This post was updated on November, 22, 2020
Editing. The hardest part of being an author. By FAR! And the place that you will find the most scammers out there to make a quick buck. Seriously, there isn’t a site I’ve been to that doesn’t have tons of people peddling questionable skills to authors. I have seen so many authors get badly burned because they hired sub-par editors, or they hire top notch editors (who are worth a pretty penny, and if you haven’t done any work to the piece, you will end up shelling out big time.) So, let’s talk about each step, some free ways to address it so your editor spends less time doing the work, and in turn will charge you less! If you are traditionally published by one of the big houses, your book will go through several editors before it goes to print. There’s a process, much like sanding, and if you do not get each step, then you are missing out. It’s important to keep in mind that each step must happen before the next step can be addressed properly.
Step 1. Developmental Editing
The first step is general editing. (Also called content editing, revisions, story editing, developmental editing, substantive editing, re-writes, etc.). This is where the editor goes through the story and catches plot holes, recommends what needs to be cut, re-written, added, etc. This is where character development and motivations are analyzed, where genre tropes are explored. It is cutting the diamond from the rough, or refining the best of the story.
How can you save money on an editor for this step? A lot of authors work in peer groups and get this done for free. Others use Alpha readers. This is a good place to have your mom, or cousin, or friend read through and point out issues in the story. If you aren’t working with a professional group, (or even if you are, depending on the quality of the group) you want to send a list of questions to your alpha reader to answer as they review, so that they know what to look for. Here’s my favorite list, and I post it at the beginning with a thank you note, and then add it to the end of each chapter, to encourage regular commentary.
For the reviewer: Please provide responses to at least five of the questions below:
- Is the writing clear? (Did the author provide the key info regarding tense, POV, use of language to enable you to follow their writing with ease?)
- Can you visualize the settings and characters? Is there too little or too much description?
- Does the story flow well in terms of time, POV, setting – or does it jump from scene to scene?
- Are the characters believable for their age, occupation, time-period?
- Is the dialogue natural or forced? Is any dialect easy to follow or does it distract you from your reading?
- Are there too many or not enough dialogue/action tags? Can you follow the conversations easily?
- Are there any sections you skipped? Why?
- Are you confused by any parts of the story?
- Did you feel the emotion of the story? Were you drawn into the character’s world?
- Is there enough intrigue, conflict, tension, emotional pull to make you want to read on?
Feel free to comment on other aspects also, such as voice, style, use of language, character development, structure …and so on.
The struggle of crowd sourcing this step is that:
- It can be time-consuming.
- You cannot guarantee the quality of the responses you will get.
- You risk your work getting exposed before it is ready.
I make sure for this step that I am using people I really trust, and I keep the group small. You will still want to make sure that the editor you hire will also cover this, but your goal is that there will be very little work required at this step so that they don’t have to take as much time covering this step and in turn, will not charge you as much. I’ll be honest, when I quote line editing projects, if I see a lot of content issues, I won’t even offer a line editing bid. I will recommend that they just do a content editing run. I charge based on the pages so they can have a chance to go through and fix things up ahead of me and save themselves some money.
Want to get a free Developmental Edit quote?
Step 2. Line Editing
Also referred to as copyediting, stylistic editing, second edits, or for lazy editors “editing”. This is where the shape of the story gets more cleanly refined. The editor will go line by line to make sure the sentence structure is correct, the grammar is correct and the meaning is clearly conveyed. They will recommend word changes, writing in active voice, or removing sentences that are repeating information.
9 times out of 10, when you get an editor who says they “provide editing services” this is what they are referring to and unless you clarify, you will get nothing more. There are some clever tools that you can use to prep your book for the editor so that they don’t have as much work to do (and in my case, will charge you less) such as ProWritingAid and Grammarly. However, one of the concerns I have about these tools is that they are only as useful as the hands that wield them. Grammarly is great for technical writing and online copy, but it doesn’t take into account stylistic choices that are seen in many works of fiction. ProWritingAid is a bit better, in that it actually analyzes your text and makes a note to where words are overused and makes stylistic recommendations, but it’s not skilled at specific genres. Both tools are better than nothing, but just like with Word, you still need to know enough to make the right choice in the end. After you run through these programs, you still want to hire an editor, but as you get the hang of it, these programs are great because they will help you write better as you learn the skills. Then you will find that the cost of an editor will drop significantly.
Want a free Line Edit quote?
The Final step: Proofreading
The final step is proof reading. The internet has LOTS of differing opinions on exactly what proof reading entails. The gist is that proof reading is a last read through to catch any final errors. A lot of editors do this pre-layout, but in my humble opinion (and in traditional publishing) it should be done after layout to catch any missed bits. The benefits to doing this after you complete layout is that the proofreader can look at the product as if they were a customer. They can catch not only misspellings, homonyms, and punctuation; they can also “double-check” layout. Copnsider it a final buff, polish, seal on your project to make it as shiny and appealing as possible.
Having someone who can catch all the writerly bits as well as spotting funky layout on the page, such as widows and orphans, and the general appeal of the final product will allow you to produce the best final version possible. If you are tight on budget, Beta Readers are a great tool for proofreading. I would choose 5 top readers, and provide them with instructions on what you are looking for and how to notate it.
If you are sending them a post-layout copy as you should, ask them to keep a running journal and note the version they are reviewing. (E-pub, PDF, Paperback, Mobi, etc.) Then have them track the errors as such: chapter/page the error occurs, paragraph, sentence, and what the error is. Easy, peasy.
Want a proofreading quote?
Final Thoughts Before Hiring an Editor
I strongly recommend that an author gets as many eyes on a project as possible before going to publication. No book can ever be perfect. But the goal is to have it as perfect as possible. I do provide all three forms of editing services, but I will not provide all at the same time. Although you can hire me for all three, I will only accept such contracts if the author has utilized other resources (such as the ones noted above) and I require two weeks off between stages to “scrub my brain” so to speak. If you have an editor who does offer all three services in “one pass” you should question the quality of those services.
What are your questions about editing?
Are there any free tools you use?
Let us know in the comments below!