Editing your novel can vary in cost. You can pay nothing if you can find someone to swap with, or it can cost you in the thousands if you pay for all the things.
The types of editing vary, too, and it’s wise to figure out what you need before you look for an editor.
Types of editing:
- Proofreading. This is a sweep looking for typos. This is probably the cheapest and easiest editing job you can hire out. Even a beta reader could probably do this for you if you give out copies of your final draft.
- Line Edits. This goes a lot deeper. These editors look for punctuation, grammar, incorrect word usage, syntax, repetition, subject/verb agreement. If you don’t have a strong grasp of grammar, punctuation, or have a weak vocabulary and you often use an incorrect word, then a line edit is probably mandatory so you don’t look like an ass.
- Developmental Editing. Developmental editors read your whole book and make notes on plot holes and incomplete character arcs. They point out pacing, passages that don’t bring anything to the story or doesn’t make sense. If you wrote yourself into a corner and pulled a deus ex machina to get yourself out, they will call you on it. Developmental editors are good for writers who haven’t finished a book and need help getting there, or for a writer who is trying to stretch their writing wings and may need guidance with a more complicated plot. Book coaches or book doulas aren’t exactly the same thing, so research who/what/when/where before you hire anyone.
As an indie, you must decide what kind of editor you need. Because also, as an indie, you aren’t going to be able to afford all three–though some of the big indies who “have made it” pay for a combination of the three because they can.
What’s an indie to do if you can’t/doesn’t want to shell out the cash?
Let’s start with the developmental edit.
Look for places online that offer a critique partner match-up. On Twitter that’s #CPmatch. If you’re part of the #amwriting crowd you could probably just tweet you’re looking for a critique partner for your new novel in your genre. But the problem with this kind of service is the expectation of reciprocation. If you’re not willing to help someone else, don’t bother to look online for someone to help you for free. Expect to pay out. You could pay a beta reader for some feedback, but I doubt they would go as deep as a developmental editor. Betas maybe will give you a sense of what’s working and what’s not–but developmental editors can tell you how to fix your issues. There are also a gazillion writing groups on Facebook. Join a couple and ask if anyone would be willing to work with you. But this kind of situation is the same as Twitter–be prepared to reciprocate in some way in the future. And be prepared to wait. Not everyone will get back to you when you’d like them to.
Join a local writing group. People will be more than happy to tell you what’s wrong with your work. If you can develop a thick skin, and admit you need help, a writing group critique can be valuable. But people have the propensity to be cruel whether online or in person. So if you really need help of this nature, it may behoove you to pay out. At least the editor will be professional about it and actually tell you what you need to know to fix your book. I’ve spoken with people who have gotten such cruel feedback from writing groups they’ve stopped writing. I don’t want this for you.
Can you be your own developmental editor? You may need to write a few books before you can get your plot points, backstory building, saggy middles, and character arcs under control. Read up on plotting and building character arcs. If you want to avoid tons of rewriting and backing yourself into a corner only a deus ex machina could get you out of, then maybe learn to plot out your books. Pantsing is okay if you know where you want to go, but just letting your mind and your characters run wild may open you up to forgotten side characters, saggy middles where no one is doing anything, and plot holes that may take forever to fix.
One of the best ways you can learn developmental editing is to chart out a book you read that you enjoyed. Write out chapter by chapter what happened (mini-cliffhangers), paying special attention to the first part of the book (what drew you in), the middle (what kept the plot moving), the couple chapters toward the end (what made you keep reading to the last page). This is why it’s important to read in your genre. Eventually, you’ll learn the rhythm and feel of your genre and it will show in what you write.
If you really need this kind of help, there aren’t many places you can find this type of editing for free. I line edit, and it’s time-consuming. Pointing out grammar, punctuation, syntax, incorrect word usage, and repetition takes a lot of concentration. I do “look and finds” a lot. “You used ‘walked’ 300 times. ‘Looked’ 250. ‘Saw’ 600.” Whoever line edits for you needs to be able to point out comma splices, tell you when a word like saturated is better than lingered when it comes to a scent (or did you mean smell?). Did you mean waive instead of wave? Waist instead of waste? Or if it’s April second in your novel and you wrote there was a full moon, but at that time of year, the moon would actually have been a quarter? This attention to detail that a line editor gives you cannot be produced for free. It’s just too much work. Did you mean Kleenex or tissue? Because if you’re referring to the brand, you better capitalize it. Same with Jell-O or gelatin. Does your main male character watch sports center or SportsCenter? Because only one of them is correct, and I bet you can see which one it is.
