Tag Archives: copy editing

Hiring a Fiction Editor, Part Two

Marnie Lamb

2. Set a budget.

Hiring a professional editor is expensive. As with hiring a professional contractor, working with an editor will cost at least a few hundred dollars and possibly up to several thousand, depending on the service and the amount of work your manuscript requires.

Some editors charge a flat, per-job rate. One benefit of this approach is that both editor and writer know exactly how much the job will cost from the outset. However, from an editor’s perspective, a flat rate can be problematic because it requires her to estimate the time involved in editing a manuscript, including time for administrative duties. Even for experienced editors, estimating is an imprecise science, particularly if the editor and writer have never previously worked together. To guard against over- or underestimating, some editors present a range of fees, with a minimum and maximum.

Other editors bill by an hourly rate. This is often easier for the editor because it saves him the conundrum of estimating. Yet for the author, an hourly rate can be risky because the ceiling price is unknown. You can try to negotiate for a flat rate instead, but be aware that some editors won’t agree to a per-job rate. I once had an editor tell me that she didn’t believe in flat rates. Her perspective was that her time was worth a certain amount per hour, which is completely valid.

So what are the average hourly rates charged by editors? On its website, the Editorial Freelancers Association in the United States provides a chart of common rates. Copy editing starts at a rate of US$30 per hour, substantive editing at US$40 per hour (see https://www.the-efa.org/rates/). Editors Canada does not publish suggested rates, but I can share anecdotally that most Canadian editors will charge rates comparable to those of their American colleagues.

Two points mentioned in part one of this article are relevant here: First, a manuscript page is usually defined as 250 words (though for proofreading, this number is closer to 400 or 500 because a formatted page will be single spaced). Second, Amy Einsohn generalizes that copy editors work at a pace of anywhere from one to nine pages per hour; Editors Canada estimates the editing pace for structural or stylistic editing at one to three pages per hour (see https://www.editors.ca/content/what-do-editors-charge). If you multiply the number of hours needed to edit the manuscript times the hourly rate… well, you can do the math. Flat rates won’t necessarily be cheaper because they are based on the editor’s hourly rate times the number of hours that she thinks the job will require.

Don’t forget about tax. Like hairdressing or repairing cars, editing is a service for which practitioners can charge tax. In Canada, once an editor has earned an annual total of C$30,000 per year from his editing business, he must register with the federal government to obtain an HST number. Thereafter, he is required to charge tax for his editing services. Some editors choose to apply for an HST number even before they’ve hit the minimum threshold of earnings. In Canada, a Canadian editor working with a Canadian author will charge federal tax based on the province in which the author resides. Hence, an Ontario-based editor will charge 5% tax (GST) to an author who lives in British Columbia but 13% tax (HST) to one who lives in Ontario.

As you can see, a budget of $400 will not suffice in most cases. Unless your manuscript is short, has already been through a critique and several substantive edits, and requires only a light copy edit, which is not the case for 99% of manuscripts, you’re better off spending that $400 on a writing course or a writing coach.

3. Research editors with whom you might want to work.

Researching an editor’s specialties and contacting only editors whose skills and interests match your needs saves time for both writer and editor.

An excellent way to find editors is by using the free Online Directory of Editors (ODE) from Editors Canada (https://www.editors.ca/ode/search). (In the United States, the Editorial Freelancers Association has a similar directory.) The ODE lists each registrant’s editorial skills (e.g., copy editing), media or genre of specialty (e.g., fiction), and subject fields in which she has worked (e.g., family). You can choose from a drop-down menu in any or all of these three areas or type keywords into a general search bar. One word of caution: Searching for a skill, media, and subject field all at once will show you editors who have experience in all these areas but who don’t necessarily have experience in the intersection of these areas. That is, editors who come up in a search for “copy editing,” “fiction,” and “family” may not necessarily have copy edited fiction manuscripts about families.




Therefore, it’s wise to conduct further research by reading the profile statements and looking at the websites of editors who pop up in search results. For example, my ODE entry includes substantive editing as a skill. I have experience substantive editing journal articles, grant applications, and resumes. While I enjoy this type of editing in certain contexts, I’ve chosen other editorial services as the focal points of my business. My website showcases these services, including manuscript evaluation and copy editing. If you’re seeking substantive editing for your manuscript, contacting an editor who lists experience in “substantive editing” and “fiction” is completely fair. But because those terms are likely to yield dozens of potential candidates, digging into the backgrounds of some candidates should help you narrow down the list to those editors who are the closest matches.

