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How to Work with a Freelance Editor: An Indie Author’s Experience


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Posted 15 June 2017 - 01:46 PM

If I had traditionally published my books, the publishing house would have assigned an editor to me and the whole process would have been mapped out, complete with details and deadlines. But as an indie author, the editing ball was in my court—just like every other aspect of bringing my books into the world—and I had quite a learning curve! Here are some things I’ve learned along the way about finding a freelance editor, working together successfully, and navigating the multilayered, and sometimes intense, editorial process:


This guest post is by Tabitha Lord. Lord lives in Rhode Island, a few towns away from where she grew up. She is married, has four great kids, two spoiled cats, and a lovable black lab. She holds a degree in Classics from College of the Holy Cross and taught Latin for years at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School. She also worked in the admissions office there before turning her attention to full-time writing. You can visit her blog at tabithalordauthor.com where she hosts guest bloggers, and discusses some favorite topics including parenting and her writing journey. She released her first novel, Horizon, in December 2015. It won the Grand Prize for the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards in 2016.


1. Understand what kind of editing you need.

Good editing can make self-published books look indistinguishable from traditionally-published books. But if you’re new to the business, or working on your first project, you might not know that there are different types of editing, or understand what kind of editing your manuscript needs. When choosing an editor, determine what services that editor provides. This may mean hiring more than one person.

The first type of editing is developmental. Think of developmental edits as big picture edits. I’m too close to my manuscript when the last word finally claws its way out of my overtired brain and onto the paper. I can’t see plot holes, character issues, places where the writing drags, or where something doesn’t make sense. Skilled beta readers or a trusted critique partner can help with this, and so can an editor.

Once all the major issues have been solved and readers are responding to your story and characters in the way you’ve intended, it’s time to fine tune and hand over the manuscript for a copy edit. A copy editor will assure consistency throughout the manuscript. For example, I have a Jon in one of my books, and I would periodically spell his name John. A copyeditor will also catch overused words or phrases, correct grammar mistakes, and essentially polish the manuscript.

Finally, the manuscript will need a proofreader to give it a final look before publishing to find typos and small mistakes. I always proofread one last time after the proofreader, but that may just be my obsessive personality at work!

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2. Use referrals to narrow the search for an editor.

Now that you have a handle on the different steps involved in the editorial process, and you know what your manuscript needs, how do go about finding the right editor? There are a ton of freelance editors out there and it’s hard to sift through all the information.

I rave about my editor. I tell anyone who asks what a find she is and I regularly give out her contact information. When a writer loves their editor, you’ll know it; an enthusiastic referral is a great place to start looking. Ask people in your writing community and online writing groups who they recommend, and then reach out.

3. Interview a few different people.

Ask these folks to edit sample pages of your manuscript to see what kind of feedback they give and how they deliver that information. Find out how they like to communicate and ask about their process. Does their style resonate with yours? Do they enjoy your genre of writing? What does their turnaround time look like?

When you hire an editor, due diligence upfront is important. Your work together will be a business arrangement certainly, but it will also become a trusted relationship, and you’ll want to make sure this partnership is a good fit.

4. Recognize that editing is different from drafting, and honor your process around it.

You’ve found someone to work with and you’re eager to get started. So, what’s all the fuss you’ve heard about editing? Why do writers lament this part of the process, wring their hands in angst, scream with frustration, cry into a bottle of wine?

Okay, so maybe all writers don’t do these things! But for me, and for many of my writer friends, editing is an entirely different animal from creating a first draft. And when I say this, I’m referring mostly to the developmental editing phase. Drafting a novel fills me with creative energy. I lose myself in a world of my own creation and fall in love with my characters. Sure, I may get stuck in a plot tangle, but the overall writing experience is joyful.

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Editing is different. On the one hand, the bones of my book are in place. I know where I’ve started, where I’ve ended up, and I have a lot worthwhile material in the middle. I know I have a good story and there’s relief and satisfaction in this. On the other hand, once I’ve turned in the draft of my manuscript after months of intensive work, I don’t even want to think about touching it again. I’m exhausted, and the idea of tearing it apart and reassembling it is daunting.

So, I have to honor my process and emotions around this. Here are some tips for making it through a developmental edit with your love of writing still intact:

  • First, celebrate the accomplishment of finishing the first draft! Without a first draft, you have nothing. But now the story is out. Good for you! I admit to popping a bottle of champagne in celebration within moments of typing the last word. Then, I send the draft off to my editor. While she’s working on the first round of developmental edits, the manuscript gets shelved while I gain some distance. I’ll actively work on another project during this time period, basking in the glow of my achievement.
  • Recognize that it’s really hard to have your work critiqued, even when the edits are spot on. Although I know what’s coming, I’m never quite prepared for the emotional stress I feel when I receive a five-page editorial document filled with commentary, and my own manuscript covered in red ink. To be honest, I want to cry—maybe into that bottle of wine! I want to call my editor on the phone immediately and beg her to tell me she loves me and that I’m not a horrible writer. I’m sure she’s pleased when I refrain from doing this.
  • Take time to process the critique. Once I thoroughly read what she’s sent me, I put the manuscript aside again for a few days, maybe a week. I let the ideas percolate. I begin to see that what she’s suggesting resonates with what I already knew. I take it seriously when she reacts to something in a way I didn’t intend. I recognize my own bad writing habits.
  • Allow the creative process to reignite. Once I dive back in to writing, creative ideas for how to fix things start to flow, in the same way they did when I wrote the draft. I scribble notes everywhere, from the backs of napkins to the little pad I keep by my bed for middle of the night inspiration. I form a plan of attack. Then I call my editor. We talk. We even laugh. And I get to work.
  • Recognize editing can take more than one go around. My editor and I will go back and forth, sometimes with a round of beta readers working on it in between, until we are both satisfied that this book is ready content-wise. Most of the work I do with my editor is developmental in nature, but she is very meticulous, so by the time the manuscript goes to the copy editor, it’s quite clean. We still both believe that an extra set of eyes is important though, because at this point, we’ve both looked at it so many times we know we’ll have missed something.

My editor has become a trusted partner in my publishing journey. I know if something is bothering her, I need to pay attention. Likewise, I know that when she says my book is ready, it’s ready. She gives me confidence to move forward when it’s time, but also honesty when my work isn’t quite polished yet, and as an indie author, that’s invaluable.

Editing is daunting, there’s no question. But understanding what the process entails, how you personally need to deal with it, and finding a trusted professional to work with makes all the difference.

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