Picking Editors: How to Evaluate Potential Editors

by Jami Gold on April 16, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Yellow star with text: How to Rate Potential Editors

Last time we talked about how to know what type of editing we need for our strengths and weaknesses. Depending on our situation, we might be able to find others to help us, such as beta readers, family, or friends. Other times we might be able to exchange our strengths for editing services from others.

I’ve traded my developmental editing skills for developmental edits and copyedits on some of my stories. Those trades cost me time but have greatly helped my wallet. *smile*

However, we might not have others to turn to for favors, or we might not have skills to trade. (Don’t be too quick to count yourself out in having worthwhile skills though. Any strengths we have might be good for trades, online workshops, coaching, etc. which could all reduce our expenses.)

Obviously, when we do need to open our wallet, we want to make sure that we’re spending our money on quality editing for our needs. Not only do we want our editor to know what they’re doing, but we also want their edits to fit with our story, our voice, and our weaknesses.

Let’s see if we can come up with tips, questions, and processes that will help us evaluate editors for our needs. (And hang on, as this is a monster of a post!) With luck, we’ll all be able to find the right editor for us. *smile*

How to Find Potential Editors

Step One: Gather Names

As soon as I decided to self-publish, I started keeping my eyes open for potential editors, and I saved links for every editor I came across.

I collected names, links, and/or email addresses from:

  • friends who edited,
  • recommendations from friends or on social media,
  • editors of award nominees,
  • answers on forum posts about editors, etc.

By the time I was ready for editing, I’d collected over 100 names across all the different types of editing. (Yes, I’m an over-achieving perfectionist who goes overboard on projects. I wouldn’t recommend trying to imitate my approach. *smile*)

This thorough approach meant I had plenty of possibilities to choose from, however. Going back to my post about the need to pick two choices from the list of fast, cheap, and good, the more potential editors we have to choose from, the more likely we’ll be able to find an editor who’s good and within our budget. The cost is our time for the next step.

Step Two: Research

Once we have our list of possibilities, we need to research further to start eliminating names. We can check an editor’s website for our first pass of deciding whether they’d be a good fit for us.

We might eliminate names from our list due to issues with:

  • typos on their website
  • their personality (their editing goals don’t match ours)
  • the type of editor (an editing stage we don’t need)
  • their policies (full payment upfront, no clean-writing discount, no sample edits, etc.)
  • scheduling (they’re not taking new clients, etc.)
  • their prices (seem out of line from others)

After we complete our initial “rejections,” we can dig deeper. We can check their services to see if what they offer really matches what we need. (Remember that editing titles aren’t absolute, and many editors call themselves one kind of editor but are actually stronger in another area.)

We can look through their recommendations or testimonials and see if we know any of their clients to ask for more insight or examples of their edits. We can do a search on their name and the word editor to see if any other links show up with more information. Or we could ask around on writing forums to see if any members are familiar with their work.

Step 3: Make Contact with Potential Editors

With our final list of potentials, we can start making contact. I had a developmental editor lined up already, so I started out searching for a line editor. I emailed a handful at the top of my list with an introduction: my genre, that I was writing a series (so they knew I was looking for a long-term partnership), and how I’d heard of them.

Then I started the questions… *smile* Again, I’m uber-over-achieving in this regard, but I had a whole list of questions that I customized based on what I couldn’t answer from their website.

The questions included:

  • What’s your typical turnaround time?
  • Do you have preferred genres? (I also made sure they’d be okay with my stories’ heat levels.)
  • How do you provide feedback? (Avoid editors who make changes directly in the manuscript without using MS Word’s Track Changes or comment functions, as it’s a pain to figure out what they changed to see if you agree with the edits.)
  • What are your biggest strengths as an editor?
  • When would you be available for an X words story?

Then I closed with a note about how I was attaching the first chapter of my story in hopes that they were open to demonstrating their editing style on at least a few of the pages. Finally, I asked what they’d charge for an edit on that full story (as they’d now seen my writing to decide on a clean-writing discount or not).

I gave every editor the same pages. In other words, I didn’t update the sample after getting a few suggestions from an editor. The point here is to not only see whether they’re a good fit for our voice, but also to compare one editor to another. We can learn a lot by what editors do—or don’t—point out.

Some of the editors flat-out told me they didn’t do sample edits or weren’t available. Those were easy to eliminate.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I consider sample edits essential for line edits and copyedits. For line editors, one of the most important considerations is whether an editor is a good match for our voice. For copyeditors, we want to be assured that they know grammar rules, etc.

By eliminating a couple of editors at a time and then emailing the next one on the list until I found the perfect match, I was able to see a lot of sample edits. I quickly realized two things: far too many of the editors were unqualified (grammar errors or general sloppiness) and many editors don’t use the “right” title.

Evaluating an Editor’s Strengths

As I mentioned last time, about half the editors I contacted about line editing came back with sample edits that focused instead on copyedits. Now maybe they just thought my prose didn’t need changes for flow or tightening (*snort*), or maybe line editing isn’t actually their strength.

To give you an idea of how to tell an editor’s focus from a sample edit, I’m going to share some paraphrased comments I received from my editors at different points in the editing process for my freebie short story, Unintended Guardian. Evaluating an editor’s comments or suggestions in a sample edit can help us identify an editor’s strengths.

Developmental Editing

Note how these comments get deep into motivations, emotions, and characterization. Along with the bullet points I mentioned last time, these are signs of developmental edits.

