Archive for the ‘writing tips’ Category


What makes a good editor

March 31, 2013

A few months ago, people on one of the mailing lists I belong to started an interesting discussion: How do you know if the editor you or your publisher hired is a good one? Most first-time writers don’t have the skills or the experience to tell the difference between a good editor and a bad one.

During the last six years, I’ve published six novels (and I’m working on getting the first five republished and completing the seventh), two novellas, and fifteen short stories. I’ve worked with almost a dozen different editors, so I’ve learned to tell the good ones from the bad ones.

Here are a few things to look out for.

A good editor:

  • … is able to explain the reason behind her suggestions and changes. 
  • … gives constructive criticism, feedback that is honest, but encouraging. An editor who’s just flattering your ego is useless, but so is someone whose feedback is so crushing that you want to give up writing.
  • … will make specific suggestions about how to solve a problem, so instead of just saying “your main character needs more development,” she might say, “How about showing a bit more backstory about her divorce here?”
  • … should be able to rewrite sentences—more as an example of what she wants the author to do, not as a ghostwriter who will rewrite the whole book.
  • … respects the author’s style, voice, and vision. She’ll make suggestions to improve the manuscript, but she won’t try to make it into her own.
  • … is a good teacher. Working with a great editor can teach you something for all of your future works and help you become a better writer. 
  • … knows the market and the target audience better than you do. She knows what publishers and a particular demographic of readers is looking for.
  • … won’t introduce errors into your manuscript. She won’t make any changes without knowing or checking the rules, the dictionary, or the style guide. I once had an editor who arbitrarily changed quotation marks and added commas within compound predicates. Needless to say that I never worked with her again.
  • … should be familiar with the applicable style guide, e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style.
  • … is organized and disciplined. She’ll meet the deadlines and send your manuscript back on time.
  • … will point out the strong points of the story as well as the flaws. That way, you know what not to change, and a pat to the back is always a good motivation when it’s well-deserved.
  • … knows the difference between subjective taste and objective mistakes. Maybe the author’s voice differs from that of the editor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s poor writing.
  • … has good interpersonal and communication skills. She won’t just pull out the red pen and start editing but will first make sure she knows what you need and expect from the editing process. Editing is an ongoing dialogue with a lot of back and forth.
  • … doesn’t just make changes without giving you a way to know what she has changed. She uses the “track changes” function so that authors can accept or reject changes. That allows the author to learn something for her next book and to retain full control over the manuscript. Personally, I wouldn’t want to work with an editor who is refusing to use “track changes.”
  • … won’t overedit and change things that don’t really need to be changed, just because it’s not the way the editor would have written it.
  • … doesn’t just point out errors but will make suggestions on how to realize the story’s full potential.

Any other traits or skills you want in an editor? Please leave a comment and let us know what you think.


10 tips for working with an editor

February 7, 2013

In the last post, I talked about how to find an editor. Let’s assume your search for the right editor was successful and now the editing will begin. Many first-time authors enter the editorial process with some trepidation, worried about what the editor will do to their “baby,” but there’s no need for that. The editing process should go smoothly if you keep a few simple things in mind:

