IN THIS season of recession many people are turning to book writing as a source of income. The great thing about books is that once you finish the hard work of getting the content out of your mind and on to pen and paper (well, keyboard and screen), you have a product that can potentially make you money for the rest of your life, and not only that, you’ll be leaving a legacy for generations to come.
Contrary to what some may think, writing a book is not the sole journey of one man and his PC, rather a collective effort is required if the vision is to materialise. Having a great idea and being able to write it down is just the first part; you also need a designer for the cover and the page layout, a publisher to get it out there (even if you’re self-publishing), and if your book is for self-promotion purposes (nothing wrong with that), you need a good photographer to capture you at your very best.
But above all, what every author needs as a matter of great importance is an editor – not just any editor but a good editor. Editing marks the difference between a quality book that is read and treasured for life, and the inferior equivalent that is quickly discarded upon possession. A good editor does much more than spot spelling mistakes and make grammar corrections (that’s the sole role of a ‘proofreader’), the right editor will add the icing to your book and the swing to your manuscript, therefore this is a very important decision for any author to make.
How do I choose an editor for my book?
Every author is naturally anxious about who they hand over their “baby” to, and rightly so! This is particularly true of first time authors or authors writing a biography, or about a subject close to their heart.
A quick online search will reveal hundreds of people and websites offering book-editing services, but how do you know which one to go for in all this ‘noise’? I believe good editors share seven common characteristics as follows:
A good editor…
1. Works with you to understand and convey your message – the starting point of a good editor is to gain an understanding of the aims and objectives of your book and what message you want to share with your audience. This helps to shape and guide the editing process and ensures that the whole book is geared towards meeting these goals;
2. Speaks your language – as it is your book that’s being edited, it’s only right that your readers hear your voice and not that of your editor. A good editor even when changing words and rewriting, maintains your voice, tone and language to preserve the authenticity and integrity of your work;
3. Speaks the language of your audience – if you’re writing a book on a subject of which you’re somewhat of an expert, it’s easy to take for granted how much understanding your intended audience has in this area therefore you may occasionally slip into “jargon-ese”. A good editor will convert your jargon to English and act as the translator between you and your audience where necessary;
4. Creates a flow that makes your book readable – once you have written out all your thoughts in a loose format of chapters and sections, a good editor is able to organise and structure the material in a logical manner to make it readable to your intended audience;
5. Makes suggestions that enhance your work – having a second pair of eyes read over your book is always a good thing, but having the professional second set of eyes of a good editor is invaluable! A good editor can spot areas where you might need to include more information, perhaps to clarify a point, or have less information to avoid losing the reader and would advise you on how to go about doing this;
6. Checks the basic facts – this is particularly crucial if you are writing a non-fiction book based on facts. There is a dedicated role of a ‘fact checker’ in the editing world which is a separate function (I would recommend hiring one of these if your book is a historical fiction, a travel guide, or some other subject whereby the majority of your content is based on statistical facts), but a good editor will check the basic facts of your book such as whether you’re correctly referencing a book title, author or date within your work. Without this vital function, you might end up publishing a book with numerous factual inaccuracies which immediately reduces your credibility as an author;
7. Has their ego in check – a good editor knows that their role as your literary midwife is to help you give birth but they are under no illusion of surrogate parenting and are more than happy to bask in the shades of your limelight before and after your book is released.
As well as all the above, the key hallmark of a good editor is that they always bring a noticeable improvement to your book, leaving you with that feeling of “Wow, I didn’t know I was that *clever/entertaining/creative/deep…!” (*delete as applicable depending on the theme of your book).
Making sure you’re settled
In order for your book to get the best care and attention it needs you need to hire an editor you can trust and it’s very important that you feel confident in their ability to deliver the goods. The best place to start is to ask friends and family for recommendations; failing that you can ask around in any social forums you’re part of, advertise your needs on a site like Elance or People Per Hour, or just do a regular old Google search to find someone suitable.
Once you’ve done your research and you have an editor in mind, how do you know if he or she has these seven characteristics? Simple, go for a test drive! There are two ways you can do this:
a) submit a chapter to the editor and ask them to return an edited version to you;
b) arrange to meet with the editor (if distance permits) to discuss your book and have an on-screen editing session as a taster. This will typically last between an hour and an hour and half.
However, as these taster sessions involve time, most editors will charge you for this but are usually happy to deduct the fee from the total editing price, should you then choose to move forward with them.
How much should I pay for an editor?
Editors’ fees range from hundreds of pounds to thousands depending on how labour-intensive your book is in terms of subject matter and word count. Some editors charge per hour, others have flat fee rates and offer a range of packages for different needs. If you are money-conscious, your best bet is to do your own online research and compare a few prices before making your decision. However, be wary of editors who quote very low fees as sometimes this is a reflection of the quality of work you will get.
So in summary…
Find an editor you like, make sure that they have these seven characteristics and watch your book transform from average to awesome before your very eyes!