  • “I don’t understand her thoughts on what’s happening. I think it might be because we don’t know her default attitude. This would probably just take a couple sentences here and there to fix.”
  • “Feels like we need some visceral bodily reaction here to add emotion. I like the metaphor, but I find I’m wondering what she’s feeling.”

Line Editing

Note how these comments get into reading flow, clarity, tightening, and stronger writing. These are great signs of line edits. (Also note how these comments get into the nitty-gritty of how we word things. That’s why we need our line editor to be in tune with our voice.)

  • “I feel like her words should directly follow this. See what you think of the new arrangement.”
  • “This wording is a little awkward, and I would add a sentence or two showing her decision.”
  • “You can cut this. We know it already.”
  • “This almost goes without saying. Could you use a more descriptive adverb, or better yet, phrase?”

Copy Editing

Note how these comments get into tense, comma, word choice, and grammar issues. These are all signs of copy edits.

  • “Insert had.”
  • “You could cut this and insert a comma.”
  • “This is an unusual word for the context.”
  • “This like should be as if or as though.”

The Skills Matter, Not the Title

We shouldn’t eliminate an editor who’s using an imprecise title for themselves as long as we’re clear on what they can do for us and their skills meet our needs. Many editors have skills that overlap.

My line editor also gives a ton of copyediting suggestions and a few developmental suggestions too (such as pointing out where motivations need to be more fleshed out). So the lines connecting what an editor’s skills are with the titles that define them are very gray and wavy. A perceived mismatch isn’t a reason to “reject” an editor.

The Skills Matter, Not the Price (Sort of…)

Obviously, an editor’s price matters if we can’t afford them. (Although I’d suggest that it doesn’t hurt to ask if we qualify for clean-writing discounts, or if there are other ways to save money.) But in my experience, a high price doesn’t automatically equal good quality, and a low price doesn’t automatically equal poor quality.

Among the editors who impressed me, prices ranged from:
$5 per 1000 words to $20 per 1000 words.

Among the editors with questionable grammar, prices ranged from:
$3 per 1000 words to $50 per 1000 words.

Point made: Price isn’t connected to quality—good or bad. *smile*

Do We Know Enough to Evaluate an Editor?

So I keep talking about sample edits here, but there’s a very big elephant sitting on our manuscript pages that we need to discuss. If we look at those comments above, we’ll see that we need to have strong writing skills to know if a potential editor’s suggestions are right or wrong.

There’s a big difference in how easily we can trust an editor depending on whether we know if they’re right or not. When we get notes back from an editor, do we do a *head slap* for missing something we know? Or do we think “Huh. I didn’t know that, but I guess they must be right”?

The former situation makes it easy to evaluate sample edits and know who really has the skills and who’s full of it. The former situation makes it easy to develop a relationship with our editor based on trust. The former situation makes it easy to “accept” 90% or more of our editor’s suggestions and know they were the right thing for the story.

The latter situation—when we don’t know how to improve our writing or we don’t know the rules (and we don’t take the time to Google and verify or fully understand the rule)—makes everything harder. We won’t be able to tell which editors are good or bad, and we won’t be able to build a trusting relationship with the editor we choose. That’s a tragedy.

That’s why—unless we have unlimited money to pay an editor to mentor and teach us everything we need to know—we shouldn’t pursue editing and publication until we’ve strengthened our own skills.

Evaluating a Sample Edit

Once we receive a few sample edits, we can start comparing to learn more about each editor’s strengths. For example:

  • Does one editor suggest a change and note the reason why (“Webster’s calls for this to be one word and not hyphenated.”), while another editor doesn’t mention it?
  • Does one editor suggest changes that mess up our voice?
  • Do editors make opposite suggestions? (I had one editor tell me to put something in quotes and another editor point to a Chicago Manual of Style rule that it should be capitalized and italicized.)
  • Does one editor make positive comments that make it seem like they get our voice, story, and writing style?
  • Does one editor point out more issues that are truly helpful or insightful?

Notice that some of those questions are objective (quoting rules), and some are subjective (voice, etc.). Yet even on the objective side, we might not need (or want) an editor who’s a rule-stickler.

Either way, that kind of analysis can tell us a lot about an editor’s skill set and/or what they tend to notice. I’m terrible with hyphenation, so I knew I needed a copyeditor who would notice those errors. I cut my writing teeth at the feet of two editors who showed me the possibilities of great line editing, and I was starved for more than just a copyedit.

Other writers will have different goals, priorities, and weaknesses to fill in. I love my editors, but they wouldn’t necessarily be perfect for others. The right match for us is extremely subjective.

The Details: Keeping Track

Because I’m ridiculously organized, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of all the editors on my short list. My spreadsheet included:

  • all their contact information,
  • pricing and availability,
  • notes about recommendations, clients, and genres, and
  • notes about the sample edits.

The Details: Grading Each Editor

Then I gave each editor a grade based on how good of a match they’d be for me. (i.e., I’m not sharing this spreadsheet because it wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else. *smile*)

That last column with my notes on the sample edits was the basis of the grade. That column included notes such as:

  • D: Copy edit only, didn’t agree with most changes
  • C: More copy than line, and not sure about many grammar aspects
  • B: Mix of line and copy, but some of the comments broke my voice
  • A: Good mix of line and copy suggestions, agreed with most

By the time all the sample edits were returned, I had several A-grade editors to choose from. I made my final choice based on which editor was best for my voice, was spot on with all of her rule-based suggestions, was available, and charged a fair price (she charges by the hour, so my clean-writing discount was built into the price).

