By Marjorie Jones
Hiring an editor can be a frightening thing. If you're a new writer, you may not know what to expect. If you're an experienced writer trying on a new editor for size, you can be equally concerned about whether you'll mesh well creatively. One way to alleviate these apprehensions is to ask for sample work. In this article, we'll look at two types of samples, and two very distinct reasons why both parties should insist upon one or the other.
WRITERS HIRING EDITORS NEED TO BE VIGILANT
When you're hiring a fiction editor, or an editor for your nonfiction book, you should be certain the person you hire has the skill set necessary to do their job. You can do this in several ways:
Typically, you'll want to use the second type of sample. You should insist that the editor review the first 10 pages of your work, and edit it in the style for which you're hiring them, before setting up the whole book process. This should cost you nothing, but if you do hire the editor, the word count will be included in the total project costs. In other words, you do not pay for those first ten pages unless you're happy with the work and decide to hire the editor for the entire book edit.
It is critically important that you do not abuse this system and ask various editors to work on different "ten page samples" just to get the work for free. You will gain a bad reputation fairly quickly. The independent editors pool is finite and they do talk to each other. A lot. Don't do it.
EDITORS CONTRACTING WITH CLIENTS MUST BE PREPARED
What about the flip side? Does the sample serve a purpose for the editor, too? Absolutely.
When an editor agrees to take on a project for a client-author, he or she is agreeing to spend a great deal of time diving into the inner workings of the manuscript, to delve into characterization, plot structure, literary structure, as well as grammar and punctuation. It is the writer's responsibility to ensure the work they provide to an editor is in the proper condition to be edited.
But wait! Isn't it the editor's job to correct grammar, punctuation, and to look for dangling plot lines and bad characterization?
The short answer to this question is, surprisingly, no.
It is an editor's job to find those issues that you have missed. This means that you, as the author, must do your absolute best to clean the manuscript before you send it to an editor. The reason an experienced editor asks you to provide a sample chapter (or about 10 pages) isn't only to make sure you'll mesh well. It is to determine whether your writing is tight and complete enough to warrant the amount of time for which you're paying the editor.
An editor sets rates based on the average time spent per page, and this is based on what they will be doing to those pages. To earn a living wage of about $20.00 per hour, for example, the editor must consider how many pages they can complete in that time span. If the editor can usually complete a copy edit of 5 pages in an hour, they will charge you $4.00 per page. If they can complete 3 pages of developmental edits in an hour, that rate per page will be higher. This makes perfect sense because developmental edits take more expertise and time - they are more labor intensive - than copy edits.
If you supply your editor with what amounts to a rough draft, you can expect that they will have to charge you much closer to $20.00 per page than $20.00 per hour. And chances are far greater that, because you'll be cutting into their production schedule for other authors, they will simply return the project to you unedited with their sincere regret that they can't help you.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR MANUSCRIPT FOR AN EDITOR
So, you've written your first novel. You've got fifty to one hundred thousand words of pure glory just ready to take on the world! Congrats. You've completed Step 1 of many steps to come. The first step is not your editor. Your first step is your "self-editor."
A surgeon knows how to ... surge. They cut people open and fix stuff. That's about as technical as I can get about that because, guess what? I'm not a surgeon. I don't need to know more than that. A baker, on the other hand, bakes. I can bake a bit myself. I made my daughter's wedding cake... with mix from a box and lots of practice making piped design with buttercream. But I watch those folks on Cupcake Wars (Food Network), and I know that I am not "a baker." Making a cupcake out of brie cheese and whole peanuts? Yeah, no.
Being a writer is just like being a successful baker or surgeon. You must know your trade. You must know how to use the tools of your trade. To a writer, those pesky verbs, adverbs, dialog tags, and commas are just as important as a scalpel to a surgeon. If you're not paying attention to them during your first draft, it is up to you - the author - to pay attention to them in your second. And, if needed, your third. When you send the manuscript to an editor, the editor should never find anything that you already knew was there. Are you aware that somewhere in chapter three you introduced a character who said something in foreshadow that you neglected to close off in chapter 10? It's your job to fix that. It's your editor's job to notice it if you completely forgot about it.
The best way to accomplish this in an effort to save time for everyone, including you, is to learn the tools of your trade well and employ them every time you sit down to write. I'm not saying that you have to ignore creativity in favor of technical perfection. My first drafts are far from perfect. But if you learn the technical aspects, if you gain mastery over your tools, they will come to you like an extension of your pen or keyboard. You won't have to think about where the commas go, or when to capitalize a word. It's just... there. A single readthrough and you'll find much of what made it through your fingertips, and you're well on your way to having a manuscript ready to edit.
Author's Note: Some of our creative brothers and sisters may experience learning disabilities that make it more difficult to utilize the tools of the trade mentioned above. As an author, a mother, a publisher, and an educator, I understand how difficult this can be. It is important that those individuals who deal with these additional challenges are honest with the creative professionals they hire. For example, the first editor that you hire might be a tutor who can dedicate the time necessary to clean the first draft of your manuscript before it goes to a regular developmental editor for review. But the idea part - the creative part that deals with plot holes and dangling character traits and ginormous overall arc issues are on you. Fix those before you hire an editor for anything.
Marjorie Jones is an author of lesbian and straight romance fiction and owner of Indie Artist Press, a hybrid publisher for self-publishing authors who wish to invest in their work while maintaining 100% rights and royalties and utilizing a quality brand.
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