If you’re interested in hiring an editor to undertake multiple types of editing, as some self-publishing authors are, then be sure to look for editors who can handle all the kinds of editing you need (e.g., structural editing, stylistic editing, and copy editing).

While you’re digging into an editor’s background, double check whether his ODE entry and website contain spelling or grammatical errors (surprisingly, I’ve found a few). Also consider how long the editor has been in business and what sort of testimonials he has garnered.

When you’ve decided on a group of editors to whom you’d like to reach out, limit your first round of emails to no more than five or six people. Emailing thirty editors is tantamount to sending the same resume and cover letter to thirty employers: the broader the target, the less likely you are to hit the bullseye. If the first round of queries doesn’t yield a hire, embark on a second round, again of only a few people.

4. Craft a detailed introductory email and prepare a sample from your manuscript.

Write a detailed, courteous (see point five) email introducing yourself and your manuscript and answering the questions I posed in part one of this article.

During the initial negotiations, an editor may request a short sample from your manuscript (perhaps ten pages) so that she can assess which type and level of editing are required and how long the job will take. Although you should have a sample available before contacting an editor, don’t send your sample when you first reach out to her. Don’t presume that an editor has the time or desire to read your manuscript. Remember that at this point, you’re only querying. You and the editor haven’t yet agreed to collaborate. Also, many people will not open unsolicited attachments from unknown individuals, and emails containing such attachments may end up in the receiver’s spam bucket.

If you have a deadline (e.g., you’re writing a family memoir and want it completed for a relative’s eightieth birthday), by all means share that with the editor and make it a parameter of your agreement. But in that case, plan ahead. Editors can’t necessarily accommodate a quick, urgent turnaround. The more experience an editor has, the more likely he is to be booked weeks or even months in advance. If you procrastinate and then want your manuscript edited immediately, you might get lucky and locate an editor who has the right credentials and is available right away. You might have to compromise by hiring someone whose experience and background are not exactly what you’d been seeking. Or you might have to jettison your original deadline to respect your chosen editor’s availability.

5. Be courteous in all your interactions and give each editor a final response.

Editors talk. We have associations with conferences, monthly meetings, and email discussion groups. Many of us are friends as well as colleagues. If you’re sending out a slew of emails that sound unprofessional, suspicious, or generic, editors might pass on this information to one another as a warning (e.g., “Has anyone else received an email from a guy looking for an editor for his 200,000-word manuscript on a rebellion by Martian dry cleaners?”). The greater the number of editors who are contacted, the less likely each particular editor is to be hired for the job. Hence, many editors don’t want to spend time responding to queries that sound as though they’ve been sent to dozens of other editors (failing to include the editor’s name in the salutation screams mass email). If your query falls into this category, you might find yourself receiving a lot of nos or no responses.

It’s astonishing how many people lack basic email etiquette. Often, I don’t receive a final response from writers who have queried me about editing their manuscripts. I’m fine with not being hired. The editing market in North America is a free one, and writers are at liberty to choose whomever they’d like to work with. Both writer and editor must be comfortable with their mutual arrangement. If a writer feels that I’m not the best match for her, then our working together is not a good idea. But I do get a bit grouchy when I’ve taken the time to correspond with and offer advice to a budding writer, only to have that person go silent and leave me dangling.

So regardless of whether you hire a particular editor, if you’ve corresponded with that person, be sure to thank her for her time and let her know your decision. Editors are busy professionals, and any time spent corresponding with you may not be billable even if the editor is hired and is definitely not billable if she isn’t. So be grateful that you’re getting free advice and respond accordingly.

6. Recognize what an editor can—and cannot—do for you.

An editor can provide an honest, unbiased, professional assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript. An editor can offer practical suggestions for improving your manuscript. An editor can help you make your manuscript the best it can be.

Note the word “help”: the onus is still on you. An editor can provide an insightful manuscript critique, but if you choose to ignore parts of it, that may result in the manuscript not realizing its potential. Likewise, an editor can suggest edits to a manuscript, but you have the final say as to which ones you accept. Certainly, you should act on and accept only critiques and edits that make sense to you and with which you’re comfortable. But be aware that rejecting too many of the editor’s ideas defeats the purpose of having hired an editor in the first place.

An editor cannot guarantee that a traditional publisher or agent will accept your manuscript. While having an editor assist you is likely to increase your chances of getting published, it’s important to understand that an edited manuscript offers no promises. Many other considerations, mainly surrounding the marketability and potential sales of a book, come into play in a publisher or agent’s decision to accept a manuscript. Be suspicious of any editor who makes promises about your manuscript being published—unless he owns a publishing company and is telling you that he will publish the manuscript himself.




