Part of the Indie Authors Series
Editing is possibly the #1 most important budget item for an indie author. Depending on your skill level and your process, you may need several rounds of editing to produce a beautiful book—and isn't that what we all want? Working with an editor can seem daunting, but once you're familiar with the process and the levels of editing, you'll be ready to find the best editor for you.
Finding & Working With an Editor
Finding an editor can seem like a daunting task—and it is. Although thousands of editors of varying skill levels have hung out shingles, you don't want just anyone to help you perfect your story. You need someone who can capture your vision, see how to make it even better, and work within your timeline and budget.
A great place to start is with similar works to yours, or what you'd like yours to be like: similar genre, tone, style and/or voice. Then look at the acknowledgments or contact the authors to find out who their editor was. You can ask for recommendations from other writing friends as well, of course!
Next, research the editors on your list. Look at their websites to find testimonials, editorial philosophies, perhaps even sample edits, availability and prices. You may find something that just doesn't mesh well with what you want or need, so drop that editor to the bottom of the list and research the next one.
Once you've begun to narrow down your list, you're ready to begin contacting your top choices. Be sure to ask about all your important criteria, from pricing and timeline to technology and editorial philosophy. Do you need a developmental edit, a content and line edit, or only proofreading? Do you want to use Word comments and track changes?
Most editors will offer a sample edit of the first ten pages or first chapter of your work. Take advantage of this! A sample edit is often the best way to tell if the editor is a good fit for you and your work. When they return your edit, go through the comments carefully. Do they make your work better? Are they delivered in a manner you can live with? Does it seem like the editor captures your vision for the project and can help take it to the next level?
Once you've found an editorial fit, be sure to get the price and timeline in writing before s/he begins. Many editors will use a contract, which is a good way to protect both of you. Be sure the contract doesn't include anything like signing over your rights to your work or their edits.
The search may be long, but it will be worth it. If you can find the right editor, your work and your career will benefit immensely. Your relationship could last for years. Work with your editor as with any other service provider: make your expectations clear and communicate honestly, openly and respectfully. Remember that your editor wants you to be a satisfied customer!
Levels of Editing
There will be a lot of overlap between the levels and styles of editing, which vary from editor to editor. Always be sure to make your expectations clear when you engage an editor, and ask about their procedures and style.
The basic levels of editing fall into several tiers:
Developmental, Content, Structural, Substantive Editing
The highest level of editing can take different forms and different names. On this level, the editor looks at the overall structure of the story, characterization, ideas, clarity, flow, logic.
To my mind, developmental editing helps to fix broken books and improve ideas. Structural editing focuses on the structure of the story and individual chapters and scenes to adhere to the principles of good storytelling. Content editing focuses on improving the story and characterization. Substantive editing may cover any of these. However, the terms are often used interchangeably. Be sure to talk to an editor about your expectations, and their usual services.
Although this level of skill is rare, an excellent critique group can help with developmental editing, especially when you use a format that can help them take a higher level look at your work. In addition to my two excellent critique partners, I attribute the success of our group to the format. For two months, we focus on one person's book, and read the entire thing, a quarter at a time. We make some notes on line and copy editing, but we don't delve too much into more granular levels of edits. Instead, we're able to focus on these higher-level problems to improve the story craft.
Once you've made the story the most it can be, you can turn your editorial eye on the writing craft itself. This is where we dig into imagery, style, tone and voice. Line editing focuses on the flow of the writing at a more granular level, paragraph to paragraph and sentence to sentence. Here, the editor can drill into the logical flow from sentence to sentence in building your storytelling.
For more examples of excellent line editing, I suggest reading through the line editing examples on Edit Torrent, a blog by editors Alicia Rasley and Theresa Stevens.
This is where a typical critique group setup excels, in examining the writing craft chapter-by-chapter.
Copy editing concentrates on grammar, spelling, syntax and usage. This will also catch consistency errors and may include fact checking where appropriate.
At this stage, the editing focus shifts from improving the story and the writing in substantive ways and moves instead toward removing errors. The copy editing phase may comment on places where the voice of the piece is inconsistent (or nonexistent), but the voice of the piece should be set enough that a copy editor should not try to change it substantially.
Proofreading is a final polishing pass, the last step in removing errors. It may address some issues of line editing and copy editing, but mostly focuses on finding typos, homonyms, and minor inconsistencies.
I often see line editing, copy editing and/or proofreading combined into one service. If possible, ask if your editor will be making more than one pass when performing different services. That method is ideal, so that the editor can focus on finding one categories of errors at a time. As with higher-level edits, the terms may be ambiguous or interchangeable, so always check with your editor to find out what s/he'll be focusing on.
A good editor is worth their weight in manuscript pages. Finding one you can work with to make your story the best book is can be is worth the time and effort. Good luck!
For a sneak peek at Jordan's new writing book cover, head on over to her blog.
Jordan McCollum is the (indie!) author of the romantic suspense series Spy Another Day which begins with I, Spy. She enjoys teaching writing craft through her writing craft blog at JordanMcCollum.com, as the Education Director of Authors Incognito (an online writers' support group with over four hundred members), and through her book CHARACTER ARCS (with a foreword by Janice Hardy).
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Photo credits: EDIT sign—Matt Hampel Red pen—Angela