An editor can help writers find those missing plot points (think of a water spot in the midst of a frozen pond) and other structural and line errors in their work.
When are you ready to hire an editor? Should you even hire an editor? And what should you expect if you do?
These are important questions to ask once you’ve written your manuscript and are wondering if you should invest in having your novel professionally edited.
Most definitely if you plan to self-publish.
Maybe if you plan to go to the traditional route. Some literary agents and editors want to see manuscripts that have gone through a professional developmental edit but are not necessarily looking for that line level editing or final proofreading round. Others want to see that polish, but it also depends on your goals, skills and experience as a writer.
Developmental editing is for big picture issues that look at plot, character development, dialog, pacing and setting. Line level or copy editing is a line-by-line check of grammar, punctuation, spelling and mechanics, plus consistency, flow and repetitions. Proofreading is a final review for errors, as well as looking over format and layout.
If you’re considering hiring an editor at any one of these levels, there are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re ready for a final review.
Not One, But Many
Has the manuscript gone through multiple drafts?
If you’ve finished the first, or rough, draft, it’s too soon to hire an editor. First and early drafts can be a little messy, have lots of typos and often are an attempt to get the story on the page but one that isn’t fully fleshed out. A draft may have too much backstory or stage setting through figuring out the plot. There may be repeated elements of plot points or character thoughts. Or there may be holes in the development of the story, a lack of transitions, a middle that drags or an ending that’s too abrupt (often from the writer wanting to finish the project).
Many for the One
Have you worked with a critique group or critique partner and beta readers to get feedback and an outside perspective on your work?
A critique partnership involves regular trades of manuscripts where writers give feedback and commentary on each other’s work. They might do things like make suggestions on areas that need improvement, elements that are missing or concepts that seem to not make sense. Beta readers are nonprofessional test readers who also give feedback but from the perspective of an average reader.
Getting it Right
Does your work meet genre and word count expectations?
Each genre has certain structural or story elements that readers expect to be met, as well as an expected word count. Most adult novels fall in the 80,000- to 100,000-word range, while novellas are 20,000 to 50,000 words and young adult novels are 55,000 to 80,000.
Getting it ‘Wrong’
Have you sent off your work to literary agents and gotten a large number of rejections or requests for partials or fulls (the full manuscript), then gotten a no response?
Though not fun, getting a negative response could mean that the novel has areas that need improvement, such as in voice, pacing, character development or storytelling. If several agents are saying the same thing, they may be identifying something that makes the book not fit the current market or unsaleable to publishing houses.
Once you’ve gone through these steps and feel that you can’t do anything else with your manuscript, you may want to hire an editor for a final round of feedback and editing suggestions.
Research your options, ask questions, check experience and industry knowledge, and ask for samples and recommendations. That way you will find the right partner to get your work to its best before you self-publish or search out an agent or small press.