Good morning, everyone! I’m Ariel Paiement from the Fantasy Nook, a blog dedicated to sharing good fantasy novels and teaching authors to write. Last time, I brought you all a guest post on using Pinterest for authors. Today, I’m here with a guest post on editing this time around. James, one of the team members behind running Burning Embers Publications, reached out to me a few months back about doing a guest post on this for Burning Embers Publications, so here we are! Thanks for the invite, James. Hopefully everyone reading today is as excited to be here as I am! Let’s get started.
An Introduction to Editing
Editing. Does that make you feel a little nervous? Maybe uncomfortable or more prone to procrastination? If it does, you’re in good company. Most writers love writing—generally, anyway—but editing? Not so much. I mean, if someone does it for you, it might be fine. You can just sit back, review the changes being made or recommended, and decide what to do from there. It’s not as difficult to do that. But if you have to edit it? Suddenly, things don’t look like so much fun!
I should start off with an apology here because I’m probably not going to make it any more fun. If you hate editing, nothing I say or do will change that. Personally, I love it. But I’m also an English teacher, a freelance editor, and a grammar Nazi. Of course I would love it! I love digging in and pulling a piece apart only to put it back together again in a way that really shines.
An Editor’s Admission
I’m going to admit something that maybe I shouldn’t as an editor. But the whole point of this post is to be realistic, genuine, and helpful, so I’ll admit this anyway. Sometimes, editing my own work makes me want to tear my hair out. Yup. I may do fine editing other people’s work, but my own? Not always so much fun! Granted, it’s usually pretty clean in the line edit and grammar department, but the content edits on some of them have been nightmares. And sometimes, when the book’s rough draft has gone through my critique group’s hands, I feel a little spike of pure panic at the idea of all the work necessary to fix all the problems the piece has.
Even editors feel this way. It’s why we pay other editors to edit for us. So, today’s post, while it might not make you like editing any more than you do right now, will give you some insight into why you need to edit it yourself, why you should also be paying someone to do it for you (or swapping services to have someone do it for you), and how to assess what you need done for editing. As such, this will be a longer post. I hope you’ll find it useful!
Why Edit Yourself?
Well, first and foremost, editing yourself makes the work cleaner. Editors usually charge based on a per word or per page amount, though some may charge a fixed rate per hour that they’ll then use to estimate the total cost of a project. However, most editors will charge you more if the work isn’t clean. For example, as an editor, I typically use an hourly rate and then use the sample to figure out how long it will take me to edit the number of pages they have. Using that, I’ll then determine a fixed price for the entire project and break it up into chunks or milestones however it makes sense for myself and the client.
When I review a sample from the client to decide if I’ll take them on or not, though, I determine where in my hourly range I’m going to charge based on the difficulty level of the edit. Someone who needs every level of editing is going to be charged the full hourly rate, but if someone only needs developmental editing, I’m probably going to charge them something in the middle. Line editing, which is the easiest edit for me, will cost them the lowest price on the hourly range.
A Word to Beginner Writers
Let me take a moment to talk to those of you with little to no experience. You guys can be some of the best and the worst people to work with for freelance editors. All depends on your attitude. If you approach your work with the attitude that you don’t need more than cursory proofread because you’re awesome?
You’re wrong, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot. I say this not to be mean, but because I care. I’ve seen authors with promise fail because they have this mentality. If you’re in this group and you want to have any chance of ever making it… You need to blow a big hole in your ego. It has no place in your writing or your attempts to improve as an author. Accept that your first draft probably sucks. Even experienced authors have to admit this.
Not admitting it means you don’t give it the self-edit it needs, and that’s going to cost you. Editing is expensive. Editors can also pick who they work with. Maybe they take you on, maybe they don’t. Whatever they decide, I can guarantee you one thing. Any experienced editor will charge you more for editing your work if it’s going to be more work for them. The only way that doesn’t happen is if you’re trading services with them, getting a friend to help you out, or got lucky and found a great editor who doesn’t have the confidence in themselves to charge what they’re worth. You get what you pay for. So, if you’re getting charged a low rate for a book that you wrote as a beginner, there’s a reason.
