Things have changed a bit in the publishing world since Pubmission launched in 2010. Yes, e-books are in full bloom and Amazon has taken over the world, but there has also been a profound shift in the author/book editor dynamic. Now that self-publishing is a more viable option for writers, even those still committed to the traditional model have been forced to do more of the front-end work on their books themselves. The bottom line: You’ll have to spend some cash.
Publishers have also shed a lot of manpower over the past few years, and many of the editors who once graced their halls are now donning their red pens in their pajamas. I am no exception, and though I’m fully clothed at the moment, I am sitting outside with my laptop enjoying a beautiful spring day instead of the gray walls of a cubicle.
That’s not to say that this has been a cakewalk for any of us. Freelancing is a whole new ballgame. We’re not just book editors anymore. We’re business owners worrying about sales and marketing, websites and social media, invoices and contracts. Oh, and don’t forget the joys of paying for our own insurance and…what was that thing called? 401-something? Oh, yes retirement! How quaint.
We’ve also grappled with the reality that the rates established for freelance editors by the publishing industry are laughable for those of us who take working for ourselves seriously. Just as a book publisher needs to set realistic margins, the tribes of self-employed have to do the same to cover their overhead. So here’s my first, and yes, most important disclaimer when considering the services of a book editor:
You Get What You Pay For.
If the editor you’re hiring is charging $20/hour to do a developmental edit on your novel, that person either enjoys his second job at Home Depot or he’s still new to the game. Which might be fine because that’s all you can afford. But prepare yourself for the lambasters on Amazon complaining about the plethora of typos or lack of characterization in your book. It won’t be pretty.
Anyone dipping a toe into the publishing waters knows how competitive the market is. It’s a longshot for even the most polished manuscripts to earn back their costs. So cutting corners on a bargain-priced book editor is like starting the race a lap behind everyone else. (The same goes for cover designers, by the way.)
But I’m preaching to the choir here, right? This headfirst dive into entrepreneurship hasn’t been unique to editors. Writers have been hit by it, too. If you’re shopping a book, you can’t be a stranger to the book business plan. Even if you’re hoping an agent or book editor falls in love with it, there will be costs. There will be competitors. And there will be sacrifices. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make use of some good old fashioned bootstrapping…
Put It Away
The natural inclination of first-time authors who have just “finished” their books is to let the euphoria of this monumental achievement impel them to jump headfirst into the publishing process. For some, that means going straight to Writer’s Market, circling the publishing houses they recognize, and shipping out manilla envelopes and SASEs with wild abandon. Others hop on CreateSpace and start grappling with the reformatting of heavily styled Word documents to get their books on Kindle ASAP. And then there are those who understand that jumping out of that plane without a parachute would be somewhat foolish. So they get on CraigsList or Elance and start the hunt for a book editor’s services.
If that’s where you are, and you’re not a Powerball winner, hold your horses. Save money where you can and do yourself a favor. Put the book in a drawer (or save it to the Cloud). Leave it there for six weeks. Forget about it. Start something else. Then, when you return…
Read the Thing OUT LOUD!
I know that I’ve preached this before on this site, but come on. It’s not so hard. Lock yourself in your office or your car or your basement where no one can hear you, and read it all the way through. Pretend you’re doing a book reading at Barnes & Noble. Pretend you’re recording an audio book. Whatever. You will amaze yourself with what you catch. If you have dialogue, there’s no better way to test it (go figure).
And here’s another age-old editing trick: Read the book backward. Start from the last sentence and work your way back to the first. This can be mind-numbingly dull, but when you read your writing out of context, you will amaze yourself by what you missed in earlier reading. Keep a tally of missing words you’ve caught. The larger the tally, the more work — and time — you’ve saved your book editor.
Stay in Style
A good editorial department should always generate a style guide specific to each book they edit in addition to their in-house guide. Freelance book editors should do the same. And so should you.
So as you’re reading your book in reverse, keep a Word doc open that allows you to record commonly used words in alphabetical order. List the words you keep misspelling. Write down every character and fictitious place name. You should also pick a dictionary and stick to it for words that have multiple spelling variations. When you’re ready for your editor, hand this style guide off to her and take note of the big grin on her face.