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You may be thinking that hiring an editor seems like a lot of work. Perhaps, yet consider this: How many years of work did you put into your manuscript? Surely, your manuscript is as important to you as a kitchen renovation, so why not take the same amount of care in finding the right person to help you take your project to the next stage? Even if you plan to self-publish and don’t need to worry about polishing a manuscript to please a publisher, think of your readers. You have only a single chance at that all-important first impression. Do you want a weak structure, confused paragraphing, and multiple typos to be part of that impression?

Lest you think that all of this advice is coming from the perspective of an editor only, let me share a personal story. Ten years ago, I was a published short story author who had a book-length manuscript, a young adult novel. The manuscript had grown out of the thesis I wrote for my master’s degree in creative writing. I’d been shopping the manuscript around to publishers without success and wanted an honest, non-academic perspective on the story. After searching the ODE, I found an editor and hired him to conduct a manuscript evaluation. His enthusiastic feedback confirmed that my manuscript had value outside of an academic institution. The evaluation included a few suggestions for structural improvements, which I implemented myself.

Several years later, after having sent the manuscript to several more agents and publishers to no avail, I heard that my manuscript evaluator had started his own publishing company. Resubmitting my manuscript to him in the hopes that it would be published seemed like fate. Last spring, The History of Hilary Hambrushina was published, after an eighteen-year journey from academic thesis to published book.

My story is proof that working with an editor can be a rewarding experience that ultimately results in success in finding a publisher. I hope that it will inspire you in your own publishing journey.

Happy editor finding!

© Marnie Lamb

Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books in the spring of 2017. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, manuscript evaluation, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.

Hiring a Fiction Editor, Part One

Marnie Lamb

As a freelance editor, I receive queries from aspiring authors seeking editing for their book-length fiction manuscript. Getting a book published, particularly with a traditional publisher (as opposed to a hybrid or self-publisher), is even harder now than it was a decade ago. More and more, publishers and agents are seeking polished manuscripts. If you’re an author, working with a professional editor can improve your chances of having your manuscript accepted for publication. However, simply requesting “editing” in your email query without further specification is similar to saying, “I want some renovation work done on my kitchen, but I don’t know what type of renovation I need or what my budget is.” Just as a kitchen can be renovated in many ways, a manuscript can be edited in many ways.

Many authors don’t have a strong sense of what occurs between a manuscript’s acceptance and its appearance on a bookstore’s shelves or website. And why should they? The publication process is not a basic subject of a secondary-school or university education. When I launched my editing career in earnest, I was a published short story writer with three university degrees in English literature. Yet until I began taking editing courses, I didn’t know the difference between a copy edit and a proofread. But having basic knowledge of the steps in the publication process, including the different types of editing and their order in the process, will serve you well if you’re contacting an editor. The more specific you are about what you want for your manuscript, the more an editor will be able to help you and the more likely you’ll be able to choose the right editor for the job.

Let’s look at a typical first email from a budding writer looking to hire a fiction editor: “Hi, I’ve just completed my first novel. It’s 100,000 words, and I’m looking to have it edited. What you do charge?”

Now let’s break down the problems with this email:

I: Who are you? What is your background as a writer? Do you have a degree or certificate in creative writing, or have you taken any courses in that area? Do you have publications or a website? Granted, many writers seeking editing are first-time authors without a lot of credentials or an author website. But providing even a few details about your writing background is a helpful clue to the editor about what type of editing you might need (e.g., “I’m a yet-to-be published author who has just completed the novel writing workshop at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies”).

My first novel: What are the title, subject, and genre? Whom do you envision as the audience? How would you summarize your story in a sentence or paragraph?

100,000 words: This is a good start, but word count is only one chapter in your manuscript’s story. What is your manuscript’s history: How many people have read it? Are they experienced writers or other professionals who regularly assess creative writing and who have no emotional connection to you, or are they your family and friends? How many drafts has it gone through?

Edited: What kind of editing are you seeking? What is your goal for your manuscript? Are you looking to self-publish it or submit it to a traditional publisher or an agent?

Charge: What is your budget? Do you have a deadline for completion of the editing?

