Hiring a Book Editor: Everything You Need to Know About
You are done writing the first draft of your book. So you’re asking yourself “What next?” Before you even think about publishing, naturally, there would be either of two things that would come to your mind:
Rereading it and correcting any errors to produce a second draft,
Hire a book editor because they may provide better services.
Who is an editor?
You believe that the first draft of your manuscript is complete. You know whys and wherefores, the ins and outs, and the nuts and bolts of your story. But you feel that your words have just felt short of doing your story justice. You feel that there is a much-needed kick is missing.
To make it all better for you, a book editor will have your back, and hiring an editor might be the difference between writing a good book and writing an excellent book.
You can call editors untrumpeted heroes for the services they provide to the writing community. Book editing is an art itself, and the work of an editor involves purifying and beautifying your writing before it's meant to be submitted as a manuscript.
They come across as a critical yet essential spokesperson that provides the details of what's missing in your work and what they can do to fill in the gaps. The editor will revise, modify, and touch up your draft to make it the best possible version of it.
What kinds of editing services are available?
Many people believe that an editor is simply a person who can catch mistakes, grammatical, errors and typos. But that's a misconception and it's only the tip of the iceberg.
A professional edit isn't just a one-time task. For any piece of text to be the most optimal version of it, it has to pass through a few stages.
The kinds of editing, or to be more precise, the sequence of stages in the editing process, are as follows:
A developmental edit will be a detailed macro review of the big picture i.e. the structure and plot of your draft. For fiction books, this will focus on the plot, pacing, depth, genre, theme, point of view, and how the characters fit into the plot and the story.
In such an edit, the editor will renovate your draft from an incomplete and inconsistent write-up to a full-fledged enjoyable book. You can consider a developmental editor as a kind of counsellor who provides your book with the most in-depth best practices it needs.
Developmental editors can even cut sections from your book, add more chapters to be written, suggest answers to big questions such as "Who am I writing this book for? What is this book about? Would it satisfy my target audience?"
Because this is an in-depth review of your draft, expect a long-term partnership between you and the developmental editor. This will be a very specific edit, so expect it to take time. It's because of these merits that hiring an editor of this nature of work is the most expensive part of the process (probably a few thousand dollars).
Self-publishing writers try to have their book go through a developmental edit before uploading or printing.
2. Substantive editing:
Substantive editing isn't too different from developmental editing. A substantive editor will not only be focusing on the elements which a developmental editor looks at, but the difference will be that they will see everything from a bird's eye view.
This usually happens after a developmental edit, and you will have to believe that before presenting this book for a substantive edit, your manuscript can't get any better than this. They might suggest slight changes but this time they will have a solid understanding of why those edits need to be made.
At worst, they might even propose to go back to write by going back to square one because of the incoherencies (if any) present in your book, and maybe your book will be better off for it.
Here you'll be giving your manuscript to a critical editor who'll take a deep dive into it for a long time (maybe even months). There won't be much of a partnership, and you can think of the edit coming back from it as a collection of critically suggested comments. It'll be up to you to implement those suggested edits.
3. Copy editing:
Copy editing requires a focus on improving the readability of the draft. This means making sure everything is factually and grammatically correct. Word usage and consistency in the words for getting to the right conclusions is an important part of copy editing.
A copy editor may even perform line editing on your text. As the name suggests, they will check and rework the sentence structure line by line. This can feel necessary because, at times, there are lots of factual information but a reader may not necessarily come to the same conclusion where the writer is trying to lead them to.
Grammatical errors have at times proven quite expensive for people and companies, so it's not suggested to skip a copy editing. It's worth it for writers to spend a few hundred dollars to get a good copy-edited work.
After receiving your copy-edited manuscript, you can feel sure that you've done your best to convey the story and information of your work the way you want.
As opposed to the misconceptions, proofreading has mostly been kept as the last stage of the editing process for a smooth and effortless reading experience. Proofreaders don't provide feedback on the content, plot, story, or grammar of the book, but they give it one final polish before you submit it for publishing.
Proofreading involves the removal of any typos, punctuation errors, spelling errors, and grammatical errors. This step also includes formatting checks, such that you don't have any dangling or lingering texts or unnecessary spaces that might cause presentation or layout issues before your book goes into printing.
There are other kinds of editing available too such as technical editing, sensitivity editing, and manuscript critiquing which cater to specific editing needs. But in self-publishing and traditional publishing, the most effective editing flow goes in the sequence of the four stages mentioned above.
What if I don't have the time and money to hire an entire team of book editors for this task?
NO! That's a straight-up answer. But if you hire an editor to do all the work, one editor isn't enough for the full book editing job either.
This is because only a few writers will go through the entire process of all four stages, depending on the time and money at their disposal. More edits don't necessarily translate to a much better reading experience.
Developmental editing itself will take quite a lot of time. Having repeated substantive edits will however guarantee that the experience of a reader will be a great one, but you can have one editor do the developmental and a single stage of substantive editing too.
Similarly, you can have a second editor do the copy edit and the proofreading as well. A single copy-edited will also yield a substantial amount of proofreading. If you feel confident in your grammar, punctuation, and writing skills, you can do the proofreading yourself.
Still, it's not advised to publish a book without having it go through at least two editors. Conventional publishing, at times, meant that the book had to go through the whole four-stage process.
I am a good professional writer already. Why do I need to hire an editor?