Having Reasonable Expectations as a Beginner
When you’re starting out, you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s normal, and you should expect to need to edit. A lot. I’ve been writing for almost eleven years, and I’ve been editing for about half that. During that time, I’ve been honing my skills, actively learning, and working to improve. But you know what? I still make mistakes. Yes, my unedited work looks relatively polished to a casual observer in many cases. Yet, it still doesn’t shine like one of my published pieces do. It has to go through editing to achieve that. Beginning writers have zero hope of that being the case for them. It’s not because they’re hopeless. And it’s certainly not because I have so much more talent or anything stupid like that.
What it comes down to is experience. I have years of experience that a beginning writer doesn’t have yet. If they keep working and improving, they can get there. They can gain that experience and do well. I’ve seen it happen, and so have many others. But you’re going to have to work for it, and learning to edit your own work is going to help you improve much faster.
How Does Editing Make You a Better Writer?
Now I know that someone out there is scratching their heads or smirking as they think to themselves: editing can make me a better writer faster? Yeah, right! Before you laugh, dismiss me entirely, or get really worried about this, let me remind you of what editors do for you. Editors—good ones, anyway—look at your entire piece as a whole. They check your grammar and spelling, but they do far more than that. However, they also handle your characterization, story flow, plot, sentence flow, and polishing. Your editors make the difference between having a piece like Tolkien’s, Brandon Sanderson’s, or Orson Scott Card’s and having a self-published novel that clearly hasn’t been edited by a professional.
But I’m Not an Editor?
You may now be thinking: but I’m not an editor, so I still don’t why this matters. I pay someone for that. What does that have to do with me and improving my writing? It’s applicable because an editor learns to look at all the areas of good writing. They learn to figure out what needs to be done to make bad or mediocre writing into exceptional writing. If you can learn to do that, you’re going to write far better to start with because you know what reads well. You know what readers like. And you know how to make your writing look like that. Writers grow more when they understand how fiction works than they do trying out random new techniques without understanding the building blocks.
Lay your foundation before you try to build your house. Writing a book or any other piece is just like building a house, only out of words. Your foundation will be made up of the cement or concrete of writing fundamentals and grammar. The house will be your story, which is built using the materials of characterization, plot, action, and pacing. Without the foundation, those other materials will never stand. Editing will teach you how to improve all of those areas in addition to strengthening your foundation. I promise people can tell the difference.
A Little Secret
I’ll let you in on a little secret before we move on to the next discussion point. Most of what I put up on Wattpad and Inkitt, the two writing platforms I use, as well as the flash fiction on my blog is all unedited. I didn’t read through it and rework it to polish it. But the average reader on those two writing platforms won’t know the difference. In fact, they’ll probably think it’s really good because the comparison is a lot of work from beginning writers who have zero foundation to work on at all. Even some of my author friends didn’t know it wasn’t edited until I told them.
That’s the power that having a strong foundation and knowing how to self-edit has. It seeps into your work until you begin to self-correct and self-edit as you write without even realizing it. It doesn’t mean your work doesn’t need editing by any means. Of course, it does. It just means that the starting point you’re at when you sit down to do a conscious edit or turn it in to an editor is going to be much further along in the process than it would be without that foundation.
Why Do You Need an Editor?
After the big deal I made out of how important self-editing is and what a difference it can make, you might be tempted to think you don’t need an editor if you can learn to do it yourself. And you would be wrong. No matter how naturally talented you are or how much you know about editing, self-editing will never be as strong as having another person look at it and edit it.
A professional editor would be best, but I understand that not everyone can afford an editor. It’ll be one of the best things you ever give your book, but some people really can’t afford it even if they can justify needing to spend money on it. If that’s you, I get it. Really, I do. But you still need an editor or someone who’s really good at developmental and line edits to look at it. If you can’t afford it, though, what are your options? Let’s move to that next.
Options if You Can’t Afford the Editor
This means that you could ask another author who’s really good at it to take a look as part of a beta-reading exchange or in exchange for you doing something else for them. Even if they do it for nothing, if you’re able to do something to express your appreciation, you should. Editing isn’t easy work even if you enjoy it. Don’t take it for granted!