As you can see, the initial email is vague. It doesn’t provide an editor with enough details for her to determine whether she’s even the right person for the job, let alone whether she’s interested in undertaking it. When I receive such emails, I respond requesting the missing details, particularly the type of editing that the writer is seeking. Many writers come back with quixotic ideas like “I want the prose to sing” or muddy direction such as “I want the book to be a good read.” But these statements don’t give an editor any sense of what the writer actually needs.




You don’t have to provide an editor with answers to all the questions I asked above, but you should at least be able to talk about your manuscript’s history and your goals for your manuscript. Teasing out such details is time consuming for everyone involved. So in the interests of saving time, frustration, and potentially miscommunication, here are some steps you should take if you’re considering hiring a fiction editor.

1. Determine which type of editing you need.

To return to the kitchen metaphor, let’s say that you’re selling your house and you want to update the kitchen (the manuscript) to entice potential buyers (publishers and agents). Each type of editing represents a different type of renovation. For a fiction manuscript, these are the potential types of editing, in the order in which they need to be completed.

Manuscript evaluation: A manuscript evaluation is a ten-to-fifteen-page critique of a book-length fiction manuscript. The critique focuses on areas such as plot, structure, characters, dialogue, setting, and writing technique and style. In our kitchen metaphor, a manuscript evaluation is the equivalent of a contractor, designer, or realtor looking over your kitchen and making a list of suggested improvements. That person doesn’t make the improvements. Rather, he itemizes what he thinks the kitchen needs and you decide which items to act on.

While not an absolutely necessary stage in the editing process, manuscript evaluation is highly useful for most writers. If you haven’t had your manuscript critiqued by an editor or writing instructor, taken a writing course, or been part of a writing group, I strongly recommend that you begin with a manuscript evaluation. Writing is like any other skill: it’s developed in part by having people critique your efforts. This critique is particularly valuable to those who haven’t studied the craft of writing, either formally or informally. Even if you have had a writing teacher or fellow participant in a workshop read your manuscript, obtaining a second (or third or tenth) opinion from a dispassionate source is wise. If nothing else, an evaluation will show you the strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript, which will help you decide whether you want to proceed to the more costly and time-consuming steps that follow in the editing process.

In Canada, manuscript evaluation has standard rates. The Writer’s Union of Canada, which offers a manuscript evaluation service performed by anonymous reviewers, charges C$125 for the first ten pages of a manuscript (in publishing, a manuscript page is usually defined as 250 words) and then $2 for each subsequent page.

Structural or substantive editing: Structural editing refers to big-picture editing of both content and form. Structural editing is the equivalent of adding or removing walls, building an extension, and reinforcing floors. Unlike manuscript evaluation, structural editing addresses all structural problems, rather than merely pointing to the biggest ones. Once your manuscript has been evaluated, it will most likely need at least some structural editing. Alternatively, you may decide to skip the evaluation and instead hire someone to help you with the structural editing. This editing could comprise a total tear-down or just a few well-placed tweaks. Depending on your arrangement with the editor, she might suggest the changes or make the changes herself.

Stylistic or line editing: This type of editing involves combing through a manuscript line by line and smoothing paragraph and sentence order and construction, clarifying unclear wording, and eliminating wordiness. The kitchen renovation equivalent is adding or removing cabinets, replacing appliances, and retiling the kitchen floor.

Copy editing: Copy editing is what many people think of when they hear the word “editing”: checking and correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word usage. For the kitchen renovator, this equates to updating the wallpaper or paint, installing a Lazy Susan in a cabinet to ensure that pots and pans are easily accessible, and recycling that rickety chair that you’ve never gotten around to fixing.

Proofreading: The final step in the editing process is proofreading, which involves reading text after it has been placed in its final format. A proofreader double checks page numbers, ensures that design specifications have been followed, and fixes typographical and formatting errors and any flagrant mechanical booboos missed by the copy editor. In our kitchen metaphor, this amounts to buying matching cushions for your chairs, ensuring that cabinet handles are not loose, and replacing your rustic cutting board with a sleeker model to complement the kitchen’s contemporary look. Proofreading is frequently confused or conflated with copy editing. Unless you’ve already found a publisher and your manuscript has been put through page-layout software such as InDesign and a PDF file generated, you’re not looking for proofreading.




For all types of editing other than manuscript evaluation, keep two points in mind. First, there are different levels of edit: heavy, medium, and light. The heavier the edit, the longer the task will take. For example, in The Copyeditor’s Handbook, Second Edition, Amy Einsohn estimates that a copy editor typically works at a rate of four to nine pages per hour for a light copy edit, two to seven for a medium edit, and one to three for a heavy edit. (These are generalizations. Many factors, including the number of words per page and the complexity of the material, influence an editor’s pace.) Second, the rates for editing services vary, depending on the type of editing and the amount of time the edit takes. I’ll talk more about rates in part two.

