Too many writers rush from a finished draft to a printed novel. True, once you write “The End” you can’t wait to hold the book in your hands… but don’t skip the integral part of sitting back and editing. Here’s a quick guide to that world.
Why Editing Matters
You may be a terrific and professional writer, but a first draft is just that. There’s simply no chance you can catch all your mistakes and all the untapped potential of the story at the first go.
Good editing will not only eliminate spelling and grammar errors. It will also help your story fulfill its maximum potential in terms of structure, pace, flow, drama and suspense, comic relief, and much more.
If you work with traditional publishing, your publishing house may assign you an editor who will go over your manuscript and point out issues and opportunities. In fact, the hallmark of a serious publishing house is often the quality of its editing.
If you plan on self-publishing, pay extra attention to editing. There’s nothing like low-quality editing to earn your novel terrible reviews that might kill its sales.
What Kinds of Editing Are There?
The heaviest form of editing is developmental editing. It touches upon issues such as plot integrity, eliminating plot holes, character development arches, pace and suspense, and scene flow. Changes made in this pass usually have a profound impact on your novel, and might drive you to rewrite substantial parts of your manuscript. Don’t panic! Embrace it as a change for better and rejoice.
Next is line editing. It takes into account diversity in sentence structure and length, clear sentence structure, clear language, vivid imagery, voice, and so on. This stage of editing will make you reconsider every sentence in your novel, and tweak it to perfection.
Finally comes copyediting, where final spelling errors and grammar mistakes are caught, as well as name and spelling inconsistencies. Talented copyeditors will remark on every type of inconsistency in your manuscript, and might even do some fact-checking for you.
Self vs. Paid Editing
Even if you are a professional editor as well as a writer, you yourself cannot be your only editor.
Sure, going over your manuscript several times and working out kinks and fleshing out scenes is a great practice. But ultimately, the story is yours, and you are too close to the story to make objective calls about every aspect of it.
That said, self-editing is an important habit and can save you a lot of money. The less you leave up to your paid editor, the less work he or she will have, and the less he or she will charge.
Self-edit first. Outsource later.
For more tips on self-editing, go here.
Be prepared to part with a lump of money, because high-quality editing costs a lot.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) provides these guidelines for rates:
- Developmental editing: $45 to $55 per hour, producing 1-5 pages. For the average book of 70,000 words, the average cost would be around $6,000.
- Line editing: $40 to $60 per hour, producing 1-6 pages. For the average book of 70,000 words, the average cost would be around $4,500.
- Copyediting: $30 to $40 per hour, producing 5-10 pages. For the average book of 70,000 words, the average cost would be around $1,300.
What Kind of Editing Should You Get?
If you’re working on your first or second novel, consider investing in developmental editing to help you make the most of your plot. Alternatively, you can give your story to experienced beta readers who will chime in with their input.
Keep in mind that developmental editing might shift the entire structure of your book, force you to delete and/or add scenes, and generally play havoc on your existing manuscript. Always do developmental editing as a first step, before you sit down to polish the language.
If you’re a more experienced writer, or if you’re confident your plot works well, you can skip the developmental editing and go straight to lines or copyediting.
Line editing should help you bring out your voice, make your prose clear, and make your sentence flow smoothly. If you feel you’re already there, and especially if you can get feedback from experienced, unbiased readers stating as much, you may skip line editing.
However, copyediting is always a good practice. There’s simply no way you can catch all of your spelling and grammar mistakes on your own. No matter your level, always finish your editing stage with good copyediting.
How to Hire an Editor
Some tips on finding the right editor for your manuscript:
- Find a recommended professional. Marketplace websites such as Guru, Upwork, and even Fiverr have a review system in place to help you choose the right person.
- Do a trial run. Especially when doing line edits or copyediting, commission your editor to do five pages (fully-paid), and only then decide if you want them for the full project.
- Make sure you like the candidate’s editing style. Some editors are blunt, others are much more tentative. Some editors will rewrite your words, others will explain what kind of change is required and leave the rewrite to you. Look for an editor of the type you feel more comfortable working with.
- Make your expectations clear. Always make certain your editor understands what type of editing you need and what you expect to receive.
- Give a reasonable deadline. Without one, your editor might procrastinate; with a too-tight deadline, the quality of their work might suffer.
- For long editing projects, such as developmental or line editing for an entire novel, ask for regular updates. There’s no point waiting for the editor to complete the task only to hear, at the very deadline, that they never managed to get to it at all.
- Do not pay in advance. In marketplace websites (such as mentioned above), you can deposit the payment in a 3rd-party account until the work is done, and only then release it to the editor. If you’re working outside such safety measures, be extra careful to pay exactly for what you get.
Get to It!
Take your first draft and polish it into a tight, powerful manuscript that will make you proud. Happy editing!