08 August 2013

What you should know before hiring an editor

When people contact me to inquire about editing services, there are several questions I find myself asking each time--not necessarily in the same order--that help me understand their vision for their work, what they need, and what resources they have to work with. You might not know all the answers to these questions right away, and that's okay--part of the purpose of the initial consultation is to help you make some decisions. But the more you know coming into that conversation, the quicker we can determine whether we're a good fit and, if so, how to move forward together.

What are you writing?
This one's easy to answer. (And if it isn't, you should probably check out writing coaching instead of editing at this point.) I ask it because I do my best editing work when I'm interested in what I'm editing. Luckily for me, I'm interested in a lot of different subjects and genres - TESOL, art therapy, higher education, food, travel, lifestyle, relationships, culture, romance and erotica, contemporary fiction, YA lit, memoir, poetry...to name a few. But if someone brings me a science textbook about little-known deep sea crustaceans, chances are I'm not a good fit for the project. (Unless they do the book like this.)

What excites you about this writing project?
Hopefully this question is also fairly easy to answer. I ask it as a starting place for finding out more about your vision for your work. I want to know what's important to you about this project. Not just what you hope to gain from completing it, but also what you want the readers' experience to be, why you want to publish, in what ways you want to do things differently from what's already out there. And if you've reached a point where you're no longer excited about your project, that's useful information, too.

Who is your target audience? Who do you hope will read and love your book/essay/poem/etc.?
In order for me to be able to give you appropriate feedback on the sample edit, I need to know to whom you want your work to appeal. Are you writing for a general audience or for an audience with specialized knowledge? Do you want your novel to appeal to Jane Austen fans? Or your prose poems to fans of Gabriel Gudding, James Tate, and Russell Edson? Are you writing your article for practicing art therapists? Do you want your collection of erotica shorts to appeal to both men and women? Your target audience affects a lot of the choices you make in your writing.

How long is it now and how long do you want it to be?
The main reason I ask this question is because length is a factor in editing costs, but the answer can also reveal what some of the challenges of the project might be. For example, I've self-published two novellas that I really wanted to be novels. At some point I'm going to hire a developmental editor to make suggestions about where and how I might expand on the stories in a meaningful way. By contrast, I spoke with a writer recently whose novel is 600,000 words long. He doesn't want it to be that long, but he's having a hard time seeing what could be cut.

Are you thinking of self-publishing or going the traditional route?
If you're working on a book project, it's important to know whether you're going to self-publish or query because it affects what types of editing you might need as well as your budget.

Or, if you intend to submit to a particular academic journal or literary magazine, it helps me to know that so I can be sure to use the appropriate style guidelines for copy editing.

If self-publishing, will you publish in physical form, ebook or both?
The answer to this question can affect budget and formatting requirements. It also gives me more information about your vision for your work.

What's your total budget for the project?
Sometimes it's hard for people to envision this at first, but it's really important for you to know, before you start paying for editing, how much you're willing to invest overall in this particular project. Is it worth $50 to you? $100? $500? $1,000? $10,000? You don't want to sign on with an editor and then realize halfway through that you've run out of money.

If you can at least come up with a range--for example, "I'm definitely not comfortable spending $5,000. I *might* be willing to spend $3,000, but I'm most comfortable around $2,000"--that is a great starting place. You can always change your mind later and up your budget, but having a starting figure will help you determine how much editing you can afford.

Which brings me to my second point about project budgeting: Editing is only one piece of the money-spending puzzle. If your total budget is $2,000 and you're going to self-publish in paperback and ebook formats, then you need to set aside money for cover design, printing, and marketing. And if you aren't super tech-savvy, you might also need to pay someone to format and upload your book for you. If you intend to query, your costs will be lower, but you'll still need to set money aside for printing and mailing your manuscript out to agents or publishers. So before you hire an editor, you need to have a sense of what your project entails beyond the editing.

What type(s) of editing do you want?
I identify three main types of editing: developmental, substantive, and copy. Knowing what type(s) of editing your manuscript needs will aid our discussion of budget and timeline and will determine what I do in the sample edit. If you don't know what kind of editing you need, my notes for the sample edit will include an analysis and recommendations. And if you ask me for a sample copy edit (for example), and it becomes clear to me that the manuscript would also benefit from one or more other types of editing, I will let you know that, too.

Here are some brief definitions of the types of editing:
  • Developmental editing covers the high-level stuff like character and plot development, marketability, audience analysis, overall organization and cohesiveness, etc.
  • Substantive editing is cutting, rearranging, and/or rewriting for clarity, flow, and consistency.
  • And finally, copy editing covers the mechanics: spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, syntax and formatting.

How much time each week (or month) can you commit to the project?
The amount of time you're willing and able to devote to your project tells me something about where your project fits into your list of priorities, and it also affects timeline.

When do you want to publish or start querying?
In order to know whether I can work you into my schedule, I need to know what the deadline is.

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