Whether an author has just completed their first manuscript or their twenty-first, at some point they look up from their keyboard and realize that it’s as finished as they can make it. But that doesn’t mean they’re done and can send it straight off to the printers. Once the writing is finished, the task of editing begins.
Options for Manuscript Editing
There are four main options authors have when it comes to having their manuscript edited:
- Doing it themselves
- Having friends and family look it over, especially one “who can write”
- Investing in software that will do it for them
- Hiring a professional editor
At some point, an author needs to edit their work. Usually, that work is best done between drafts. Most find that setting the latest draft away for a while (a few days or even a few weeks) allows them enough distance to see the flaws in their work. And there will be flaws, especially on early drafts.
“Your first draft is not a golden nugget. It might be a nugget, but it isn’t golden.” ~Ethan Nathé
However, many authors, especially those who self-publish, act as the sole editors for their books. Some edit as they go along, while others get everything out on the page and then go through and make their changes. For those who chose to self-edit, the book Magic of Fiction by Beth Hill comes highly recommended. It’s a wonderful resource for both writing and editing novels. While it’s geared toward fiction, the nonfiction writer will also find good advice in its pages.
Friends and Family
While some authors edit everything themselves, most believe that there needs to be another pair of eyes on the manuscript. After all, there is such a thing as being too close to a project; eventually, errors simply aren’t seen anymore. Or, the writer’s mind automatically adjusts the story to make sense and inconsistencies and plot holes are overlooked.
Many independent authors and writers rely on friends, family, and colleagues to help them catch spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and incorrect punctuation. This method can be a good way to catch the most obvious errors and is also a good way of getting feedback on the book.
Modern technology has made life easier on many levels, and editing software has proved invaluable to authors and editors alike. Software like Grammarly and Hemingway will go through the manuscript and highlight what needs to be changed. Upgraded subscriptions will go further, pointing out unclear language or even plagiarized material.
For many, finding a freelance editor to help them scrub their manuscript is an invaluable step in the publishing process. While these professionals tend to cost a little more, many find the investment worth it. Professional editors are trained in catching the minutiae of grammatical errors, punctuation, and style and consistency issues. They understand how language changes over the years, what rules to follow, and more importantly, what rules to break.
Why isn’t it a Good Idea to Have Aunt Marge Edit my Manuscript?
So, why hire an editor when it seems as though there is free software out there that will catch our mistakes almost immediately? Or better yet, Aunt Marge is a retired English teacher and has said she’d do it for nothing?
Honestly, sometimes there isn’t a good reason to hire a freelance editor. Sometimes authors have The Gift and by the time they’re on their last draft have managed a very clean, well-edited manuscript. Sometimes authors have very talented friends or family members that can edit as well as a professional. Sometimes, if all else has gone right, the software works and it picks up on the few typos that need fixing.
Each of these scenarios is a Magical Rainbow-Pooping Unicorn of the Publishing Industry: rare, probably mythical, and no one believes it exists until they see it. More often than not, authors get caught up in the narrative and can’t see the inconsistencies, friends and family don’t have the time to do the work justice (or simply don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings), and software screws up just as much as it fixes.
The reality is, many people outside of the publishing world haven’t worried about style guides since college. They don’t have any idea that such guides are updated yearly to reflect usage trends. Well-meaning friends and family may also be strict adherents to rules that aren’t actually rules, like not ending a sentence with a preposition. Perhaps they were told always to put two spaces after a period, or feel very strongly that the singular “they” is never correct. Or maybe they don’t want to risk hurting the author’s feelings so they stick to simple things like punctuation, and neglect to point out changes in POV, tense, or consistency/clarity issues.
And as good as editing software is, it has no concept of style or tone. Spellcheck is notorious for missing homonyms, and Word regularly makes terrible editorial suggestions; in fact, many professional editors turn off Word’s editing tools because it’s so often wrong. Computers can’t hear the tone being set or see a particular style being used.
Okay, Okay. I See Your Point. But Freelancers are Expensive!
If authors were made of money and had all the time in the world, they’d have the luxury of hiring an editor for every step of the writing process:
- A developmental editor to tell them what works and what doesn’t
- A line editor to scrub the manuscript and pull it into shape
- A copy editor to clean up the grammar and punctuation
- A proofreader to catch those last stubborn typos
The reality is, most writers these days aren’t able to sink many thousands of dollars into their manuscripts. Most are working day jobs and have families to support. Their manuscript is a work of love, written in stolen moments before the family wakes or after a long, hard day of work.
Believe it or not, most freelance editors understand this. They do their best to straddle that line between “affordable” and “earning a living.” They also understand that most authors will hire them for one, maybe two rounds of editing per book. As much as they’d love to work with an author from start to finish, they realize how rare a treat that is.
What’s the Best Way to Hire a Freelancer?
Freelance editors are trained professionals and happy to share their education and experience. They’ll work with a style guide (usually the Chicago Manual of Style for trade publications) to make sure that your manuscript is clean, coherent, and consistent. They’ll notice stylistic trends in the manuscript and work to preserve them while making sure the reader has a seamless experience with the story.
Finding a freelancer can be simple; after all, a freelancer wrote this! There are editors out there for every budget. On freelance websites, editors are doing good work for reasonable prices. Searching for editorial associations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), or the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), can also be very effective.
For each editor being considered, look at their bios and history, and if they have a website, check it out. If someone fits the bill, get in touch. When contacting the editor, give them an overview of your work. They’ll want to know how many words the manuscript is, how near to completion it is, any imminent deadlines, and if it has been edited by someone else already. Have an idea of what kind of edit you may need; there is a handy definition of the different types of editing here. Many editors will ask to see at least part of the manuscript so they can adequately estimate the project time and costs. Some will also provide a sample edit on a small part of the work.
How much will it cost and how long will it take? That depends on the editor. But, keep in mind that good editing takes time. It’s not unreasonable to expect a 110,000-word manuscript to take up to a month to edit, especially if the editor is doing a line edit, or if the manuscript is scientific or otherwise highly detailed. Copy edits take less time generally (unless it’s a heavy copy edit), and proofreading tends to go quickly. How much will it cost? That can vary greatly, but the EFA has a handy rate sheet that can help with budgeting.
Finding an editor that works well with an author can be tough, but once that relationship becomes solid, real magic can happen. Writers are the creators; editors the ones who work behind the scenes to buff and polish that work into perfection. Editors take great pride in knowing that, because of their work, an author is getting the accolades they deserve.