If you’ve been in the writing game for more than a week you’ve probably heard the following advice: Have your manuscript professionally edited.
It’s good advice.
Writers who edit their own work face the pitfall of brain/eye dysplasia. It works like this: Your brain knows what it meant to write. Your fingers did not tell your brain that they made a mistake. It would have been nice if they had, but fingers are prideful little things. I expect it comes of wearing all that jewelry, or at least having the capacity to wear all that jewelry.
Anyway, your brain is in charge of your eyes, who just do what they are told. This means that your brain will deliberately replace the image on the page that is ACTUALLY THERE, with the one it expects to see – and then deny having done it. Results: typos, misspellings, misplaced commas, oh my.
A related, and very common, writing illness is assumptionism. This is caused by the fact that your brain knows what it MEANT, even if no one else does. And your brain automatically assumes the reader will know what meaning was intended even without adequate explanation or description. Assumptionism often results in characters doing impossible – and often unbelievably awkward – things, like bursting through walls that appear out of nowhere, or producing guns from their bikini bottoms.
A third illness is author dislocation. This happens when the brain has a great idea for a book. And that’s it. The brain then sits back and decides it’s done enough, leaving the author languishing in literary no-person’s land with no idea how to flesh out the story line and produce a viable manuscript.
These ailments are extremely difficult to self-diagnose. Most authors don’t even know they have them until someone points out the symptoms. This is especially awful when the book has already been published, and the someone turns out to be a reader, who lets you know about the errors IN A REVIEW. Sadly, this is a very real danger with unedited manuscripts. The fact is, every author from Asimov to Zahn has these kind of issues.
And so do you.
So, what is the cure?
A professional editor. There are three main kinds of editing and you may find that that you need one, two, or all three.
To combat brain/eye dysplasia, you’ll want a copy editor. This stellar human being goes over your completed manuscript line by line to root out pesky grammatical and mechanical errors, like using it’s instead of its.
For assumptionism, you’ll need a content editor to help with plot holes, clarity, diction, characterization, symbolism and etc. Anything having to do with the smooth turning of pages that ISN’T covered by grammar and usage comes under the purview of the content editor. These folks also work with completed manuscripts.
If you come down with a case of author dislocation, you can always turn to the developmental editor. For direction and help moving a book from the basic idea through planning/plotting to the finished product, a developmental editor is your go-to professional. Often used in non-fiction to assist with structure, organization, research and images, developmental editors can also be a great help for fiction. They may work only in the planning stages, or be a guide throughout the process, according to the needs of the individual author.
Ah, but at what cost, you say?
Well, copy and content editing fees vary anywhere from a penny a word on up, depending on the experience level of the editor. Developmental editors usually charge between $30 and $50 an hour.
Editors are honor-bound to keep your work confidential, but it isn’t a bad idea to make sure a confidentiality clause is included in the editing contract. You will also want to nail down a time frame and payment method. Editors should be able to provide you with several recommendations from satisfied clients, and it isn’t a bad idea to peruse an author watchdog site like Writer Beware just to make sure their name doesn’t have any red flags.
Depending on the length of your manuscript and the type of editing you are asking for, timelines of two to four weeks are considered reasonable. But successful editors generally have a fairly full calendar, so they may not be able to start right away. Be sure that both you and your editor are clear on when editing will start, and when it will be completed. It is good practice to set up your editing appointment in advance so that when you are ready, the editor will be too.
Where to find them
All that sounds great, you say, but where do I find an editor? A lot of authors offer editing services on the side. (I’m one of them.) Additionally, many writers associations offer editing services. (FWA is one of these.) You can also ask your favorite author who does their editing and go from there. Chances are, if they are happy with their editor’s services, you will be too.
The bottom line is, you worked hard to create your story. Professional editing is a vital step along the journey of Indie publishing. Your readers expect it, and your work deserves this extra step to become the professional, beautiful product you intended it to be.