Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Editing on a Budget

Many writers decide to go the self-publishing route. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s cheap, right? Well, not exactly. The biggest shock for many folks is that you can’t just slap any old thing up on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and make a killing. Nope. You need to put out something that’s great, not just readable. Not even just plain good. But great—a book that readers can’t put down and can’t stop recommending to their friends. Word of mouth sells books more effectively than anything else. 

There are several components to creating a great book; your own storytelling and writing craft are two of them. The other is hiring a good freelance editor to make your story shine and engross the reader. But don't just take my word for it. NYT and USA TODAY best-selling author Allison Brennan has plenty to say on the subject of why you need to hire an editor


We’ve all experienced the sense of “flow” that a great book can produce—that seamless immersion in another world, where you forget you’re reading and the story unfolds like a movie in your mind. That sense of flow is what makes reading addictive. And a key component of achieving flow is a flawless reading experience that allows you to get lost in the story. Repeatedly tripping over errors (whether they’re story problems or typos) robs you of that feeling. *That's* why errors matter—and that’s why good editing can make the difference between a writer who sells thousands, even millions of copies, and a writer who sells only a handful.


A good editor helps you up your game, taking your writing from “okay” to great or from good to extraordinary. A book can be flawless mechanically, and yet dead on the page when it comes to story. How many books have you read that started with a bang, then fizzled out at the end? How many books have you read where you simply lost interest—or never developed it in the first place? These are failures of storytelling craft. And it’s the editor’s job to tell you when and where you’re hitting the mark—or not—and to help you figure out the fixes. And of course, an editor helps ensure that your book is mechanically sound in terms of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. 


Well, you’re saying to yourself, that’s all great, but I can’t afford an editor. Or I can’t afford to pay more than X amount for editing. 


If this is your first book or if you’re a writer who’s getting reader feedback that your books need improvement in terms of mechanics, style, or storytelling craft, I’d urge you to reconsider your thinking. You only get one chance to make a first impression, one chance to hook a reader for life. Would you pay good money for a shirt with mismatched or missing buttons, crooked seams, and tears in the fabric? Would you feel ripped off if your new shirt looked great in the store but disintegrated during the first wash? Would you tell all your friends to shop at the store that sold such clothing—or would you tell them to run the other way?


You can’t afford to put out anything less than a professional product. And if you can’t afford at least a proofreading pass* on your work, you aren’t ready to publish. Investing in editing for your books is an investment in yourself and your future. Making sure your books are edited and polished shows respect for your readers… and it shows that you’re worth them making an investment in you with their hard-earned cash and their precious time. Your stories are competing with videogames, movies, and TV—not to mention thousands of other books—for people’s attention, and to get it, you need to put out a polished product. That means investing in professional editing, covers, and formatting. 


In other words, save your pennies until you can afford to put out a top-notch product. However, don’t despair—you can save a lot of those pennies by following the tips listed below. 


* A note on editors versus proofreaders: Proofreaders cover the mechanical basics (spelling, grammar, and punctuation), typically after an editor has already done a pass or two on the book. Editors cover not only the basics, but also story issues, pacing, character development, style (wordsmithing), fact-checking, terminology, and errors of logic, timing, or consistency. A proofreader may notice these issues, but such issues fall outside the scope of the job (and the pay rate), so don’t expect a proofreader to provide the same level of service as an editor. For more information, see “Types of Editing” at https://edsguild.org/for-clients/


So, what should editing cost? For a 90,000 word book, the range (depending on your skill level and the skill level of the editor working with you) can be anywhere from $1100-$3600 (possibly more if you’re not writing in your first language). Skilled editors earn anywhere from $30-$60 an hour, and they’re worth every penny. (For freelance editing rates, see http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php.) By contrast, for a 90,000 word book, a skilled proofreader would charge anywhere from $500-$900. 


How can you still get a great edit and keep your costs down?


  • Polish your writing and storytelling craft as much as possible on your own. Take classes through your local community college, writers’ groups, or writers’ conferences in your area. 
  • Find a critique partner or critique group to help provide you with developmental feedback.
  • Self-edit as much as possible before hiring an editor. Of the many books on the subject, my favorite is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. 
  • If you struggle with grammar and punctuation, pick up a copy of English Simplified by Blanche Ellsworth and John A. Higgins. It’s short (around 80 pages) and covers the basics in a concise, straightforward manner. There’s a reason this book is on its thirteenth edition.
  • Do NOT hand your editor your first draft. Polish that baby up as much as you can yourself! At the least, set it aside for three to four weeks so you can read it with fresh eyes. Print it out single spaced to mimic the book reading experience. You’ll be shocked how many more errors you catch that way. 
  • If you can’t afford the editor you want, consider hiring that editor to do a partial edit (for example, the first 20-50 pages) so that you can apply what you learn to the rest of the book before you hire someone to finish the project. Every error you eliminate on your own not only saves you money, but also allows the editor to focus on deeper issues rather than surface ones. 
  • See if you can barter for part or all of the editor’s fee. For example, if you’re a web designer or a graphic artist, your editor may be willing to trade services.
  • If you truly can’t afford an editor, at least hire a proofreader to clean up the basics. Your readers will thank you, and your story will have a fighting chance to shine and gain that good word of mouth so vital to success. 

By following these tips, you have a much better chance of cutting your editing costs down to the lower part of the range, and saving yourself a bundle in the process!

If you have questions about finding a good editor, feel free to contact me at ByYourSideSP@gmail.com.

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