Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
This is part one of a six-part series.
As a self-published author, it’s your responsibility to make sure your book is as high-quality as it can be, and an editor is an indispensable resource who can help make your book look professional instead of amateurish.
Getting off to a Good Start
Ask your peers—other writers—for their opinions. Join local writing groups. Meet writers online and ask them to have a look at one or two chapters for you. Don’t be shy about getting feedback from your fellow writers.
Every writer is focused on her own work, so make sure you give something back to the community by returning the favor for others.
Now is a good time to write a synopsis. This is a skill in itself, so practice is key. A synopsis is different from a blurb; it should be about one A4 page long, contain all the major plot points and describe what happens in your book. Don’t worry about spoilers! This is a great way to identify weaknesses or plot holes. Read it out loud. Does it ramble or sound boring? Do things seem to happen for no reason? Maybe you just need to tweak the synopsis, or maybe you need to go back to the book and make some changes.
When you feel happy with your book, that’s the right time to look for an editor. But wait! Do you know what you’re asking them to do, and does that match up with what you need?
Different Types of Editing
Think about what you expect an editor to do for you. For instance, you might envisage them:
• making sure the spelling is correct
• making the writing “flow”
• improving your style by, for example, removing excess adjectives or pointing out clichés
Or you might picture your editor:
• suggesting ways to make the dialogue less clunky
• helping to reveal the motives of the villain
• flagging areas where the timeline or chapter ordering makes the story unclear and suggesting solutions
These are all things an editor could do, but they are different types of requests and may need different types of editors.
A structural or developmental editor will look at “big picture” stuff like plot, characterization, themes, voice, dialogue, pace and flow. They’ll look at how everything fits together and pick up on major inconsistencies and inaccuracies.
A copy-editor will look at spelling, punctuation, grammar, style, consistency, wording and legal issues. Their job is to get your manuscript ready for typesetting. They’ll help you make sure your work is accurate and fit for purpose.
There may be some crossover between those types of editing—a copy-editor might query plot holes and a developmental editor might flag grammatical “tics”—but, in general, developmental editing looks at the big picture and copy-editing looks at the fine details.
If you choose one type of editing when you really needed the other, it’s frustrating for all involved. No editor wants to spend hours correcting your spelling only for you to rewrite or delete entire chapters. And you don’t get the result you wanted.
I’m a copy-editor, so naturally my advice would be not to skimp on the copy-edit. A lot of developmental work can be done in advance with feedback from other writers. That’s not to put down developmental editors—actually I think they have the hardest job!—but if you’re on a limited budget, you might only be able to afford one type of editing. No matter how great your book is, it will look terrible if it’s riddled with typos. If you can afford both types of editing, seize the opportunity!
How to Find the Right Editor for You
Look for someone who has worked on similar projects. Your country’s industry body for editors may have a directory you can use. Ask other self-published authors for their recommendations.
Don’t be put off if an editor doesn’t list prices on her website. Some charge per word or per thousand words; others base their charges on how long the job is likely to take, so they won’t be able to give you a quote until they’ve looked at your manuscript. Neither approach is “better” than the other; they each have their pros and cons, and both methods are used by professionals.
A good editor should respond to your inquiry within a reasonable length of time. She should be upfront about the likely cost and clear about what she can do for you. It’s important for both of you to be confident about the scope of the work.
She should send you a sample edit of part of your work to give you an idea of her approach. You can decide whether she’s a good fit for you and whether she respects your “tone of voice.”
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Prepare a list before you make an approach. You have every right to query anything you don’t understand. Most editors will have terms and conditions; ask to see them before work starts.
To get all the ebook and digital publishing news you need every day in your inbox at 8:00 AM, sign up for the DBW Daily today!