Think You’re Ready for an Editor? Think Again.

editing red pen

As any writer knows, in order to be published, one must first employ the expertise of an editor. As she reads over your manuscript, an editor will point out issues with grammar and syntax, highlight plot holes, change the organization of the piece to make it more fluid, or even give you an idea for that subplot that kept escaping you. If she does her job well, an editor will point out the changes you need to make so that your writing will shine. But what many writers fail to realize is that if you give your work to an editor too soon, before you’ve run your own rounds of self-editing, you may not get optimum results the first time around, and will have to spend more money on subsequent edits. For efficiency, an editor should get your very best work; it shouldn’t be riddled with typos or unfinished scenes or nonsequential events. You may still have a couple of issues throughout the manuscript that you can’t quite figure out how to handle, but the entire piece shouldn’t be like that. Implementing some self-editing tips will help you produce a presentable draft.

I’ve been a freelance editor for about four years now and the Content Editor for Dallas, TX based Djarabi Kitabs Publishing for the past six months. My clients have written children’s books, YA, adult fiction and non-fiction. And over and over I find that some of the common mistakes I catch could have easily been caught by the writer herself. So I’ve put together these self-editing tips for writers to help them produce their best draft, one worthy of being sent to an editor.

  1. Ask yourself: Is this your first or second draft? If so, then you can be sure that you are not ready to commission an editor or submit for publication. First and second drafts should be seen by no one but yourself. The first draft will likely be some prose mixed in with random ideas that need proper grammar and placement. The second draft will likely be much more cohesive, but still buzzing with mistakes. As a writer, I never submit the first or second draft of my project for publication or to a professional editor. (Actually, with my last project, I submitted the fifth draft.) I don’t want my editor to do the work that I can do myself; I want her to point out the things that I simply can’t see. There may be something not quite right with it; and while I know something isn’t right, I just can’t figure out how to fix it. That’ll be her job. But in order for her to do her job well, I need to give her my best work. Keep editing and rewriting until you get your piece as good as you can make it.
  2. Once your piece is as perfect as you can get it, leave the project for a while (a week or two for novel length manuscripts, a day or two for article length pieces), then come back to it with fresh eyes. Not only will you be more likely to catch those annoying typos that slipped past you before, you’re likely to be able to reword sentences or even paragraphs for clarity or aestheticism.
  3. Make sure your dialogue is authentic, but not boring. It is a tricky balance, but with some practice and research on writing dialogue, you can get it right. One of my own personal pet peeves is using too many dialogue tags. If there are only two people in your scene, readers won’t necessarily need dialogue tags to know who’s speaking; if they can understand without the tags, then leave them out.
  4. Read your project out loud. This is really a must. When you read it out loud, your ears will catch the mistakes your eyes missed. Not only that, but you’ll get a much better feel for the readability of the piece.
  5. Return to the ‘why’ that made you begin writing this piece in the first place, and analyze your piece with respect to it. Does each paragraph of your manuscript work to answer your why? If so, great. If not, then it’s time for a rewrite.
  6. For fiction, analyze your character arcs. If your character remains unchanged from chapter one to chapter two and on, then your readers will get bored. We read on to see the progress or regression of the character, and thus, the overall story. If there is no change, then your manuscript needs more work. You may be sick of it, so leave it for a week or so, then come back to it with the plan of strengthening your character arcs.

Once you’re happy with a third or subsequent draft of your piece, then you’re finally ready to commission an editor. Search around for an editor who both specializes in your genre and fits your budget. Some editors charge by the hour, others offer a per word rate. Ask to see a sample of their work. Once you’ve found someone you’re comfortable with, make sure you read your author/editor contract carefully. The agreement will tell you the cost, method, and means of payment (a pre-payment and final payment are the norm), the time frame for the conclusion of the editing, and the type of editing the author can expect (copy editing, substantive or developmental). I recently had a client who was under the impression that I would edit endless drafts until the piece was perfect. This is in no way common practice. I pointed out to her that the very first paragraph of our agreement stated that the agreed upon fee and time table were for the first draft only and did not include subsequent drafts. I felt bad that she had misunderstood—and disappointed because it meant she was left unsatisfied and I lost a long-term client—but my terms were written clearly in the agreement.

Always remember to self-edit before commissioning a professional editor. And if you’ve gone through the steps and are searching for an editor, I’m currently taking clients. I’d love to hear from you.



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