Here is a Facebook conversation I had with a new writer friend. She asked: What does an editor do? What does an editor charge? If my book sucks do I really want to look for an editor, a ghostwriter, or a proofreader? Who does what? … and for how much?
Me: You’re not the only one who isn’t clear about editing. I think it’s because editing has fallen out of traditional publishing houses. Now if you want to send your novel to a traditional house, it has to be perfect BEFORE they get it. And, with reviews driving self-published novels to success or failure, the book better be as close to perfect before you publish. A new editing industry has developed.
There are three types of editing – content or story editing, copy editing and proofreading.
Content or story editors read for the cohesiveness of the character and the plot arc. They read for scene structure and can find weak scenes as well as suggest ways to improve. They are teachers as editors. They read your book and sometimes push the author to make it better. Think of the editors of days gone by, when an editor at a big publishing house would take a writer under their wing and make their work the best it can be. Think Maxwell Perkins who edited F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe to write better novels than they would have without him. That’s a good content or story editor. They read and push for a better book. They read for voice, style, tone, and whether the book has met its potential, given the level of writing. They read for continuity (making sure the character who has blue eyes in chapter 2 doesn’t get brown eyes in chapter 10). They will point out anything they find during line editing, whether it’s story, scenes, character, grammar, word choice, typos. Good content or story editors are harder to find. This is what I do.
Copy editors focus on grammar, word choice, line editing, continuity, etc. But usually not the story. They take the story at face value and make sure there are no glaring errors. Not essential to hire a copy editor if you have a good content editor as a good content editor will do all this as well. I copy edit as I content edit. But you can’t hire me to just copy edit because I would go insane if I saw something in the plot and couldn’t make a suggestion.
Proofreaders are the ESSENTIAL last step and they will look at grammar and find typos. Essential also that you find a proofreader that understand fiction grammar! What I mean by that is that grammar in fiction fits the voice, not the rules. You can proof or edit the voice right out of a piece of work. So choose wisely. I do not proofread because I can miss a typo as often as the next writer.
Pricing – stay away from all editors who charge by the page or the word – otherwise you’re paying for pages or words that don’t need to be edited. Always go with someone who charges by the hour. I charge $50 per hour and I can read / content edit and produce a report on a 50,000 word novel or memoir for about $400, depending on the level of writing. I can give an estimate with a word count and 2 sample pages.
One more note on pricing – though my hourly rate is higher than some, I work faster, so in total I work out less expensive than some. I had a client come to me after she paid $5000 to an ex-NY editor serving as book doctor. The edits and suggestions were good, but 5k? And, I know a ghostwriter in Texas who will ghostwrite your novel or memoir for $225,000. I met him when he came to me for advice on a memoir he was writing for someone. And I only charged him $75 per hour. I don’t charge enough.
Ghostwriters: STAY AWAY – that’s what I say, but that’s because I’ve gotten manuscripts from authors who have had a ghost writer do some sections in their book and it was BLATANTLY obvious to me which sections those were. So unless they’re going to do a once-over in their voice, I’d pass on this. Besides you want to learn how to do this yourself, right?
Writer: Would you fix my errors or would you simply say something like “Your writing sucks on page 3.” Or maybe “He shouldn’t do this. He should do that.”? Would you make suggestions for better scenes or would you just tell me they didn’t work?
Me: If you really knew me, you would know that it would be impossible for me to say – this really sucks – without telling you how to fix it. And I’m so nice, I would never say that in the first place. smile emoticon But I get what you’re asking. I’m a teacher at heart – even in my fiction – so that’s what I do when I edit. That’s what you’re looking for, I believe. You don’t just want this book to work, you want to know how to do it for yourself next time. So a good editor in my opinion is someone who identifies what isn’t working, shows you why it isn’t working and suggests ways for you to fix it. Whether you do or not is up to you, but you can make an informed decision when you see what the editor says.
I’m a teacher and a coach so when I deliver an edit, I provide a blueprint for next steps and how to go about them, suggestions for craft focus to deepen not only the project but the writer’s ability and articles, blogs or books I might have found that address pertinent issues.
Also, if it was a matter of a character doing something that didn’t fit with who the character seems to be I would not only tell you that, but tell you why I believe that and make a suggestion for a change.
I fix line edits but I work with Track Changes in Word so you can see what I edited. Then you have the opportunity to accept or reject the change. By line editing I mean if you used the wrong word, or there was a typo, etc.
No matter where my clients come in, when they leave they are better writers. And that’s what I believe a good editor should do.
Writer: So, are you booked the first of December?
If you’re looking for a content or story editor and you want to not only edit the book you’re working on, but learn how to write the next one better, send me two pages, what your genre is and the word count and I can give you an estimate to help you make your book the best it can be.