The biggest error that most writers make when contacting an editor is assuming that their manuscript is at a later stage than it is. Most writers need manuscript evaluation or substantive editing; their manuscripts simply aren’t ready for copy editing. You wouldn’t update the wallpaper on a wall that you might end up removing. So too is it illogical to copy edit a manuscript that needs substantive editing. Your manuscript could be edited to have sterling spelling, gorgeous grammar, and perfect punctuation. But if the manuscript contains chapters or paragraphs that are confusing, repetitive, or tangential, they will need to be reworked or even cut from the story before publication. Then the sterling spelling, gorgeous grammar, and perfect punctuation—and the expense of paying for them—will have been for nought.

If you’re uncertain about what your manuscript needs, don’t fret. You can still approach an editor, giving him some sense of what you might need (e.g., “I think I need substantive editing”). Editors will appreciate the fact that you’ve tried to understand the terminology.

Regardless of the type of editing you’re seeking, you should have a complete manuscript, at least a first draft, if you’re approaching an editor. You can’t renovate a kitchen that exists only in theory. If you’re seeking help with a first draft that is still in progress, you’re looking for a cowriter, ghostwriter, or writing coach, someone to help you write the book, which involves a different skill set than editing. While some editors may offer these services, they are not editing services.

For more details about the various types of editing, visit the Editors Canada website: https://www.editors.ca/hire/definitions-editorial-skills.

© Marnie Lamb

Marnie Lamb is a Gemini incarnate: half writer and half editor. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, including filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, was published by Iguana Books in the spring of 2017. She pursues her other love, editing, as the owner of Ewe Editorial Services, which offers copy editing, manuscript evaluation, indexing, permissions and photo research, and proofreading services. When she is not writing or editing, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka dots—at Toronto’s One of a Kind Show.

How to Create Your Best Novel

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

Creating your best novel is a team effort. There is the writing portion which you will do on your own, within the solitude of your imagination and writing room. And then there is the “polishing” portion of the process which is equally important to your success and requires an outside team of professionals for best results.

Writing Your Novel

I’ll start by including one of my absolute favourite quotes about writing by Gary Provost:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.





It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s like music, as he says. This is the kind of writing that will keep an audience engaged. It not only sings to them; but, with the right combination of vivid adjectives and visceral verbs, it can create such authentic, powerful imagery inside their minds that it keeps them turning the pages for more. That’s what you’re after.

And yet, there’s more to writing your best novel. Two more elements must be considered: character development and plot development. Here are two links that go into great detail regarding these two aspects of writing, so I encourage you to click on both and really take in this advice before sitting down to write your book:

Once your novel is written, now the rest of the team comes into play. The best advice I have for all writers—but especially the ones who plan to self-publish—is to get support. Invest in proper copy editing, graphic design, and proofreading. If you’re serious about book publishing and want to present yourself to the public as a professional author, then these things are so important to your end result.

Polishing Your Novel

The fact is, self-publishers’ books are competing in the marketplace with trade publishers’ books. Trade (traditional) publishers always have their books professionally edited. Always. This is why they can boast such high quality. In light of this, can self-publishers truly afford not to have their work copy edited in the very least? It may seem excessive to some, but it is a necessary investment if that author is serious about publishing and competing in the marketplace.

And no matter how engaging your story may be, the public is going to “judge your book by its cover” before they ever decide to read it. In fact, they’ll judge the interior, too. So, the graphic design of your book—both inside and out—should receive the same professional attention as the content itself. Hiring a professional graphic designer is always better than using a generic template builder.




Last but not least, I highly recommend you also hire a professional proofreader—a different set of eyes from your copy editor—to do the following nine-point check of the final designed book before you self-publish it anywhere:

Interior

• the front matter (such as the table of contents) is accurate and correct
• the back matter (such as the index) is accurate and correct
• headers and footers are accurate and correct
• bad breaks are eliminated
• text is kerned to flow smoothly throughout
• margins and trim size all measure properly
• spelling and punctuation is correct

Cover

• spacing, bleeds, and trim size all measure properly
• spelling and punctuation is correct

These are the steps the traditional (trade) publishers put each and every one of their books through. These are the steps you should also take to create your best novel. This extra attention to detail with make a huge difference in the public perception of your book and your overall success as a result.

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