This post is brought to you by a Twitter thread I came across yesterday about the importance of editors. I recently wrote a post on just such a thing. If you’re disinclined to read that, I’ll break it down quickly: YOU NEED AN EDITOR.
Right then. Within this Twitter thread was information that needs to be addressed, so I’m chucking on my ranty-pants (they’re fabulous, by the way), and I’m going to give you some insights into what to look for in a good editor, and how to help find the right editor for you. Yes, not all editors will be the right fit. (I had a whole thing about editors being like pants, but it just got… weird.)
Aaaanywho, what had me don my ranty-pants was a writer explaining they’d been quoted $10,000 for an edit. I’ll just let that sink in. Ten grand. For an edit. Of one book. Oh, hell no. HELL NO. I don’t know who the so-called “editor” was who thought this was a reasonable quote. If I did, I would call them out on their bullshit. Because bullshit it is. I can’t even fathom an instance where quoting or even charging someone this amount is even within the realm of possibility. That, folks, is a scam. Run far. Run fast.
On the flipside, if you’re quoted say, $200 for a full edit of a novel – run far, run fast. No editor worth their salt would charge this little for a full edit. There’s a lot of skill that goes into editing, and most editors study to gain qualifications, to understand the nuances of English and its building blocks that go into great storytelling. Their qualifications and experience are worth more than two hundred bucks.
So, let’s break down the two types of editing (I’m not including manuscript assessments as that’s a whole different ball game). Deciding which is best for you depends on where you are with your book.
Developmental (substantive/structural) editing: This is detailed editing for structure, plot and sub-plots, story arc, characterisation, character arcs, and chapter arrangement. It’s your ‘big picture’ side of editing that looks deeply into motivations and conflict, agency and forward movement of both story and character(s). Story elements are broken down to ensure there is cohesion and clarity, as well as looking at pacing, premise, and world-building.
Copy (line) editing: This concentrates on style, tempo, language, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Copy editing goes through line-by-line to ensure syntax is on point, passive vs active voice, run-on sentences, and dangling participles et al. It checks the mechanics of the writing to ensure it’s on point. (Note: copy editing is not proofreading.)
Now, depending upon where you are with your story, it’s a matter of deciding which type of editing is best for you at this stage of your draft. You can ask for a combined structural/copy edit, but be aware that this would cost more as you’re asking for two separate types of editing to be applied – it’s a bigger job, therefore a higher charge.
Once you’ve decided which type of editing you’re after, how do you find an editor? A good editor. Nothing beats word of mouth. Those writers who’ve worked with good editors will happily sing their praises – ask around. However, this doesn’t mean their editor will be the right fit for you. And it is about fit. The author/editor relationship can be magic when you find the right person. It should be. It’s a meeting of minds to work toward a common goal – making your story the best it can be.
Your other option is to put out a call on social media for editors, but understand you’re probably going to be slammed with offers. And not everyone who says they’re an editor should be calling themselves such. I’ve heard horror stories of “editors” putting errors into work. It drives me to become Sweary McSwearface, as it gives those of us who love what we do, a bad name. Fuck those guys.
Here’s a checklist of things to do/ask when you want to engage an editor:
- Seek out at least five editors to find the right one for you. Can’t find them in that first five? Contact another five then another five until you find the editor you click with. You’ll know. Trust me.
- Try to find editors experienced in your genre. They’ll have a better feel for not only the market, but for what works (and what doesn’t) in the story you’re telling.
- Ask for their qualifications, what formal training they’ve had and where they studied. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions; this is your baby they’re working on, and your money you’re parting with. Note: some fantastic editors don’t have formal qualifications, but their industry experience is beyond reproach, so don’t rule out every editor who isn’t formally qualified, just be discerning.
- Those who edit for a living will have a website. Check the projects they’ve worked on, then mosey on over to Amazon and hit that ‘look inside’ option and see what you think. Do your research. It will pay off.
- Ask for a sample edit. This allows you to see if the editor knows what they’re doing, if you like the way they edit, and if their editing style would work for you. If an editor says they don’t provide sample edits, walk away.
- Cost is the main reason some writers choose not to engage an editor, and I get it, I do. But a lot of editors are quite happy to discuss and work with you on a payment plan. You won’t know if you don’t ask.
The above points are going to help you weed out the charlatans from the true, but trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or seem quite right, then move on. There are plenty of good editors out there, you’ll find them.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, charging ten grand for an edit is egregious. It makes me want to find that person and slap them upside the head… a lot. Charging too little for an edit… well, you get what you pay for.
So what should you expect to pay? Well, it depends on the type of edit you want, the word count (or page count, editors price either way), and the amount of work involved. If we’re basing this on a novel of approximately 100,000 words with no excessive work involved, you should be looking at anywhere in the vicinity of $800-$1500. And even low-balling at $800 is a stretch. That’s a lot of money, yes, but it’s an investment in not only your story, but you as a writer.
Editing should be a teaching experience, and I like to use it as such. If I can explain to you why active voice works better in a high-action and/or high-tension scene, you’ll employ that in your next story. If I explain that shorter sentences convey tension better than longer, drawn out sentences, you’ll take that into your next tale. If I can show that the bloody mist spattering your protag’s face as their enemy chokes on their last, gasping breath craps all over ‘dying in their own blood’, then I’m doing my job right.
So don’t be afraid to ask questions, don’t be afraid to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’, and don’t be afraid to walk away, because when you find the right editor, you’ll find the magic.