What Questions Don’t Matter?

We might see advice about other ways we can evaluate an editor, but much of this advice is inaccurate or doesn’t matter in most cases.

Myth: The Best Editors Are Also Writers

False. As writers, we know that novel writing and query and blurb writing are very different skills. Multiply that by a thousand and we might understand why editing skills are often unrelated to writing skills.

Even if they are published authors, their own writing quality doesn’t indicate their editing skills, as writer-editors can’t edit themselves any more than the rest of us. Their writing quality might say more about their editor’s skills than their own editing skills.

Myth: The Best Editors Are Not Writers

False. Whether or not someone edits as their full-time job doesn’t necessarily reflect their skills.

No matter how good I become at developmental editing, I wouldn’t give up writing. Editors can like—and be good at—more than one thing.

Myth: An Editor’s Process Determines Their Quality

False. Some of you might have seen the debate on my Facebook post about whether or not editors who started making comments on their first read-through were “sloppy.”

Just as plotters and pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants) can both write clean and strong stories, editors who make comments on their first read and those who do an overview read-through first can both give insightful and complete edits.

In fact, most editors I know make comments on their first read-through because their fresh eyes are better at catching issues. They don’t want to forget any concerns by waiting for their second pass to make their notes.

As I mentioned on Facebook, editors who make comments on a first read should probably do a second pass to see if their questions, concerns, suggestions, etc. change once they know the story. (If they left inappropriate comments in, that would be sloppy.) But there’s no reason for them to not make a note when they notice a problem. Only the quality of the final edit they return to the author matters.

Final Thoughts

All of these tips, lists, and myths come down to one thing:

Do you trust your editor?

If you need your editor to be an author (or not be an author) for you to trust them, then it matters to you. If you need your editor to follow a certain process for you to trust them, then it matters to you.

Conversely, if you don’t need your editor to be in tune with your voice to trust their suggestions, then that tip doesn’t matter to you. Or if you don’t need your editor to know grammar rules to be able to trust their judgment, then that tip doesn’t matter to you.

An editor—especially for self-published authors—is a partner and not an authority-from-on-high. The best partnership often comes down to finding an editor that we can trust.

Those A-grade editors on my list were all people that I would trust with my work. If we don’t trust an editor enough to “accept” most of their suggestions, the edit is a waste of money.

The details of an edit are just sausage-making. Only the quality of the edit for the author matters. And hopefully, this post will help us find that perfect match. *smile*

Do you have suggestions for where else to look for potential editors? What do you look for in an editor? Do you have any questions about these evaluation tips? Do you have other tips to share? Do you agree that it’s most important to find an editor we can trust?

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35 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee April 16, 2015 at 6:49 am

*scratches head* I know I’ve written my own thoughts on this, before, but I can’t find them, right—

Oh! It wasn’t a post on my blog but a comment on yours, Jami! Note to self: convert & expand that into a blog post.

For now, I’ll just point to that link. 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold April 16, 2015 at 9:15 am

Hi Carradee,

LOL! Yep, I remember that comment. 🙂 Thanks for bringing it up again!

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Ashley Leath April 16, 2015 at 7:17 am

What a thorough post! I absolutely agree with much of what you wrote. Sample edits (I do the first 5 pages for potential clients) are a great way to get a feel for whether you and the editor will mesh well.

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Jami Gold April 16, 2015 at 9:25 am

Hi Ashley,

Yes, as I tried to make clear, while some editors were just plain unqualified, most that didn’t get my A-grade simply weren’t a good match for my voice, story, or goals. That’s why my grades wouldn’t mean anything to others. 🙂 As part of last Tuesday’s FB post, another editor, Stacey Brewer, pointed out that’s why a site that “reviewed” editors wouldn’t work either.

A recommendation is a starting point–we know editor worked for someone–but it’s not an ending point. We still have to see if they’d work for us. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) April 16, 2015 at 8:01 am

I know for me, someone who gets my voice and understands I’m NOT writing a picture book (despite the animal characters) is HALF the battle in whoever I consult.

If I were writing straight natrualistic animals this wouldn’t be so challenging. But I’m also not wrting absolutely cartoonish animals either.

If I had dollar for every time I heard “I’m not familar with animal stories for non-preschoolers” I could afford a deposit on the illustrator I’m hoping to land for “GABRIEL”, as even though this is a novel, I know having some illustrations (plus a striking cover that sets the right tone) will give the final book an edge styliscially, and frankly give readers a guide of how in the middle I am between cartoonish and naturalistic.

If they at least understand my type of stories are not limited to the picture book format, in general, I can better trust their advice.

I think because I don’t draft nearly as cleanly as you or Caradee do, I get especially anxious about “sticker shock” beacause while you make the clear point the high price doesn’t mean high quality, I know there’s a lot of debate among entrepneurs about pricing themselves too low out of fear, and that may add to the tricky nature of what’s resoable for you to pay for the help you need.

Obviously you charge what you do for your services to make it worth the time you put in, right, Jami?

If it’s too low it’s not fair to you to take time away from everything else you do for your writing, but if it’s too high it limits the people who would be a good match for your skills, that’s something I always think is the hardest part of pricing.

I’ve been racking my brain at developing a service to aid myoverall income, and on top of not knowing what I could offer worth paying for (whether it’s editing services or something else) pricing gets me stuck.

