So you want to indie publish! But how do you make sure that your work is professional and ready for the world to read? You hire an editor! Don’t know the first thing about hiring an editor? Read on, friend!
When I first started down this authorship journey, I had absolutely no idea how to go about hiring an editor, let alone actually working with them to make my work the very best it could be! But if you’re invested in your writing, then this is absolutely a step you don’t want to skip! Now, as Chaos Looming is due to hit shelves in just over two weeks (🙀), I’d love to share with you all some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way!
1) Do Your Research
Let’s be honest, the internet is filled with any number of rabbit holes to wander down on the road to indie publishing. This is definitely true with the editor search! Personally, I felt it was very important to select an editor who had experience in the genre I was writing (fantasy), who was willing to draw up and stick to a contract, and who could work within a specific timeline. I also really wanted to be able to read reviews and receive sample edits to find a best fit. For me, Reedsy, satisfied all of these requirements! They have a curated marketplace of editors, cover designers, translators, and more, all specifically aimed at indie publishers.
On Reedsy, I was able to narrow my search by genre, type of edit (more on that below!), and language, and send out a brief to editors who met those specifications. The editors in turn provided individual quotes and when we came to an agreement, Reedsy drew up a contract for both parties to sign. I made all payments through the site, and while they charge a fee for using their services, it was worth it for me to have my project and investment legally protected and with a built in mediator should any disagreements arise.
Regardless of how you find an editor, I would very much recommend going through a third party to ensure legal protections for all involved and to make sure everyone’s expectations (more on that below!) are being met.
2) Self-Edit First
This may seem obvious to most, but I think it’s worth saying directly that it is absolutely essential that you do a (at least one) round of editing before sending your manuscript off to a professional editor. As you’ll see below, hiring an editor is NOT cheap. These are professionals and have to earn a living just like everyone else. So it’s definitely something to factor into your budget early on. And while I believe that professional editing is absolutely essential, it’s also undeniable that nobody will be as invested in your book as you.
So to make the most of your collaboration with an editor, it’s critical that you’ve worked out the major kinks yourself, which means a story edit! Now, first tip is: do NOT do this immediately after you’ve finished the first draft. I’m serious. Give yourself a couple weeks to revel in the fact that you just wrote a book! Seriously, such a good feeling. That time away will also give you new perspective and fresh eyes to look back on the work you just completed and be utterly ruthless. I’m not kidding. Kill your darlings and edit mercilessly, and ask yourself if every single scene is absolutely essential to the story you’re telling. If not? Cut it. Most editors charge by the word, so don’t waste a bunch of money editing scenes that aren’t going to make the final cut anyway.
I’m telling you, in my first story edit, I literally cut 20,000 words from a 100,000 word manuscript. Yep, 1/5 of my hard won manuscript would not see the light of day, at least not in this book. But that doesn’t mean throw these scenes away! As for me, there may or may not be a prequel novella coming soon that breathes new life into some of these very scenes…but more on that later.
3) Set Expectations
In any good collaboration, it’s incredibly important to discuss expectations from the outset to ensure that everyone leaves happy and eager to repeat the experience! But that means being upfront about what type of editor you’re hiring, how much you’re willing to pay, and when you need the work done. So what types of edits are there? We’ll look at the main ones below:
This is a big-picture structural edit of your entire manuscript. It looks at things like plot arc and character development over the course of a story. This editor can help you assess scene-by-scene to make sure your story is tight, building in tension, and resolving satisfactorily. This is often the most expensive type of edit to get because it’s very thorough and requires thinking critically about your story as a whole.
This is an edit that provides a line-by-level assessment, focusing on the prose itself and working to improve readability and expression while supporting the author’s overall intent. Many copywriters will also point out glaring mechanical mistakes in terms of spelling and grammar.
This is the final step, in which the editor goes over the entire manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, searching for spelling and grammatical mistakes to ensure that the final proof copy is perfect. Often indie authors especially will have an ARC or Street Team who volunteer for this job in exchange for early free copies of the author’s next book.
Curious how much all of this costs? Medium has a great article analyzing Reedsy costs for different types of edits that I found really helpful for budgeting. Indie publishing is definitely an investment, but ultimately it’s an investment in YOU and YOUR writing!
4) Make a Style Guide
This is something I didn’t do that I absolutely wish that I had. Copyeditors especially really like to have a list of all the characters, places, and any weird words that may or may not be English (what can I say, I write fantasy ) to ensure that they’re editing consistently throughout the manuscript. This is especially important if you use more than one editor, and even more so if you’re writing a series of books. Consistency is key. And I’m telling you, even if you don’t notice, your die-hard fans absolutely will.
Many writers use a version of their story bible for this, as it also helps keep track of those random character details that you’re convinced in book one you could never forget, but by book five couldn’t remember for the life of you (hair color, eye color, the name of so-and-so’s horse, the occupation of XYZ’s father, etc.). Other things to consider adding include technical details. What manual do you prefer (APA, Chicago, etc.)? Do you spell out numbers to one-hundred? How many spaces between sentences? Do you include spaces between ellipses?
You’d think there would be a uniform standard for editing novels, but you’d be surprised how much variety exists. It’s nice because it gives you some flexibility, but you risk throwing off your reader or appearing unprofessional if you’re not consistent.
5) Take Ownership
This one’s a biggie. The biggest advantage of pursuing the indie publishing route is that you retain total creative control over your work. There’s no large publishing firm telling you what will and won’t sell and what detail you should or shouldn’t include. This is your work, so own it! This is true in all aspects of indie publishing, but especially so when working with editors.
At the end of the day, these are hard-working professionals that you have hired. They aren’t doing you some favor by deigning to review your work. You are hiring them to do a job, which sometimes means holding them accountable. Especially if it’s an editor you’ve never worked with before, I would highly recommend checking in regularly to see how they’re progressing and being upfront if they’re not living up to the contract you both agreed to at the outset of the collaboration. This goes both ways, of course, and you should of course behave respectfully and professionally at all times, even if this will be your first and last collaboration.
Finally, taking ownership means recognizing that at the end of the day, an editor is providing their professional opinion, but it is up to you to decide if you’d like to take it. This is your story, so tell it the way that you think it should be told.
What about you? What have been your experiences (positive and negative) working with editors? Do you have any tips to share with those of us just starting out? Leave a comment below!