I threw myself (and all my free time) wholeheartedly into romance publishing in 2015 when I indie-published my first short story. Since then, I’ve worked with several editors (freelance and through publishers) and learned a lot along the way. Now that I’m working as a freelance editor myself, I have even more insight into the editing portion of our wonderful industry.
The following are eight things I’ve learned that I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out as an author. Knowing them would have saved me a lot of confusion and anguish.
(As a disclaimer, I am coming from a genre fiction perspective. I only read and publish romance.)
Many readers will read past stylistic mistakes if the content is good.
What this means is that structural editing, also called content editing, substantive editing, and developmental editing, is the most important type of editing. This type of editing focuses on your story, which is the main thing every reader is after. They want a certain emotional experience, and if that experience is to their liking, they will ignore things like misplaced commas and typos.
Of course, some readers will put down a book if they see a lot of editing mistakes (I’m one of them these days because of my editor’s eye). And if a book has so many typos that the text is difficult to decipher, readers will put it down. But in general, story trumps style.
Most editing “rules” are subjective.
It would be a lot easier if the English language had one definitive set of rules, but it doesn’t. This is why there are so many style guides out there: The Associated Press Stylebook, The Elements of Style, The MLA Handbook, to name a few. For fiction, we typically use The Chicago Manual of Style, but even CMoS doesn’t cover every single facet of English, and it doesn’t present all of its guidelines as hard-and-fast rules.
As a graphic designer as well as an editor, I’ve found that crafting excellent prose can be as subjective as designing a good book cover. You know a good cover when you see it, there are certain best practices, and it requires knowledge and practice to do well, but it’s an art, not a science.
The reason editing costs so much is because it takes a lot of time and study/knowledge.
If you’re a small-time indie author like me, you were probably shocked when you first learned how high typical editing prices are; I know I was. But now that I’m an editor, I understand why that is: editing requires a lotof hours and concentration.
Imagine how long it takes you to read a book for pleasure. What if you were checking (and sometimes double-checking with a dictionary or guide) every word and punctuation mark? Not to mention diction, sentence structure, emotional beats, and other items an editor evaluates in the different types of editing. I love doing this work—almost more than writing—but it is intensive, and the benefits can extend to more than just a single project, helping you to improve your writing skills and clarify your personal style for future stories as well. In my experience as both an author and an editor, it’s worth the cost.
You can view typical editing rates versus pages per hour at https://www.the-efa.org/rates/.
No matter how much you pay your editor, they will not catch every mistake.
Editors are human. Your book has a lot of individual letters and marks in it; no one, not even the best editor out there, will catch every mistake. You’ll find at least a typo or two in every published book.
I read somewhere that the industry standard is 95 percent error free, and I believe that’s what an author should shoot for.
Editing software can catch some mistakes but isn't a replacement for a human editor.
That said, editing software also won’t catch every mistake, and oftentimes, it’ll catch “mistakes” that aren’t actually problems because, as I said, editing “rules” are subjective. I subscribed to Grammarly Premium for a year, and it gave me all sorts of feedback that just wasn’t accurate. I love technology and am open to using it, but not if it adds more time to my process without adding benefit.
I’ve never tried ProWritingAid and have heard good things, but no matter what, software will not replace a trained human eye. It might aid you, but for that publication-ready pass, I’d much rather give my words over to an editor who can take into account my style and apply guidelines based on specific situations instead of an algorithm.
It’s possible to edit your own work for publication, but it’s not fun or easy.
The idea that authors are incapable of editing their own work for publication is one that is prevalent in the indie author community. Writing and publishing advice is pretty much never absolute, but to me, this bit seems to be the least argued against. I expect authors are afraid of coming off as amateur or like they are cheating or snowing readers by not hiring an editor.
Well, it is actually possible to self-edit your book for publication, but what I’ve learned is that it’s never as effective as a professional edit and it’s about the least fun thing you can do.
One reason to self-edit is that you want to get your book out quickly, which is understandable since the Amazon algorithm favors quick publication. But if you’ve just finished your book, do you really want to self-edit the content, then read through it againlooking for grammar and style issues, then go through it againto proofread? I did this with one of my books, and by the time I was done with the copyediting stage, I caved and hired someone to proofread. I was just so damn tired of my own story.
Another reason not to self-edit for publication is that your likelihood of catching mistakes is lower. It will be very hard if not impossible for you to get your book to that 95 percent error free state. There are ways to mitigate this such as stepping away from your manuscript for several weeks or months to mimic fresh eyes on your work or using a program that reads your manuscript to you so that you can listen for mistakes. But the former negates getting your book out quickly, and the latter is not any less tedious than using your eyes to read your book, at least in my experience.
There are some authors who are attempting to create a minimum viable product in order to test the market. In this case, they might make the decision to self-edit. But my recommendation is that you should hire a professional editor unless you are comfortable with the risk of releasing a book which appears badly edited and receives reviews mentioning such (you can always edit it and republish later, but you can’t get rid of these types of reviews unless you sacrifice all your reviews and do a completely new listing for your book).
You don’t have to accept every change your editor suggests.
When I worked with an editor for the first time, I went into it with a lot of insecurities about my writing, and I had the mistaken notion that the editor was all-knowing about their field and that I didn’t know anything. While editors should have more knowledge about grammar and style guidelines than you do, or at least fresh eyes on words you’ve read over and over, they are fallible, and not all of them will be a fit for you or have the required experience, education, and/or instinct for your project. For example, some of them overedit, choosing to replace one punctuation type for another simply because they like it better. Or they are married to certain guidelines that aren’t as absolute as they insinuate. (If I sound bitter, it’s because I am, a little. It’s one reason I became an editor.)
Don’t be afraid to ask an editor why they’ve made an edit so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not to accept it. You will probably feel pressure to accept them, but while you should consider them carefully, if your instincts are screaming to reject one, do it. Of course, you’ll want to pick your battles with a publisher. I can’t offer much advice on that front since I didn’t argue much when I was with publishers and now prefer indie publishing.
The true point of editing is to make your story easy for readers to consume, understand, enjoy, and recommend.
In the beginning, my primary motivation for hiring an editor was to make sure I wasn’t making embarrassing mistakes in my manuscript. That led to some conflict with editors because we had different goals. Since then, I’ve realized that the point of editing is not to be “correct”; it is to make your manuscript easy to read.
If your book is cleanly edited, the barriers to your reader losing themself in your story is minimized. If your motivation is sales, this is good news because a well-edited story is also one that delights your reader and eliminates any worries in their mind about recommending a badly edited book. So they are more likely to share your book and get you that coveted word-of-mouth marketing.
As when you are writing, when you are in the editing process, your main goal should be to produce a good story. At the end of the day, that is what matters most.