After you’ve done all of this advanced editorial work yourself, find a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say, “I am not the editor for this book.”
I don’t care how many books you’ve edited. I don’t care if you worked for Harpercollins or Macmillan. You are not the editor for this book.
Frankly, you’ve seen the book too many times. It’s your baby. A physical manifestation of your creative juices. Yuck. You’re too close to it, and I’m sorry, you can’t be trusted. Step away from the book now.
Build a Team of Readers
No, they don’t have to be Lincoln’s team of rivals, but it would help. This might be one of the hardest things you do in this journey. Find at least a half-dozen people who will work for free (God bless them) or for trade. People you can trust to give you honest feedback. People who like to read the same genre as your book. People you find at Meetups or in writing groups. People who don’t share your last name.
People who aren’t afraid to punch you in the gut.
Make it clear to these readers that your financial well-being depends on this honest feedback. If they put your feelings first, they will be doing you a disservice. And you will hold them accountable.
(Please excuse this commercial break, but we at Pubmission have handpicked a small team of editor reviewers who will give you some quick, professional, and objective feedback on your submission sample. Right now, an Editor Rating that includes a short critique costs $30. Not free, but I’m just throwing that out there if you’re struggling with building a team of readers.)
Then take all of the feedback you receive and put your ego in a drawer. This will be your first act as the CEO/CFO of your book business. Examine all of the information you’ve gleaned from your team, both the good and the bad, and make an objective decision. Should you move forward with this book? And by forward, I mean: should you spend more time and money on this sucker?
If you truly love to write and you work hard at the craft, then deciding not to move forward with your creation will be hard, but doable. If you’ve written your life story, and despite the urgings from your reader team, you still believe that the majority of readers in the world need to have it in their hands, you’re still too close to this project to make a rational, objective decision about it. I would advise you to lock your checkbook away and not let it out no matter how much it screams.
I know. It’s hard to cut the cord. Like I said, it’s your baby. But will that baby survive in the wild?
Let’s assume then that you’re making a perfectly reasonable, business-savvy decision to move forward with your book. Good for you. So now can you call an editor?
No way. There’s still too much to do. Sharpen your pencil because it’s time to do your research. Your first mission is to visit a bookstore. Do not attempt to do this online. Go to the section of the store where you’ll find books like yours on the shelves. Take out your notebook and start recording the following:
- Which books caught your eye first?
- Which books are front cover out (you can’t see their spine)?
- Which ones have the best covers?
- Which ones have the worst covers?
- Which ones would you buy?
- Who published these books?
- When were they published?
Take this a step further. (If you’re an introvert like me, you’ll just have to put that part of yourself aside for this.) Observe the people in the store who are shopping in the same section as you are. What do they look like? What are they wearing? Strike up conversations with them. Ask them to make recommendations. Pick their brains.
What in the world does this have to do with finding a book editor? Everything. It also has everything to do with choosing the right publisher, cover designer, web developer, you name it. Knowing your audience is the most important aspect of running your own business. We don’t always get it right, but we have to keep trying.
Note: It certainly wouldn’t hurt to move this step to front of the line. While you have that final draft sitting in a drawer, do this research then. It can help move things along. I’d even recommend taking this step more than once or even twice. Do it before you start the first draft. The more aware you are of the marketplace, the more it will help you in the long run.
After finishing your research, you might find that you need to go back to the drawing board. You might have to spend a few months reading all of those books you couldn’t resist buying during your bookstore field trip. Look at how their reviews stack up on Amazon and GoodReads. Make a list of followup questions for your team of readers. Yes, work, work, work.
But once all of that it is done and your book business plan is in place, congratulate yourself for all of the cash you’ve saved yourself. Now you can hire that more experienced book editor because you did a lot of the work already for this person. You’ve started the race at least a quarter lap ahead of the competition. That might not sound like much, but it’s a long race and every bit counts.
Next week: My followup to this post will cover some tips for choosing the right book editor for your book. This is a big decision, and if you don’t do it right, it can become an expensive mistake.