There’s nothing worse when the help you need is out of your reach because of finances, and please undertsand, I know it’s never a good idea to make a decision based on fear, but I’ve been dangerously close to getting a credit card and charging it up to deadly levels. I’ve resisted that siren song, but if nothing else, I hope at the very least it shows that I don’t take having nessecary help for granted.

It’s probably why when you do posts like “Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable” it hits such a strong chord in me, and (not your fault!) makes me feel like such a wimp.

How do you know you’re taking a risk for the right reasons versus a risk based in fear?

Because we all know when we come off desperate, we repel people, and we’re trying to connect with people, whether personal or professional-and most often with writers it’s a bit of both.

But if it’s impossible to feel 100% confident, how can we avoid feeling 100% incappable?

Neither extreme is healthy, overconfidence leads to arrogance the drives people away form us, but having no confidence and conviction makes you a doormat, and neither will get us far.

Does that mean anything that makes us feel good (or comfortable) is a sign we’re not doing enough? That we have to be in a constant state of flux to do business?

I don’t swear often, but seriously, how the HELL are you supposed to be both flexible yet firm at the same freaking time!? (Note: any anger you sense is aimed at the problem, not a specifici person) I know you can’t know for me, so how have worked through this? As you mention in the post above, you knew you needed a line-editor, so how did you gauge where your skills were?

Also, since you often admit that you always need outside eyes because you can’t be objective enough, how do you know what you did in self-editing is enough to then graduate to outside editing that’s worth whatever you pay? While we’re clearly have varying levels of skill in this regard, you must have some way to tell, right? Or is that partly what you gleamed from your beta-readers feedback?

If I could self-edit my work at the level my suggestions helped your blurb and other writers I’ve swapped with, I’d feel more confident about considering paying an editor by the hour or ask for a “clean copy” discount.

I think my biggest barrier to entry is that I don’t have a tangible grasp of technical skill.

Not because I don’t think it’s important (if I thought that, I’d have subjected the world to not so readable junk) but I’m still clueless as to where my self-editing ends and the nessecary outside editing begins.

With “GABRIEL” (before it sold), I’d gone throuhg over 100 different beta-readers and 5 versions by the time my current editor saw it/made an offer, and I knew from the first edit letter I got she was the one.

But my current WIP is more ambitious than what I’ve tried before, and I got so discouraged at a certain sticking point with one of my characters I couldn’t progress beyond it. I used to be a fan of just plowing through, but now I’m afraid if I do that, I’ll have another decade of self-editing ahead of me, and I’d like to put out more than one book a decade, and not just for business reasons, you know? (LOL)

If you are going to “trade skills” with someone, how would you propose that? I know everyone has different terms, but are there questions you can ask youself and who you’re considering to trade editing with?

Do you offer each other samples of what you’re asking for to see you’re compatible?

Up to now I’ve had to just bootstrap a lot of what I know now, and even now, if someone asked me to look for a really nitty-gritty grammar error, unless I made a similar mistake I might not notice, and I hate admitting that, but I tend to feel my way through rather have this draconian-level knowledge of grammar, and every time I’ve tried to teach myself, it makes me never want to write anything other than my name ever again, and that’s sure not helpful.

When I was last in a critique group (which was a few years ago) I could always tell how far ahead most everyone else in the group was, I rarely had to comment or suggest changes as their writing was fairly clean, and what I did suggestion typcially was mostly making character motivation and intentions clear.

When they critiqued me, it was always a laundry list of things, and sometimes what was basic to them wasn’t for me, which doesn’t mean it was any easier for them, but they at least “got it” at a level I didn’t.

This was especially true when it came to blurbs and query letters, no matter how many blurbs I read and re-read of my favorite books (the most suggested advice I got) it didn’t make writing them for my books any easier or straightfoward. Yet when I offer suggestions that helped the queries and blurbs of others (including most recently yours) I’m left scratching my head asking, “Why can I do it for everyone but me?” It’s not like I’m totally incapable of being objective about my work, if anything I’m too critical, but it always seems the more something matters the more paralyzed it makes me. I tend to be more detailed oriented than “big picture” oriented.

Everyone always says how vital an e-mail list is, but I frankly find building an e-mail scarier and harder than engaging on social media or blogging, but I get that having a list is important, but I don’t need to be convinced anymore, the problem is making sure those on my list get something worthwhile.

I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but With all the e-mail people get, I don’t want to be a waste of space, and it just doesn’t come natural to me.

How can I provide value to my list (which is farily small at the moment) without overpromising/underdelivering? (Just thinking out loud there)

If you’re too pushy to sell something, you turn people off, but if you too soft-sell, you send the wrong message.

I’m glad you make the distinction between query letters and synopses (i.e. Writing ABOUT a book) is not 1 to 1 with writing (or editing) the ACTUAL BOOK. Some writers and editors I think are of the mindset that “writing is writing and editing is editing”, but even if they’re equally important, being great (or at least decent) at one doesn’t mean you’ll be decent or great at the other. I know from the deparaging (and frankly depressing at times) comments I got for “GABRIEL” that no one who actually read part or all of the book had the doubts those who only read the query or synopsis of the book.

That gave me a little hope that I wasn’t stuck at the novice level, and that my weakness was (and sadly still is) writing ABOUT my book.

Okay, enough rambling for now. Thanks for at least making this and your previous post easy to reference and understand, if not execute, which is my problem. (Smile)

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Carradee April 16, 2015 at 9:07 am

I do microgigs on Fiverr. It started off because I realized I could convert things to “clean” HTML really fast. (*cough* find & replace + macros specific to particular clients… *cough*). Eventually, I added other little things, mostly because folks on Fiverr kept hiring me to do those things for them.

