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  • Writer's pictureKate Armstrong

5 Tips to Help You Maximize the Benefits of Working with an Editor


Two people at a desk are collaborating with work on one of their laptops.

Working with a freelance editor is both a wise decision (in my admittedly biased opinion) and a significant investment. If you choose to enlist an editor to help strengthen your manuscript, it only makes sense to seek the best bang for your buck! Keep reading for tips that will help you maximize the benefits of working with an editor.


Choose the right editor for you.


If you’re thinking, “Awesome advice, Captain Obvious,” that’s fair. After all, who’s going to deliberately choose the wrong editor? But there are a couple of factors at play here. First, the right editor for Susie may not be the best editor for Bobby. Second, when I say the “right editor,” I don’t mean “sure, they seem fine” or “they’re cheap!” I mean someone you want to work with because they set you at ease.


Can pretty much any trained editor read your manuscript and offer suggestions? Absolutely. But finding a right-fit editor will help you feel supported throughout the process and will make it easier to stomach the feedback you receive. Hiring an editor you feel comfortable with also makes it significantly easier to discuss problems and find solutions. So, how do you vet editors to figure out who you’ll work well with?


  1. Speak to author friends you trust about who they work with.

  2. Scour editors’ websites and social media platforms to get a sense of their “vibe” and their services.

  3. Ask for sample edits from the editors you’re considering so you can see what type of recommendations they provide and how they communicate those recommendations.

  4. If hearing someone’s voice gives you a better sense of connection, or if you’d prefer to meet face to face, ask to meet with editors via Zoom or Google Meet. A quick ten-minute conversation to say hello and ask any questions you have about the process can give you a good sense of someone’s personality. Trust your gut.

  5. Ask for references. I’ve not had a client do this yet, but I’d be happy to provide them (after getting the go-ahead from my references, of course). It requires a lot of trust to hand off your manuscript to a near-stranger and ask them to critique it. It’s fair to check in with the people who’ve already taken that leap.


Don’t send a first draft to your editor.


As tempting as it may be to type “The End” and immediately send your manuscript to an editor, don’t. There are many steps between wrapping up your first draft and sending it to an editor (check out this post for specifics). Sending an unrevised draft to your editor prevents them from doing their best work, and it prevents you from getting the best bang for your buck.


Doing everything you can on your own before you send your manuscript to be edited allows your editor to do what they do best. For example, line editors work line-by-line through your manuscript to improve the clarity and flow of your writing. Yes, we’ll point out major issues with plot or characterization, and many of us can’t hold ourselves back from attending to obvious copyediting concerns as well, but what we’re most focused on is making the language you use to tell your story as effective and beautiful as it can be. To get the most out of the line edit you’re paying for, you don’t want us to spend all our time fixing things you could have caught on your own or with the help of beta readers or critique partners.


After completing the sample edit and providing you with a proposal, editors generally have an estimate of how many hours they’ll devote to your project. Send them a clean manuscript and they’ll be able to use every one of those hours to finesse and strengthen your already strong writing. Send them a rough or unedited manuscript and they’ll have to spend a good chunk of those hours doing things like fixing spelling mistakes and correcting wonky formatting, thus limiting the amount of time they have to make your good project great.


Be ready for feedback.


If you’re going to spend the time and money working with an editor, steel yourself to receive feedback. (Easier said than done, I realize!)


Be honest with yourself. If you want a stamp of approval—and only a stamp of approval—it doesn’t make sense to hire an editor. (Full disclosure: there are definitely times I send a blog post to an editor friend hoping they’ll say, “yep, this looks great.” Sometimes that works out, but it usually doesn’t.) An editor is going to give you what they think you want: constructive criticism on how to strengthen the weak parts of your writing. A good editor will do this kindly and thoughtfully without making you feel judged, but even kind, thoughtful feedback has the potential to make you bristle if you’re not prepared to consider it.          


If you’ve chosen a right-fit editor, you should find it easier to receive tough love about your manuscript. However, “easier” doesn’t mean “easy.” In reality, receiving feedback is hard! Going into it with a “this is for my own good” mindset goes a long way toward taking the edge off.


It might also be helpful to remember that, at the end of the day, you’re the boss. Whether you choose to accept or reject the changes your editor recommends is completely up to you. Assuming you chose your editor for their expertise, however, it makes sense to consider their advice even if you ultimately disagree with it.


If you’re going to hire an editor, commit to the process.


Editors are painfully aware that paying for our services doesn’t top the list of fun things to do for many authors, and most of us agonize about our pricing and try to ensure that our fees are fair to both ourselves and our clients. That said, good editors offer an immeasurable value to their clients, and that value is why many authors choose to work with an editor.


Having an objective set of knowledgeable eyes on your manuscript will help ensure that your published work is as clean, enjoyable, and professional as possible. If you choose to hire an editor for that or any other reason, commit. If you don’t want to spend the money or hear the feedback, don’t, but if you do decide to spend the money and hear the feedback, don’t do so begrudgingly.


Here’s a wild analogy (bear with me): paying for editing is like buying new tires. It’s expensive, but it’s so worth it, and I say this as someone who budgets carefully. Getting new tires tends to give me clarity in hindsight. That is, the nice smooth ride with new tires shows me just how bad it felt driving on the old ones. Good editing should make it crystal clear that no matter how much you loved your draft, it was a little rougher than you realized, and wow does that revised draft feel smooth. Choosing to pay for editing and then feeling vaguely put out by the whole process because you had to pay for it just sets the table for everyone involved to be dissatisfied.


(My talented friend Jaime Watson of Baker Street Revisions, who kindly edited this post for me—but did not, I would like to state for the record, take it easy on me and say, “this is great, just post it!”—pointed out that cars with soggy tires also get bad gas mileage. There’s definitely an analogy in there about the additional mileage you’ll get from a clean, well-edited manuscript. Ha!)


Communicate.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an author post on Facebook that they’re unhappy with the editing they’ve received, confused about what their editor has recommended, or unclear about what a particular type of editing should have included. In most cases, the author is asking for help from their Facebook community before they’ve talked to their editor. Please, talk to your editor! If you’re not happy, they want to know so they can make it right. If you’re confused, chances are they’d happily clarify. Other writers can certainly weigh in and help you get a sense for industry-wide standards, but only your particular editor can explain exactly what they were thinking as they edited your manuscript.


Communication is essential from the outset. Authors need to be absolutely clear on what to expect from the editing process so that everyone is on the same page. That Zoom call where you’re meeting a potential editor to see if they give you good vibes is also a great time to mention any specific concerns or requests you have and ask questions about exactly how the editor works. If you prefer written communication, those initial emails and author questionnaires are opportunities to ask clarifying questions and make your expectations and desires known.


One additional element of communication is the contract. A contract (or statement of work … or both) will ensure that everyone agrees to a start date, completion date, total fee, total word count, payment schedule, scope of work, and expected deliverables (i.e., what you can expect to get for what you’re paying). My contract—and many other editors’ contracts—also lays out specifics about intellectual property and what happens if clients aren’t satisfied with my editing.


I won’t argue that there aren’t bad actors or bristly editors who will balk at you questioning them, but that’s, as my kids would say, a “them problem.” Hopefully all your work up front to choose the right person minimizes this possibility. If not, you should still make your questions and concerns known. Part of your editor’s job is to communicate effectively so you feel they’ve upheld their end of the bargain as defined in the contract.


Professional editing is a significant investment in your writing and your career. It only makes sense to get the best return possible on that investment. These simple (simple, not easy!) recommendations should help you maximize the bang for your buck when you hire an editor. Good luck!

 

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