It's true that you're a great writer. It's obvious because you've done enough to write a full book. But professional editors have done the reading job so many times, and that too from a very critical readers' lens that they'll hardly let your book get away with being unclear.
Of course, you love your writing and you understand it better than anyone. But we're very less likely to own our own mistakes, and our errors aren't obvious to us through the writing process. Your reader essentially should understand you as good.
You might be so close to your writing that you might miss some gaps that could potentially cause a lack of clarity for the reader. But plotholes will only be observed if they're seen by a book editor who'll review your book objectively.
Your readers are clever, keen, and smart. When they start reading your book, they expect the same level of engagement and curiosity you had while you were writing.
Your book is about to go to the public, so you'll have to be sure to address every missing question that a reader might ask and every inconsistency that you might have missed.
It's not just about correct grammar and punctuation of every word. But that part should be addressed in the last after your initial book editing stages.
OK, editing is important, but what kind of editing would my book need?
This is a question that does come up in the mind of many self-publishing writers.
In most cases, developmental editing is needed. But if you feel that your writing is good, and you're confident that you're not leaving any stone unturned in describing all the content to the readers, then maybe you only need a substantive edit. However, if you feel that your manuscript feels a little incomplete or you feel that your idea might need some more clarity to be fully communicated to the readers, then it's not recommended to skip developmental editing.
You'll need a copy edit after you feel that it's been through a good developmental and substantive edit.
Once you've been through all the above stages, you'll need to have the manuscript proofread.
Would beta readers be enough?
While it's true that a beta reader can also serve as an editor for your book, but they might not be as unbiased, impartial, and objective as an actual editor. Anyone can be a beta reader, whether it's your friend, sibling, parent, your relative, your book club colleague, or random friend who you met on Facebook.
The biggest point of differentiation between a beta reader and a professional editor is that the beta reader will comment as a random reader. From an editor, you'll get completely neutral and balanced scrutiny.
However, if you want to find beta readers who are unknown to you, you can use online platforms such as Wattpad, Scribophile, and Inkitt. You can even find some of them on social media book clubs and writing and reading groups.
Another thing would be that beta readers might not be experts on the topic you've written, and they may not be avid readers of your genre.
In addition to the shortcomings mentioned above, how would you deal with conflicting opinions? Your parents who love you and read your book out of appreciation will hardly point out grammatical errors. Your best friend might find a chapter and a particular section of text where he had some questions. A colleague who thinks of you as a friend-with-benefits will hardly appreciate even the most praiseworthy parts of your book.
Professional editing demands skill, and like every other field, even in editing, when a work is done by a professional, it shows.
What should I look for when I hire an editor?
Hiring an editor may seem like a straightforward task, but there are some things that you should carefully judge and ask, to determine if you can trust your hire.
Their services: It's not necessary that the book editor might be working as a freelance editor. They could also be employed with some editing company. Having a company can bring some perks as well. If you take the editing services from a company, they may give another service (such as marketing or cover design) for a discounted price.
Training and experience: An experienced and professionally trained editor will bring a lot more to the table than any other service provider in the field. However, experience and quality work does come at a price.
The editor may be well equipped with a great skill set, but he has no experience in working with the genre of your book. This person may not be the right editor for your book. You may need to find an editor that has experience working in your niche. You don't want your money wasted by working with an editor that doesn't have sufficient knowledge of the genre.
Many editors might be early in their career, and unlike experienced and professional editors, they may approach writers for work. This is when their training and credentials matter.
Testimonials and references: Feedback from customers is the best way you can judge the quality of work the editor is about to bring to the table.
Sample edits: Sample edits are a great way to know if you can trust your prospective editor. A good editor wouldn't say "No" straight up, but they can ask you to book them up for a few hours for a sample editing session. They will edit the first few pages or the first chapter of your book. This will be paid, however.
This will be a two-way cooperative deal. You'll find out if they're the right editor for your work, and they'll find out if they're comfortable in working with you and your manuscript.
There are writers who would want to push for free editing services. Being completely realistic, nobody would like to work for free and even if they do, the quality and attention to detail will most likely never match that of a professional editor.
Another way of gauging their performance is by reading the books they have edited in their career. If they keep your hands glued to the book, then you're probably looking forward to hiring the right book editor.
3 mistakes to avoid before you hire an editor:
You've got the importance of editors and why you need to hire them. You're hiring editors so that your book is best prepared to go into publishing. But before you go ahead and hire an editor, keep these mistakes in mind:
1. Not getting a contract: Contracts can help against any miscommunications and misunderstandings. They can even outline the key details and deadlines. Don’t make an unreasonably large contract, because it might make it hard for a good editor to work with you.
If you’re not satisfied with the editor and they did a negligible amount of work (in other words, the writer got scammed), then the contract would be proof that could be used in any legal proceedings.
2. Never give your copyright to the editor: The manuscript is your intellectual property. The editor is hired and paid to make it better, and not to own it.
Even if they ask for a royalty on the sales, this is a huge red flag and you should refuse right away. This is not an attitude of a professional editor. After they have provided you their service, they go their way and you go your way unless you're satisfied with their work and you would love to hire them later for another book.
3. If your editor refuses to offer a paid sample edit: then this is an editor you should avoid. A sample edit is a great way to judge how their end product will be. If the editor refuses to work for it (even though you can negotiate for a paid job), then it’s a huge red flag.