Most of my Fiverr clients are repeats, referrals sent by word-of-mouth, OR people who need something close but not quite what I offer. And some of my repeat clients hire me for one thing, then realize they need other things I can help them with. (Example: Someone who hires me to help clean up their formatting might realize I can proofread, too.)

If you’re clear, precise, and careful about how you set things up and communicate with clients, you can end up averaging a decent hourly rate on Fiverr. As well as a confidence boost when clients tip you or not-so-subtly indicate that your skills are more valuable than you realized. 🙂

Now, Fiverr has its issues, but everywhere does. I think it’s well worth checking out just as a brainstorming method, even if you ultimately decide to do something else.

Reply

Jami Gold April 16, 2015 at 10:20 am

Hi Carradee,

Great suggestion! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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Jami Gold April 16, 2015 at 10:18 am

Hi Taurean,

I wonder if framing your story when you approach editors as a fantasy (for whatever teen or adult market you’re targeting) might help. After all, if my editors can accept a unicorn that talks, why couldn’t your editors accept a rat that talks? 😉

In other words, don’t let them get hung up on the animal aspect. You could call it a contemporary fantasy and keep the animal aspect a footnote. By focusing on the fantasy aspect instead of the animal aspect, they may have a better grasp of how to relate to your story. (Not sure if you’ve tried that already, but I figured I’d mention it. 🙂 )

As far as pricing, I can share what a friend of mine is doing. She’s started quietly offering her services at low prices to “guinea pigs.” The clients know they’re guinea pigs, and they also know they’re getting an extra low price because of that. She learns more about how much value she’s able to offer and how much time it takes to do something (and how much time it will take once she’s more skilled).

Then once she’s ready to start marketing herself, she’ll have a much better idea of what price would work for her time and match the value she’s offering. And as I mentioned in my post about how to know if we could be a good editor, we can offer our services for free a lot too. Before charging for dev edits, I beta read for a ton of people to understand my skills better.

“How do you know you’re taking a risk for the right reasons versus a risk based in fear?”

That’s a great question, and I’ll ponder to see if I can come up with a fuller answer. My top-of-head response is that it might differ for each person. We might have to know what our fear looks like, how it manifests.

For me, because I’m a perfectionist, my fear looks like putting things off to make them perfect. So I dealt with that by giving myself deadlines. “Okay, self, you’re not confident yet, so I’ll give you X months to get confident and then you are moving forward.” 🙂

Someone else’s fear might manifest in a different way, but if they understand what their fears are, they might be able to create a plan or set a deadline for overcoming them. For me, having a plan and knowing how to overcome my fears made the difference.

“How do you know what you did in self-editing is enough to then graduate to outside editing that’s worth whatever you pay?”

Another great question! 🙂 For me, I knew I’d “graduated” to being ready to pay for an editor with a couple of different signs. The contest wins and finals helped. The feedback from my beta readers helped. The fact that every blog post about a grammar tip or writing advice was something I already knew helped. Etc., etc.

I spent years inhaling all the writing advice I could find. When I found a really good blog with nitty-gritty advice and examples, I read every relevant post. So yes, at a certain point, I started having a hard time learning anything new. (I’ve mentioned this about the last couple writing conferences I’ve attended–how it’s hard to find workshops that can teach me anything.)

However, that’s uber-thorough, over-achieving-perfectionist me. 🙂 Others can be qualified when they feel they already know “most” things or when they know a certain area really well.

And just to let you know, the “clean copy” discount will apply mostly to line or copy editing. So for the purposes of your question, those grammar and sentence structure issues would be the area to focus on for knowing when you’ve “graduated.”

Developmental editing is so big-picture focused that the nitpicky stuff doesn’t really affect how I edit. I’ll usually point out a certain grammar thing once, but at the dev edit level, my time isn’t taken up by marking each one so I don’t charge differently based on the cleanliness of the writing.

(I do, however, usually ask for a sample of a client’s writing first, just so I can give them feedback of whether I think they’re ready to move forward. And I have turned down work that’s so messy it would make my eyes bleed to read. 😉 )

“If you are going to “trade skills” with someone, how would you propose that?”

Just as when we’re going to trade beta reading services, I suggest starting with a small sample, such as exchanging a chapter or two. That way, both parties can make sure they’d get what they expect out of the deal.

And I totally get what you mean about how the more something matters to us, the more it can make us paralyzed. That’s exactly why I struggled so much with queries. I’d placed such high stakes onto my efforts that I strangled my voice.

Now that I’m self-publishing, I’m much more relaxed and that’s helped me be able to write my blurbs. The last blurb I came up with was proclaimed by my betas and my line editor to be nearly perfect. O.o

For someone who struggled with the traditional publishing path for years because of failed queries, I’m agog. LOL! But it helped my stress to know I have my editors in line to help me make it great.

To answer your question about newsletters, I didn’t send out a newsletter to my “New Release” list until 2 months ago–even though I’d been building it for 5 years. Like you, I didn’t want to fill anyone’s email until I had something worthwhile to share.

And sure, I got a couple of unsubscribes from people who didn’t remember signing up (I don’t blame them! 🙂 ), but not many. So I don’t agree with the advice to mail out regularly, just to make sure people don’t forget you. Either we have something they want to hear about or we don’t.

