Congratulations, writer. You’ve finished the first draft of your book. Mazel tov! Have a glass of wine, play with the dog, announce the joyous event on Facebook. It’s all sunshine and lollipops…
…and then you start to read what you wrote.
If you’re like most writers I know, you’ll have one of two reactions:
– You’re certain your book will be grabbed up by a major international publisher who can clearly see that it’s going to be the next hot bestseller, outselling The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey combined.
– You’ll wonder who the pretentious idiot was who hacked into your computer and wrote such drivel, and you can’t consign it to the blue bin quickly enough.
You’re almost certainly wrong on both counts. The sad – or happy – truth is that the manuscript is neither as brilliant nor as bad as you think.
Enter the editor.
An editor’s job is to help you polish your magnum opus, to work with you to bring it as close to publishable as possible.
When I’m approached by a potential client, I almost always ask for the first two or three chapters to see what shape the manuscript is in and how close to finished it actually is. Writers frequently think their work just needs a light copy edit – essentially dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s – when it’s nowhere near that stage.
The basic stages of editing are:
1- A manuscript evaluation. This is a first step where the editor reads the manuscript and comments on the various elements of the story – plot, structure, pacing, characters, dialogue, setting, point of view, believability (essentially all that Good Stuff you learn about in a creative writing class) – pointing out what works and giving suggestions for how you can fix whatever doesn’t.
How detailed a manuscript evaluation is can range from a discussion over the phone or in person with the editor to an in-depth written report with comments in the manuscript itself. No rewriting or copy editing, though.
The cost of the evaluation depends on how detailed a report you want, but this stage is always less expensive than stage 2, the substantive/structural edit.
2- A substantive/structural edit. This involves the editor rewriting, restructuring, and editing the manuscript itself. I myself always include comments about why I’ve made the changes I’ve made so that you, the author, can follow my reasoning.
A substantive/structural edit can cost upwards from a couple of thousand dollars, depending on how much work the editor feels the manuscript needs.
3- A copy edit. Now we’re into dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Fixing punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Possibly doing some fact checking. Maybe querying awkward or unclear phrasing. At this point, your manuscript needs just a few technical tweaks to be almost as good as it’s ever going to be. (Do not, however, ignore the importance of these tweaks: Agents and publishers are definitely not impressed by poor spelling or grammar.)
The copy edit is the least expensive of the editing stages because it won’t involve any major changes to your work.
What I’ve written here applies to freelance, not in-house editors. Many trade (i.e., fiction) publishers these days will not look at a manuscript that requires extensive structural or substantive editing because it’s not worth their time or money.
The editor is your friend and is working on your behalf. I’m thrilled when one of my clients gets a publishing deal or is nominated for or wins a literary award. But there’s a caveat here.
Do not let the editor change your work beyond recognition! It’s your book, your baby, your vision. In the end, the editor should just be making suggestions that you can accept or not. If you find that the editor is making so many changes that you don’t recognize your own book, if the editor is in effect trying to impose his or her vision on your work, then he or she is probably the wrong editor for you.
CHERYL FREEDMAN has been a freelance editor for 15 years, editing a range of material from Kabbalah and academic math articles to memoirs to crime fiction. (Unfortunately, because of time constraints, she did not edit Thirteen.) She is chair of the Bloody Words board of directors, has been chair of the BW conference itself four times (including the upcoming BW 2014) , and was executive director of Crime Writers of Canada for 10 years before she left to write her own book.
Visit Cheryl at her CWC Webpage
Or Email: cheryl @ freedmanandsister . com