If you’ve never worked with an editor and you’re wondering things like what’s involved, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and other such aspects, here are some helpful facts for you to know. The more informed you are, the easier the editing process will be for you.

First, it’s important that you understand what an editor can and should do for you and your manuscript, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, which includes memoir.

Editors understand that all writing, in the end, involves two people: The writer and the reader, even though others, such as an editor, may be involved in the process. Writers write for a number of personal or professional reasons, but the ultimate desired result should be to do as good a job as possible communicating to readers what the writer intended, whether that’s to inform or to provide a story that entertains or touches readers’ emotions or thoughts. This is where editors come in handy.

Writers have something to say. Yet, they may or may not be as adept at writing as they’d like to be—or think they are. As an editor I’m conscientious of the needs of writers and the rights of readers who have certain expectations. Readers expect content that’s free of typos (as much as possible) and free of any other technical or creative aspects that might negatively affect their reading experience. An editor helps a writer write in a way that holds the attention of readers, rather than distracts readers or discourages them from finishing the book, e-book, or short story.

Although many writers have developed their skills and writing as a craft, we all have trouble at times saying exactly what we mean. We know what we mean to say, but may not accomplish this in the way we hoped. Or maybe we have so much information in our minds, we assume—incorrectly—that others have access to our intended meanings. All writers benefit by caring about the overall quality of their work, which goes way beyond commas being in the right place.

Working with an Editor
Editing styles are as individual as editors are. If you sent your manuscript to three different editors, some editing would be the same and some wouldn’t, because you’re dealing with individuals who have their preferred editing styles. But, there are rules for writing, which exist for good reason, and an editor knows which ones must be followed and which ones can slide a bit—as long as this adds to the content and tone, rather than detracts from it.

And, each writer has a distinctive voice, which must or should be respected. This doesn’t mean that—if you’ll pardon the expression—sloppy writing should be left as is. A good editor can help a writer create clean, crisp sentences and paragraphs AND keep the voice and tone intact. Working with an editor can help you move from talent alone into someone who gains confidence in the craft of writing.

Some common matters editors put their attention on include:
- How the story or content is organized and if it flows well from start to finish
- The “voice” and tone
- Active rather than passive voice (passive voice has its purpose at times, but not as often as some writers use it or misuse it)
- Specific words or sentence construction that may cause confusion
- Tense consistency
- Technical matters such as punctuation, and so on
- Inconsistencies in the story or content
- Basic formatting: indents, no spaces between paragraphs, proper dialogue formatting, only one space between the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence and the first letter of the next sentence, and so forth
- Enough information or plot and character development is provided to fulfill readers’ expectations
- The way the piece ends completes what came before it

All authors revise their manuscript, or should, and it usually takes a few or several revisions to get a manuscript into ready-to-go form. I read where one New York Times best-selling author said he often does ten or more revisions before he’s happy enough with his draft to send it to his publishing editor. Not all writers feel that way or require that many revisions. But that author has a point. Many new or uninitiated writers believe one revision (possibly two) should do it. I can tell you from experience that an editor who works on a manuscript that needs substantial revision knows that it will read quite differently once revised. And, it’s possible that the revision, and ones that follow, may (usually do) show what else can be done to improve the manuscript, until it’s the best it can be.

I’ve had clients who went through one round of editing with me, made revisions, but didn’t have me or a proofreader check their work (or had a beta reader go through it and give feedback) before they self-published or submitted to an agent or publisher—and it was too soon to do that. And, although I appreciate when clients include my name as editor in their self-published book, it’s awkward if they publish it with issues I never had the opportunity to assist them to address. Give your editor a chance to help both you, as the writer, and your book, e-book, or short story to shine.

In my nearly 20 years as a conceptual editor, I’ve seen the following—and more:
- Beautiful literary writing (but not often, because that’s not a popular or typical style of writing these days)
- Manuscripts that were one “paragraph,” meaning the writer never created paragraphs
- Stream-of-consciousness writing, with no regard for technical or creative matters or logical content organization
- Really creative writing with fair technical aspects
- Really creative writing with poor technical aspects
- Compelling stories from writers with no grasp of creative or technical aspects
- And I’ve seen all of my clients learn a lot through my efforts and guidance. Some self-publish and some get agents and publishing contracts. A few regular clients don’t worry about technical matters (and to some extent, creative matters), because they rely on me to address them, even down to performing more as a ghost rewriter than as solely an editor.

What about cost?
It’s best if I’m candid with you, because this is important for you to understand. The better writer you are the less will be required from your editor. The less required from your editor the less the cost for his or her services performed on your behalf. A good editor cares about your work almost as much as you do, and works hard to help you make it the best writing it can be. Cost for this service must be anticipated. If budget is a concern, look for an editor who offers a budget-friendly arrangement. This doesn’t mean they’ll charge less for their services, but that they’ll work with you on how and when payments are made.

What about time involved?
Again, it all depends on what the editor finds in the manuscript, as well as the length of the manuscript. Editors need to go through your manuscript twice—or should, the first time they edit your manuscript and every time they work on a revision. One thing you don’t want to do is rush your editor. Your editor must integrate your story or content as a whole, as well as focus on creative and technical matters. This kind of work is comprehensive and gets tiring after several hours. The brain needs to rest and recharge.

Cost for editing is definitely something writers are concerned about and should plan for. They should also plan for how they may feel when their manuscript comes back from the editor, especially the first time. Below are two comments from clients. The first comment is from a first-time writer; the second comment is from a first-time client who is a self-published author who wanted to go the traditional route.

“Thank you for the work you have done on my memoir manuscript. I hadn't realized how much I needed you until I had done my part of the editing process based on your suggestions and guidance. Initially, I glanced at your Technicolor superimposed indictment of my efforts and I was stupefied and rather offended: my book and I were under attack. Almost immediately, I tucked you under my wing to keep you close because you were consistently on target. Working with you has also inspired me to get going on my next book, which will be fiction, as soon as we’re finished with this one.”

“You were able to take my gibberish and convolution of uncoordinated words and transform the manuscript into a tight presentation that attracted three offers for publication. You identified my weaknesses in pacing and character development and taught me how to turn these faults into strengths. My experience with you will give me an improved chance to succeed in this brutal industry.”

When you find an editor you trust and feel comfortable working with, you’ve added someone significant to your team, someone who cares about your work almost as much as you do and is willing to go the distance with you, to make your dream as a writer become your reality.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.

Author's Bio: 

Joyce L. Shafer provides conceptual editing, book evaluation, and writing coaching services, especially but not solely, for new writers. Details about her services, plus her e-book for aspiring and new writers—Write, Get Published, and Promote and her special reports—How to Get an Agent for Your Book or Choose Self-Publishing Instead: Tips, Lists, and More and How to Get Your Book Started: Plan Your Work Then Work Your Plan are available at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/ .