  1. Remember that the editor is an ally, not an enemy. You and your editor are working together to produce the best book possible. Don’t take criticism of your story as a personal attack. It might hurt to read some of the feedback, but the editor is only trying to make your manuscript better.
  2. Set aside your ego and your fears and approach your editor’s suggestions with an open mind. Remember that old saying: Minds are like parachutes. They work best when they’re open. If you’re not open to your editor’s suggestions, you’re wasting your time and your or your publisher’s money. So don’t slip into a defensive attitude. Most writers I know (myself included) are very protective of their story and its characters. That’s understandable. But if you’re busy defending your manuscript, you lose the chance to listen and learn.
  3. Take some time to carefully think about the editor’s suggestions. Take a step back and try to see where the editor is coming from. Never send off an e-mail to the editor right after you read her feedback. Get some professional distance first. Writing coach Holly Lisle’s first rule for working with an editor is to “shut mouth, open ears.” She advises writers to write down everything the editor says, even if you don’t agree with it, then to ask for some time to let it all sink in before discussing it with the editor.
  4. There’s no need to be afraid that the editor will change your story into something that you won’t even recognize anymore. A good editor won’t rewrite your book for you; she’ll make you do all the work. The editor’s goal is to make your work the best it can be, not to turn it into her own story.
  5. A good editor is right more often than not, but they’re human, so even editors are wrong sometimes. Most often, it’s not even a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong; you just disagree. It’s okay to disagree with your editor, but don’t let it became a power struggle. Talk about it in a respectful way, let the editor explain why she feels the change is necessary, explain what you were trying to do with the scene, and try to find a compromise. Most often, it turns out that the best solution might not be what the editor suggested, but that there’s still a problem in the scene that needs to be addressed.
  6. The editor’s suggestions are exactly that—suggestions that are meant to help you improve your story. The editor suggests; she doesn’t dictate. Since it’s your name on the cover, a good editor won’t make any changes without your approval.
  7. Most of the editor’s suggestions are more than the subjective opinion and personal preferences of one person. A good editor bases her suggestions on years of experience and on her knowledge of the writing craft, grammar rules, and style guides. She’s familiar with the market and the expectations of your target audience, and she has a professional distance, so she might see flaws that you as the writer don’t see because you’re too close to your work.
  8. Among many things, editors are readers. If the editor expresses concerns about one aspect of your story, other readers might too. You can’t afford to dismiss it out of hand.
  9. Try to communicate with your editor. I’m often amazed at how many writers don’t communicate well. Ask questions if you’re not sure you understand or if you need more help or information.
  10. Please don’t justify yourself by saying, “But X [insert name of a famous, bestselling author] does this too.” First, it’s possible that a really experienced writer can pull off what you were trying to do. Second, that author’s book sells well despite, not because of her head hopping, overuse of adverbs, or anything else she might be doing.

Can you think of anything else that might be helpful when working with an editor? Leave a comment, please.


Tips for finding an editor

February 6, 2013

In past blog articles, I talked about why you need an editor. But where can you find a good editor? How can you avoid hiring an incompetent editor who will do more harm than good?

I suggest you check out several different editors. Ask other your writer friends or published authors whose books you liked about their editor. Search the Internet, e.g., blogs about editing, editors’ websites, etc. Organizations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (US), the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK), the Institute of Professional Editors (Australia), the Editors’ Association of Canada, or the New Zealand Association of Manuscript Assessors (New Zealand) also have lists of members.

After you have found several potential editors for your book, try to get more information about them.

  • Qualification and experience: Look at the editor’s website. It should display a bio or some information about the editor’s background. Does she have an academic degree? Has she ever worked in the publishing industry? If the editor has worked for a reputable publisher in the past, that’s a big plus, but it’s not automatically a disqualification if she hasn’t. How long has she been editing? Is she a successful writer too? That might be a plus for a developmental editor.
  • References and testimonials: On their websites, most editors will name a list of books they worked on. Ask for a list of completed projects and contact a few of the authors with whom the editor has worked before. What do these former clients say about the editor?
  • Track record: Also, check out the books the editor worked on. Read an excerpt to make sure there are no mistakes that the editor overlooked. Read reviews of the books. Do they mention big flaws that the editor should have caught? Have some of the books the editor worked on been published by a traditional publisher, or are they all self-published books?
  • Check websites such as Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware, Absolut Write, and WritersWeekly to see if anything negative has been posted about the editor before you hire her. But, of course, keep in mind that just one disgruntled customer doesn’t necessarily mean an editor is a fraud.
  • Editor’s website: Does the editor’s website look professional? Does it have any spelling/grammar mistakes? If the editor can’t even correct mistakes on her own website, she probably won’t find them in your manuscript either.
  • Type of editing: Make sure the editor provides the type of editing you want or need. A copy editor will not help you with plot holes, while most content editors won’t correct your spelling mistakes. Once you contact the editor, make sure you find out what exactly the editor will be looking for and what she won’t do.
  • Genre: Most editors specialize in certain areas—nonfiction, fiction, technical writing, etc. Fiction editors often specialize in specific genres. If you write romance, it won’t help you much to hire an editor who has only worked on mysteries before. Look for an editor who has experience in your genre.
  • Fees: Check to see if the editor’s website gives you an idea about the costs of editing. Some editors have hourly rates, so the total costs depend on the length of the manuscript and the quality of writing. Other editors have flat rates that are based on word count. If the website doesn’t have information about the editing fees, ask the editor. After taking a look at your manuscript or a sample edit, the editor should be able to give you a rough estimation of how many working hours will go into editing the manuscript and how much it will cost. Be aware that the editor with the lowest cost isn’t necessarily the best choice.
  • Sample edit: Most editors offer free sample edits (usually 1,000 words) or at least a sample edit at a very low price. So once you narrowed it down to one or two editors, contact them and request a sample edit. That way you can make sure the editor is a good match for you and your book. Are the editor’s comments clear and helpful? Is the editor merely correcting spelling mistakes, or does she make suggestions to improve the book? Do you like her style of communication?
  • Editing tools: You might want to ask the editor which style guide she uses and whether she’ll provide you with a style sheet. If she doesn’t know what the heck you’re talking about, she’s not a professional editor.
  • Editing method: Make sure the editor’s preferred working method fits your needs. Some editors edit onscreen, using MS Word’s Track Changes and comments. Other editors edit the old-fashioned way with red ink on a hard copy of the manuscript. Never hire an editor who makes changes in your document without marking them so you can see what she did.

