How to Make the Most of Working With a Professional Editor

You’ve finally decided that it’s time to work with a professional editor but you have no clue on what to expect.

Will they hate your work?
Will they talk down to you?
Is your manuscript ready for a professional edit?
Is it even worth it to hire an editor?

You have a ton of questions. The good news is, we’re about to answer them right now. By the end of this post, you’re going to feel a lot better about working with a professional editor, and you’ll also know what to expect from and during the process. Let’s get started.

Confused about the different types of edits? Download this handy guide.

Understand the Role of Editor

Let’s start things off by understanding who the editor is and how he or she helps you with your manuscript.

You’ve probably heard the joke that when you work with a psychiatrist, you’re paying for a friend. Well, if we apply that joke to editing, we can say that when you work with a professional editor, you’re paying for a reader.

An editor is a professional reader, with an emphasis on professional.

You may be a reader, too. You may have devoted your entire life to reading the pages of great books. In fact, you may even be an editor, as well. But, you cannot be your own professional editor.

While you can and should self-edit, it’s impossible to thoroughly self-edit your own work. You’re too close. You already know your characters. You already know where your story is headed. You’re not able to see with fresh eyes. You’re unable to be unaware.

And because you cannot see your own writing objectively, you’ll need someone else to do that for you.

That’s why you should hire a professional editor.

Your editor comes with experience. He or she isn’t just someone with an English degree who decided to start editing as a side-gig. A professional editor, like those on our team at NY Book Editors, is someone with a minimum of four years’ experience at a traditional publishing company. He or she has been mentored by other, more experienced editors. A professional editor understands the process from rough draft to salable story.

It would be a good idea for you to think of your editor as a coach. He or she won’t write the story for you. Instead, your editor will help you produce the best story you can. Your editor will do this by pointing out opportunities for improvement. By the end of your time together, not only will your manuscript improve, but you should also improve as a storyteller.

Have a Prepared Manuscript

So, I just waxed poetic on how you can’t self-edit your work objectively, and I stand by that. But, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t self-edit at all.

You definitely should.

In fact, don’t submit your manuscript until you’ve edited at least a little bit.

The edit that you’ll do on your own will be different than the edit of a professional. Because you know what story you want to tell, you’re tasked with making sure that story is on paper. So, your first round of edits will be to make sure that you’ve told that story.

You’ll also want to tell that story in as few words as possible. Quite a few manuscripts come across our desks that are about 100,000 words too long. Your manuscript should be tight and svelte, somewhere between 80,000 to 100,000 words (or 200 pages).

Your manuscript shouldn’t be rife with grammatical and spelling errors. Edit for that.

Your manuscript shouldn’t be in first draft, either. In the wise words of Ernest Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is $#!”.

We’ve covered a checklist of what to do before submitting your manuscript for professional critique here.

And here are 10 additional tips for self-editing your manuscript before working with a professional editor.

Once you’ve taken care of the above…
Once you feel confident that you can’t tweak, cut, or kill anything else from your manuscript… Once you feel like there’s nothing else you can possibly do to improve your story…
Once you feel like you’ve reached your wit’s end…

It’s time to submit your manuscript to us. We’ll take it from there.

Understand the Type of Edit You Need

So, this is the part that confuses a lot of writers– there’s more than one type of editing. To ease confusion, we’ll just focus on the three main types you’re likely to need: manuscript critique, comprehensive edit, and copyediting.

Which one do you need? It depends. Let’s break it down.

Manuscript critique (also known as MC or developmental editing) – This type of edit looks at the big picture and asks the big questions. The editor will focus on the overall structure of your story. The editor will look at the five Ps:

  • Plot – Does the story have a satisfying arc?
  • Pacing – Is the pacing consistent or are there dead spots that can be cut?
  • People – Are the characters engaging? Are they memorable? Can they be combined?
  • Point of View – Is the point of view confusing? Is it effective?
  • Perspective – Does the perspective shift during the story?

The manuscript critique is an entry-level edit. It should be done before you tackle typos and grammar errors, because you and your editor may decide to cut entire chapters out of your novel.

You can use this critique to make sure that you’re headed in the right direction. The notes from the editor can bring much needed clarity and help you understand how others will experience your story.

Comprehensive edit (also known as a paragraph level edit) – This type of edit looks at your manuscript line by line, and deals with the language of your story, including rhythm, transition, and wordiness.

If you’re planning to go with a traditional publisher, you’ll only need a manuscript critique and a comprehensive edit. However, if you’d like to self-publish, we recommend copyediting, too.