I hope that helps! 🙂 Thanks for all the great questions!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) April 22, 2015 at 11:52 pm

Thanks for replying and clairifying your points, Jami, I did have two other questions-

1. What’s AGOG, mean?

2. Even if you set a deadline, what if you just still aren’t where you need to be regarding sticking point in your skill? You just do it anyway and (HOPE) no one will notice?

That’s HARD for me to do, and I know for “GABRIEL” at least, if I’d forced myself to indie publish it, it wouldn’t be a book I could be proud of, and it wouldn’t be the level to get taken seriously.

As much we tell ourselves it’s okay to be “Good enough” that “First impression” thing does matter, and I think you and I are at different stages of acceptance on this point.

I guess I’m stuck there a lot and why I don’t like to give myself deadlines unless I know they’re in reach. So much about writing for me has been crawling my way through, and I’m too apt to set too ambitious deadlines and beat myself up if I don’t meet them.

Yes, I take external deadlines (that I didn’t set) seriously, but even then, while I meet those 95% of the time, life happens, you know?

I know lots of writers say limits make you more creative than having no limits, but I rarely (NOT NEVER) find that true for me.

An aside, yes, I don’t think how my story was “framed” was the problem. I often got critiques where the person would say somehing to the effect of “I’m not familiar with animal stories outside the picture book world” and I as I mentioned in my comment above, I think the fact you write paranormal fiction with romance elements readers are less likely to mischaracterize your story as skewing younger than you intend.

I think it was more a problem of not being on the same wavelength, like how I wouldn’t be good counsel to critique erotica because it’s not an area of fiction I read, more of a “culture shock” thing, you know?

That’s why finding a beta-reader’s hard. IF I wrote more picture books, I’d have less trouble finding beta-readers I clicked with.

Let me put it this way, your character’s a unicorn, but I imagine not the kind of unicorn that would fit in say, the “My Little Pony” univese, right?

(I’m one of the “Bronies” BTW, but I don’t collect the toys, I just like the various cartoon series.)

That’s how I try to frame “GABRIEL” and most of my animal stories, they’re for readers 8 and up, but they’re not babyish, and while not 100% naturalistic, they also aren’t mere characitures. It’s in that hazy middle that’s hard to portrat solely by words, which is part of why I hope to comission an illustrator to have the illustrations (and the cover, of course) help translate that to the reader better.

Also, I should clarify, Gabriel IS a children’s boook, but it’s a novel, not a picture book, and often beta-readers who read my novel-length work associate animal stories as picture books, or early readers that are way shorter and more simplistic than what I can write, and that disconnect comes out in their critiques, and that makes hard to know what’s valid and what’s on the mark in what suggestions have weight and what doesn’t.

I think my query letters suffered here because I sometimes tried to “hide” my characters were rats so people would see the story I’m telling, not just what the characters were (because people often just got stuck on that, no matter how I framed it), if that makes sense, and I didn’t feel right doing it.

On the upside, they all found some aspects of my critiques of their work helpful, so at least it was a fair exchange overall. That’s why I’m glad I found a publisher with an editor who got the book straight away, just like the beta-readers who were/are my biggest champions for “Gabriel” and gave the most helpful feedback.

That goes back to the point you made about finding the right edtior for us and our work, while the mechancics are similar, the approach we respond to is different. I want an editor who will be honest with me on what doesn’t work, but I don’t respond to the “drill sargent” approach. I also want someone who does my kind of book so they know I’m not trying to write a 300 page “pictue book.” Again, something children’s writers struggle with more than the YA+ readers your books are aimed at, Jami.

I’m getting a little better at filtering advice for what will and won’t work for my writing, but it’s still a hard thing for me.

Jami, I’m also curious, are you saying blurbs don’t frustrate you anymore now that you indie publish? Or you’re not as critical as you would be if you were pitching to agents or editors at publishers?

Anyway, thanks for these posts about editors, you made the process more human than other blogs I’ve read on the subject. I appreciate that.

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Jami Gold April 23, 2015 at 11:06 am

Hi Taurean,

1. Agog is another word for awestruck or excited.

2. No, I’m with you in that I have a difficult time making hard deadlines when I don’t know how long something will take. 🙂

Instead, I’d take a hard look at whether I made significant progress during that time. Progress is better than no progress. LOL! And maybe with that progress, I’d have a better feel for how long it would take for me to finish the goal.

For example, I kept putting off publishing because of fear. I put it off for about a year. Finally, I gave myself a deadline of last October. (Hint: I published in February. 😉 )

I had no idea how long it was going to take to get things done, but that deadline gave me the push I needed to move forward. By the time I got to September, I knew I wasn’t going to make October, but I had a better handle on the steps I had to go through, so I pushed it out to January. Come early January, I knew I’d need a couple more weeks because I was working on getting the pre-order for my novel up at the same time, but I was getting really close, so I pushed it to February.

So… What does that mean? It means that I used deadlines to help me, not to be a puppet to them. At no time did I force the next step when that would have meant a poor product, but I also didn’t let myself make excuses. It’s a fine line between pushing and not beating yourself up (I actually talk about that line in my post today 🙂 ).

The one thing I did push through was the fear of setting deadlines I didn’t know if I could meet. That aspect is a major reason why I didn’t announce anything in advance–because I didn’t want to publicly state a deadline that I figured would slip. I settled on the exact day of publication about 3 weeks in advance, and by that time, I decided to hold back the announcement until I had active links.

