Let me couch all of the following by saying that I am talking from my point of view. This is based on the experiences I had and I am giving my recommendation. I feel strongly about much of what is written here and the wording will be as such. However, I am no expert.
Do you need an editor?
First and foremost, yes you need an editor.
Let me repeat that.
Yes, you need a damn editor! This is especially the case as a self-published author. Situations will vary when you start involving publishing houses and I am not able to comment on that. When you are self-published you are also responsible for the crap you put out. You can make it less crap by finding an editor.
I think this was one of the most difficult things for me to realize after spending the better part of 2 and a half years on my book. I’d already sent it to friends and family and I’d had it torn to shreds in a writer’s group.
In some ways I felt like I had done my due diligence. Beyond that, the cost is not something to ignore. To put things in perspective, I need to sell over 500 ebooks to break even with just my editing costs. It was worth every penny.
When am I ready? What kind of Editing do I need?
There’s no easy answer to this. These two questions need to be answered together. Let’s start with the basics. Since I used the Editorial Freelancers Association to find my editor I might as well go there for my descriptions. (www.the-efa.org/hiring/member-skills/) I’ll focus on the three most relevant types for self-published authors, at least in my humble opinion.
Developmental Editors – develop a book or other project from the initial concept onward, working closely with the author or client to study competing works and create a product that stands out. $$$$
Line/substantive/content editors – I caution that there are other editors and other sites that will not use these as interchangeably as the EFA does but the gist is: Editors who mage significant changes to a manuscript, such as rewriting and reorganizing text. $$$
Copyeditors – Correct spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation, check cross-references, and prepare the style sheets that guide consistency and accuracy across the manuscript. $$
Proofreaders – check the text for errors, including typographical errors and problems with typesetting specifications and page makeup. They compare the latest stage of the project to earlier stages and make sure changes have been made correctly. $
It’s important to realize that no longer how much blood, sweat, and tears you have put into your manuscript you still need editing. Not only that, but you probably still need more editing than you want to pay for. I’ve indicated on the descriptions the cost scaling but that’s just a general idea. It varies greatly by the editor and by the manuscript.
I went into my search with the assumption that I needed a Copyeditor. I ended up with the equivalent of a Line editor based on my manuscript. However, I got very lucky and I’ll explain why later.
Finding an Editor
My process started where many of you will. I went to Bookbaby, Kirkus, etc…all the big editors. I compared their pricing and then (this is probably where our paths diverge) grovelled to my wife asking if we could afford editing.
I can’t remember who suggested EFA. It must have been a blog I google searched or someone from my writer’s group. Whenever I find it I’ll have to give them credit. EFA, as mentioned before, stands for the Editorial Freelancers Association (www.the-efa.org).
This site is many things, but most importantly it’s a place where you can post your job. Prepare to be inundated with talented editors bidding for your services. Perhaps bidding isn’t the right term. I don’t recall anyone budging on pricing but I also wasn’t trying to convince any editors to lower their price either.
When posting I set a few goals for myself and I strongly suggest it. I would have been completely overwhelmed with EFA if not for these rules I set for myself. For this list, to me, 1 was the most important down to 5, the least important.
- Find someone who makes your manuscript better. If they aren’t going to improve it, why the fuck are you wasting your time and your money? They can be as nice and sweet as apple pie or as cheap as a stick of gum but that won’t fix your manuscript.
- Do not fear criticism, be wary of compliments. You wouldn’t go into a job interview and tell them their company was trash. Think about the editors contacting you as applicants for a job. They are going to be more complimentary than necessary to get the job. Try to cut through that and see where the reality is.
- Find someone who understands your voice. Finding someone who can correct every grammatical fuck-up of yours isn’t enough. You need an editor that can bring out your voice. What I didn’t want was to find someone to re-write my book for me. If that was the case I would have just found a ghostwriter.
- Consider cost, but don’t let it define your choice. Let’s be real, you’re probably barely able to afford editing. If you’re like me, maybe you can’t even really afford it but you’ve realized it is necessary. Resist the urge to go with the cheapest options.
- Find someone you get along with. I have been lucky that I was able to find an editor I enjoyed working with. Any issues that cropped up (like a payment issue where my first installment went to the wrong place) were easily handled and it was very stress free. My editing process was excellent because it felt collaborative. I was involved in every step.
What happens after you post to EFA?
1. Go with your gut. This sounds a little silly, but it worked for me. First impressions were very important. I dismissed several that seemed unprofessional right off and after going through dozens with this “gut” test I found about fifteen I wanted to follow up with.
2. Follow up. Yes, you can actually ask follow-up questions! This was important to me. I asked every editor the same questions and gauged their reactions to the questions and the follow-up. Two of those fifteen eliminated themselves by not responding at all, a third eliminated themselves by taking two weeks to respond.
3. Sample, Sample, Sample. Every editor worth their salt will offer you a sample. This is their preview of their work and how it will mesh with yours. Think of this like the 20% sample you’re going to be giving readers before they purchase your book. Samples will range from 500 words to 2500 words, mostly. I tried to limit the number of sample requests I made to people I was seriously considering. I did not want to waste any editor’s time. I used the same sample for everyone, though I met their word requirements. Through this process I learned that there are some writers who will take advantage of samples. First 1000 words to one editor, next 500 to another, and so on. Don’t do that, please. Respect your editor the way that you wish to be respected.
4. Be transparent. Editors will be aware they are bidding against others. Don’t play games. Again, respect your editor the way that you wish to be respected. It goes a long way to creating a working relationship when you are open and up-front from the start. I never once misled any editor I was speaking with and I felt like they treated me the same. I was not trying to play pricing games with them but instead I was just trying to find the best editor for me and for my book.
5. Pick. Eventually you’ll have to make this choice. If I’m being honest I probably dragged it on too long. I was stuck picking between four editors, one of whom I’d initially eliminated but came back to. Of these four, there was some guilt associated with telling three of them ‘thank you, but it’s a no’ because they had already invested time and effort. I tried to be aware of that when notifying them. Be appreciative of these editors you nearly picked, they have done more for you than you have for them at this point.
This is where things will be different based on what editor you have chosen and how you are approaching it. I’ll have to write another post detailing that process with my current editor.
For now, I would like to leave you with a few of these editors who I very nearly chose and who were an absolute joy to work with. Everyone I have chosen to list here I respect and hold as the examples for which editors should aspire. The people have set very high expectations with their professionalism and talent. When I was making my final decisions I was faced with such a terribly difficult choice because any of the listed editors below would have made my manuscript much better and I would have enjoyed working with any of them. We’re talking razor-thin margins of difference and I was honored that any of them considered working with me on Rise. I very strongly recommend them.