The good news is you can teach yourself a lot. Read grammar books. Self-editing books. You need to train yourself to pay attention to detail. Look up words if you don’t know their exact meanings. The best way to learn is to read a lot of fiction and non-fiction books. In time, you’ll get better. But until then, are you talking about karat, or carat when you describe your FMC’s engagement ring? If you don’t understand, or you don’t know what you don’t know, you’re going to have to find, and probably pay, someone to tell you.
Proofreading is the cheapest form of editing. Don’t give your book to someone to proofread unless you are done.
Because when you go through your book fixing things, sometimes you can fix in a mistake right along with it. Your proofreader will be your last set of eyes. So don’t decide to rewrite chapter one after your proofreader has done her job. That wastes everyone’s time.
There are some software programs that can help–but a software program can’t take the place of human eyes, so take their suggestions with a (huge) grain of salt.
Grammarly. Grammarly is okay. But they are comma crazy. They are also hyphen crazy. I stopped running my manuscripts through it. You’re better off knowing your stuff and reading your MS line by line with a ruler. In my experience, no help is better than their help. **I do have Grammarly installed on my laptop, and though I don’t use it for my books anymore, it’s great for blog posts, tweets, and FB posts. I appreciate their assistance when I’m blogging, as for non-fiction, it’s an accurate help.
Hemingway Editor. The Hemingway app gives you a free sample online. Just copy and past part of your manuscript into the program and see if it would be beneficial to you. It’s only $20.00. I have it, but I don’t use it.
ProWriting Aid. I’ve used the free sample online, and it’s similar to Hemingway. They have different levels of pay (per time usage), so see what’s best for you if you like the online sample. My friend Aila loves it and wrote a great blog post about it (but please note the giveaway is over), and she’s an affiliate with them. If you decide to buy the program, I would appreciate it if you bought it from her affiliate link.
If you have trouble with syntax, natural-sounding dialogue or if you have slow areas that affect your pacing, you may want to try having your computer read to you. I love doing this–especially if you ever think you’ll turn your books into audio. The voice isn’t perfect, but it’s better than nothing. Some people read their manuscripts aloud, but because you know what you want it to say, you may miss things.
Here is a list of my favorite editing books:
Self-Editing On a Penny: A Comprehensive Guide
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
VOICE: The Secret Power of Great Writing
Fix Your Damn Book!: A Self-Editing Guide for Authors: How to Painlessly Self-Edit Your Novels & Stories
Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction (Busy Writer’s Guides) (Volume 4)
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure (Helping Writers Become Authors) (Volume 7)
That should be enough to get you going. I’ve read all of these and they are my favorites.
If you hire an editor, always be sure to send a sample first. Some editors charge you for this, but if you hire them, they’ll put that fee toward your book. Give them as clean a draft as possible, because if your sample is a mess, they will quote you higher. They’ll think your book will take them a lot of time.
Writers are not always good editors, and editors don’t always make good writers. Writing and editing are different skill sets and they are not inclusive of each other.
Know what you’re getting into before forking out the cash.
Where to look for an editor:
Join Alli, the Alliance for Independent Authors. They have a great list of resources for indies. They take a stance on putting out supremely professional work though, so don’t be surprised if their resources are expensive. Unfortunately, you can’t gain access to their resources without becoming a member.
Joanna Penn makes her resources available for free. But be careful. Someone’s best fit won’t necessarily be yours.
Reedsy. Create an account and you will have their resources at your disposal. Vetted for skill and professionalism, you’ll get what you pay for. They have a lot of different freelancers for the different kinds of editing you’d be interested in.
Start looking for an editor quite some time before you wish to publish. You’ll be put at the end of the queue. While you wait for them to edit your book, you can work on something else, get your author platform going, go on vacation, what have you. But you won’t be working on your timetable anymore.
I hope this blog post and resources have helped you a bit.
Next up is formatting! Fun times!
Thanks for reading!