Posts Tagged how to publish well

Writers – how to find the editor that’s right for you

I was asked this recently by Lyda McLallan who was working on a blog for HuffPost. I don’t know if the piece was published, but these are questions I get a lot, so I thought I’d answer them here.

It all began when Lyda asked…

What should you do before you hire an editor…

Me: Talk to them!

1 Establish the kind of editing that will be suitable for your manuscript. Authors are often surprised that there are many things an editor can do.

They usually know about the mistake-spotting edits – proof reading or copy editing – but they don’t know there’s a more fundamental stage to do first, especially for an author who’s new to publishing or is working outside their normal area of experience – I work with a lot of authors who are converting to fiction after a successful career in non-fiction or drama. What they most need is a developmental edit.

What’s a developmental edit?

Essentially, it’s an MOT of the content. If the book is a novel:

  • does the story work
  • is it right for the audience/genre
  • are there credibility problems
  • do the story craft and characterisation hold up?

For non-fiction:

  • does the book keep its promise to the reader
  • is the approach effective and suitable?
  • If it’s a how-to, is it complete, clear and authoritative? If it’s a creative type of non-fiction, has it fulfilled its potential?

You can probably see that a developmental report will give the author a lot of new work – more sections to write, sections to reorder. Perhaps there will be sections to remove! Therefore… you’re wasting your money if you have it proof-read before these fundamentals are checked because the text might change a lot.

But if you’ve had a thorough MOT for the content, you should be ready for copy-editing and proof-reading (here’s a post where I explain the production steps).

5 production steps for publishing brilliant books

Line editing

You might also have heard of the line edit, where the editor rewrites to sharpen your style. Most book authors don’t need a special stage for this – any problems can be flagged in the developmental and copy edit and the author can usually sort them out for themselves.

So ‘editing’ means a lot of things and step 1 is to establish which you need.

2 The second discussion is about the book’s audience.

Editors all have different strengths and expertises. They might specialise in particular fiction genres, or be good with poetic approaches. For non-fiction, they might be great at making technical material accessible without dumbing down. Or they might have wide experience navigating the tricky pitfalls of memoir. Check their fortes meet your needs.

3 What else do you hope your editor can help you with?

Do you want an editor who’s very market savvy, up to date with the features of the latest bestsellers? Or do you want an editor with a more nuanced, individual style who will help you discover your voice and identity? Or a bit of both? Raise all these points and see if you’re comfortable with the answers.

And other thoughts…

Lyda didn’t ask these questions, but I’m sure before long she would want to.

Why does editing take so long?

It depends on the kind of editing.

A copy edit and proof-read are a straightforward check for accuracy and consistency. They can usually be turned around quite fast, within a week or two, though much depends on how complex the work is and how careful the author has been with details. Yes, this is like asking how long a piece of string is! But it’s a relatively controllable piece of string, because the editor’s job is simple compared with….

A developmental edit. This usually takes much longer, obviously depending on the author’s proficiency with that kind of book. The issues may not be straightforward and – unlike copy editing and proof reading – the editor aims to help you solve them. They might suggest solutions, or they might discuss the issues to help you understand how a problem arose and what you might change to solve it.

This kind of feedback takes a lot of thought – rather like solving the problems in your own book, it doesn’t come instantly. When I edited for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, our standard quoted turnaround for a developmental edit was six weeks. That allowed for the required mulling time so the editor could give a wise and thorough answer.

How soon can I publish after editing?

Each edit might give you a lot to do!

The developmental edit might require a complete rebuild or just a light coat of paint. If the book is your first, or your first book of that type, don’t make any firm schedules until you’ve had the developmental report.

Once that’s done you’re on a more predictable path, so you can line up your other experts and make a schedule. Be prepared for the copy edit to present a few logistical headaches. In novels the most common problems are with fact-checking and the story timeline (you’ll find expert tips on avoiding this pain in the Nail Your Novel Workbook) .

Should I ask for an editing sample?

It depends! Generally, no. A sample won’t tell you much.

Is that surprising? Let me explain.

If I give you developmental comments on a test page, they’ll be meaningless. I won’t have enough of the manuscript to make a useful judgement, except on the style, which is just one element. What you really need to know is whether I’m in tune with your aims and expectations for the whole book. And whether you’ll understand my explanations. That’s why the preliminary chats are important.

