Ten Things To Do Before You Hire a Freelance Editor for Your Novel
1. Start your novel. This is the hardest part.
2. Finish your novel. This is also the hardest part.
3. Get a critique group – a crucial step. Things to look for in a group: Some writers in it aren’t as good as you are, in your opinion (helping others is a great way to learn). Some writers in it are much better than you are, in your opinion. People in it are dedicated to saying, with truth but with tact, four things: what they liked, why they liked it, what they didn’t like, why they didn’t like it. Always remember: you don’t have to take another’s opinion for gospel – YOU are the one who is writing the book and making the decisions.
Critique groups will help answer burning questions like: is my worldbuilding functional, my premise not too crazed, my magical or technological systems plausible? Are my characters likable, believable, clearly motivated, active in the plotline and not terminally stupid? Are my descriptions overwhelming or underdone, my logistics more or less correct, my timeline sensible? Are my expositions long infodumps or carefully scattered crumbs that leave too many questions hanging, is my dialogue tagging annoying or overly fancy? Have I just got way too many words in this thing?
4. Revise your novel. Make it as good as you can between your own abilities and the feedback from your critique group. Stop when you’re chopping down to finer and finer points – no novel is ever perfectly finished.
5. Spray your novel with Adverbicide. Go through a global search for adverbs and remove as many of them as possible. Also spray your novel with Repeat-B-Gon – find those words and phrases that you love too much and prune them waaaay back. Then go over it with a light coat of Adjectisheen, taking out unnecessary adjectives. Finally, polish with a soft rag soaked in Readaloud, bearing down on dialogue and thought processes that might not sound natural.
6. Ask yourself what path to publication you are looking for.
Professional, big-house publication? You’d better make your promotion package – synopsis, query letter, etcetera – real winners, but professional editing is part of what you get from the publisher. You will need a thick skin for lots and lots and LOTS of rejections, none of which should be taken personally, but you probably don’t need a freelance editor.
Book packaging? Don’t fall for scams where you pay a great deal to have your book ‘fixed’ (it’s not going to reproduce out of control, like bunnies) or packaged under the assumption that you’ll make bazillions off a publisher once it’s been through the process. That’s not the same as hiring a freelance editor – it’s what the easily scammed and/or desperate do instead. Be careful… educate yourself. I highly recommend the websites of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Katherine Rusch for these matters.
Self publication through Lightning Source, or other physical book publishers where you do all the marketing and selling yourself? Indie publication through Kindle, Nook or other ereader mass marketing distributors? Here’s where you need some things to make your book stand out. You need a good story and a good book, first off. You need an excellent, professional conversion job into the format or formats you’re publishing in. Then you need a great cover and marketing text (such as the back blurb, excerpt, etc). And you need editing. You’re the writer – you’ve got the great story part covered. If you take the time and effort and software purchase to learn it, you can learn to do good conversion jobs and covers yourself – if you take the time. It may be better to hire someone for that.
As for editing… you can’t do that for yourself. It takes a loving, enthusiastic, but not directly involved eye. It takes someone who can look at your work objectively and fit it into a long experience of reading, critiquing, studying and editing works of fiction, and thus see where it has issues that make it hard to understand, hard to enjoy, hard to appreciate. A freelance editor can help you change your work from yet another unprofessional story that had great, unrealized potential… to something the reader can’t put down.
Notice I say ‘can help you change’ it. One of my strongest beliefs, as an editor, is that you are the one who gets to make the decisions. I can make suggestions, but you are the ultimate boss of your book.
7. If you decide you need a freelance editor, start looking for one that fits your needs. You need someone who likes and appreciates your fiction, who is familiar with your genre, who has a personality you genuinely appreciate. If you’re the type who works best with a dictatorial, here’s-your-deadline person, find someone like that; if you work better with someone who’s tactful but snarky, will give you the good news AND the bad news with equal truthfulness, find someone like that. This could be a long-term relationship, and your money is involved. Find someone you like and are willing to trust.
8. Consider how much to pay. Look around the market, find out how much reputable editors are charging, decide how much you can afford, and especially consider what you’re investing in. Generally, with self or indie publishing, it’s not your first novel that will make the money – a few in the industry definitely NOT being the usual run of luck – but it’s a steady process of increase. The second novel makes people buy more copies of the first; the third novel makes people buy more copies of the second AND the first; etcetera. Again, look into Dean Smith and Kristine Rusch’s websites – learn at their feet, and you can make this work for you. But back to how much to pay – that’s an individual decision, but make sure you’re not making it based on unrealistic dreams of how much your novel will return, especially right away.
9. Get a sample edit. I believe most freelance editors are, or should be, willing to do this. I personally am happy to take on a chapter, or a certain percentage of words, or a different short piece, or whatever, to make sure that editor and author can understand one another and work well together. I’m also happy to tell an author up front if I feel they don’t need me – whether because they’re better than I know how to help, or because they are not yet at a level in their writing where it would make sense to put money in and they need more work on their fiction. I find that most authors throw in a few test typos to make sure I’m paying attention, which is (to me – no guarantees for other editors!) more funny than annoying. It’s not the typos, after all, that are the important part…
10. Gather your courage and go for it! Whether your novel ends up making a million dollars in the long run or not, the process of committing to it to the extent of putting money in, the process of working on the revisions, getting a professional opinion – all these things will improve your fiction. They will improve the individual novel, and they will improve your writing as a whole. If the editing process doesn’t bring about revelations, large or small, your editor may be doing it wrong – so thicken your skin, open your mind, sleep on your comebacks, and realize what a win win situation you’ve put yourself into!