Five Things Not To Do When Hiring An Editor:
Time for true confessions: When I first got into the business of writing novels, I was as naïve as they come. I’d practiced law for a number of years, worked hard to reach the upper echelons of corporate management, and then, feeling tired and burned out, took some blessed time off to be at home with my two kids. At one point, when my youngest was in middle school, I got it into my head that I could write the next Harry Potter or Twilight series. So, with no training whatsoever, I set out to do just that. It took me four years to complete my YA sci-fi series, the Transcender Trilogy—a year longer than it took me to complete law school, and every bit as much of an education. So far, I’m sorry to say, it hasn’t broken any sales records! 🙂 But I never had so much fun!
Recently, I received a Certificate in Editing from Poynter University and ACES (American Copy Editors Society). This article is my first on the editing process. I hope that by sharing some of my own initial faux pas, I can spare others from making similar mistakes.
Five Costly Mistakes I Made:
- Having my manuscript edited too early in the process. From the moment I put the last period on the last sentence of my first complete manuscript, I began searching for an editor. The writing process had been long and arduous, and I was so thrilled to be finished at long last, that I didn’t realize my draft still needed A LOT of work. Big Mistake. The document I received back from my first editor was crammed with so many comments, corrections, and suggestions for revision that I was forced to hire a second editor just to edit my rewrites, and a third to proofread and copyedit the final draft (because, as I learned the hard way—rewrites introduce brand new errors).
My Advice: Save yourself a ton of time, money, and heartache—once your manuscript is complete, celebrate by taking some time off to savor your tremendous accomplishment. Put the manuscript away for at least a week (longer if possible) and then go back to it with fresh eyes and a red pen. I assure you, you’ll find a ton of things that need correcting or revising prior to sending it off to an editor.
- Not having a clear agreement with my editor as to what and how her services were to be provided. I still shake my head in amazement when I think of how careless I was about pinning down details with the editors I hired. With my background, I should’ve known better, but at the time, I didn’t understand about the many levels of editing—which range from ghostwriting to simple proofreading and grammar fixes—and the different sets of duties that go along with each level. Even more eye-opening for me was the fact that not every editor provides comments and corrections in the same fashion. I swear this anecdote is true: one supposedly experienced editor I hired actually retyped my entire manuscript making her changes as she went along, and providing me with no way to determine what those changes were. I was devastated by her arrogance and forced to trash all of her work, since she had essentially made my book her own. I also had to eat the not inconsiderable sum I’d already paid for her services and find another editor.
My Advice: Reputable editors will clearly spell out their services before undertaking a project. You may ask for different or additional services, but expect to pay more if you add services. You probably don’t need a seven-page, signed contract with your editor, but you should get the final agreed-upon list of services in writing. Also, ALL reputable editors will clearly mark their changes on your original document. Some still do this by hand on a hard copy of the manuscript, but most now use the “track changes” function in a word processing program, which allows you to “accept” or “reject” the change with a simple keystroke. If it’s not expressly stated, ask your editor how comments and corrections will be handled.
- Hiring an editor because she was cheap and discovering she knew less about editing than I did. These days, whether you’re attempting to find and agent or going the self-publishing route, your book needs to be polished and up to professional standards. I’ve had the good fortune of working with a couple of amazing editors over the years, but my experience has been that good editors don’t come cheap. This is an area where you cannot afford to scrimp, though. Publishers and literary agents have little tolerance for sample pages with misspellings and format errors, and readers will absolutely crucify you on Amazon if you self-publish a book that is poorly edited.
My Advice: Interview a few editors—in person or via Skype or email—before you hire someone. No specific degree or certificate is required for someone to say they are an editor, so make certain the one you hire has the credentials and experience you’re looking for. It helps if that person has previously edited or written in your genre, or at least has a good working knowledge of the area. Also, find someone whose personality and work ethic mesh with yours. The editor-writer relationship requires clear communication, evenhanded negotiation, and mutual respect.
- Taking editorial comments personally and not as suggestions to improve my manuscript. Many editing courses strongly emphasize the delicate task editors undertake in proposing improvements to a writer’s work without offending him or her. Nobody needed to explain that to me—I already learned it first hand. Over the course of having my three books and several short stories edited, I’d experienced anger, frustration, and even tears over certain editorial comments regarding my precious work. Didn’t my editor understand these were my babies she wanted to do away with? Every writer hopes his or her editor will say, “Wow! This manuscript is perfect just the way it is!” But believe me, no matter how well you write, that’s never going to happen. You’re going to have to sacrifice some of your “little darlings” along the way.
My Advice: Remember, editorial comments are only suggestions—one person’s opinion–which you are entitled to ignore if you wish. BUT, editors are also readers, and if one reader has a problem with your novel’s pacing, or a certain passage, plot-point, or character, it’s in your best interest to seriously consider whether other readers might have the same reaction. Regarding revisions, Mary Barnhill said, “…every cut hurts, but something new always grows.” So grow some thicker skin—you’re going to need it when those Amazon reviews start pouring in!
- Being in a rush to query agents/publish my book. I know, I know, you’ve spent months, maybe even years writing your manuscript, now you want to share it with the world and begin reaping the benefits for all your hard labor. After all, your mother said it’s the best book she’s ever read, right? Stop for a minute, and remember Hemingway’s observation: “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” Edits always require some amount of rewriting. At times, large portions of your manuscript will need to be reworked. In the past, I was impatient and sometimes rushed my rewrites—particularly with my last book, when I was receiving almost daily pressure from readers anxious for the final installment of the trilogy. In hindsight, I probably should have relaxed and allowed myself more time for rewrites.
My Advice: Don’t short-change yourself and your project—take all the time you need to thoroughly address any editorial comments. Discuss them with your editor, and think them through rather than just slapping a Band-Aid on the problem. My trilogy has been well received, and the experience as a whole was invaluable, but I sometimes wish I could go back and rewrite those books, using what I’ve since learned about writing and editing. Some will tell you, “Done is better than perfect.” But your writing will forever stand as a reflection on you. If you take the time to polish your work to the point where you can say, “This is as tight and perfect as I can make it,” you can always be proud of the final product.
Good Luck to you in all your writing endeavors!
I’m the author of the Transcender Trilogy, TRANSCENDER: First-Timer, STREAMING STARS, and the upcoming ILLLUMINOSITY, which blends science-fiction, fantasy, and romance in an exciting cross-dimensional adventure.