Does anyone else have tips for how to choose an editor? Please leave a comment.


What does editing cost?

February 5, 2013

For most writers, the costs of editing matter when they’re looking for an editor. So what’s a reasonable price for having your manuscript edited?

The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) publishes a chart of common editorial rates. The following list will also give you an idea of what editors usually charge. Keep in mind that rates vary greatly, though.

By the way, the industry standard for a manuscript page is 250 words.

Copy editing:

  • $30-50 per hour. According to the Writer’s Market, the average is $35. Experienced copy editors might be able to edit about 10 pages per hour, which would mean they make $0.014 per word if they charge an hourly rate of $35. That makes $1,120 for an 80,000-word manuscript. According to the EFA, basic copyediting for an average-length manuscript would cost $960-2,560.
  • Many copy editors ask for $0.02 (2 cents) per word. That would mean between $1.600 for an average 80,000-word manuscript. I’ve seen some editors who copyedit for $0.005 (half cent)/word ($400 for an average manuscript).
  • According to the Writer’s Market, the average per-page rate is $4 (=$1.280 for an 80,000-word manuscript).

Line editing:

  • $40-60 per hour. Depending on the hourly rate and how long it takes to edit the manuscript, that would make $2,400-19,200 for an 80,000-word manuscript.
  • Some editors ask for around $0.02 to $0.03 per word (which would mean $1,600-2,400 for an 80,000-word manuscript).

Content editing:

  • $45-55 per hour. According to the Writer’s Market, the average is around $50.
  • Most editors ask for around $0.02 to 0.075 per word (which would mean $1,600-6,000 for an 80,000-word manuscript).
  • According to the Writer’s Market, the average per-page rate is $7.50 (=$2,400 for an average-length manuscript).

For most writers, that’s a lot of money. Can you get editing for cheaper? Probably. But you usually get what you pay for.

Let’s say an editor can line and substantive edit five pages an hour. That means an 80,000-word manuscript would take her about 60 hours. If the author pays her … let’s say $500, she’ll make about $8 an hour, barely above the minimum wage. Someone who wants to make her living editing can’t afford to work at these rates. So that might mean the editor is forced to work faster and be less thorough, or you will need to hire someone who is just starting out as an editor and charges less. Of course you could also limit yourself to just copy editing, but that won’t help you if your plot doesn’t work or you need help with point of view issues.

What you can actually do to reduce your editing costs is to deliver a manuscript that is as clean as possible. Trim the “fat,” the unnecessary words and fillers, and catch all the grammar and spelling mistakes you can before you send the manuscript to the editor.

