ASK MIMI #4: How Do You Find an Editor?

Hello to all the authors out there!

This week’s question comes from a gal who’s working on her next book. As many have or will discover, getting the book written is just the beginning of the journey. The next step, editing, is extremely important, which is why I picked this question.

Dear Mimi,
How do you find an editor who fits you? Or helps with your writing?- Barb


Dear Barb,
This is a great question, because it’s something that confuses even the most seasoned authors out there! I have literally interviewed and worked with dozens of editors from the most prestigious publishing houses to the unknown indie-geared editors. There’s a lot that goes into finding the right people.


Okay, so first things first:
KNOW WHAT KIND OF EDITOR YOU’RE LOOKING FOR. There a varying definitions in the industry, so it starts with knowing what you need and then often comes down to specifically asking what an editor does/doesn’t do. I met one editor who said she did line editing but really didn’t. She just did big-picture concept stuff.

So you have to know your stuff because you could end up paying a lot of money and not get what you need.

Basically, there are four kinds of edits, though some editors cover one or more of these categories:

1. CREATIVE/DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR
The developmental editor does just what you think he/she does. They address the big-picture stuff along with all creative aspects such as plotting (Does it make sense? Is it gripping enough? Are there holes?), character development/ARC, character likability, voice, pace of your story, emotional tone (and inconsistencies in tone), setting, atmosphere, and a bunch of other ingredients that tie into the actual storytelling.

A purely developmental editor will focus on elevating the story by pointing out elements that aren’t working as well as what is working. They will even suggest characters/chapters that need rewrites—add more detail, reduce detail, make sexy time steamier, etc.

But think of the developmental editor as your first stop. Their job is to answer this question: What can make this awesome story even better?

And if your book is just not working, they’ll be your story doctor.

2. LINE EDITOR
The line editor will also look at your story from a creative aspect, but focuses more on HOW you’re telling the story. Word choices, tightening sentences, adding more detail to a sentence to give it more emotional impact, pace, voice consistency, etc.

I like to think of line editors as your friendly neighborhood wordsmith. They cut the fat, they add the seasoning, and they help push your book over the creative finish line.

3. COPYEDITOR
Once you believe your story is ready, meaning your heroine can’t possibly be any more kickass, your hero can’t get hotter, and your sentences are tighter than a virginal bride in the 1600s, then it’s time to move your book-baby down the production line to the left-brained people and submit it to the grammar police.

In short, a copyeditor looks specifically at the “correctness” of your words and punctuation, but they don’t stop there. They also fact-check you. For example, if you write: The Titanic did sunk in 2012.

They will send you back a correction like this: The Titanic did sunk sank in 2012 1912.

They will often include a note in the manuscript like this: Mimi, here’s the website I used to check this date.

The copyeditor’s role is all about correct punctuation, correct grammar, and accuracy with regards to the use of a word (right word used in the right spot) as well as the accuracy of the facts you’ve inserted in your manuscript. They’ll even look for inconsistencies in your timeline or errors in your character descriptions (i.e., he suddenly has blue eyes when they’ve been brown all along).

The copyeditor will take notes and create a sort of “guide” for your book to capture key plot and character information, slang words, made-up words, and grammatical style preferences (such as, if you use blonde or blond when referencing a woman’s hair).

Here’s a great article with more examples, comparing line editors versus copyeditors:
https://nybookeditors.com/2015/01/copyediting-vs-line-editing/


4. PROOFREADER (Yes, they are editors, too.)
If copyeditors are the grammar police, then proofreaders are the bad-grammar ninjas. Or typo assassins? I think “ant fucker” is a funny term I heard once (as a COMPLIMENT!) because they take the tiniest little things most of us would miss and make them their bitch.

Okay, that’s a little crude, so maybe typo assassin is better.

Whatever.

They are your last and final step in the book-production process. You CANNOT skip this step.
Proofreaders catch all of the little “technical” mistakes everyone else missed—missing commas, too many spaces, typos, wrong character name, etc. They literally go over each symbol, letter, and space to ensure everything’s right.

That said, every book has some mistakes. Editors are human, and errors do slip through. I have a book with a major publisher that has more typos than I care to admit. And they used two proofreaders. Yikes.

But make no mistake, this is a very special skillset, and your proofreader is either good at it or they’re not. Hang on tight when you find a good one.
Here’s another article covering copyediting vs. proofreading:
https://nybookeditors.com/2016/05/whats-the-difference-between-copyediting-and-proofreading/

ON TO YOUR REAL QUESTION: HOW TO PICK?

1. Like I said, most editors cover more than one of the four areas, but not all. If they say they do, well…honestly? I would never hire an editor to do developmental, line, copy and proof all together. These are very different skillsets, right-brain and left-brain stuff. And, in my experience, if an editor is offering all of these services, they’re actually only really, really good at one area and they’re okay in the others.

So once you figure out what you need, be sure to ask them what they cover in their edits and what THEY consider to be their bench strength.

NOTE: I would feel comfortable with an editor who does developmental AND line editing, because they require an eye for the texture, feel, and the creative aspects of your story.
I would also feel okay with an editor who does copyedits and proofing. Those two aspects often overlap anyway because they require a good solid understanding of the rules and they must have an eye for detail.
It’s when you start mixing the grammar police with the story doctors that I think you don’t get the full benefit of these two different skillsets.


2. Your budget is really important here. If you can’t afford too much, then at least hire a good line editor AND a proofreader. Use your author friends and writer groups to help fill in the creative gaps. Getting a critique partner (or partners) is a wonderful way to work out the kinks in your story for “free.” Obviously, you’ll be expected to help them with their books, too.

If your budget allows for very little, then lean on everyone you can for development, line, and copy, but never ever skip the proofreader. If you have the right support system in place, you stand a chance at writing an entertaining story, but you don’t want to publish something that’s filled with huge glaring errors.

How do I know this? Because I did it. Bad. Very bad. LOL.

3. Get editor recommendations from other authors OR check out the acknowledgments in your favorite authors’ books. They usually call out their editors. Just be sure it’s the same genre. So don’t ask a sci-fi editor to work on your steamy romance unless you know they actually edit romance.

4. Most editors will do a sample edit for you. If they offer it, take it. They will also usually ask you for a sample to see if they are a fit for your style.

5. Other things to consider is their availability. Are they willing to be flexible? What’s their turnaround time? Personality? If you’re writing a slapstick comedy, don’t go to an editor who hates goofy jokes.

6. Don’t assume that an impressive resume/fancy client list means they’re a good editor. There are a ton of reasons why they might not be or might be a bad fit for you, so always do your homework.

Break a leg on your writing!

With Love,
Mimi




WANT ADVICE?

Each week I’ll pick one question, or a few, from readers and aspiring authors about:

   – sex, relationships, & family

   – the writing process & business (trad. and indie)

   – unicorns, Big Foot, the Chupacabra, & traveling mermen

   – the Universe and random crap

   – all of the things I am not an expert in, but have an opinion on! (That pretty much covers everything above.)

SUBMIT YOUR QUESTIONS HERE: mimi@mimijean.net (Specify if you want to be anonymous or if I can use your first name. Include your hometown or state/country.)

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