Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guest Post: Get Thee To An Editor (Maria Zannini)

The following post was written by Maria Zannini as part of her Indie Roadshow.

If you self-publish and can invest in only one thing, hire a good editor. You can get by with an average cover, zero advertising, and glitchy formatting, but you can’t escape unscathed if you publish with poor editing. A bad editing job will haunt you forever. Although I have phenomenal critique partners, including two who were editors at their day jobs, I didn’t hesitate to hire a freelance editor for my first foray into self-publishing. It was my only large expenditure, but worth every penny.

When you work with an editor (particularly on developmental edits) you’ll discuss, argue, and compromise on a thousand and one points. Working with an editor is a relationship, and the best relationships have chemistry and trust. Your editor will not make you do anything. She will offer suggestions and alternatives. It’s up to you to make the final decision.

A good editor is professional and keeps all information about your manuscript confidential. She is a good communicator and will explain her edits clearly and succinctly. She also makes herself available after the job is done. Don’t expect her to hold your hand, but do expect that she will be there to answer questions about any suggestions she made.

But how do you find an editor and how do you know s/he is the right person for the job?

If you’ve been published elsewhere you have an advantage. Not only do you have experience working with an editor and what an editorial review entails, but you have some understanding of what you want and need from this relationship.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to work with various editors yet, don’t fret. There are ways to find and evaluate potential editors for your work. Here are a few tips.

• Don’t Google for editors. Chances are all you’ll find is some corporate house of cards that’ll stiff you for nonessentials with people who may or may not be qualified.

• Get recommendations. When you’re ready for an editor, talk to your friends or peers whose published work you admire and ask them who edited their last novel. Many editors freelance even when they have a steady day job with a publisher.

• Once you have the names of several editors, engage each of them in a dialog. Ask them about their services, fees, and turnaround times.

• Ask if they offer a sample edit. Many editors will provide one or more pages of edits of your manuscript for free. This is useful when you want to learn more about an editor’s skills, or you’re not sure what an edited page will look like.

• Ask for their credentials and references.

• Don’t be intimidated by the fee. Professional editing can be expensive. (A good editor is worth it.) If you can’t afford a full developmental edit with comments and corrections, ask about a developmental edits letter, or a proofreading edit to catch grammar nits.

• Love your editor, but don’t be afraid to cheat on her. Using a second set of eyes can catch anything the first editor missed. Also, if you used a particular editor for the first manuscript, try a different one for the second and compare the final results.

Types of Edits: Edits are generally divided into two camps: developmental edits and copy edits.

A developmental edit will analyze the story, the story arc, the characters, where you need more information and where you need less. Developmental edits are usually the most costly, but it’s the one edit I wouldn’t want to ignore. Between my critique partners and alert readers, I might catch minor typos and missing punctuation, but a developmental edit is all about the story.

Copy edits cover things like grammar, typos, and punctuation. If syntax is not your forte, get thee to a copy editor.

Fees are generally negotiable. While you’re in negotiations, ask about package pricing, or select services. Fees vary widely. Some charge per page, others per word.

Below are a few editors you can query. SF authors might recognize Deanna Hoak. She’s edited quite a few outstanding novels.

Precision Editing

Mason Canyon

Deanna Hoak

Anna Louise Genoese

Talk to your published peers. Ask for recommendations. Exchange a few emails with the editors you think you might like to work with and get a feel for them. An editor is one of the most important people to have on your side. Choose wisely and you’ll find it’s the best money you ever spent.

Back to You: Does anyone have any specific questions about finding an editor or what an edited page looks like?

I hope you’ll follow along with the rest of the Indie Roadshow as I share the things I learned on my road to self-publishing.

The Devil To Pay is available at Amazon and Smashwords for only $2.99. It is the first book of the series, Second Chances.

Synopsis: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and bad tequila. Shannon McKee finds herself at the end of her rope, and she bargains her soul in a fit of despair.

Shannon’s plea is answered immediately by two men who couldn’t be more different from one another. Yet they share a bond and an affection for the stubborn Miss McKee that even they don’t understand.

When Heaven and Hell demand their payment, Shannon has no choice but to submit. No matter who gets her soul, she’s not getting out of this alive.

Maria Zannini used to save the world from bad advertising, but now she spends her time wrangling chickens, and fighting for a piece of the bed against dogs of epic proportions. Occasionally, she writes novels.

Follow me on Facebook or my blog.


Maria Zannini said...

Thank you for hosting me, Sandra!

And thank you for asking for this topic.

Angelina Rain said...

Great post, Maria.

Editors are so important. Whenever I read a good book with horrible editing, I never buy anything from that publisher again as they couldn't hire a decent editor.

Thanks for all this information.

Anonymous said...

Excellent tips!

The nit-picky stuff will make me grit my teeth while reading but the big stuff will pull me right out of the story. I'm not quite as unforgiving as Angelina about not buying but authors/publishing houses have three strikes or they're out.

