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I remember reading a recent comment in the blogosphere, from an editor, that really stuck with me. He said, and I paraphrase, "Editing is a conversation between the Editor and the Author."
This really resonates with me because it sums up the idea that the editors job, beyond proofing for grammatical, narrative, and logical mistakes, is to help the Author bring a refined sense of clarity to the book.
The conversation that exists between the author and editor helps both the editor and the author better understand what it is that the author is trying to say on any given page (or throughout the whole book).
This process of clarification can only be achieved with input from a 3rd party - usually the editor, because they may have the unique ability of being removed from the work and having the perspective and talent to communicate discrepancies within the authors communicative process.
And in all these regards, I think that one of the best practices that an Author or Publisher can undertake is to find an editor who is a good match for that individual authors style of writing and communicating, and allow time within the book production process for that editorial conversation to take place.
An editor is essential to the process of publishing. Isn't this part of the problem with self pubbing these days? People throwing up unedited first drafts? I would like to see all Publishers have an editing policy in place and some idea of who they might use. For example I have:
This is the editing process for everything I will publish. The fact that all of that is free isn't of concern. Crit partners are friends, the editor is someone I working for in trade and my dad, well, one hopes he won't charge. The idea that money is necessary for editing is a falsehood. Money can make it faster, easier and sometimes more professional (note sometimes) but it is not essential. What is essential is that we take enough pride in our work to make sure the quality is so far above standard it doesn't matter who published it.
As a freelance book editor, whose authors have won book awards, my first response to anyone who doesn't think an editor is necessary is, "go talk to a few award-winning authors about their thoughts on hiring an editor." These authors will be the first to tell you how much their book improved with the help of their editor.
I recommend you get as much editing as you can afford. It’s not cheap – but that’s because a good editor needs to give your work proper attention. Do you need to pay someone? You don’t. But the chances of getting a good edit will increase if you do hire a professional. Sure, your Aunt Sue's best friend's cousin was an English major, but a professional editor is not only going to have more experience detecting issues with your work (whichever level of detail they’re working at), but they’ll be in a much better position to give you constructive ideas on how to improve the work.
For example, a friend might say, "I got bored in the middle," whereas an editor will say, "I got bored in the middle because the main character started rambling on about insignificant details that took the reader off track."
But, don't just look at the dollars going out of pocket. Think about the dollars coming in; if you have a book that is professionally edited, your book will sell and you'll get your return on investment.
So, the bottom line is this: Do you want a book that sells, or do you want a book that no one wants to read.
It's important to distinguish the several roles of editor within a publishing house, which may be distributed among several individuals — or not.
1. The acquisitions editor speaks for the publishing house, with the primary task of determining whether then MS submitted fits the mission statement — or, lacking that, the actual niche market that the publisher currently serves. If a MS is not a good fit, it doesn't matter how good it is, because the publisher will not serve that author well.
2. The slush pile reader (editor in training) in traditional publishing is an important filter, sending on only the best, most apt pieces on for consideration. It's a good place to learn to say no.
3. A senior editor, at some point, must confront the marketing department with his or her projects under consideration.
The marketing perspective must be satisfied: customers are buying such-and-such, but so-and-so is now passé; we're too late in the cycle; or, we need to beef up the (___) section; or, ebooks are killing us in (____) genres.
4. Once a project is greenlighted, an editor contacts the author with the good news, and by the way, you might consider rewriting X, and perhaps shifting Y to the end, and can you write a peppier first chapter — gentle critiquing. There's the important conversation with the author. One hopes that that goes well.
5. At the same time, a copy editor is set to go over the MS word by word, perhaps checking facts — even though that's legally the author's responsibility, the publisher doesn't want a bad rep for putting out trash. By this time, the senior editor has to make sure that this is what it claims to be, it fits the list, it's good timing for the market, and it's professionally clean.
6. Though not usually considered an editorial function, the design of the book, the cover, the formats — all ought to be consistent with the message that the book is to deliver. The title: editorial. Cover design: had better be approved by the editor.
7. As well as the above, the senior editor needs to understand the workflow of the house: are you using XML, RTF, InDesign, HTML5, ePub, PDF, etc. Do you do a hardback first, mass market after 6 months; or ebook cheap simultaeously with paper edition, etc. Any special considerations need to be negotiated
For a really small publisher, such as myself, all of these tasks still need to be accomplished in a professional manner, from slush to print.
Some freelance editors specialize in critiques without copy-editing (myself included); or v.v. Or both. Whichever way one offers services needs to be clearly explained to the author. In my experience, the author typically does not know what is needed or what to ask for. So be clear about your limits and your fee.
I'd start with a critique. My rate is $35/hour, and I usually estimate my read-through rate at about 2 pages a minute (120pp. = 1 hour). That will get you my one-page opinion on best strategy forward, plus a cost estimate if I were to do the editing.
My experience is primarily general nonfiction (factual, persuasive, journalistic, thematic, historical). I'm not qualified to critique you in fiction (narrative, sensational, confessional, character development, plotting, genre writing). If your material is highly technical, best to find a professional in your field for help.