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How to Choose an Editor

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Editors and How to Choose One

By Audrey Owen

You've chosen your topic, finished your research, and done your writing. You may even have contracted graphics and layout. You believe you are ready to publish, and self-publishing technology, like Print on Demand or e- book production, make it possible for you to rush in and do just that.

There's good news and bad news.

The good news is that you absolutely can publish what and when you like.

The bad news is, so can anyone else, and discerning buyers know that. Many are rightfully wary of self-published material.

So how do you make your work stand out in the self-publishing world?

You provide an excellent piece of writing and you present it flawlessly.

That is where the editor comes in.

It's unfair but true that you are judged not on your brilliance at developing plot and character, your gripping descriptions, nor on your realistic dialogue, but on your spelling and grammar.

Think of a bride all dressed for her wedding. What is most important? I'd argue it's the character and personality of the bride. But if she shows up with ketchup on her dress or mud on her shoes, what will everyone be thinking through the ceremony?

You may be the most brilliant and insightful person ever to publish, but if your writing is less than pristine, you will not sell many books. Sure, you may be able to get a few under the radar of people who buy without chcecking the goods, but you won't get the repeat sales. You won't get the unexpected gold mine of unsolicited reviews. And you won't get the best recommendation of all, word of mouth.

Trade publishers ensure that their authors produce the best works possible by hiring editors. Every trade book you have ever read went through at least four stages of editing.

Once someone in acquisitions decides the book has potential, an editor does a substantive edit. The editor reads the whole manuscript and looks for ways to improve it on a global level. Did you include all the information you needed? Is your point clear? If it's fiction, are characters, plot, setting and theme working together in the best possible way? The editor writes Fix Notes tor the writer, suggesting changes. There may be several rounds of substantive editing before moving on.

The next round involves a line edit. The editor looks at wording, not for grammar and spelling, but for elegance and power. The editor asks, "Is this the best possible way to say this?"

When the writer and editor agree that everything is said as well as it possibly can be said, the work receives a copy edit. This is when the spelling and grammar are checked.

Finally, a proofreader double-checks for spelling, grammar, and layout issues.

With all that attention to words in the trade publishing companies, it's no wonder that unedited self-published books come out looking like poor second cousins.

You can put your wrok in the big leagues by treating your words with the same respect traditionally published authors treat theirs. Find a good editor.

If you go on-line to search for editing services, you will find thousands of choices. Some of those will be for stables of editors who work for companies that "outsource" the work, paying the editor a percentage of the fee they collect from the client. (The editor may get less than 50% of what you are charged, so many stables are full of low quality editors.) How do you sort through and find a good one?

Does the editor belong to professional organizations? There is no set standard for editors like there is for doctors or teachers. Anyone can call himself an editor. Those who care about the profession band together to set standards for themselves. Find an editor who cares enough to join.

Does the editor offer a firm price based on your specific work? Editors can charge by the word, by the hour, or by the job. Beware an editor who offers to edit your book for a set fee without seeing your work. Editing is an art as well as a science and each piece of writing is unique. Be sure the editor sees the uniqueness of your project and its needs.
Does the editor offer a sample edit? This will give you and the editor a chance to see if you will work well together. Editing is a relationship and you both should feel happy that you are working together. The sample need not be long, but should offer the editor a good idea of what your needs as a writer are.
Does the editor offer an educative edit? This is specific to the needs of a self-publishing writer. In this type of editing, the editor works on a very short section of the writer's work and goes beyond fixing and moves to explaining why the changes are important.

The writer goes back through the entire manuscript and uses the advice on the rest of the book. The writer actually becomes a better writer.

Then the writer submits a second section of work. The process goes on until the writer and editor agree that the writer no longer needs that level of support. (A writer should not need an educative edit on a whole book.) With an educative edit you gain a life skill that you can take into other writing projects.
Does the editor offer a guarantee? No one can turn a pig's ear into a silk purse, but the editor should be able to tell you what improvements you can expect. Does the editor have satisfied clients willing to give references? Check them.

When you have found the editor you want, agree on terms. You can do that through a signed agreement, or an agreement reached on-line.

It is common for editors to ask for at least half of the payment in advance. If the editor has given you a free sample edit, you can assume she will come through with the final edit as a professional. She has bought credibility with her free service and you can pay with confidence. If you have any difficulty with the editor and the editor belongs to a reputable association, use the association to resolve the dispute.

When you have a good editor who loves your work almost as much as you do, you stand head and shoulders above your fellow self-publishing artists and your writing and marketing efforts will reap all the rewards you expect.

© 2005-2008 Audrey Owen Used by permission. For permission to copy or use this information, contact her through her Web site

Audrey Owen, a writer who is both self-published and published by others in print and on-line, is an editor who specializes in working with self-publishing authors. Her Web site, , provides free writing tips and other information of interest to self-publishing authors.

Audrey Owen
Editors' Association of Canada,
Federation of BC WritersÑformer regional director,
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

494 Eaglecrest Drive
Gibsons, BC
V0N 1V8

Q.B. Wells, Author of Blackface, Editor of The Urbania Magazine



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