Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Finding and Hiring an Editor: Why They Help, What They Cost, and What to Look For

One of the best decisions I made for my recent books was hiring a professional editor--before I began submitting the manuscript for publication.  You might say:  Why bother?  The agent/publisher will make you change stuff anyway.  And don't publishers have editors? 

Yes, you'll have to change stuff--if you're lucky enough to get that far with an agent or publisher.  Yes, there are some publishers who still offer editorial help to their writers (small presses usually do, partner publishing does, a few big houses do if you're high on the list).  But it pays to invest in your own book in today's competitive world.  Make it the best it can be, before you try submitting it.



Editors come in various shapes, sizes, and price ranges.  I worked as an editor, both freelance and in-house, for three decades and I'm familiar with the types of editors you can hire.  Each type of editor plays an important role in getting a manuscript to where it's ready for submitting.  You may be able to cover many of these bases yourself, but check the list and see what you feel capable of doing on your own and what you'll need help with.

1.  Structure editor or coach.  This is my area of expertise and the only kind of private editing I do anymore.  I find many editors don't offer this level of work, assuming writers can handle it, but so many writers are unaware of its importance.  A structure editor reads and evaluates your entire manuscript to analyze the whole-book structure, the character or narrative arcs, and the individual chapter arcs, among other aspects.  Coaches help you learn how to do it--and are usually less expensive to hire because you do some of the work under their guidance.  I mostly coach, because I like to work with writers who are trying to improve their skills for the next book.  We use a special chart I developed when I worked freelance for different agents and publishing houses as a book doctor.  


When structure analysis is complete, you have a complete revision list to use as you work on finishing the manuscript.  You should know what's wrong, what's right, and how to fix it.  Structure analysis does not take care of wordsmithing, or fine-tuning language (like copyediting).  It is the building of the house--the framing, the foundation, the sheetrock--not the window curtains.  In my opinion, you can't put up curtains if you don't have a frame, so most copyediting is useless if the structure isn't working.  

Cost varies.  To just get a manuscript analysis, you might pay $900-1000.  I learned that often writers couldn't implement the changes, so I added an eight-week coaching time to the agreement, so I could coach them through the work, and charged a bit more for this service.  You can pay $2000 or more, depending on who you hire. 

2.  Developmental editor.  One publishing house I worked for, I mostly did developmental editing.  It's hard work but great fun too.  There are still quite a few developmental editors who work for the big publishing houses, helping the same writers for their entire careers.  A developmental editor will go through your manuscript after you've finished and implemented the structural changes as best you can.  They work with in-line comments (Word's tracking feature or another software) to ask questions about things like character motivation or plot threads that aren't yet realized on the page.  They might question your sidetracks and comment on places in the manuscript where they stumble or lose interest.  


Good ones are out there but hard to find.  I ask around--colleagues, writers who have published, teachers of writing classes.  A great resource are instructors at writing schools or local colleges.  You can pay anywhere from $2000 for one read-through with in-line comments to many times that if you revise and need another read.  Some charge by the page ($7-10 a page) or by the hour ($40 an hour).  I've paid close to $2500 for top-level developmental editing for one of my books and it was worth every penny.  I learned a lot too, and I'll be smarter my next book.

3.  Copy editor.  Copy editing is the final stage of cleaning up your manuscript before it goes out into the world of agents and publishers.  They work at the word choice, sentence, paragraph level, correcting grammar and spelling, making sure the copy is clean.  They correct cosmetic mistakes.  But they can also fact check, check for continuity (consistency of how you describe stuff, like the yellow car or someone's name), and do some developmental editing as well.  I find there are a lot of general editors who do both developmental and copy editing, but I prefer to get the developmental editing done first--otherwise, I might revise then have to copy edit again, wasting time and money.  You can find copy editors on a google search.  Sometimes, you can test them out with a sample, see how they do without investing too much.  Copy editors charge by the hour or word, and the cost varies widely, depending on your skill as a wordsmith.  Most copy editors charge an average of $35 an hour or between 14 and 16 cents a word.  Many are able to edit about 10 pages an hour.  

It's good to have two things before you hire on with an editor:  (1) detachment from your work, as much as possible--by nature, editors find what's wrong and if you're not ready to hear it, the editing process can be super painful; and (2) a rapport with the editor.  It's a fairly intimate process, having someone comb through your work, and it's nice if you can trust them and honor their skills.

If you're wondering about editors, use this information as your weekly writing exercise.  What kind are you ready for?  Search online and see what you find.  Maybe start the process.