I need to sell some books before I can afford the luxury. It’s a misnomer I know. Working on getting my priorities in order, and hoping like crazy I’m not making an absolute fool of myself, in the meantime.

    • Robb Says:

      Marie, you’re right. It’s a bit of a Catch-22. The problem can be that a writer’s first book — unedited — hurts potential sales for that book and for all future books. Readers often leave bad reviews for unedited work, which dampens additional sales. Those readers won’t buy a second book from the same writer, even if that second book has been professionally edited. So putting out the first book unedited, hoping the sales from that book will fund editing of the second book can start the writer off in a hole.

      But I completely understand the financial realities. There are other options, however, that every new writer should take advantage of before publishing that first book. Whether or not you can afford a professional edit, join a group of quality beta readers. That doesn’t mean your friends and relatives. It means other writers and voracious readers who are able to explain what they like or don’t like about your story and why. Do you have a friend who is an English teacher who would proofread it to correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation? Join a writers critique group to get feedback on the story and the writing, and maybe there is someone in that group who is really good at proofreading who will help you out. If there’s not an in-person writers group in your area, find one online.

      Of course, self-edit. There are several excellent books on self-editing. Use the spell and grammar check on your computer. Don’t blindly accept the changes from spell/grammar check, but these will highlight words or phrases for you to double check. Use a dictionary. If you’re not sure a word is spelled right, look it up. Get a copy of Strunk & White’s and study it. Read the book ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves.’ When you self-edit, try it in several formats. Edit it on the computer screen. Then print it out and edit it on paper. Even change the font and type size before printing it out. It’s amazing how many things you will see in a different font or format that you never saw before. Read it out loud. That forces your brain to actually read the words on the page, not the words you intended to write. Some people even like the voice/reading software programs that read your book to you. You will hear missing and wrong words, or sentences that just don’t sound right.

      Finally, when you’re completely done with your book, you’ve revised and corrected and rewritten and corrected again and again, and it’s as good as you can possibly make it on your own and with whatever outside assistance you’ve been able to find, set it aside. Write something else. Do something else. Pull out your manuscript and read it again, maybe a month later, maybe three months later. You will find things you never saw before that need to be fixed or smoothed out.

      In short, even though a writer may not be able to afford a professional editor, there’s never an excuse for putting out work that is less than professional. Start your writing and publishing career on the right foot. Best of success to you!