Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Secrets to Choosing the Right Editor for Your Book

Editing is often thought of as the fix for capitalization and punctuation errors, sentence structure corrections, and so forth. Sounds simple enough for anyone good in English grammar, but is that all there is to it? Definitely not. So much more makes the difference between a person good in English and a competent editor. More also makes the difference between a mediocre book and a great story that sends the reader looking for other books you've written. What is that 
more? Why is a highly competent grammarian not necessarily the best choice to edit your project

Don't misunderstand. Mechanics do need to be addressed. Proper spelling and punctuation; good sentence structure; correct, well-chosen words; effective flow; and much more are vital to create a great finished product. Every good editor needs to be well versed in grammar and structure. But there's an unrelated area that is equally important. With that in mind, let's look at the vital interaction of working with an editor.

We writers often develop strong attachments to our words—which may be an extensions of self, outpourings of personal pain and joy, gifts from the heart. We know the backstory as well as we know ourselves—maybe better sometimes. Our characters evolve into intimate companions. With great care, we’ve developed and related their stories and our plots. As a result, we may find it difficult to detach ourselves and become objective readers and editors of our own pieces. For this reason, we may experience some reservation in turning our literary offspring over to a stranger.

So we ask a few fellow storytellers what editor they recommend. Suppose our inquiries end up with three good possibilities. How do we choose the right one for our work? We'll begin with the obvious: ask questions.

With what genres does the editor typically work? How long has he/she been editing? What educational and/or background experience qualifies the person as a professional editor? How have edited manuscripts been received by agents, publishers, reviewers, and readers?

Request references. A good editor will be glad to share names of clients or letters of recommendation. Be sure to contact the writers whose names you are given. Ask them what kind of feedback they received from readers and professionals in the field.

Ask for a work sample. Many editors offer sample edits. They will apply their skills to several pages of your manuscript and verbally or digitally discuss their suggestions with you. This will give you a "feel" for what they can do for (or to) you story; oftentimes this is free of charge. 

Evaluate compatibility. Talk with the editor. Share your writing concerns, your vision, your goals. Listen to the responses. Do they directly address your dream for your book?  Discuss the editor’s approach and accessibility. Your manuscript deserves a great edit that supports your dream, your vision, your goals. 

The previous paragraph seems like a no-brainer, but it's very important. Several years ago, the leader of a writers group I had joined evaluated the manuscript of my first novel. She found nothing good about it and suggested changes in almost everything, even insisting that I wanted to tell the story of a secondary protagonist, not the one I was featuring. She was wrong. I knew both protagonists well, and I had chosen to feature the one whose "life" I believed needed to be shared, based on my target audience. It went downhill from there. The result was crushing; I stopped writing for several years. Even though her comments were intended to be a critique, by extension the same situation can occur with a potential editor. All editors need to remember you are the owner, the creator of the intellectual property he or she is editing. If serious problems exist, then writer and editor need to work together to address the troublesome issues, the single goal being the improvement of the story. 

The relationship between writer and editor might likened to the board of a small company. Each member has specific ideas about how to best run the business. With that in mind, how do they effectively work together? If each member brings to the table an agenda and a reluctance to compromise on any points, sparks may fly. Why? "Compromise" implies giving up something. On the other hand, "collaboration" suggests everyone's input has value and will contribute in some way to the final decision in the best interest of the business. This may seem a far-fetched comparison, but board members all need to ultimately be on the same page for the good of the company. Similarly, writer and editor need to be on the same page in the interesting of creating the best possible book. Bottom line: mutual respect must dictate the trajectory of the relationship and work in the best interest of the story.

One last point: when choosing an editor, don't allow yourself to be flattered or sweet-talked into committing to a particular editor. Do your homework. Check the person out. Make a decision based on facts and goals, not on emotion or promises. It's your future as a writer— invest in it wisely.

Editing is an essential part of preparing a manuscript for publication, but it can also represent a significant financial investment in your work. A typical edit can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. As a writer, you put heart and soul into your manuscript. Value your hard work by having it edited. Make sure the editor you choose is competent, qualified, and the right person to do your job.


Linda Lane is currently updating two previously written novels and is laying the foundation for her new cozy mystery series with a twist, the first book of which should be out in late 2022. She also has a number of partially finished novels that are scheduled to make their debuts in 2022 and 2023. Although still doing some fiction editing, she now focuses primarily on writing and on encouraging new writers to hone their skills and read, read, read. You can contact her through her writing website, LSLaneBooks.com.

1 comment :

  1. Such a helpful article, Linda. I'm sorry I'm so late to stop by to read it, but the New Year limped in for me. Doing a tad better now, so I'm trying to catch up on reading the blog pieces.


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