Thanks for the links as well, Maria.

Tony Benson said...

Hi Sandra *waves*

Maria, I enjoyed this post. It's a subject I've been wondering about and I too consider it of paramount importance. I was interested by your mention of Deanna Hoak. I looked at her blog and she seems like a great person to consider for the task. What I can't see on her blog is any indication of her nationality. Do you happen to know? I realise it sounds like a strange question, but I'd guess an American editor would be most suitable for an American author, and in my case a British editor for a British author. Any thoughts?

Maria Zannini said...

Angelina: I usually give a book a couple of chances, but I find I'm not as forgiving as I used to be.

Raelyn: Exactly. I even catch nitpicky stuff during the credits of multi-million dollar movies. (drives my husband crazy when I point them out)

Goofs happen. The trick is to have as few as possible.

Maria Zannini said...

Tony: Deanna Hoak is an American if I'm not mistaken.

But you brought up a most fascinating question about British and American editors. I think the way to look at it is not so much on whether they can edit you, but what markets they serve.

As the market is usually global, you want someone who has an ear for both cultures. I have a friend on the other side of the world who keenly feels the effects of American vs British/Aussie editors. But she writes for a publisher that caters to both the North American market and European.

It takes an exceptional editor to know both cultures and what each comprehends.

This is a really excellent question. I think I might do a little sleuthing to learn more. Thanks!

Tony Benson said...

Maria, thank you. I might contact Deanna and see what she thinks of this issue. Can't hurt to ask.

Maria Zannini said...

Tony: I contacted my editor at Carina Press, Deborah Nemeth and asked her your question.

This is an excerpt from her email to me:

"Your instinct is on target that it's probably a good idea to have an editor who's familiar with the market. If a book is going to be sold in the US, it's not a bad thing to have a US editor. But it's best to have one who's got some experience with the spelling conventions and expressions of the author's native country.

What I try to do is retain the flavor and expressions of the author's native country, while making sure these expressions can be figured out by context, and suggesting revisions when there might be difficulty in comprehension. Unless of course it's a Brit writing about American characters in an American setting, when of course the editor needs to make sure American phrasing replaces British."

I hope that helps.

Sarah McCabe said...

I guess I'll be the dissenting voice here, as usual. I think copy edits are important. It is essential that your grammar, spelling and sentence structure be as perfect as possible. And when readers complain about "bad editing", I think this is what they mean, bad grammar and spelling. But I do not think that anyone should ever have their book edited for story unless they are being paid for it. (In other words, your book is being traditionally published, the publisher is paying you and they edit your book and request changes.) As soon as you let someone else, professional or not, edit your story line by line and tell you how you should improve it, you're no longer the story's writer. That's my opinion, anyway.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Hi Tony,

The differences between Americans and Brits isn't just a matter of spelling and word choice. I just started reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and the British author does mention that there are punctuation differences between the two countries.

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: Developmental edits don't change your story--or at least they shouldn't. They enhance it, giving it richness and depth.

Sandra: I think because I critique authors from Britain and Australia, I don't even notice the punctuation differences anymore. I know for their market, the absent periods after 'Mr' or Mrs' and the single quotes are perfectly correct.

Tony Benson said...

Maria, thank you so much for the follow up. That's an interesting response, and seems quite appropriate.

My target would be to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, including Europe and US, but not to have my nationality erased from my writing. That's a fine balance which needs trust with an editor.

Plenty of publishers edit differently for US and British audiences. As an example, the Harry Potter books, bought from are different from the same books bought from They've been translated into American. I'm not clear that's the best way to go, though.

Tony Benson said...

Sandra, yes the differences are quite large. Having lived in the US for ten years I have an appreciation for the depth of the cultural differences between the US and the UK. British and American writing reflects those cultural differences as well, and those parts are probably harder to judge when it comes to editorial choices.

jackie b central texas said...

Interesting and informative post Maria, really sad as a nit picker at the movies myself when I find errors like a cell phone ringing in the background during a big budget western or sci-fi flick and non essential bodies roaming around in the background occasionally in scenes in movies where you would think perfection would be easy to come by as much as the movie cost to make!

Maria Zannini said...

Jackie: Do you think there's a support group for people like us? Movie proofers. :) Thanks for visiting me here.

jackie b central texas said...

I like that name "Movie Proofers" sounds kind of snarky, and we do need a support group but doubt it exists Maria... Always like to follow you around, learn something new every post...

Sarita said...

Informative post. Thank you, Maria.

Maria Zannini said...

Sarita: Nice to see you here! Thanks for coming over.

Precision Editing Group said...

Maria, Thanks for the link luv (Precision Editing). Very insightful points!

Maria Zannini said...

Precision Editing: Happy to do it. I know you guys do quality work.

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