Don’t Sweat It — Edit!

5 steps to finding the editor of your dreams.

“But, it’s so good…” Edit it. “I can’t afford to cut anything out…” Yes, you can. “And adding more would just” — damn it, Susan!

As wonderful of a masterpiece you have on your hands, it needs an edit. And not just one — multiple, by multiple people. There are 3–4 “types” of editing out there, but most professional, experienced editors tend to specialize and offer more than one in a service package. I used two editors for The Afterliving — Caroline and Amy — and I could not have been happier with the result. However, that almost wasn’t the case.

Step 1: Google

My first step to finding an editor was to google “professional book editors in New York.” Why New York? Because that’s where the literary scene is. You want film, you go to LA. You want books, you go to NY. The third non-paid ad that resulted from my Google search was That seemed pretty straightforward, so I clicked.

Step 2: ID Your Need

I’m a perfectionist, and because I knew I knew nothing about editing, I wanted my story put through the ringer. So I opted to start at the most comprehensive level/package, referred to as developmental or substantive editing. This type of content editor looks at your story as a whole to identify how well the plot flows, character development, what is missing, what is extra, etc. Basically, this editor will tell you whether or not your story makes enough sense for people to spend money on it.

Step 2: Seduce Your Editor

Not all writers want to work with all editors, and not all editors want to work with all writers. That’s where your pitch comes in. After I selected a number of editors I felt were qualified to handle my story (they have every type of editor listed by alphabetical order, along with their manuscript preference, so it takes some sifting), I sent each of my first choices a pitch: a summary/logline of what my story was about. Some responded within hours, days, or not at all — with a yes, no, or not accepting new manuscripts at this time.

TIMING IS IMPORTANT! Especially if you’re on a deadline or your editor is in high demand. You must be prepared to wait or move on, which is why it’s important to have multiple pitches floating around. And dammit, Susan, your manuscript better be finished and ready to distribute! I say this because it’s vital to the next step.

Step 3: No Sample? No, Sir (or Madam)!

Get a sample edit of the first few chapters. You have no idea how important this is. The last thing you want is A) an editor who hates your writing style and B) an editor who doesn’t know what they’re doing. And if an editor won’t give you a sample until money is exchanged, kindly tell them to edit their sense of business. Because in the end, this is a business transaction that should benefit both parties. You should also be wary of editors who are too good to be true. I had one return a virtually untouched sample of my work and say, “Your writing is perfect. You may just need a light copy edit here and there.” (INSERT Terrified EMOJI)

I’m human, Susan. I adore having my ego stroked. But I will NOT pay you several hundred dollars to fix a few hyphens and tell me I’m great. If I wanted that, I’d have had my mom edit my manuscript (after all, Mrs. Rivera was an English teacher). I’m an artist — I thrive on pain — so if you’re not going to rip through my weak chapters and force me to sew a better story back together, then we cannot continue seeing each other. Which brings me to another point…

You get what you pay for.

Google-search “how much should I pay a manuscript editor?” You’ll see a lot about hourly vs. flat vs. word count, but embedded in almost every explanation will be that wonderful little caveat: In the end, you get what you pay for. And that’s no lie. I’m not saying to go for the most expensive editor — God, no — but do not go with the cheapest. You’re just going to have to trust me on this.

Step 4: Set the Terms

Once you’re pleased with an editor, make sure you’re both on the same page before you proceed. What’s your deadline? What’s their availability? How will you communicate? Are they charging you hourly? How many times will they review your manuscript? Do they also do copyediting? If they’re professional, they’ll provide you with a contract that answers 99% of the questions I just mentioned, and you should be able to understand everything written in it. If you don’t, then ask for an explanation.

Don’t forget to do your research.

I have to admit Caroline was my second choice for a content editor. But I don’t regret it one bit — because I did my research. I was all set to go with another editor — had the contract signed, stamped, and ready for delivery. At the last minute, a friend asked if I had Googled the woman. We’ll call her Mary. I said, “No. Her professional references are all there on the website.” But still, I was urged to do a quick search. I stumbled upon Mary’s Facebook profile, and my jaw dropped…

Mary had the most xenophobic, religiously intolerant Facebook wall I had ever seen, and if you remember correctly, The Afterliving is deeply rooted in Christianity. Though editors are supposed to maintain a professional bias, I could not personally accept having her associated with my series, which conveys an underlying lesson in tolerance. So at the last minute, I called Mary, made up some excuse about finances, and tore up the signed check and contract.

Luckily, I had Caroline to turn to. And I’ve never looked back.

Step 5: Sign and Release

Now that you’ve chosen your content editor, sign on the dotted line and let your baby flee the nest that is your MacBook. But be prepared for it to come back bruised and bloodied with Microsoft Word track changes — and “WTF were you thinking?” written in the margins. But that doesn’t mean you suck. That just means your baby (and writing) is about to get better.

*And you can easily apply these steps to finding a copy editor!

Now, on to the cover design…

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