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December 16, 2016

The Importance of Being Edited

by Byddi Lee

So you’ve had a great idea for a book. You’ve spent hours, days, months, years, maybe even decades, crafting the plot, massaging paragraphs, tweaking sentences and word-smithing. You’ve plastered that smile on your face as you bore the critiques of your writing group. You rewrote again, and again, and again. You think your manuscript is as good as it is ever going to be. But you are not done yet. Now you need an editor.

Whether you intend to do the rounds of submitting to agents in the hopes that you can traditionally publish, or if you have decided to self-publish, it’s time to lay out some hard cash. This may even be the very first expenditure you’ve invested in your writing, classes and workshops aside. Shop around for an editor and compare prices. For editing my 100,000-word book, I’ve received quotes from $500 to $10,000. Yes, you saw that right, ten, zero, zero, zero. That quote was from an editor of an extremely well-known author and has amazing connections. I was surprised that he even agreed to look at my manuscript, more surprised that he “read” it in one afternoon and even more shocked at the fee he wanted. It was out of my budget by powers of ten, but I still wonder, “what if?”

However, don’t go with the cheapest quote either. Not unless you’ve heard amazing things about the editor. Make sure the low cost is as good a deal as it seems. Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Market 2016 has a handy chart that advises what one can expect to earn for a whole host of writing related services. For us, that translates into what a writer can expect to pay. Often the price is quoted in an amount per hour. If so, get a complete quote based on your entire project. My first book was quoted on a per page basis. Since I knew how many pages I had, I was able to hire the editor knowing what my total outlay was going to be.

Decide on your budget. A good editor will probably not cost less than $1000 for a full 100,000-word manuscript. It may sound like a huge outlay but it is money well spent, and in my opinion, a necessary expenditure. If you are going to spend any money on your writing, hire an editor. Even if writing is “only” your hobby, but you still want to publish, consider how much you’d pay for a ski trip or several rounds of golf. If you are seriously contemplating self-publishing, remember that you need a high-quality product. That requires investment. An editor is a must-have component of the publication process.

Begin looking for an editor by asking around in your writing circles. Other writers will be happy to recommend a good editor. When researching an editor have a look at their resume, have they been in the writing business a long time. Have they taught creative writing? Can they provide a list of authors they have worked with? Have they been published themselves? If so read their writing. You will want to develop a close working relationship with this person. Choose wisely.

My current editor, Kate Evans taught creative writing at San Jose State University, has written several books, including an amazing memoir, Call It Wonder, which was awarded the BWA Memoir of the Year 2015. I met her at a writer’s conference in San Jose, California and we hit it off straight away.

Some writers/editor might argue that you need two different types of editors; one for structure and development, and another for copyediting and “polish.” I like my editor to do both, and I’m confident that Kate Evans can. I believe that is a case-by-case decision, both on your part and the editor’s.

An editor should ask to read a sample of your manuscript, for example, the first chapter of your book. Pay attention to how long it takes them to read and return the edited copy: Too slow and you’ll be frustrated. Too fast and you’ll wonder if they really had an in-depth look at your writing. On your first read through of the returned sample, decide if you like how they edit? Do you get a sense that they understand the project, your goals? Examine how their comments make you feel: Excited, motivated, inspired? Or overwhelmed, frustrated, defeated? If it’s the latter set of emotions, don’t give up writing, search for a different editor. Try to find one from whom you can learn. I love having Kate Evans as my editor. She not only whips my work into shape, she teaches me how to be a better writer. I see my writing improving as I internalize and implement every editorial comment. Who knows? By the time we’re done with my trilogy, I may actually be the writer I want to be!

I prefer to have my editor go through the manuscript once looking at the bigger story: flow, character development, does the climax work, did I begin/end in the correct place. For book one of my trilogy, I’ve had to rewrite a whole new beginning and add an extra chapter on to the end. That’s fine. I received good advice and I decided to follow it.

When a freshly edited manuscript lands in my inbox, I feel like it’s hot and that by just reading it I will be scorched. So I try to detach myself and read with an objective eye without committing to making decisions.  After a cooling off period, I look at it again. The initial read has given my brain time to process the comments on its own terms without the ego taking part. More often than not, I agree with about 90% of what Kate Evans says.

When I send the rewritten manuscript back, the editor does another run through making more edits, and suggestions. I’ll then take that, rewrite and submit it for the final polish.

Other editors have different systems, but this is one that works really well for me. Labor intensive, yes, but the finished product is so much better for it. Editing lends a sense of being “finished” to a book, though as Oscar Wilde said, “Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned.”

Byddi Lee grew up in Armagh, Ireland, and moved to Belfast to study Biology at Queen’s University when she was 18. She made Belfast her home for twenty-one years, teaching science and writing for pleasure. In 2002 she took a sabbatical from teaching and traveled around the world for two years, writing blogs about her adventures as she went. She returned to Ireland in 2004 and resumed teaching. In 2008 she and her husband moved to San Jose, California where she made writing a full-time career. After the publication of her short story, Death of a Seannachai, she decided it was time to write, March to November, which was published in 2014 and received international acclaim. In 2016 she moved with her husband to Paris, France and is currently writing her second novel, a science fiction story set in a future where the earth’s icecaps have melted and Armagh is the capital of Ireland. Byddi also writes an entertaining blog called, “We didn’t come here for the grass.” Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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  1. Thank you so much, Byddi! I'm honored. And I'm especially thrilled that you feel your writing is improving as we work together. That's what it's all about.