A lot of avid readers are also authors or people dreaming of being authors, so I got to thinking- I wonder what an editor would tell people like myself who aren’t published yet? Well I happen to know an editor who is also a talented writer so I asked her and she penned a letter that I think perfectly (and blatantly) tells authors what your editor wishes you knew, and here it is-
I am an editor who is also an author who is also an English Professor, and here is what your editor wishes you knew.
Writing and editing a novel is a process. And as Hemingway once noted: Your first draft is shit. I know, mine is, too. Don’t take it personally because your second draft is also shit. Yeah, maybe you picked out the corn and smoothed the surfaces, but it’s still not the draft you want to send to an editor. Sure, you could send it off to editors, to publishing companies, or self-publish it because you’re in a hurry or you’re tired and more than ready to start a shiny new project. But when you spray paint a piece of poo gold, it might look like a real gold nugget, but let your reader or an editor bite into it to check its authenticity, and they’re going to spit that thing out. The bad taste lingers. And you earn yourself a bad reputation. (I know, this shit metaphor has gone on a bit long, but my husband actually did that to his step-sister, and I couldn’t help myself.)
So, what should you do before you spend all of that money on an editor or contact a publisher (where your first impression is all you have)? You need to edit, and edit seriously, in multiple stages. Allow the shit to break down, fertilize the groundwork, and grow a pretty flower—you know the kind of flower that makes you remember why you need to take breaks when you’re busy and stressed out in the same way a book can. Okay, the shit metaphors are over. Promise.
Let me speak from experience: I personally go through seven stages of editing.
I first like to read through a printed copy and reverse outline as I read, noting which subplots each scene adds to. This lets me add what I need to and take away what I have more than once.
Here’s a great link to outlining, brainstorming, and the tools you can use to both draft and reverse outline: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLS55lX3rGvavLEM_vmJ0dus_HBBY1edK8
I then go through the word list and pro-writing aid at the same time, chapter by chapter. After this I seek beta readers, one of which is my husband, who is a critical reader. Here are some places you can access beta readers:
The last is a tough group, but they seem like they’ll be the most beneficial after you’ve gone through regular betas. Also, check out this video about how to best utilize your betas.
And this link for sifting through the feedback.
I also read my book aloud to my mother—often in parts over the phone. She provides me with some initial feedback from her and the ability to hear the flow of my language and see where my mind fills stuff in that’s not on the page. It also helps me with repetition of actions. In my first book, my characters huffed and crossed their arms a lot. So much so, that my mother and I would randomly do both to each other as a joke.
Next, I have my editor read through it, and we chat. This would be the editor I pay to look at my story. The step before sending it to a publishing company. For short stories, this step isn’t absolutely necessary, at least for more independent publishers, as we often work with authors who have potential but need a little coaching, but how much does it cost to get a short story edited? For a 5,000 word story, it costs 20-40 dollars, which you may or may not make back. (Although side note, most shorts have limited rights. If you’re good, you can tweak and update your stories to sell again; therefore, making more money.)
A lot of freelance editors charge between .004 and .010 per word, others charge between $2 and $5 per page. For example, here is what I charge freelance:
Copyediting: 0.004 a word (light) and 0.008 a word (heavy);
Layout: $20/hr (print and e-books only);
Proofreading: 0.015 a word;
Project Management: $35/hr;
Line Editing: 0.008 a word (light) and 0.01 a word (heavy).
You can request a free five page test edit from me here.
Because this costs so much, you want to make sure your book is as close to finished as you can possibly get it.
Here’s a link to a freelance editing service that I highly recommend—Dominion Editorial, as I know the editor, and he’s ruthless but honest, and he’s fast (bonus, he’s cheap for the quality he offers.)
Finally, I format and print it out one last time to see if I missed anything before finally querying editors, publishers, or self-publishing the work.
You might be asking if you should pay for an editor before you query publishers, and yes, you should. Some smaller companies don’t mind putting in a little elbow grease into a story they will publish. Others want a book that is near ready for publication. So, do your research about which one you’re sending it to. I subscribe to Authors Publish as they send out frequent emails about publishers and submissions and tips for the business.
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & CO-PUBLISHER of Transmundane Press, Alisha Chambers holds an MFA in Creative Writing as well as a BA in Communication Studies. She spent three years as a line-editor and is a college professor and published author.
Alisha is a tough critic and a harder editor. She seeks top-quality writing and works hard at coaching her authors. Her main focus is voice development and internalization, i.e., creating a world that provides an experience for the reader.
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org