Samples have more value in a line edit, where the editor’s individual style can drastically change the actual text. But how big a sample? Editors don’t mind a small test of a few paragraphs to show how their style mixes with yours, but you might need a bigger sample, for instance to check how the editor would shape a sensitive anecdote or a chapter. That’s a major undertaking for the editor. It can’t be dashed off quickly and you should expect to pay the editor’s hourly rate.

The short answer: I refer you to my first response. The real question you’re asking with a sample is ‘will we suit each other’? So get talking! Either with ears (Skype) or text (email, Messenger, whatever), check you’re on the same page.

And finally, Lyda asked

What’s your editing tip that will make a book better?

I can’t say this often enough: Read widely – both in your chosen genre and beyond. Notice what you enjoy and how the writer achieved it. I’ve written lots about reading like a writer – find it all here. I suppose I should also mention my own editing services, though that wasn’t why I wrote this post. So here’s the page, presented with a discreet cough.

Any more questions? Ask in the comments! I’m all ears.

Meanwhile, here’s what’s been going on at the Morris desk while I write, edit – and, of course, read.

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How should you credit your editor? Advice from a former publisher

Celeste_Holm_and_Oscar_from_Gentleman's_Agreement_trailerShould your editor be credited as a contributor to your book? What about your proof reader, copy editor? And where should you credit them?

Long ago, I ran an editorial department in a small publisher, so I thought it might help to give some guidelines.

Here’s my post about front matter, which explains all the fiddly stuff like title pages, half-titles, contents pages and so on. Today, I’ll concentrate on those editorial people you’d like to thank. And indeed, whether they would be better not mentioned at all.

Collections

If the book is a collection of curated material, eg short stories, poems or essays, it’s usual to credit the person who put it all together. Put it on the main title page, the cover and the spine – eg ‘edited by Roz Morris’. That would also go in the ‘main contributor’ section of the book’s official listing on KDP, Smashwords, CreateSpace, Ingram etc.

Non-fiction with many contributors

The rules are the same as for a collection. When I was a publisher, I had a number of titles that I conceptualised, outlined, found contributors for, edited and shaped. Individual authors were credited in their own sections, but I was the guiding force behind the work. So my name went on the cover, spine and title page.

Does it seem like I’m labouring this? That’s because I want to make the point about who is in charge of the final book.

Let’s talk about editors of novels, memoirs and single-author non-fiction.

Novels, memoirs and non-fiction – credit the editor or not?
No.

Some indies put the editor in the front credits along with the author, or as an additional contributor. Do not do this.

If you’d like to mention them as a significant influence or supporter, a better place is the dedication or acknowledgements, according to how strongly you feel about them, obviously. The same goes for your proof reader or copy editor. But … and it’s a very big but.

Like this: BUT.

Please ask them first. Many editors have a policy that they do not want to be mentioned.

Now that might seem harsh. And they would surely find the exposure helpful, wouldn’t they? A mention in the credits would surely do them nothing but good.

Well no; it’s not as simple as that. The developmental editor, copy editor and proof reader are merely giving guidance. The final text of the book is down to you, the author.

This especially holds for developmental editors, who might give extensive notes for reworking. Some books leave my desk needing considerable revising, and I might not see them again. That’s fine; that’s my role. But I shouldn’t be credited in the published book if I didn’t see the final version. I’ve had editing clients who have added reams of extra material they didn’t let me see – and then wanted to publish the book with my credit. This is an extreme example, and most writers wouldn’t do that, but that credit might harm my reputation.

Equally, I see a lot of authors whose editors are very happy to be namechecked, and their supportive partnership warms everyone’s creative cockles. The bottom line is this: please ask.

Do we need a group hug? Here’s a post about why your editor admires you.

If the editor is happy to be named, where’s the best place?

The dedication before the book begins
Remember the reader has limited interest in your cheerleaders at this stage. Also remember, they have a blipvert attention span for your sample, and you should be getting them ensnared in the guts of your book.

If you want to explain at greater length what everyone did, the place for that is in ….

A longer acknowledgements section at the back
As the reader takes leave of you and your words, they’ll be happy to let you list your influences and influential people.

And check how your various folks would like to be described. A developmental editor from the book’s formative years might be described as ‘guidance and support’. Someone who had more direct control over the final book might be named by role – for instance your copy editor and proof reader.

But don’t feel obliged to mention us. It’s not compulsory. The bulk of the work, by far, was yours. Not ours.

Thoughts, theories? Have you named editors in your published books, and how did you handle it? Editors, copy editors, proof readers – what do you think?

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