In the last blog we talked about what editing costs and why. If you missed it, check out 'Why is editing so expensive?'
So now we know what goes into fiction editing, let's discuss what you can do to give your editor less work, and therefore reduce their fees.
I mentioned in Editing Costs #1 that different manuscripts will take different amounts of time to edit, because the level of editing needed varies. Some novels will be very polished already and need little intervention, while others may need a lot of feedback and even rewriting to get to a publishable level.
If you hope to pay less for editing, you'll want to ensure your book is as polished as possible. So, here are some tips on how to do that:
*Note: This blog is focused on fiction editing, although some information will also apply to non-fiction. All editors and genres are different, so individual research is important. For a list of standard editing fees, look up your country's professional editing association.
Write MANY drafts
You’ll probably quickly discover as a writer that writing isn’t just about writing. A lot of it is rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting.
“But what’s an editor for, if I have to edit my own work?”
It’s very rare that a first draft will be good enough to send directly to an editor. In this phase, you’re still figuring out your characters, voice and plot. Read through it again, make an outline if you haven’t already, and start to identify what needs to be changed. Keep rewriting it until you feel confident that it's the best it can be in your hands.
One piece of advice that works for many writers is to write a bad first draft. The first draft only exists for the sake of being a starting-point. So rather than making slow progress by editing as you go, focus only on getting words down. Draft two is where you start to make it good! But at least by that point you will have a foundation.
By writing and rewriting, you’re increasing the quality of your work every time (unless it gets to a point where you’re just being perfectionistic and never finishing), and this means your editor will have much less to do.
Once you’ve written several drafts, and you’re quite happy with the work, you’re ready for feedback.
(Try my self-editing checklist for more.)
Use beta readers and critique partners
To cut down on editing costs, make use of people who will critique your work for free.
The writing world is typically friendly and passionate, and as long as you are too, you'll fit right in. There are many other writers out there who want to help you! To find such people, it’s important to start spending time in places where writers and readers are – social media groups, bookstagram and booktok, twitter, local writing groups or classes, etc.
After writing several drafts, you become too close to your work and can no longer see the bigger picture or catch errors. Early readers help with this, so there’s less for your editor to find. They should also help to identify things like plot holes, or weaknesses in your characters and world building, so these can be ironed out before editing.
When you have a critique partner, or partners, you offer feedback on each other’s work. This means you’re both getting help for free, while giving something in return. It's best to have a critique partner familiar with your genre and audience, who understands your voice and writes at the same level as you. And someone who you actually like!
Beta readers are people in your target audience. They aren’t necessarily writers. They’re readers who can guide you on their perspective of your novel, not as someone who knows writing conventions, but as someone who might buy your book. This means you get invaluable feedback early, rather than getting bad reviews when it’s too late.
This is especially important if you’re not a member of your target audience, for example if you’re writing children’s or young adult fiction, but you’re in your forties. You can try to capture the right voice, and capture the attention of your audience, but there will always be a gap between yourself and them. Beta readers help you improve your novel in this sense. Remember, as much as your book might feel like your baby, once it’s published it’s a product for readers, not yourself.
When you have feedback, it’s time for more revisions. Yes, more! Otherwise what’s the point of the feedback? But once again, the more work you do on your manuscript, and the stronger it is before editing, the less work your editor has to do – cutting down fees.
Run it through a spell checker
I don’t trust spell checkers – I wrote an entire blog post on it ('Why you shouldn't use autocorrect') - but I'll admit they can be a helpful tool to weed out clunky writing or typos.
ProWritingAid, Grammarly and Hemingway are the ones I use. Hemingway is especially useful because it uses its AI to find confusing sentences, giving suggestions of lines to rework.
The trick is to follow your gut. Don't blindly follow the suggestions of an AI. You're the author, and if you don't like where it's telling you to put a comma, don't put a comma there! Often these AIs are wrong, and don't understand the nuances of creative writing, so always trust yourself first (or your critique partner or editor).
You can also read my blog 'How to proofread your own writing' for more self-proofing advice.
Request sample edits
The purpose of a sample edit is to allow you and an editor to familiarise yourselves with each other's work, personality and style. Make sure you ALWAYS get a sample edit done before choosing an editor. Even if someone sounds great, and has hundreds of five-star reviews, they may not be right for your book.
Usually a sample edit is 1000 words from your manuscript. Personally, I request the first few chapters and a chunk from the middle so I can get a better idea of your style, but different editors will have different requirements. I use an online form ('Sample Edit Requests') to streamline the sample edit process, so authors can easily send me their work.
The sample not only allows you to see if an editor works well with your manuscript (if they missed errors or didn’t respect your voice, they’re probably a no!), but allows the editor to provide you with a quote. This is why samples help you save money; you won't end up working with an expensive editor who doesn't actually work well with you.
Some manuscripts could take half the time of others. Samples are so important because they allow the editor to see how much work 1000 words will be, and provide you with a personalised quote from there. For example, if the 1000 words takes them an hour to edit and your manuscript is 80,000 words, they're looking at an 80 hour job.
I would be wary of editors who charge the same amount for every manuscript and don't personalise fees (whether it's a flat fee or by the word) because this doesn't take into account how many hours the edit will take. You don't want to be paying for hours that your book isn't getting. Also be cautious of editors who charge significantly less than industry standard, as they could be scammers.
I'll also say this: please don't take advantage of editors and use sample edits as a way to get free feedback from a professional. Samples take time and energy, and you should only ask for one if you're serious about becoming a client. Otherwise it's unethical of you as a writer, and you could create a bad reputation for yourself.
Again, here's my sample edit form if you're a YA writer looking for an editor :)
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