Tuesday, September 10, 2013

So You Want to Write a Book...Finding a Professional Editor

#8: How to Find Good Beta Readers

Last time, we talked about beta readers--how to find them, what they're good for, and more.
I like using beta readers a lot because I have some professional editing experience. If you don't feel comfortable editing your own work, or just simply want a professional to do the job for you, then it's perfectly fine to contract with an independent editor to polish up your work. Nothing really wrong with that; I can certainly see the benefit to outsourcing as much of this stuff as possible if you have the cash.

Unfortunately, like every other aspect of the indie publishing business, there are all manner of professional "editors" out there who are simply looking to part unsuspecting authors from their money.

So how do you tell if an editor is legit? Here are a few tips.

-Know what kind of editing you want ahead of time

This is "pre-basic," but there's a lot of confusion about all of the different types of editors available. Fortunately, the peerless Kris Rusch has taken the time to identify all of the different kinds of editors out there. I would suggest that you likely only need a copy editor--beta readers can usually serve the functions of the others that she lists, and even the most well-meaning editor can mess up your work. If you have the cash, though, feel free to go nuts hiring one of each that she lists.

-Ask for previous editing experience

This may seem super-simple, but you'd be surprised at how easy it is for some folks to try to play the "snob card," as in "you don't know who I am? For shame!", trying to guilt you into forking over cash unquestioned all the while. Make sure that the person in question has some previous editing experience, preferably with a publisher or other indies whose books you can check out.

-Get a sample

All legit editors will offer to edit a sample of your work for free, usually under ten pages or so. A lot of times, the editor will also use this as an opportunity to evaluate your work and calculate how long this project will take, how much work it will be, and (most importantly) what price they should quote. Don't be surprised if the sample comes back with a lot of red and their quoted price is closer to the higher end of their range. Speaking of price...

-Check rates and ensure you have a written price quote post-sample

Reputable editors should either post their rates on their website (usually as $0.0X/word or $X/double-spaced page) or give them to you upon inquiry. If they can't at least provide a range, that's a red flag. Once the editor has done a sample of your work and knows what all will be involved, she should be willing to give you a firm quote in writing.

-Maintain perspective when you get the quote

Editing is hard work--a lot harder than a lot of people realize. It can take an editor 10-20 hours to get through an entire manuscript, depending on how long the manuscript is, and how much work she needs to do on it. Sometimes, editors can only take on 2 manuscripts per week, especially if they're in the "structural editing" business, so keep that in mind; you get what you pay for.

-Ways to save money

If the sticker shock gets the better of you and you decide you just need a copy editor, there are a bunch of alternative options. Local newspapers and magazines likely have proofreaders you can employ for rates lower than their New York-based counterparts. If you have a beta reader who is more adept at picking out typos, it may be cost-effective to get that person a reasonable gift to copy-edit your book. There's also always the option to swap manuscripts with another writer, which can help you network within the community, as well--paid editors aren't the only option.

-Make sure you're clear on the timeline needed

If you really need the edit done in two weeks, make sure that you let the editor know in writing, and that you get an affirmative response from her in writing.
-Provide a style sheet

This could be a post unto itself, but a style sheet is a list of terms you might use frequently that could otherwise trip an editor up. For example, when I wrote and edited my book, Hack: The Complete Game, I wrote the dialogue in a very unique, dialectic style to try to capture the precise manner in which the characters spoke, using apostrophes and weird spellings. However, I wanted to make sure that the spellings were consistent throughout the book. Thus I had to make sure I had a style sheet in Scrivener keeping everything straight as I wrote it.

You should do the same--it'll save the editor time (and thus you money) to do so ahead of time, and ensure that the editor doesn't get confused and try to change your hard-earned style.

-Remember, it's ultimately your book
If you're paying for an editor, I'm going to assume that you'll implement most of the editor's changes. But remember, if you disagree with a change for some reason, or think the editor's wrong, it's ultimately your book. One method that I've heard works well for folks is to send your next draft to your beta readers without making the correction and see if they comment on it, too.

-More advice from a true pro

There's only so much I can comment on in this section since I self-edited all of my stuff. For more good advice, check out Kris Rusch's column on how to manage an editor as an indie writer--like most everything she writes about the business, it's pure gold.

That's about it. Next time--so you have a manuscript, but how do you get it so that beta readers can read it on their Kindles and tablets? We dive into the dark world of Scrivener formatting. Until then, Happy Hunting!

Previous Posts In This Series:

#1: Before You Start

#2: The Idea Hunt
#3: Tools of the Trade ("What You Need to Publish Your Indie Book for Cheap")
#4: Sit Down and Start Writing!
#5  How to Write More Words Per Day
#6  Indie vs. Traditional Publishing
#7: Finish What You Start (With a Little Tough Love)

#8: How to Find Good Beta Readers
D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.

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