Before You Pay for an Editor
You have typed the final line. You know it isn't perfect, so you want to hire an editor. WAIT! I know you want to get your masterpiece out in the world as fast as possible so fans can start flocking your way, but to really get your money's worth out of an editor, you should go through the self-editing process first. If you've been writing and researching the publishing world for a while, you probably know all this. For anyone new to writing or just new to editing or publishing, you'll want to look through the process described below. You shouldn't pay an editor to resolve issues you can figure out for yourself. These steps are intended to help you solve what you can before you pay a professional, so you can really get your money's worth.
If you already know some things you want to fix, go ahead and tackle those, but if you feel uncertain or overwhelmed, then take a week or two (or three) away from your book. The time is proportionate to your needs. The goal with this step is to forget a little and to build some emotional distance. You know how you feel looking back on things you wrote as a child? That's the value of emotional distance. You can be more objective and honest with yourself. Start a new project, research revision methods, or just read some good books while you take time away from your manuscript. Reading in your manuscript's genre during this time is a great idea.
Knowing your drafting style is crucial to getting this process right. If you drafted this book by the seat of your pants, no outline, just your headlights showing the next patch of the road, then you might want to approach revisions differently than someone who carefully outlined and plotted every step ahead of time.
If you are in the first category (like me), my personal strategy is to create an outline of sorts by writing one sentence that describes what happens in each scene. Then I look at them and see if there are any scenes where basically nothing happens or where nothing that feeds the plot happens. Those are the first to go or get revised. Then read through it again and note anything you don't like or wish was better. Make changes and then go again. If you are in the second category, your first draft probably hangs together a lot better. On your read-through, make notes about what you like and what you don't and then revise. For at least the first pass, I recommend that you don't revise as you go but simply take notes on the side. You're trying to get the big picture of the book here and that is much easier done if you read at a reader's pace.
Read critically. Revise ruthlessly. Try it on paper, on screen, and out loud. The different modes of input will help your brain look at it as new information. Repeat the cycle a few times, but don't get stuck here. There is no perfection. I would say five rounds for most books is pushing it. Three full drafts is likely sufficient for most, but if you know there's something you want to improve and you know how to improve it, go ahead and do another draft.
Yes, do this now. At the very least run a spelling and grammar check where you truly look at what the automated checker is flagging. You'll be glad you did when you see the next step.
This can be the scariest step for many writers because you're actually going to let other people read your book now. I'll do a later post on how to find beta readers and include more specifics on what to ask then, but for now, simply put, this is about getting reader feedback. Find 3-5 people who fit your target audience (think genre and age group) or who are writers themselves. You want to know what they liked, what they didn't, what confused them, what bored them, what excited them, etc. You want as much information as you can get about their experience as a reader of your masterpiece.
Do not touch your manuscript while they are reading it. You run the risk of negating their feedback if you go back in yourself. This is another time for you to get emotional distance and forget the story a little. After you gather all the feedback from your betas, don't just start applying it as you get it. Analyze it first. Look at all the feedback and determine which negative experiences your beta readers shared. Those are the things you want to revise. Feel free to disregard anything that doesn't ring true to you, but if more than one of your readers mentions it, make sure you are being honest with yourself.
This is another cycle that can be repeated, but again, don't go crazy. You might want to mix in new beta readers with each cycle, but also repeat some so they can tell you if you've improved on the original concerns.
Once more, at the very least, run that spelling/grammar checker. You worked hard for your money and when you hire an editor for your book, you are investing your money in something you care about. You want to maximize what you get out of your editor's time. You might be hiring an editor for proofreading or copyediting and they will catch typos and fragments and all the other remnants of your dedicated revisions. However, it is nearly impossible for them to catch everything. The more that's already taken care of, the better the odds your final version from the editor will be perfection. If you're paying for a developmental edit and your editor has to sift through typos, fragments, and misspellings, the developmental edit won't be as valuable as it could have been with clean copy.
Make your formatting consistent. Did you indent using the space bar or the tab key or an automatic indent? Make sure it is the same throughout the document. Remove double spaces between words or sentences. The double space after a sentence is a holdover from typewriter days and it isn't necessary anymore because word-processing programs actually make the space between sentences a little bigger than that between words. Also, it is easy to accidentally hit the space bar twice or leave extra spaces behind as you revise. Your proofreader or copyeditor will likely remove them all if you don't, but doing a simple find and replace will resolve most double spaces and free up your editor's attention for other details. Maybe not all editors care about this one, but I'm begging you, double-space the entire document and choose a standard, consistent font (unless you're doing something experimental and the book depends on that formatting quirk). This makes it easier to read and is visually more welcoming than single-spaced, complex formatting.
If you self-edited and revised with Track Changes on or using the Comments function, make sure the copy you send to your editor is a fresh, clean document so their edits don't get lost in your old ones, but feel free to keep any specific questions you want the editor to tackle.
Now send it my way!
These are the things I do for my own writing, and when writers do them, their experiences with me are much more valuable. Maybe it's the Midwestern in me, but I say, "Never pay for something you can do yourself." A professional editor is a crucial part of any publishing team, but you don't want them telling you what you already know or fixing things you already know how to fix. Make us work for you by doing what you can first!