By Kim Fielding
Editor. That’s a term guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of nearly every writer. It’s terrifying to witness someone approach our beloved work with a critical, even clinical eye. Indie authors might feel especially fearful because the decisions about and costs of the editing process are entirely upon us, unlike with traditional publishers. On the other hand, good editing is essential to success. In order to get the most out of it, there are several things independent authors should know.
You Need Editors
No matter how gifted you are as a writer, you’re never going to have the distance and objectivity that someone else can provide. I’ve had manuscripts that were worked on by five successive editors, each one of them improving the work, and still the sixth editor caught things no one else had. In addition to correcting errors and streamlining the language, a good editor can provide fresh perspective. On a recent piece, an editor suggested a rewrite of the ending (sob!). It was a fair amount of work, but it truly resulted in a stronger story. Professional editors don’t come cheap, and it can be daunting to shell out that money, but it’s a vital step on the path to publication.
The Many Kinds of Editors
Developmental editors look at the overall work and ensure that voice, plot, pacing, characterization, and other elements work well. Line editors are more specific, examining the flow of sentences and passages. Copyeditors look for punctuation and grammar errors and may also find factual mistakes or inconsistencies. Proofreaders take a final look for textual and formatting errors. Some editors provide several of these services at once, while some specialize.
These editorial services are not always essential, but they can give specific assistance. Alpha readers take a look early on, often after the first draft is completed, and give overall feedback. Beta readers come into play later, generally while edits are in progress or nearly complete. They may perform something similar to a developmental edit, with perhaps some line or copy editing done as well. Sensitivity readers are employed when characters have identities different from the author’s—often from marginalized groups—and the author wants to make sure that those characters are represented accurately and, well, sensitively. All of these readers—alpha, beta, sensitivity—can be enormously helpful, but an author should also keep in mind that opinions differ, and that no single person can speak definitively for everyone.
Develop a Good Working Relationship
Begin with clear communication on costs and budget. You and an editor should agree on exactly what services they’re providing as well as a timeline. You should make sure your software is compatible and that you’ve agreed on how changes will be made. Personally, I prefer using Track Changes in Word, but I do academic publishing where Adobe Acrobat Pro is standard. Also make sure you and your editor have similar philosophies. Are you someone who likes a lot of feedback on what’s working well in a story as well as what could use revision? Or would you prefer just to see comments on what to change?
Your Editor is Your Ally
Wow, it can be soul-crunching to see all those crossed-out words and margin comments. Sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally or feel embarrassed by things that have slipped past us. But you and your editor are not antagonists. You’re working together toward the same goal—a story that’s as good as it can possibly be—so editing is time to put your ego aside for a while (don’t worry; you can take it back out when it’s time for marketing). Maybe think of editing like exercising: sweaty and painful in the short run, but it pays off in the end.
How Do You Find Editors?
We could have an entire blog post on this subject alone. Do not rely on your well-meaning friends and family members—unless, of course, they’re professional editors. Be prepared to pay. I recommend trying to find editors who are familiar with your genre. Editors advertise all over the Internet, and many will provide you with an editing sample. You can also ask other writers in your genre for recommendations.
Let It Go
Finally, if an editorial relationship isn’t working out, you don’t have to stick with it. Politely let the editor know that you’re not a good match, pay for services rendered, and search for someone who better suits your style. If you’re lucky, then like me, you’ll find editors you adore deeply.
Winner of the 2021 BookLife Prize for Fiction, Kim Fielding is the bestselling author of over sixty novels and novellas. Like Kim herself, her work is eclectic, spanning genres such as science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and horror. Having migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States, Kim calls California home. She lives there with her family, her cat, and her day job as a university professor, but escapes as often as possible via car, train, plane, or boat. This may explain why her characters often seem to be in transit as well. She dreams of traveling and writing full-time.