How I Write: Step 8 – Off to the Editor

Ah, the editor. When I talk about going to the editor, I’m specifically talking about copyediting or line editing. Many editors handle what’s called “Substantive” or “Developmental” editing. These are the folks who help you develop and improve a story. Basically they do what the beta readers did in the prior chapters, and maybe even hold your hand through the first revision. Such people are a key part of traditional publishing, and some of the most successful indie publishers use them as well. But there is a good reason only really successful indies do it. This level of editing is extremely expensive. I’ve never done it, and I’m not likely to unless I find myself consistently hitting the top of the charts and ending up with serious cash to spend.

Thus, we’ll be talking about the folks who try to comb out your typos.

The Hardware

No hardware for this one. If there is an editor out there still working on hardcopy, chances are you won’t be finding them via the internet.

The Software

This will vary from editor to editor, but in my experience, most editors like to work with a doc or docx file. If you’ve been writing in Scrivener, that’s an export option. If you’ve been writing in Word, that’s what you’ve probably been saving it as. If you’ve been using any other word processor, chances are very good doc is an option.

The Content

Before we get to the process sending off your manuscript to an editor, which is fairly straightforward and not really enough to justify a full step in this series, we should talk about finding one.

Once again, this series is called “How I Write,” so I can only really tell you what I did. So let’s take a trip back to the wild west of the indie publishing boom. The long-ago year of 2011, when I was just getting started.

By just getting started, I mean I’d been at it a year and had released my book in a self-edited state. (PLEASE DON’T DO THIS!) Folks were clearly enjoying the story, but my reviews inevitably included some form of the phrase “cluttered with typos.” Enough people had suffered through my story that I decided the time had come to put on my big boy pants and act like a professional.

The literary world is littered with people who either don’t know what they are doing, or know exactly what they are doing, and that thing is taking your money and running. I was mindful of this. A bit of investigation turned up a site called Preditors and Editors. It was a list of publishers and editors, rated by how successful they were and now crooked they were. There I found a well-rated editor named Anna Genoese. Her rates were in my budget, and she hit the deadline, and she did excellent work. My review average jumped up a full star once I’d implemented her edits.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, Preditors and Editors is no more, but there are other ways to find good editors. I now rely upon a second editor for many of my books, Tammy Salyer. I believe we crossed paths back when both of us were up for the same blog award for best sci-fi book of the year. (We lost to Hugh Howey, as many people have.) After some cross promotion, I decided to give her services a try and I’ve been very happy with her work as well.

Naturally I don’t expect you to follow my path of using websites that don’t exist and general serendipity to find your editors. If you’ve come this far in my series, you’ve probably had some interactions with other aspiring writers, in writing groups, on KBoards, and similar places. Those are also good places to find editors, or to find people who can give recommendations. Do your homework, make sure they do good work, and when you find someone you like, reach out to them.

A few notes on this. Most editors are fine editing any genre, with the possible exceptions of erotica or non-fiction. Both require a different editorial eye and sensibility, and you may need to find a specialized editor to handle them. Also, expect to pay. Not that there aren’t top-notch editors out there working for less, but as in all things, editing is something where you get what you pay for. I usually budget (as a rule of thumb) about a penny a word for standard copyediting. If I write 100,000 words, I pay $1,000. Other editors work by the hour, but you’ll often notice that this works out to about the same price. (Almost as though they calibrated their rate to hit the industry standard.) I assure you, if you end up getting a spike in sales at any point, that $1000 can easily be the difference between those people loving your book and picking up the next one and trashing your book and ruining your review score. This is not a place to be stingy.

Okay, so that covers getting your editor. Once you’ve got him or her, what’s next? Check for availability. Good editors are in high demand, and it isn’t unusual to have to wait months for a slot. Once you’re familiar with your writing speed, it’s common for folks to book their editor before they’re even done writing. Getting a slot will usually involve offering up a brief description of your story (genre, not plot, though again, check or ask for their guidelines and make sure you’re not submitting something on their no-no list) and an estimation of the word count. They’ll quote you a price and a timeline. If that sounds good, you might get a contract to sign, laying out what services they’ll provide, what materials and payment you’ll provide, and the terms of the payment. Look it over, sign it, and follow the instructions on how to send your manuscript.

In Scrivener, I hit compile and save everything as a docx, then send it out. In word, I hit save and send it out. That’s it. Some editors may request to receive your manuscript in a “basic” format, meaning no fancy formatting. In my experience, it’s never really been an issue. Just send it off and you’re good to go.