Whether you’re just starting to write a novel or you’re on your fifth revision, at some point you’ll wonder if you need another pair of eyes to review your work. Perhaps you are stuck with a dead-end plot or you’ve been rejected by numerous editors or agents who weren’t impressed with your manuscript.
Maybe you’re on your tenth attempt at rewriting your current work-in-progress, and the story still isn’t quite coming together the way you imagined. Then it may be time call in an editorial expert to review your work. Having someone else review it and give you feedback might give you insights about where the story has gone astray.
According to writer and editor Susan De Freitas during an online workshop “Maybe It’s Not Your Plot,” there are eight telltale signs that it may be time to consult with a professional editor.
- Your novel is overwritten. You’ve written way more words that are required for your genre. For example, you’ve written 140,000 words for a story that should only be 80,000. As much as you love your own story, it’s filled with too many unnecessary scenes that don’t push the plot forward.
- Too many drafts or versions of the same story. Most novels typically go through an average of five to seven drafts, but you’re working on the tenth and the story still does not seem finished.
- You got lost in the world building. You’ve immersed yourself in a whole new world you created for your characters that you forgot about the plot and the characters.
- There’s no clear ending to the story. Every time you think of an appropriate ending, you draw a blank.
- The first draft is complete, but you’re not sure how to begin revising it.
- You didn’t plot out your story in advance so you “pantsed” your way through the first draft. Now you have to figure out how to structure what you’ve written into a cohesive plot, but you don’t know how or where to start.
- You received a lukewarm response from your beta readers or critique partners, but you’re still not sure what’s wrong with the story.
- You’ve submitted it to agents and editors who have expressed little interest in publishing your story.
Once you realize that you need an editor, you’re not sure where to find a good editor. It helps to understand the four different types of editing that you might need.
- Developmental editing (sometimes called story editing) which looks at the overall structure of your story.
- Line editing looks at how the story is presented, such as language, pacing and how chapters end or begin.
- Copy editing looks at spelling and grammar as well as the story’s timeline.
- Critique/assessment reviews the manuscript and provides feedback about the story arc. It’s not as intensive as a full developmental edit, which can cost more money.
To find an editor for your work-in-progress, begin by asking for referrals. If you belong to a writer’s group or take writing classes, ask fellow writers, classmates and teachers for referrals. You can also search member organizations like the Editorial Freelancers Association to find someone who specializes in your genre. You can try searching the acknowledgment page in your favorite novels where authors usually thank their editorial team, then do a search for that editor’s background and previous work. Most editors have their own website and will describe at length the services they offer and pricing. If none of these ideas work, there’s always Google.
Before hiring an editor
There are several factors to consider when hiring an editor, said romance editor Jessica Snyder during her online workshop “How to Find Your Perfect Editor.” First, consider how much experience they have in your genre. If you’re writing a science fiction novel, your best bet is to hire someone who has edited other sci-fi novels. Someone who typically edits literary novels probably won’t be the best fit.
Ask for a sample edit. Provide the editor with a chapter and see how they review your work. What kind of suggestions do they offer? Are they positive and provide encouragement? Or are they too negative? Consider their communication style to see if it meshes well with your own.
Also ask about the editor’s process. How do they communicate criticism? What kind of timeline do they work with? Most editors require several weeks to review your novel or they may be backlogged with other projects and may not get to your manuscript right away. Pack your patience.
Cost is also a big consideration for many writers, especially those who want to self-publish. Know your budget ahead of time. Does the editor offer payment plans? How do they handle things like refunds and disputes?
If you’re on a tight budget, Snyder said it might be best to opt for a simple story assessment and copy editing pass by two different editors to keep costs down.
After reviewing the editor’s comments
Take a deep breath before reading through your edited manuscript. Feedback can often bring about strong emotional responses. You don’t want to respond to the editor with snarky comments or knee-jerk reactions. Remember, this is only one person’s assessment of your work.
Editors are guides in your writing process. Their suggestions are meant to help you create a better, stronger story structure and improve your ability to meet readers’ expectations in your chosen genre.
Also remember that editors aren’t perfect. Their edits are only suggestions. You don’t have to accept all of them if you feel strongly about something. But do keep an open mind or be willing to change your mind. Most suggestions editors make do make sense in the overall scheme of the story. If an editing comment is unclear, ask for clarification.
Most of all, remember that not all feedback is correct or appropriate. You know your story best, so use your best judgment about what edits will work with your story. I’ve had instructors and fellow writers offer feedback to my work which didn’t fit the story that I imagined. In those situations, I didn’t follow their suggestions because I didn’t feel they understood my story. But I always politely thanked them for their comments. Always respond to critiques from editors with compassion and kindness. The next time you find yourself stuck with an overwritten novel or one that garnered a lukewarm response from readers, a professional editor can steer you on the right track toward publication.