That attitude of private deadlines–and knowing I wouldn’t beat myself about them as long as I was making significant progress (and learning more about making better deadlines in the future)–is the healthy way (for me at least) to move forward. I hope that helps. 🙂

Yeah, my unicorn is a warrior, definitely not a MLP type. So I get what you’re saying. I figured your situation wouldn’t be solved so easily, but I wanted to share the thought in case it would be helpful.

Hmm, about my blurbs… I still get frustrated by blurbs–a lot, LOL!–but I know I’m not trying to do it alone, and I’m not stumbling in the dark about whether A or B would work better. I use my editors as brainstorming help, and we bounce ideas back and forth. That helps me a lot.

Also, with queries, we’re usually focused on one agent, so the pressure (to me) feels bigger than focusing on readers in general. It’s like the difference between thinking “I have to make this person like my story” vs. “I have to make this capture the essence of the story so the right readers will try it.”

That attitude shift might just be me, but I hope that all helps. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kathryn Jankowski April 16, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Interesting points. I’d love to know which editor(s) you chose. Perhaps in a private email?

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Jami Gold April 16, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Hi Kathryn,

LOL! It’s not a secret–I give credit to my editors on the copyright page of my books after all. 😉 It’s just that I didn’t want this post to come off like I was giving specific recommendations because it is so subjective.

I’ve used both Marcy Kennedy and Jessa Slade as developmental editors, Erynn Newman of A Little Red Ink as line editor, and both Misti Wolanski and Julie Glover as copyeditors. However, just because they were right for me doesn’t mean they’d be right for others. All I can do is provide the names for Step 1. 🙂

I’ve had Marcy and Julie here before with guest posts on various topics, and I hope to bring some of my other editors here for guest posts as well. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Stephanie April 16, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Hi, Jami. Thank you for another wonderful post. I have a few questions for you and possibly your readers. How do you feel about an editor who will suggest that to keep an author’s voice, it is okay to leave some things alone, otherwise risk losing that connection? If we all wrote with perfect grammar and punctuation, wouldn’t things be too similar? Isn’t it better to allow the author’s style to shine through (so long as it isn’t difficult for the reader to understand)? Hope that makes sense. Thanks!

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Jami Gold April 16, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Hi Stephanie,

Absolutely! The point of editing isn’t to enforce perfect grammar. The point is to clean up our writing so our voice shines more strongly without distraction.

I use fragments and creative punctuation and all those other “against the rules” techniques–er, a lot. 🙂 As you said, those are elements of our voice, along with sentence length, rhythm, word choice, paragraphing styles, etc.

That rule-breaking is “allowed” in fiction, and any good editor would know that. If an editor tries to correct all of those, I’d wonder if they came from the academic or non-fiction side of things (or if they were just a stickler for rules). 😉

However, a good editor would also be able to spot when fragments, creative punctuation, etc. weren’t necessary for the emphasis we’re trying to make. They’d suggest that we save those techniques for when we are trying to emphasize something.

The point is that if we break the rules, we should be able to give a reason–it should be intentional. If we can’t give a reason, we’re likely just being lazy with our writing. Good editors–those who get our voice–would be able to tell the difference most of the time.

That’s part of why finding an editor we trust is so important. If we trust our editor, our default response to every suggestion will be “Yes, unless I can come up with a reason.” If we don’t trust our editor, our default response will be “No, unless you give me a reason.”

That’s a big difference. 🙂 And that’s exactly why finding the right editor for us is so subjective. Just because an editor gets one author’s voice doesn’t mean they’ll get another author’s voice.

Does that help explain? We want our editors to know the rules so we’re not breaking them without intention, not so we write formally. 😉 Thanks for the great question!

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Glynis Jolly April 17, 2015 at 7:42 am

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while now. I have a very short list of possible editors but I’ve been going by how I feel about them personally, nothing else. I didn’t know what else to look for, that is until now. Thank you.

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Jami Gold April 17, 2015 at 9:46 am

Hi Glynis,

I hope this helps, at least with those editors you can judge by sample edits. 🙂

As I mentioned in the last post, it might not be possible to judge proofreaders by sample edits (as there might not be any errors on the sample pages), and developmental editors look for such big-picture stuff that a few pages can’t reveal much about their skills either.

The guest post Stacy Jerger wrote for me here a year ago goes more into what to look for with a developmental editor. Personally, I don’t give sample edits for potential dev edit clients because the opening pages would usually just be filled with my nitpicky-because-these-are-the-opening-pages comments, and that’s not representative of my overall dev edit in the slightest. 🙂

However, I’m happy to work on a couple of chapters (for a fee) as a trial for both of us. Or what I often do is ask to see the first chapter just so we can discuss thoughts about whether I’m the right editor for a client and a story (such as my impression of the storytelling, whether the client is ready for the step of editing, goals for the story, etc.).

As an author, what actually helped me pick out my dev editors the most were knowing authors who’d been edited by them in the past. One of my dev editors edited for one of my beta buddies, so I was able to read the dev editor’s comments about a story by my writing buddy that I’d also read. That gave me great insight into how deep she dug into the story and the characters. 🙂

I hope that helps explain our options! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Sonnet Fitzgerald April 19, 2015 at 12:47 am

Oh! Thank you for this bit of information! As a developmental editor, I often struggle with sample edits. When I am only seeing a small slice of a larger story, it’s difficult to comment fully about characters and plot. But I want my clients to feel comfortable with my services. These are good solutions!

