Your editor is your coach, guiding you through creative choices

Second in a Series

In my previous installment on this topic, I broke the process of self publishing into a dozen steps. The first four are essential, but they’re not exclusive to self-publishing. You must have a book ready to publish if you’re going to become your own publisher. Practicing steps 1-4 delivers a book to your laptop. (And don’t worry, I’m coming back around to the articles about these first four creative steps.) But the writing starts to become a self-published book, what the industry calls a title, at Step 5: Working with an independent editor.

Editors are everywhere, from low-ball outlets like Skillpages to the spin-off businesses that Writer’s Digest promotes. You will be auditioning your choice of an editor to make your book better. You can start with story development, after you’ve set down your initial draft that you offer for an assessment. A good development editor — sometimes called a substantive editor — will give you notes on plot, structure, pacing, and especially character motives.

Creative Coaching Series

Creative Coaching Series

It’s very difficult to do this process for yourself. And while your workshopping group will give you a lot of help, they’re often not able to see the whole work and devote the time to it that any book needs. Unless you’re just extending the scope of characters who’ve already been welcomed by readers in a prior book you’ve published, development is key.

How do you hire an editor? For me, it was as simple as looking in the classified ad pages of The Writer magazine. There, Jill Dearman had a 4-line ad that promoted her services, available by the page. I contacted her by email, then summarized my book for her so she could see what kind of story she was working on. You want a good match of interest in your subject from the editor, along with a feeling of trust you’ll have in their competency and professionalism.

If this sounds like choosing a doctor, it certainly felt that way to me. You’re looking for references, as well as evidence that the editor’s work has led to published books. Membership in the Association of Independent Editors is one marker, but that’s a fee-only membership with no certification. It’s not as simple as looking for a stamp of approval.

But this is a coach you are hiring — and you will know when you have right mix of pressure and praising coming from this pro.

It’s also important to find an editor who handles your writing. Nonfiction editors know about proposals and process and organization, and that’s important to a self-help book or a title to help in the garden. Fiction editors know story and narrative arc, as well as character. They’re just the kind of editor you’ll need for your memoir too, because those are stories structured like novels, using the tools of fiction to for creative non-fiction.

Put another way, if your book has a table of contents and an index, you want a non-fiction editor. If not, then an editor who handles fiction will help you deliver your book.

If you’re working in genre, it helps to have a fan of your genre in your editor. They’re likely to have read other books in the genre, to give you both ideas on how to brush up your book. “This is right in my wheelhouse,” my editor told me about my novel Viral Times. “I’ve always liked reading stories like this.”

While you’re doing your auditions, you’re asking about prices. I got a vast range of quotes for this service. You’ll need to budget for this and pay whatever you can. When I met the author of a follow-on series to Pride and Prejudice, she’d hired an editor for the SelfPub edition of the novel. “I should have paid more,” she said later, after a traditional publisher picked up her self-published edition. It got a revision. This is work that a publisher pays for if you go for a traditional publishing (TradPub) deal. Since you’re the publisher — eliminating the gatekeeper — you pay for this. What you really want here is a pro who’s ardent about improving your book.

In SelfPub, your gate is already open to making your book a real entity to be downloaded or shipped to doorsteps, or carried out of bookstores. There’s no doubt you can move that story off the laptop and into the world. But a development editor makes it more likely your book will be something desired and admired by more readers. Even though we say “It’s not for everybody” while we describe our books, we want them focused enough to be for somebody. Your development editor pushes you, tells you what’s not working, and delivers strategies to get your story into hearts and minds.

Then you do the work, and the rewrites, to respond to those notes. You haggle, just like when you’re working with a TradPub editor. You’re going to get these notes no matter how you publish. Your editor is a trusted advisor.

The quotes for the editorial services that I collected ran from $600 for a 100,000-word book (crazy cheap, as in you’d be crazy to pay that little — think value for money) and $4,000 at the top end. I opted for something in the middle, while Jill promised she’d respond to emails and give me a follow-up read on selected sections I was going to revise.

You know you have the right editor on the team when they care about making a book with you. This is your first for-pay collaborator in the publishing process. It takes dozens of people to make an independent movie. A documentary can be made with a handful. You’ll need a handful of people to get your book into the world and off of your laptop.

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