Did you just write a great book? You’ve poured your heart and soul into penning a manuscript, have revised it, perhaps read it to a critique group, revised again.
And now you’re ready to take it to the next level—hiring a professional editor.
If you googled editors or any variation of the term/phrase, you came up with about a zillion hits, no? Or, perhaps another writer loved his editor, and referred you there. Many small publishers also list freelance editors on their sites.
Or maybe a literary agent found something she liked in your book, but it’s not quite ready for prime time, and she referred you to a few editors. Literary agents refer to me, but they always give writers 2-3 to choose from.
However you’re going about this, it can be pretty danged tough to hone down the list and find the perfect editor for you.
Seriously, how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? With an editor on every virtual street corner these days, the task can seem daunting.
And I hear from writers at least weekly, who’ve utilized an editor they found online, and been sorely disappointed.
But you’re beyond that, right? Beyond the amateurs. And you’re not looking for a good editor, are you? You’re looking for a great one.
Copy editors and proofers are great—for the final step. But we’re talking what true substantive editors do. And that’s where writers can get tripped up.
Because here’s an industry secret—great authors work with great editors. And they’ll tell you so 🙂
So let’s get to it and talk for a bit about how the best book editors go about their business.
֎ Yes, developmental editors also deal with sentence structure and style. They work with grammar and syntax as well, but these are tiny drops in the vast sea. The prose the best book editors work with is about voice, about honing that, about helping a writer tighten his prose to make it sing.
And most importantly, making sure the prose is in service to the characters, the story, and how those interweave.
As just one example, the prose for Historical Romance is quite different from that for a Political Thriller. The style, the cadence, the way the words sting together to achieve the differences in nuance and action, well, these have different tones and shades and gradations in the language, which it sure helps if you editor knows.
And within the storyline, within individual scenes, and even the parts of scenes, the prose itself changes, and will help dictate pacing.
֎ What makes for a great character? The best book editors can help you take your protagonist and supporting cast from flat or over the top to folks who jump off the page, but still seem as real as the granny next door. So very much goes into fashioning fabulous characters—and creating them on the page, instead of telling about them.
֎ Is your plot riveting? Anything from a Spy Thriller to Literary Fiction still needs a great plot—one that won’t let your reader stop until The End. One that not only has a great beginning, middle, and end, but also keeps the story moving so you don’t fall into those dreaded sagging middles.
This all presents a tall order for your book editor, no? This requires a person with more than grammatical skills.
֎ Perhaps unsurprisingly—most of the great editors have written as well. I know a host of NY editors who publish on the side (often under pseudonyms), and a lot of freelance folks do as well.
Why is this important?
Because they know not only what’s going right, and why, what’s going wrong, and why, but most importantly—how and where to fix it. They’ve fallen in the same holes, and know how to climb out of them.
Because a great editor doesn’t just explain where your manuscript is tumbling down. Doesn’t just correct grammar and spelling, et al. Doesn’t just say your characters are flat as frogs, or your plot has enough holes that your boat will beat Titanic to the ocean floor.
What every writer needs at that point isn’t just a critique of what’s gone wrong.
But rather, in-depth instruction on why something is a problem, how to fix the issues, where to fix them, examples of what to do, and a back and forth with you as you go through revisions.
In a nutshell, writing fabulously just isn’t learned in a vacuum.
The relationship between you and your editor will have an enormous impact on your writing career, and we want that to be positive.
Because in the end, what could be more important to you than your book? As I often say when speaking at literary conferences: “We’re not selling bread dough here, but parts of your very heart and soul.”
The choice is yours, and you’re savvy enough to make that selection wisely. So take that next step, ask the right questions, and go finish up that fabulous book!