Lately, I’ve had the honor of reading some really intriguing books as I edit them. I’ve read stories of underground lands and planets that parallel earth, memoirs of hard but sometimes still beautiful childhoods and romances that end with a powerful tragedy. It’s one of the privileges of my life that I get to read people’s books and help them shape those manuscripts into more of what the authors want them to be.
Also, people pay me to read books for a living! My childhood dream is fulfilled.
As I read these manuscripts – some 50 or more each year – I’ve realized that it might be helpful for writers to have a few suggestions of what to do BEFORE they hire an editor, so here are my best tips for you.
- Read your manuscript all the way through, just like you hope your readers will. As writers, we need to see our books as whole things, not as chapters or scenes or segments we put together in whatever order. In order to know them as whole things, we have to read them as whole things. Often, one of the first things I notice when reading a manuscript is that the writer hasn’t done this read-through as evidenced by repeated scenes, shifting names, forgotten details, or simply a disjointed form of storytelling. Give yourself an afternoon and read the book through. It’ll improve it markedly.
- Know what kind of editing you want and hire the right person for that job at the right time. You can get a developmental edit, a manuscript review, a content edit, a line edit or a proofread. (See this post for the way I define those terms.) Think about what your book needs first and then hire someone to do that edit first. And the order matters – it’s of no value to have someone proofread your book if you’re then going to get a content edit because, well, you will change the content and then need another line edit or proofread. Also, be sure the editors you contact do the kind of editing you need, and if they don’t but you value their word, ask for a recommendation of an editor who does.
- Plan ahead. Many editors, myself included, book at least several weeks and sometimes several months in advance for their work. So anticipate that schedule and book an editor in advance. Also note, many editors charge a rush fee if you want your work in a short timeframe, so it’ll behoove you financially to get on their calendars well in advance. Then, be sure you send your manuscript at the arranged time; most editors charge a rescheduling fee since rescheduling disrupts their editing calendar and causes them a loss of income.
- Be prepared to send the editor everything s/he needs for both the quote and the edit itself. Most editors will need a word count, a genre, a brief description of the book, and maybe a sample to be able to give you a quote and a timeline for the work. Then, when it comes time to do the actual editing, they’ll need a file (often in Microsoft Word format) that is editable and at least minimally formatted for ease of reading and commenting.
- Do every single thing you know to do to improve the manuscript BEFORE you send it to the editor. It’s of no value to hire an editor if you still know things you want to change in the manuscript – then, you’re just paying someone to do what you already know to do. Instead, revise until you simply don’t know what to do next, until you need the distance of an objective reader, and then bring an editor in.
- Send the file and work on something else. Once that book is out of your hands, don’t touch it. Don’t read it. Don’t tweak it. Don’t think of one more thing you wanted to add. Just let it be. Changing the manuscript after it’s at the editor’s place is an exercise is frustration and futility because the editor may well have already read the section you already changed – and probably will not reread since it adds to the word count – and because changing little things can affect the book in a big way. (See #1 above.) Put the book away. Trust the person you hired to notice what needs attention. Work on something else or take a vacation or catch up on Vampire Diaries. Do anything but work on this particular book.
- Prepare your heart and mind for the editorial comments. Finally, you need to prepare yourself to get critique on your book. You have put a lot of work into this creation, and it’s natural to be defensive when someone has something to say about what can be improved. But you need to remember that you hired this person to do just that, that the editor has the best intentions for your work and your dream of it at heart, and that they will see things you simply cannot because you are the creator of your beloved book. So give yourself space when the edits are returned to you. Plan to read them and then not comment on them. (Do NOT, under any circumstances, reply immediately to the editor.) Spend some time thinking over the comments, weighing them, considering which you think help and which you want to discard. It’s your book, so you get to decide what you use – that’s one of the great beauties of the editing process.
- Ask questions. Some editors do follow-up calls with their clients, and some will answer specific questions for their clients via email. Don’t be afraid to use the channels provided to be sure you understand their notes, clarify their comments, and address questions about next steps.
Editing is both a beautiful and difficult process, at least for every writer I know, so if you can take a few steps to prepare both your book and yourself, you’ll hopefully find the beauty far outweighs the difficulty and your book is better for it.
Editors, are there other things you recommend writers do to prepare for the process? Writers, anything you’d add?
My new book, written with Skot Welch and Rick Wilson, releases on May 22. It’s titled Plantation Jesus: Race, Faith, and a New Way Forward and explores the history of racism in the Christian church and how people of faith can take steps to erase this very real, very living wound in the lives of all Americans. You can pre-order the book through Amazon or Herald Press. Thanks.