Of all the fears first-time authors face, working with an editor certainly ranks highly. I described this fear—as I once felt it—in the introduction to my book on editing, Don’t Fear the Reaper:
In the single second you first glance at your work of art turned into an open-heart surgery gone wrong, you will not want to be open to correction. You will not want your blind spots revealed, your technical problems made known, or your gaping plot holes laid bare.
The part of your soul that you poured into your book will wince. Your carefully constructed identity as a soon-to-be-published author will suffer a momentary identity crisis.
- You will doubt yourself as a writer.
- You will see edit after edit and wonder if your editor has turned on you.
- You may see your editor as an adversary more than an ally.
- You may rebel against their suggestions or give up writing altogether.
- Or you may choose not to fear the reaper.
Few writers want to be told, “That doesn’t make sense,” or, “You really don’t know how to use commas, do you?” or, “Is that gun you introduced in the first act ever going to reappear?” Yet traditionally published and self-published authors alike willingly pay editors to tell them such things. Effectively, they pay grammar doctors to perform surgery on their babies.
No wonder they’re afraid.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, if you discover the right editor who will care for your book as much as you do, you will find more than an editor. You’ll find someone who will make you a better writer.
You don’t have to fear an editor for three main reasons:
- Just like you, they want to see you achieve your best work. The best editors don’t just tell you what’s wrong with your manuscript; they tell you what’s right with it too. They offer praise where warranted and challenges when necessary. They’re both the good cop and the bad cop.
- Just like you, they love the written word. Whenever they make an edit, it’s not a strikethrough of your life or opinions. Rather, they’re seeking clarity to help your story shine.
- Just like you, they know how hard the work truly is. Editors may be even more aware of the arduous nature of writing, completing, and publishing a book. They empathize with the time commitment you’ve made and the likely emotional toll your writing may have taken on you. They edit you to ensure that your commitment sees tangible results.
In other words, you don’t have to fear an editor because they’re a lot like you, but with more experience in crafting a book. And isn’t that who you want on your side, especially if you’re a first-time author?
The Further Fears of Finding an Editor
Of course, now that I hope your fear of seeking an editor is assuaged, you may be feeling other fears: how do I find an editor, and how do I ensure they’re right for me?
The best way to find an editor is word-of-mouth through other authors you know. If you don’t have such connections, consider contacting an author you’ve read whose books are in your same genre. Inquire about who they use as an editor.
The problem with this approach is that the best and most well-known editors are usually booked far in advance, which may mean waiting six months to a year for your book to be edited (plus a possibly heftier price tag).
Most self-published authors searching for an editor look online. Anyone can post an editing need for free to the Editorial Freelancers Association website. Pronoun and Reedsy also offer searchable databases for editors. K.M. Weiland has collected an excellent list of editors at “Need a Good Book Editor?” (Disclosure: She was kind to include me.)
Lastly, you may also consider searching LinkedIn as you may be one or two degrees removed from an editor. After you’ve located a few editorial candidates, consider the following steps to see if they’re a fit for your needs:
1. Vet your editor.
Before hiring an editor, do your research. If you can’t find your answers online, contact him or her and ask specific questions. How long have they been editing?
What types of editing do they offer?
What are their rates?
Can they put you in touch with other clients they’ve helped who could tell you more about working with them? Do they have experience in your genre? (That last one’s not always necessary, but it’s certainly helpful.)
2. Ask for a sample edit.
Some editors offer sample edits up front. Some don’t. Some charge for their time to perform sample edits. Some don’t.
Unless they specifically say they don’t offer sample edits, ask for one, but keep it to 1500 words or less if you’re hoping for a free sample edit. This is the fastest way for you to ease your editorial anxiety.
You’ll get to see exactly what they offer in a short amount of time without a sizable investment.
3. Request a face-to-face meeting.
Something magical happens when two people interact with each other in real life: you actually get to know the other person. When an earnest author and a genuine editor start talking about the author’s book, you may instantly know whether or not that editor is the one who can help you.
More often than not, such a decision is much more difficult based solely on an editor’s website information or cost estimate.
With Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts, asking for a 15-minute face-to-face meeting means you don’t even have to live remotely close to each other.
Now, a warning: don’t overstep your bounds in requesting an editor’s time. That’s why you should stay to 1500 words or less and attempt to keep any early meetings under 30 minutes.
Editors—and especially the good ones—are just as busy as you are. (Fun fact: editors who also write tend to have to write for themselves on their own time, just like everyone else who has a job and writes on the side.) You’ll make a fantastic first impression with an editor by respecting their time. But, temper that with your own need to get the proper information from an editor that will help you make the right decision as to hiring them.
So, now that your fears of seeking an editor have been allayed, find your own reaper, er, editor.
They may take a scythe to more of your words than you’d like, but such a death by a thousand edits won’t kill you. With the right editor, it should transform you.
To learn more about working with an editor, click here to get Don’t Fear the Reaper.
About Blake Atwood
Blake Atwood is an editor-for-hire and the author of Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor and The Gospel According to Breaking Bad.
He’s co-written two books and ghostwritten a few more.
He also runs All Apprentices, a weekly email newsletter featuring the week’s best writing about writing.
Blake lives in Dallas with his wife and new son.
When he’s not spending time with them or working on a client’s book, he’s reading about writing, dreaming about his next book, drumming, and generally wondering where all of the time is going.
Check out his website, blakeatwood.com
Check out Blake's book:
You've written a book, so now what?
You may be asking yourself:
• Should I hire an editor?
• What kind of editor do I need?
• How much will professional editing cost?
• Where can I find an editor?
• What will an editor expect from me?
• What can I expect from an editor?
Don't Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor answers these questions and more, while also offering:
• Advice on self-editing
• How to best prepare your book for an editor
• How to make an editor not like you so much
• Why patience is key in writing and publishing
Don't Fear the Reaper will help you make the most of your writer/editor relationship while encouraging you to keep pursuing the writing craft—one that admits no masters, but only lifelong students.
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