In the last blog, we looked at the things an indie author could and should expect from their freelance editor. This time, we’ll swap it around and find out what the editor needs in return. These are the things that will make your working relationship a pleasure, and that editors think are vital to the ultimate success of your project.
What do editors need from authors?
An understanding of what you’re asking for: a lot of authors think that a ‘proofread’ is a catch-all term for any kind of editing, but to a professional editor (or anyone else in the publishing industry, for that matter) a proofread is a very specific thing, and it happens very late in the process of producing a book. A proofread, strictly speaking, is a final check for small typos, layout problems, pictures with incorrect captions … that kind of thing. It’s not a chance to check for plot holes, or to do any restructuring of sentences beyond the odd small tweak. Editors call those things ‘developmental editing’ and ‘structural editing’, ‘line editing’ and ‘copy editing’.
All editors have stories about authors who asked for a proofread when what their work really needed was a major structural overhaul, but don’t worry – we know the terminology can be confusing. We often can’t even agree amongst ourselves what each term means.
But if you haven’t worked with an editor before (and often even if you have), the chances are that what you need isn’t a proofread, in the way that your editor understands it. What you need is a copyedit, or a line edit, or even a structural/developmental edit if your work is in an earlier draft stage. You can read more about the levels of editing here.
A draft that is ready for editing: don’t send your first scribblings to an editor and expect a finished product by return email. An editor is not a miracle worker. It’s also a waste of your time and money to send work to an editor for a ‘proofread’ when what it actually needs is something much more in-depth. Tools like Grammarly are often derided in the editing community – and it’s true that they can’t replace the improvements you’ll get by having a real-life human being look at your work – but it’s definitely worth using them to catch the more obvious errors before sending your material for professional editing (especially if your editor charges by the hour!). The more time your editor can spend enhancing the flavour of your writing without being distracted every time you spell ‘their’ as ‘thier’, the better. That’s a more efficient use of everyone’s time and money. And Grammarly is free.
Documents in a user-friendly format: most editors prefer to work in MS Word, which is regarded as the industry standard for submitting manuscripts to publishers. Most of us can also work with PDFs and Google Docs, but many editors prefer not to. Word has significantly more power; most of us are expert users and we’ve seen bits of its menus its own mother never knew about. And we have special editing plug-ins that make our lives easier and make our output better. So if you’re in the habit of writing on your phone, or scribbling bits of your magnum opus on the backs of envelopes, please convert them into something useable before expecting your editor to start work. If you can’t afford Word, then you probably can’t afford an editor, but don’t forget that free alternatives like OpenOffice and LibreOffice are available which do pretty much the same job and are compatible with Word.
Communication and responsiveness: you’re both great at words, and you should be using them. This is as true for the author as it is for the editor; the editor needs you to answer those queries, to be clear about your deadlines, and to articulate what it is that you want. If you don’t transmit your requirements to your editor, don’t be surprised if what comes back to you isn’t what you were expecting. Very few of us have psychic abilities.
An understanding of the timescales: editing a novel isn’t just a question of running it through the spellchecker and making sure it’s all in 12-point Times New Roman. A professional editor will take several weeks to copy-edit a book of any substantial length. Many of us agree that it’s not possible to concentrate on a manuscript for more than five or six hours in a single day – and we have businesses to run, too. We need to spend time on marketing, accounting, project management, training, networking, updating Windows (again), preparing sample edits for prospective clients, shouting at the printer, and writing blog posts. Sometimes we need to do laundry, too.
Punctuality, or flexibility: If your editor is a freelancer – and even if they’re not – don’t imagine for a minute that they’re just sitting around waiting for your call. They’re trying to make a living. That almost certainly means they have multiple projects on the go at any one time, and they won’t all be for indie authors. They’ve probably squeezed your book in between a copyedit for a corporate client and a proofread for a popular publisher. Those things have tight deadlines. So it’s particularly important that you stick to the agreed schedule wherever possible. If you submit your manuscript late, don’t be surprised if your editor has pushed you down the queue in favour of working on the next project on their list. I’m sorry to break it to you like this, but ours is not a monogamous relationship.
An understanding that an editor has a living to make: most editors won’t work for free beyond the odd quick email. If you want to spend an hour on the phone discussing a plot point, that’s fine, and your editor will usually be happy to accommodate it, but – unless you have a contract that states this kind of thing is included – don’t be surprised when their invoice includes a charge for the time. If you want your editor to write your synopsis or your query letter, expect to be charged for it. (And while we’re on the subject, please pay that invoice on time. We really, really don’t want to have to chase you for money, because most of us are way too introverted for that kind of stuff. Have a heart.)
We understand that a lot of writers don’t have a lot of spare cash to spend – but really, truly: editing is an important investment, and you really do get what you pay for. In order to get the most out of your working relationship, and to guarantee an end product that’s as good as it can be, then it’s vital that you know how to use your editor to best effect. I hope these two posts have helped to set you on the right path.
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