The edit’s the thing…

March 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

So you’ve written that novel and you’re ready to publish it. You’ve shown it off to your family and friends, and at least some of them have agreed that it doesn’t suck. Good. But if you’re going to self-publish your novel, you’re going to need to hire a professional editor. You do. And those of you who think you don’t need one probably need one most of all.

Why? Well, a professional editor is, or should be, utterly unbiased. They get paid no matter what they think of your work, and so if it’s garbage, they’ll let you know, and if they praise it, you can believe them. No matter how objective your circle of friends tries to be, if they have an interest in your happiness, chances are they’ll go easy on you. A professional editor doesn’t have to live with you sulking because they suggested you could stand to lose chapters 7, 18, 119 and 237-298; or that your main character has the depth and complexity of a damp Kleenex on a rainy sidewalk and your plot twists may as well come with two week’s written notice.

Secondly, a professional editor probably knows more about what sells books than you, your family or your friends, unless you happen to come from a publishing dynasty or regularly lunch with the heads of the Seven Sisters of publishing. And if that’s the case, it’s pretty unlikely you’d be self-publishing in the first place. For example: my novel, Scar, contains a number of different fonts, representing the viewpoints of different characters. While my editor understood the impulse behind this, he cautioned against it, especially if I was to try to publish the book via the conventional route. Agents and publishers, he pointed out, are very wary of writing with more than one font; it reeks of amateurism, like wearing jeans to a job interview. No matter the quality of the work, most agents and publishers will stop reading once they see the font change. And there I was thinking I was all edgy and cool like Mark Z. Danielewski.

Editors – good editors – know books. It takes real skill to look at a finished manuscript written by a complete stranger and figure out how to make it better. After five years of writing Scar, I had reached a hopeless impasse. Too familiar with the story and too invested in the outcome to be able to so much as approach the clean-eyed objectivity of a new reader, I knew I needed a professional’s opinion. It was nice to hear that my girlfriend thought it was good, but I needed a more in-depth analysis.

So how do you find an editor? The same way I find everything else – the internet. If you’re self-publishing with one of the big companies, like Createspace or Lulu – more on them later – they can edit your manuscript for you, for a fee. Createspace, for instance, charges $0.0175 per word for a basic copyedit on a book longer than 10,000 words. Doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider that Scar would cost $1750, just for a review of spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like. A more comprehensive edit, in which they offered me the services of “a professional editor who will focus on improving sentence structure while providing suggestions to help you strengthen your book’s content” would have cost me around $3200; far more than I’m able to spend.

If you have money and time’s an issue, this might not be so bad. I can’t speak to the quality of Createspace’s editors. One thing that did put me off, though, was the fact that I had no way of knowing, at least before buying the service, who my editor was. If I’m laying out that kind of money, I want to be sure it’s being edited by someone with experience, who knows what they’re talking about.

So I decided to use the internet to do some shopping around, and eventually settled on pronovelediting.com. One of the many things I liked about them was that they were willing to do a sample edit of a couple of pages for free so I could see what to expect. I got samples from a few different companies, but the edit from pronovelediting.com was hands-down the sharpest, most insightful and most helpful of the bunch. Also, their turn-around times are impressive. And best of all, the edit for the entire manuscript came in at around $1500! (Though in fairness, I should point out that this was an edit of content, style, plot and things like that, and did not include the basic mechanics of spelling, grammar and punctuation. As it happens, I’m a fairly decent proofreader myself, and in order to keep costs down, I decided not to pay for that service. It’s easy to find people who can spell to help you out; not so easy to find help with the structure of a story, plot and character development, imagery, etc. That’s where I found I needed professional help.)

Editing your manuscript is one of the most important steps to making a great book, so price isn’t everything. Getting it done right is going to cost you money, no matter which route you go down. I went through a bunch of different editors, and was quoted anywhere from $800 to $5000. This isn’t the time to cheap out, but your own circumstances will dictate what you can afford. The quote for $5000 I got was from a big name in the publishing industry, a man with decades of experience behind him who has edited some of the biggest bestsellers around. It would have been great to have someone like that in my corner, but I simply don’t have that kind of money. I’m guessing lots of people don’t.

In the end, I was very happy with the service I got from pronovelediting.com. The editor really seemed to understand what I was trying to do with Scar, and the suggestions he made helped it to be a far better book than it would otherwise be. Scar is not the easiest novel to edit by any means, and $1500 was, to me, a small price to pay to make sure it was all it could be before I set it loose on an unsuspecting public…

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