Copyediting (also known as a sentence level edit) – This type of edit is all about grammar, spelling, typos, syntax, and consistency errors (fieldsboro vs fieldsborough). Copy editing also checks for potential legal liability. It’s a waste of time to do copyediting before manuscript, or developmental, critique because you may get rid of large chunks of text during those edits.

You’ll likely work with a different editor for each of the above. Why? A manuscript editor prefers to focus on the big picture and a copyeditor is more comfortable with fine details. Sometimes the two overlap.

Communicate With Your Editor

Remember that the editing process is a partnership between you and the editor. When you work with one of our editors, we want you to be involved and feel empowered throughout the process.

That’ll start after you submit your manuscript and receive an initial consultation call from your editor. Tell him or her what you’re hoping to learn from the editing process. If you have any questions about the editing process, ask away. Your editor will be happy to walk you through his or her process, and settle any jitters you may have.

After you receive feedback from the editor, make sure that you go over it promptly. Remember that the editor also works with other authors, so it’s important that you respect the editor’s time, too. Don’t leave your editor waiting for your follow-up questions. Ask him or her for advice on how you can make specific improvements while your manuscript is still fresh in his or her mind. And, if you think you’ll forget, make a list of your questions as you go through the manuscript.

Trust the Process

One of the best things about working with a professional editor is this: you can rely on his or her experience. Your editor has gone through countless works in progress with other authors. If you trust the process and listen to your editor, your editor will lead you to an improved manuscript.

I know for a fact that editing can be painful, especially if the editor has suggestions that you don’t want to do.

But, remember that the editor is not your enemy. He or she is simply trying to help you produce the best story.

That’s not to say that you can’t have any questions for your editor. Feel free to ask for clarification, or even disagree, but keep in mind that the editor is only here to help you make a salable story.

And, as a cherry on top, working with an editor will help you improve as a writer. You’ll be able to identify your weaknesses and steer clear of them.

Additional Resources

Before you go, be sure to check out these additional resources that will help you prepare to work with a professional editor:

Don’t forget to download this guide on the different types of editing.

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Frances Wilson

Every little helps, like a seasoned mountain climber telling trekkers how to do it.

Barbara Thompson

A “salable” book when your topic is anything but commercial…that may be more critical than structure analysis if you tend to write literary with an historical backdrop. It can be written perfectly but if it’s not a “popular” subject, then what? Can a pro editor morph the book into a more commercially appealing product?

Sharon Blakely Salaam

Enjoying your tips and you’vyou’ve peaked my interest.

Wendell Hall

Dear Natasa
I’ve been sitting on my finished novel of short-stories for about three months. During that time I’ve submitted a query letter and in one case a synopsis to two agents. One of the two gave me a wonderful response but was not taking on any new clients. I got that. I’ve learned that short story novels are difficult to publish and because you are the expert in that field I won’t go into the details. I’ve been reading your wise words on writing, editing and publishing novels. I’m tossed between making one of the stories into an actual novel standing on its own two feet but would need some idea’s for that one. In the meantime I’m still considering trying to publish the short story novel. I’ve decided to have a friend (English major) read my work to give me another perspective on the novel and to see if they think that the work is okay. Because the novel is a YA novel, and she has two children, I thought that it might be a good thermometer to bounce the book of them just to see if they might like the book. I realize that is not a true test or merit of the book. I have some followers who already know about the novel and like it. I think that you are wise because of your experience and is why I’m bouncing my idea’s on you. I’ve said all the above to ask you two important questions, (one) what is the average cost to have an editor read over one’s manuscript and (second) what is your take on Hybrid publishers or Independent publishers? Thank-you so much for taking the time to read and answer this letter of inquiry.

Robert Brink

To me, the most egregious of all grammatical errors is the one committed in this otherwise spot-on essay: “between 80,000 to 100,000 words.” That phrase makes no sense. “Between” requires two items, and those items are joined by the conjunction “and”: “between 80,000 AND 100,000 words.” Otherwise, it’s “FROM 80,000 to 100,00 words.” It surpasseth all of my understanding how anyone whose native tongue is English can fail to hear how screamingly jarring the “between … to” phrase is on the ear. And what is most dismaying is its use by people in the literary business.

Dennis Ford

Robert is correct in his gramatical assessment of the usage of between and from. Harping on one error in a lengthy discourse seems petty. I find the tone of Robert’s comment to be annoying.


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