I had a conversation recently with a writer who wasn’t confident about the prospect of acquiring an editor for her work-in-progress. It seems she’d been burnt before, ending up paying a substantial amount more than she’d initially planned, plus she felt that the service provided hadn’t met expectations.
This didn’t surprise me. Many writers, it seems, dive into this phase of the process with their eyes shut. They see a colourful, well-worded ad for editing services and dash through what is a one-way door, committing themselves to what can prove to be an expensive unknown.
We chatted over a cup of tea and it turned out she hadn’t shopped around – something I recommend all writers to do. It’s natural that we want the best of whatever we’re looking for. Why would we accept something that’s sub-standard or way out of our financial comfort zone? And why would you jump for the first option that comes along when there might be several others out there who provide a service that better suits your needs?
Inexperience, I think, comes to mind. Once bitten, twice shy, so all the more reason to play a little more carefully next time around. The internet is an amazing organism, with lots of good in its infinite depths, but that shouldn’t prevent you from taking a deep breath before diving into the fray. Shop around – make a list of prospective editors, freelance or otherwise, then dig deeper to see if their offered service comes close to what you’re looking for.
If your wip isn’t solid, maybe you’re in need of a developmental editor who will work with you to restructure your project, focusing on the bigger picture. If you’ve done your work and took the time to self-edit and polish the piece, bringing it to a point where you can do no more, then a substantive/line editor is the one for you. Copy-editing and proofreading are services that are really only useful when the deep work has been completed – remember, it’s no good having punctuation and grammar correct if the work is full of plot holes and cardboard characters.
Make a list of the editors who ring your bell – it goes without saying you should keep walking if they don’t provide a free sample edit. Seriously, why should you consider a professional if you can’t see for yourself what they can do for you? Choose a chapter – I’d suggest one from the middle of your wip, and send it off, including a brief note about yourself (as a writer) and what you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid at this stage to ask for rates and timeframes, etc. The editor, time permitting, will leap at this opportunity to exhibit their skills.
If you send your sample chapter off to six or seven editors, the returns should give you a good idea of who you’re better suited to. You’ve taken your time and are in control, which is so much better than being left with a sour taste due to haste borne of inexperience. My mother liked to say, ‘Decisions made in haste are regretted at leisure.’ Do your research – make a list of potentials – send your chapter to your chosen few, then take time to review and mull over their returns. Apply their edits, as you see fit, and see who works best for you. Once you’re happy with your choice, it’s time to move on to the next step – contacting the editor and developing a conversation that will provide you with a clearer picture of what lies ahead if you decide to commission them. The main thing is that you have a clear view of every step of the process. A good editor will ensure that this is the case.
I am always available to answer any questions about the editing process. I’m also here if you’d like a free sample edit. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you asap.