We all get confused as to what an editor does and doesn’t do but Michelle Barker has some truths that may surprise you. She’ll answer questions about what an Editor does and doesn’t do, what’s a fair price, and things to watch for.
Michelle was the first professional I ever allowed to look at my work. She took my manuscript (that I felt was finished and polished) and gave me an education on editing.
I was making what she calls rookie mistakes.
It wasn’t easy to hear but I took all of her advice and rewrote the manuscript–and then rewrote again and again. With every rewrite it got better and better. That book is now with my agent seeking a publisher.
So get ready to learn a few lessons as Michelle Barker, Editor tells you the truth about editing and how important it is to your work. Remember too that Michelle is also a writer so knows the hard work and dedication that goes in to writing. See part one of Michelle’s interview here: My Twisted Writer Brain… Introducing Award-Winning Canadian Author Michelle Barker: Part One.
Here are her words of wisdom….Oh, and just so you know–all Michelle’s contact information is at the end of the blog.
Wielding the Red Pen
Besides being a writer, I work as a senior editor at The Darling Axe, a manuscript assessment and development service. Click here for more info: https://darlingaxe.com
I’ve sat on both sides of the desk, so I know how it feels to hand over my hard-earned words to an editor, only to have them returned to me covered in red pen.
Being edited is a process that is fraught with high emotion. A writer may say they want to improve their skills and bring their manuscript to the next level. But when the feedback comes in, they’re often appalled to discover all the things that aren’t working. No one wants to be sent back to the drawing board to rewrite their whole book. But sadly, that is often what’s required. It’s much like starting a renovation job on your house. You go in intending to change the flooring. You end up ripping out the cupboards, the lighting, the windows, a couple of walls, and oh yeah, now the paint’s wrong too.
If it hurts so much, why do it?
No one gets it right the first time, not even Margaret Atwood or Stephen King. If you never go through the editing process in some form, there may not be much publishing in your future.
But it’s not just that. Here’s the dirty secret about writing: revision is the thing. Revision is IT. Writing a first draft is exhilarating—but then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and begin the real work. Revision is where you hone your existing skills and learn new ones.
In my opinion, being edited is one of the best ways to become a better writer.
Every time my work is edited, I come away having learned something.
That is what I seek to provide as an editor.
I don’t want to simply tell someone why I think their novel isn’t working. I want to take the opportunity to teach them something about craft, so that the editing process becomes a one-on-one writing workshop.
Usually by the time you hand your manuscript over to an editor, you’re thoroughly fed up with it and never want to see it again.
My aim as an editor is to inject new life into the process.
Yes, I will give you detailed feedback about what I think isn’t working, but I hope within that feedback there is an enthusiasm that is contagious and that makes you believe you have what it takes to improve it.
What editors do… and what we don’t do
While editors might make suggestions, we won’t tell you what to write, and we certainly won’t write it for you. That is your job—or that of a ghost-writer, if you want to shell out the big bucks.
Do we fix all the mistakes?
To a certain extent, yes—in a line edit. But that should only happen after the writer has gone through at least one developmental edit to make sure they’ve addressed all the big-picture issues in the manuscript.
A line edit is a time-consuming and costly process because, at that stage, we’re going through the manuscript word by word looking at all the little things—grammar, punctuation, word choice, voice, flow—while still keeping an eye on the overall structure and characterization to make sure everything is working together.
The big-picture issues—narrative structure, point of view, characterization, plot—no, we won’t fix those. We will flag them and explain what we think the issues are, and we’ll probably have some suggestions for how to fix them. But ultimately that work is in your hands.
An editor might be willing to help you with your query letter and synopsis.
We will not, however, send these out on your behalf. That is your job—or that of a literary
Hiring an editor
I strongly recommend shopping around when looking for an editor. Most will offer a free sample. This is a way for you to see their work firsthand and make sure you’re investing your money in someone whose vision meshes with your own.
Do not expect them to tell you your work is perfect.
Run, don’t walk, away from anyone who tells you that.
On the other hand, a good editor should know how to strike a balance between kindness and honesty. And clarity. If they can’t explain why something isn’t working, that won’t help you.
How much should you pay an editor?
At least some of that depends on the quality of the work you’re handing them. The sample edit is not just for the client’s benefit. It allows us editors a glimpse at what we’re getting ourselves into and how much we should charge.
If your manuscript is a mess, you’ll pay more.
Rates depend on the type of editing job.
A line edit, which is more time-consuming, will cost more than a developmental edit. Most editors price out jobs on a per-word basis, but you should expect to pay an editor the equivalent of at least $60CAD/hour—often more.
It’s not cheap, but as with most things, you get what you pay for.
Expect to pay half the amount of the invoice up front and the other half once the job is done. Usually, that first payment is what secures your place in an editor’s schedule.
And don’t skimp out. I can’t count the number of clients I’ve had who wanted to skip the developmental stage because they’d already used beta readers, and go straight to a line edit, figuring this was a good way to save money. Even published authors start with a developmental edit when their manuscript goes to the publisher. You simply cannot skip this step.
Do not expect an editor to have an empty schedule and be able to take you on at a moment’s notice. Any editor who is in demand will be fully booked months in advance. Make your arrangements early to avoid disappointment.
I like to give my clients a time-frame of how long I think their manuscript will take me. Sometimes I’m wrong—either because life has intervened, or because the short sample I read was not a fair indication of the actual amount of work ahead of me. Try to be understanding with your editors. We are human. Many of us are also writers, and teachers, and parents. We’re juggling—just like you.
Do you really need an editor?
Beta readers, high school English teachers, and relatives can all be valuable readers, but they usually do not bring an editor’s expertise to the table.
I think most writers, deep down, know that.
But there is a part of us that doesn’t want to hear our manuscript needs major revision. There is a part that figures we can get away with less because surely it will be good enough.
Here’s the hard truth: good enough is not good enough in the world of writing, especially if you have your eye on traditional publishing. Most manuscripts never make it off the slush pile for a reason.
Even if your intention is to self-publish, do yourself and your readers a favour. Hire an editor.
There are a lot of bad books on the market already. You don’t want yours to be one of them.
Do the work necessary to make your manuscript shine, so you can be proud of it once it’s out in the world.
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