Five Things to Do in Preparation for Working with an Editor
By Rose Atkinson-Carter
Getting your book professionally edited is crucial if you want to be able to compete with other titles in the market, but it can also be daunting when you’re doing it for the first time. In order to get the most useful experience and prepare yourself for a fruitful and worthwhile collaboration, here are some things to nail down before you start working with an editor.
1) Establish what type of editing you'll need
As you’re going through the process of revising your manuscript, you can get professional feedback on your work in several different ways, depending on what stage your manuscript is at. You don’t want to spend money on an edit that your book isn’t quite ready for. Let’s take a quick look at the four main types of editing you’re likely to come across, and when you should commission them.
Whether you're writing a novel or a short story collection, when you’ve flushed out your story as best you can, you’ll want to get in touch with a developmental editor. They will go through your manuscript and flag where the story isn’t quite working. Maybe you have inconsistent characters or big plot holes, or the ending just doesn’t seem to pack the right punch. A developmental editor will give you suggestions on how to tighten up these elements and strengthen your story.
After you’ve gotten your plot and story nailed down, you’ll want a line editor to take a look at the language of your book. A line editor makes sure your sentences flow, your descriptive language isn’t overbearing, and that the voice of your piece is consistent. They make sure the reading experience is enjoyable so your story can shine.
Generally the last step in the editing process, proofreading is when you get a (usually) new editor to take a look and catch any mistakes that may have fallen through the cracks in the first round of editing. You can hire a proofreader when your manuscript is ready to send to agents or when you have a formatted book that’s almost ready to publish. This step is vital in making sure your book is as clean as it can be.
2) Self edit to the best of your abilities
Before sending your manuscript off to an editor, you’ll want to get it as close to perfect as you can. This way, you won’t be spending money on basic edits that you could have covered yourself. Naturally, you don’t want your editor to take a lot of time flagging plot holes or inconsistencies that you could’ve noticed and fixed yourself if you had taken the time to revise your manuscript. What you can really benefit from are the things you don’t know what to do with—and those are the things you want your editor to dedicate time to.
A few things to address in your manuscript as you self-edit:
- Tighten any issues in the storyline. Put your manuscript away for a few weeks and return with fresh eyes so that you can better spot and fix plot holes and character inconsistencies.
- Clean up your prose by cutting unnecessary words and clichés. Read parts that you’re unsure about out loud to make sure it sounds smooth.
- Clean up the grammar as best you can so your manuscript editor can focus on the tougher stuff. Easy things for you to look for can be making sure the tense doesn’t jump between past and present or the passive voice isn’t overused.
- Give it at least one more read-through before sending it to an editor to make sure it really is the best that it can be — and don’t neglect your manuscript’s formatting.
After you’ve cleaned up your manuscript…
3) Prepare questions and identify pain points
If you’re prepping for a developmental edit, flag parts of your story that you feel don’t quite work, but you’re not sure why. Maybe the beginning is dragging, but you aren't certain what to cut. Or the ending does not bring about the emotional reaction you’re looking for. You can also note issues about character development and dynamics so that your editor can keep an eye out for them.
When prepping for a line editor, you can highlight passages that you think don’t read well, or that you’re not quite in love with. This is where all the work you did in the self-edit also pays off—you will have a clear idea of what weaknesses your manuscript has.
That said, if you mention that a scene feels unrealistic before an editor reads it, they might go in with the expectation that it is indeed unrealistic, rather than giving you their true first impression. In that case, you can leave a separate page of questions for them to consider after an unbiased reading.
You can also ask more general questions, like if the story fits well into a certain genre, or what feels realistic and what doesn’t.
Remember, it’s your story, and the editors you work with want to help you create the best manuscript you can. You have to be an advocate for yourself in the editing process—editors can’t read your mind no matter how helpful that would be.
4) Give your editor a sense of where in the market you want to be
Experienced editors will have read in different genres, age groups, and niches, and they understand the tropes and characteristics of each enough to help you fit your book into the market of your choosing. If you’re writing a YA sci-fi about time travel romance, you’ll want to introduce your book alongside some comp titles—books similar to yours in content and writing style—like Until We Meet Again by Renee Collins or Timeless by Alexandra Monir.
Knowing the specific subgenre of your book—in this case YA time travel romance—will help guide an editor in their process. They’ll know not to critique your book as if it’s middle grade, for instance, and to keep in mind the expectations of young-adult publishers. And if your book does read more like middle grade than YA, they can help you make adjustments to fit the market.
5) Set clear expectations and communicate them
When hiring an editor, it’s important to have an open line of communication with them. Different editors have different processes, so you’ll want to get crystal clear from the get-go regarding what your editor will provide. Here are some things you should hammer out in advance:
- Set a deadline for your editor that gives them enough time to give in-depth feedback, but also fits within your larger project timeline.
Define the deliverables:
- Does a manuscript edit come with a style sheet?
- Will a developmental edit include scene-by-scene edits as well as a feedback report?
- Will you get a meeting to debrief the developmental edit after you’ve had a chance to review the report and let it sink in?
- Would the editor be available to do a follow-up review after you’ve actioned edits?
This is your project, so be sure you’re getting what you want out of the editing process. Professional editors will tailor their work to fit your needs, but you have to be proactive in communicating those needs in the first place.
It takes a lot of work to prepare your manuscript for an editor, but remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect—that’s the whole point of editing! Just keep in mind that the more developed your manuscript is, the better feedback you’ll get. The best way for an editor to help you is if they can look over your absolute best work—that way you can really learn from your editor and improve your writing skills throughout the process.
Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best self-publishing resources and professionals like editors, designers, and ghostwriters. She lives in London.