Many writers who are considering self-publishing hear the advice to publish a lot of books and to publish often. If you aren’t already a seasoned writing professional, don’t be in a hurry to publish, and don’t be in a hurry to hire a professional editor. It takes years to learn the craft of writing, and you don’t want to waste your precious book production budget on hiring professional help before you’re ready for it. You also don’t want to start putting out books before you've sufficiently mastered your craft. You get only one chance to hook a reader, and you want that reader’s first encounter with you to be based on your best work.
To give you a benchmark, many writers believe that mastering the craft of writing entails producing a million words or more of finished projects before you’re ready to publish professionally. (Considering that most writers can produce around 1,000 words an hour, think of this as the “10,000-hour rule” applied to writing.) Whether that “rule” is true or not is up for debate, but most writers can agree that your very first effort at finishing a book probably shouldn’t be published -- at least not in its original form. Most books will require multiple revision passes before they’re ready for editing, which means further revisions to the book before it’s ready for the public.
So how do you know your book is ready for editing? Here are some guidelines for preparing your book for the editing process.
Ten things you should do before sending your book to an editor:
- Join a professional writing organization. If you write romance, I highly recommend joining Romance Writers of America (RWA) (https://www.rwa.org/) and also joining a local RWA chapter. If you write thrillers, join International Thriller Writers (http://thrillerwriters.org/). If you write science fiction or fantasy, join SFWA (http://www.sfwa.org/).
- Read widely and voraciously, both within and outside your genre. When a book really grabs you, reread it and analyze what the author did and how.
- Study the craft. Take classes (the above-mentioned writing organization you join should be a great way to find plenty of low-cost or free classes). Read books. Do as much learning on your own as possible.
Resources: Learning the craft of writing
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Browne & King
English Simplified – Blanche Ellsworth (for grammar and basic mechanics)
Writing the Breakout Novel – Donald Maass
Break into Fiction – Mary Buckham and Dianna Love
Scene and Structure – Jack Bickham
The Techniques of the Selling Writer – Dwight Swain
GMC – Goal, Motivation & Conflict – Debra Dixon
Margie Lawson’s lecture packets (https://www.margielawson.com/)
- Finish the book. Then set it down for 4-6 weeks before you attempt any revisions (I’m not kidding – you need to detach from the book so you can look at it objectively).
- Do at least three significant revision passes to your book, and let it rest a week or two between passes. Take your time. Do at least one pass on the book before handing it to anyone else for feedback. You will certainly want to revise it further after getting feedback.
Resources: How to revise a book
- Find a critique partner or critique group to read your book and give you feedback. Critique partners or groups should be composed of other writers, preferably those writing in your genre. They may or may not be very experienced, but they should be people who intend to pursue writing as a career (or are already doing so). Make sure these are people who will give you honest, but constructive feedback.
- Find beta readers to read your book and give you feedback. These should be readers who enjoy your genre. They should also be people willing to give honest but constructive feedback. Avoid using family members and close friends unless they can adhere to this rule.
- Enter your book in contests that provide feedback. This is a good, relatively inexpensive way to get outside opinions. You should be able to find worthwhile contests for unpublished writers through the writing organization that you join.
- When you receive feedback, bear in mind that it is not criticism of you personally. It’s about the reading experience, and it’s intended to help you produce the best book you are capable of writing. You do not necessarily have to address every bit of feedback, but if something resonates with you, and especially if you hear the same feedback from more than one person, you should strongly consider tackling whatever area is being mentioned. You also do not necessarily have to implement any suggestions for fixing a particular issue, but keep those suggestions in mind; they may give you good ideas. Do not fall into the trap of writing a book by committee or writing a book that isn’t yours. Stay true to your vision. However, do strongly consider any feedback you later get from your editor. If you disagree with your editor's feedback, talk it over with your editor so that you both get on the same page (so to speak!).
- Save up enough money to hire good quality editing help. Depending on the length of your book and how well you’ve been able to polish it on your own, professional editing is likely to cost $1500-$3000. There is a huge difference between proofreading, copy editing, line editing (sometimes called “stylistic” editing), and developmental editing (sometimes called “substantive,” “content,” “story,” or “structural” editing), and the prices for each level of work vary significantly. Some editors combine line editing and copy editing together.
Resources: What are the different levels of editing?
After you’ve done all of the above and have polished your book as well as you are able, it’s time to look for an editor. I suggest getting sample edits (these should be free or low cost, around $25) from at least three different editors so you can evaluate each one's skill set and whether they’re a good fit for you and your book. Make sure the editor you want to hire enjoys and has experience with your genre. An editor who is unfamiliar with the expectations for your genre may steer you in the wrong direction, so choose carefully.
- If you’re unable to find good critique partners or beta readers, or if you want expert coaching earlier in the writing process or guidance about which craft areas to concentrate on, you may want to consider hiring a developmental editor to look over an early draft.
- If this is your first book, you may need 1-2 rounds of developmental editing before embarking on the rest of the editing process.