Of course, the costs of editing depend not just on the editor, but on various other factors too:

  • Type of editing: For example, copy editing to correct spelling and grammar mistakes costs less than a substantive edit. See my previous post for an explanation of the types of editing.
  • Quality of writing: The more work the editor has to do to make the manuscript presentable, the more the editing will cost. Skilled writers with relatively clean manuscripts pay less. So normally, editors will want to see your manuscript or at least a sample before they can determine the costs of editing.
  • Length: Novels cost more than short stories or novellas, of course. But some editors work on sliding scales, so you’ll pay less per word for a longer manuscript than for a short story.
  • Editor’s experience: If you hire an inexperienced editor who’s just starting out, you’ll probably save money, but (depending on the editor) you might sacrifice quality.
  • Deadline: If the editor needs to work on a tight deadline, you’ll probably pay more for editing (most editors charge 25% more for rush jobs).
  • Number of read-throughs: If you want the editor to go through the manuscript more than once, you’ll probably pay more. Still, it could be worth the money because often times mistakes get overlooked on the first read-through or the edits introduce new errors.

As you saw above, there are different methods to calculate editing fees. Some editors prefer to charge by the hour. Others offer a flat rate that depends on word count, regardless of how many hours will go into editing the manuscript.

Advantage of a flat rate:

  • Both the writer and the editor know beforehand how much the editing will cost. With an hourly rate, the total costs won’t be determined until the editing is finished.
  • Some writers fear the editor will drag out the editing to have more billable hours.

Disadvantage of a flat rate: 

  • Sometimes it can be difficult to estimate how much work is involved in editing a manuscript before you actually start working on it. If the editor underestimates the extent of the job, she ends up working for a very low hourly rate.

If you are a writer, how do you find a good yet affordable editor? And if you are an editor, how do you calculate your fees? Feel free to leave a comment.


Types of editing

February 2, 2013

Yesterday, I explained why even great writers need an editor. But actually, you might need even more than one editor. There are different kinds of editing, and they are all very different skill sets, so it’s rare that one person can do all types of editing–and do them well.

Ideally, your manuscript will undergo each type of editing in the following order:

  • If you submit your manuscript to a traditional publisher, it’ll land on the desk of the acquisition editor first. He or she decides whether the manuscript is worth publishing and whether it fits into the company’s publishing concept. Some acquisition editors won’t edit or even read your whole manuscript, while others will do content editing. They will never copyedit, though.
  • The content editor (sometimes called substantive editor or developmental editor) deals with substantive revisions of the manuscript’s content and points out things such as unrealistic dialogue, point of view errors, too much “telling,” flat characters, inconsistent character behavior, sagging middles, info dumps, plot holes, or lack of conflict. Content editors look at the big picture of a story, the structure, not the words. They don’t correct spelling and grammar mistakes. The substantive editor reads the entire manuscript and then writes an in-depth analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of plot and characters. They also make comments in the manuscripts, but most of them don’t make any changes in the manuscript. Many traditional publishers nowadays don’t supply content editing; they expect writers (or agents) to send them manuscripts that don’t require much work anymore.
  • A line editor makes a line-by-line review of the manuscript and points out things such as passive voice, wordiness, weak words, overused words, redundancies, repetitive sentence or paragraph structures (e.g., too many sentences starting with a participle). Line editing has some overlap with copy editing, and the boundaries are not clear, but there’s a difference. Line editing focuses not on content, but on the prose itself—paragraph structure, sentence flow, and word choice. Line editors most often use editorial comments and MS Word’s “track changes” to suggest rewrites.
  • The copy editor checks for grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. They might also comment on continuity errors (“Didn’t she have blue eyes in chapter one?”) or do some minor rewriting for the sake of clarity, but they don’t do any major revisions of style or content. For the most part, copy editing is just following the rules; very little of it is a judgment call. Most copy editors make their changes in the manuscript, using the “track changes” feature if they do onscreen editing.
  • Proofreading is often confused with copy editing, but a proofreader is not an editor. I’ll still include proofreading to complete the picture. Proofreaders compare the copyedited manuscript to the printer’s proof to make sure that no errors were introduced during the publishing process. They look at the formatting, end-of-line breaks, paragraph and sentence spacing, and typographical errors, but of course they also point out misspelled words or punctuation mistakes if they find any. Nowadays, proofreaders might also check to see how the e-book looks on the small-screen device and whether the e-book conversion created any problems.