If you have a critique group made up of fellow authors who also happen to be great editors and critiquers, utilize that. I’m part of a group like that, and I love it! I can’t participate full-time like I’d like to because of my chaotic schedule, but the group is really a community, not just a critique group. We ask questions, give answers, and help each other out all the time.
I have no doubt that, if I needed it, I could ask about swapping beta-reads or edits with anyone in that group and they’d at least see about doing so if they had the time. In fact, I’ve edited for one of the members as a paid gig because they understood that a fresh set of eyes on their manuscript prior to publication was really important. If you’re privileged to be part of a community like that, you should take advantage of it (so long as you’re giving as much as you’re taking).
Don’t Waste Resources
Don’t let the resources you have go to waste. You might not have money to pay them, but you have time that you can make for them to help them out when they’re also helping you out. At the end of the day, you need someone else to edit. I won’t say you can’t edit your own work because that’s not really true. But I will say that you can’t edit your own work as effectively as someone else with even half the experience you have could.
Why? Because they’re objective and you are not. They’re reading it with an outside perspective without all the extra stuff you know. If something doesn’t make sense, they’re far more likely to notice than you are because you know all the background info that would make that section fit or make sense. They don’t. So yes, self-edit. But never, ever assume that it can replace an edit from one or more outside sources. It can’t.
What Do You Need Done to Your Work?
If you’re asking this, that’s good! You should be figuring out what your book needs before you go hunting for an editor. What you decide you need vastly affects the price and who you go to. All editors are not equal in skill or talent. Some will be great for polishing the book up but not so great at fixing all your plot holes. Some will excel with characterization and development of the plot but not at the grammar. It’s your job as the author to know what your book’s struggle points are so you can talk to your potential editors to see what they’re strongest in.
For me, I’m actually strong in both developmental and line editing. It’s a bit unusual for people to be strong in both, to be honest. But I received a strong foundation in both because my parents strongly believed grammar and learning to write mattered. So, I was reading writers like Tolkien and Lewis by ten and was reading Sanderson and Card by twelve or thirteen. That has shaped both my writing and my ability to edit stories and writing I’m presented with.
But that’s important to know about your editor. If they’re good in more than one area, you want to know that. If they can only do one, you need to know that too. You owe it to your book to give it the best shot at doing well that you can. So, do not entrust the book’s edit to just anyone. That edit makes the difference between a book getting great reviews and a book that’s lucky to get three stars. We’re all aiming for four or five-star reviews, obviously, so why would you figure just any editor will do?
Figuring Out What Kind of Editing Your Book Needs
To figure out what your book needs, read through it. Don’t read it as a writer or an editor either. Read it as a reader. Forget about what you know and focus on only the content in the book. Read it like it’s entirely new to you as best you can. It’s easier said than done. This is why most writers who’ve been doing it for a long time recommend setting the book aside for at least a month or two before coming back to edit it. I’d advise that too.
This allows fresh perspective, and you’ll notice the problem areas a lot faster. Then you can communicate those problem areas to your prospective editors so they can determine if they’re able to help. Provide a sample to them as well. They can use the sample to decide if they’re a good fit based on what they see when they look at it.
Bottom line? You’re going to form a partnership with your editor. Yes, you’re paying them. But you’re going to end up talking a lot as they work through the book—assuming you’re asking questions and talking about how to handle changes they’ve suggested and, of course, depending on their style as they work with clients—and that means you’re going to have some sort of relationship for at least the duration of the book’s edit. If you like them, then the relationship may continue and grow further as they edit more of your work in the future. It pays to make sure that you and your editor fit well and that the editor is a good fit for your book.
Okay, I’m done now. I did warn you this would be a long article. I hope it’s been helpful and instructive, though! Editing and finding someone to edit for you can be one of the biggest headaches for writers, and it’s my hope that this article has helped clear up some of the confusions, concerns, and mysteries around editing. It’s difficult sometimes, but it’s not as terrifying as people sometimes make it out to be in their heads. So, what are you waiting for? Take what you learned here and start applying it! The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll start to see a difference.