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Jami Gold April 19, 2015 at 1:07 am

Hi Sonnet,

Yay! I’m happy to help. 🙂 I agree that the issue of sample edits for dev editors is very tricky, so I’m glad to share my thoughts. Thanks for the comment!

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Kirsten Schuder April 20, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Hi Jami,

My, what a thorough article! It’s rare to find such a high level of detail available in free web content.

I agree with almost all of your comments, except for one: that it’s a myth that editors who write don’t make better editors.

When I first started working in my present editing position, I was also asked to write some articles too, and I’ll have to say, I feel it improved my editing skills.

When editors are not writers, they only have one half of the view of the process. They have no idea what it’s like to repeatedly subject your own work to criticism, and sometimes, it’s constructive criticism, and sometimes, the criticism sounds kind of mean and angry.

I think it’s healthy for all editors to get a complete view of the process and write an article or two so they can experience how good it feels when a writer receives a compliment on a well-written passage, for example.

Also, it makes me more sensitive to what writers go through in their learning process and skills acquisition, as well as making me more sensitive to issues such as novel marketability. For example, for my novel, Inside Dweller, I have been researching how to market a sci-fi/paranormal fiction novel, and I can and do share this knowledge with my clients. But, I also find that this knowledge is applicable across different genres as well.

I’ve been both editing and writing for years, and now I have my own service. I do charge per hour, I work within each writer’s budget, and I do not categorize my editing skills as just copy writing or just developmental editing. I am strong in many things, so writers get the whole package :).

I really enjoyed reading your comments on this, and the different titles for editors. I think part of the problem is, that there isn’t really a consistent industry standard for different editor titles. In my editing experience, it can differ vastly from company to company, and this ambiguity filters down to independent editors. For instance, in one company, I was doing copy writing, but I was not really dealing with any grammatical fixes.

Thanks again for your very thorough article. Kudos to you and good job!

Kirsten Schuder, M. S.
Author and Editor

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Jami Gold April 20, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Hi Kirsten,

That’s a good point. For insensitive editors, being a writer as well would give them the view from both sides of the fence and could lead to them being better with their feedback.

On the other hand, many of the best editors I know in the business aren’t writers. However, those editors are also full-time editors, and they’ve gotten plenty of experience working with all kinds of authors, which would give them a broad view as well.

So while I agree that the duality would help for some editors, I hesitate to suggest that it’s “required.” Maybe the point is that editors should have a broad-enough view of the writing process to be able to give more effective feedback. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing that insight!

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Leona April 20, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Hi Jami!

Love your blog, as always 🙂 I’d like to point out a few things.

Some editors (moi included) were taught at small houses and do double duty. I’d say, in addition to your list, you might see if one comes with this built in double duty. I do copy editing that includes developmental and a lot of grammar and other line issues. (I became a line editor for a press, and CMoS and I became reeeeaaallll close lol)

I’d also add to look at how many passes you are getting for your bucks. For instance, some only do one or two passes, while others will do three. I will even do four if my editing discovered an issue that meant major rewrites. Others are like that as well.

Also, look to friends who know your writing. I don’t do cut rate for clean copy upfront. That being said, if I’m familiar with the writing and know they are clean writers, I will give them half or more off, depending on the length of the manuscript.

And, knowing you, I’m sure that chart is a doozy!! LOL These are good criteria 🙂 And bartering is good! I just bartered for cover art with my editing expertise.

One last favor… Please, don’t judge my editing skills by my blog. LOL I’ve long been a maverick in that I won’t blog at all if I’m worried about everything. Sighs. Have a great time!

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Jami Gold April 20, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Hi Leona,

Yep, those gray and wavy lines of what an editor is expected to do can get even more wavy when working at a small press. That said, most–if not all–editors are stronger in some areas than others.

During my search, I came across several editors who offered an all-in-one service. However, unless their price includes several back-and-forth passes between the editor and the author, I don’t know how successfully that would work. If developmental comments led to big changes, the copyedits on those changed sections would be irrelevant, and the new prose would still need edits. I think that might be what you meant by doing 4 passes, and that makes sense for all-in-one editors.

I decided I’d rather work with specialists and have that many more fresh eyes looking at my work, but that’s a personal choice. Yet another reason why this process is so subjective. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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Leona April 20, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Yes! I do not line edit the same work I do earlier edits for. I have the advantage of getting the MS clean enough that a line editor may offer that clean writing discount. I fix grammar, etc. as I see it.

That is what I mean by multiple passes. There is absolutely no way to get it all in one edit. And in fact, all of it in one edit can overwhelm the author, and still miss stuff you can’t see because of all the track changes lines.

Always have at least 2 other people than you look at it. Always. (Backing you up here for sure!) At the house I work at, we do content/copy edits (which includes what you label as developmental) with one person, one line editor, and then we throw it at a proofreader. You give sound advice. Nice to chat with you again.

PS I also allow a lot less “and & but” starts to sentences than I write here *cheeky grin*

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Jami Gold April 20, 2015 at 9:14 pm

Hi Leona,

Yep, absolutely! And I know what you mean about too many tracked changes making it hard to follow. LOL! Trying to squeeze all the editing stages into one step would be a mess. 🙂 Thanks for sharing those insights!

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Lara Gallin April 21, 2015 at 3:43 am

Some fabulous tips, I’ll definitely be rereading this when it comes to picking an editor!

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Jami Gold April 21, 2015 at 8:08 am

Hi Lara,

I hope it helps. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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