So if you need someone who will help you find the weaknesses in your plot, don’t hire a copy editor and expect her to fix the plot along with the comma mistakes.

Also, be aware that different people use different terms for these types of editing. So if you pay one editor to copyedit, what you get might actually be closer to a line edit, while the next copy editor will focus only on the things I described in the copy editing section. Some editors also include line editing in their substantive editing service.

Just ask before you start working with an editor to make sure you’re getting exactly the kind of help your manuscript needs.

Happy writing!


Why do you need a professional editor?

February 1, 2013

red-crayonOn Lesfic_Unbound, a yahoo group for writers and readers of lesbian fiction, people have been discussing editing fees this week. Editing is expensive, so some self-published authors and some small publishers try to cut costs by skipping the editing.

Needless to say that’s a really bad idea.


After spending months or even years writing a story, you’re too close to it. You’re so familiar with the story that you don’t see its weak spots anymore. You read the story that you THINK you’ve written, not the one you actually wrote. What was clear in your head might not be so clear on paper. No one, not even someone who edits for a living, can view her own story with an objective eye.

So every writer needs feedback from other people. Writing is mostly a solitary activity, but it takes a village to produce a good book.

The first line of defense against mistakes and weaknesses in your manuscript are beta readers and critique partners.

Beta readers are friends, colleagues, or family members who will read the manuscript and give feedback. What worked for them? What didn’t work? Was there anything that didn’t make sense? etc.

Critique partners are similar to beta readers, but they are fellow writers, so they can give more detailed feedback or might even be able to tell you how to fix some problems in your story. You can also learn a lot about writing by critiquing your critique partner’s story in return.

Beta readers and critique partners can be a great sounding board and support system.

But most of them aren’t trained professionals, and especially friends and family members might not be totally objective. That’s where editors come in. An experienced editor has worked on hundreds of manuscripts and with many different authors, so they have identified and solved the same problems that haunt your book many times before.

So if you’re planning on self-publishing or if you want to make sure your manuscript is in great shape before you send it to publishers, you need an editor. But there are different types of editing and editors, so you need to know what you’re looking for. I’ll blog about the different types of editors tomorrow.


Tell, don’t show

January 4, 2013

This week, I am revising a short story that will be published in February. One of the things I do while revising the first draft of a story is to identify the passages where I’m telling and to replace them with showing.

But I also stumbled across a few “telling” passages that I didn’t change.

While “show, don’t tell” is most often good advice, showing isn’t always better than telling.

Just a quick reminder: Showing is describing things in vivid details that allow readers to come to their own conclusions. Telling is giving the reader summaries and interpretations.

So when you’re showing, everything happens in real time. Events take up more space on the page if you show them instead of telling. If you describe something at length, readers will automatically think that the event or action holds a certain importance. So if you have unimportant, everyday tasks in your story, it might be better to tell.

Here are two examples from my short story.

The woman behind the front desk took one look at their sodden clothes and quickly checked them in.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and my main character, Annie, has booked a room at a cozy little inn to seduce her girlfriend. If I wrote half a page of dialogue about the inn’s manager welcoming them, handing over the key, and letting them know at what time they can have breakfast, it would take the focus from what’s really important in this scene. So instead of showing all the details of their interaction with the manager, I summarized and just said that the manager checked them in.

The second example is similar:

They ordered, and within ten minutes the waiter returned with the fries and two Caesar salads.

Here, Drew and Annie are enjoying a romantic dinner, but I want the focus to be on their interaction, the emotions, not on their interaction with the waiter, so instead of showing the ordering process, I summed it up and jumped ahead in time.

So maybe instead of advising writers to “show, don’t tell,” we should advise them to “show and tell.” The trick is to figure out when it’s better to show (probably 90% of the time) and when it’s better to tell.

Here are links to some of my previous posts about showing and telling:

The golden rule

Show, don’t tell

Showing emotions

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