You want to publish a romance novel. Great!
First, you have to write that rough draft. If you've already written it, then congratulations, you're one step ahead of me. Maybe you've revised it once, twice, three times. It's sitting there on your computer mocking you with its imperfections and a number of grammatical errors you'll never catch no matter how many times you read it through. What now? How do you transform your book--your baby!--from 'work-in-progress' to 'ready-for-publication'?
It might be time to hire yourself an editor.
But maybe you should read it through one more time? Or give it to a trusted friend or family member? What is an editor even going to look for? Do you have enough money to hire an editor? And on that note, do you really need to hire an editor? Can't you just do the work yourself? Where are you even going to find an editor?
Take a deep breath.
You aren't the only one lost and/or overwhelmed by the confusing process of seeking out and hiring an editor for your book. And, though I don't have the answers to your many questions, you're in luck! I've interview three amazing editors and tracked down all the answers for you.
So, don't panic, and get ready for some invaluable advice from Becky Johnson of Hot Tree Publishing, Sarah Pesce of Lopt and Cropt, and Nikki Rae of Metamorphosis Editing Service as they explain the process of preparing your book for editing, the importance of not skimping on your editing budget, and how much you absolutely should not edit your own book.
It's easy to think of editing as a step that comes after your book is already completed, but the truth is that you may want to start thinking about hiring an editor before you even start to write. Becky Johnson recommends researching editors around the same time you start penning that amazing story taking up space in your head. "Many editors are scheduling four to six months in advance, which means plenty of notice will be required to secure your date," she explains. And Sarah Pesce agrees. "You'll definitely need a few months in advance of when you want to release it," she says. "Lots of editors book out in advance--from two months to a full year!--so if you're wanting a particular editor, learn what their lead time is and factor that into your decision, too."
Of course, your book may already be sitting completed on your computer (maybe it's been there for years), in which case it is totally okay to begin your editor search after the fact, especially if you aren't on a deadline to release your book or don't have a specific editor whose opinion you're desperate to secure for your book. In which case, you may be struggling more less with what stage of the writing process to hire an editor and more with when to actually pass on your book into an editor's hands. Nikki Rae believes that pulling the trigger on handing your book over is different for every author, saying: "A good rule of thumb is whenever they have revised as much as they can, made the manuscript as clean as possible, and are frankly sick of seeing it. That's usually around the time is needs a second set of eyes."
If you're like me, you might still be nibbling on that bottom lip wondering, what is the editor actually going to be looking for when they get their hands on my book? "Generally," Becky explains, "editors will read and examine every single word while also considering sentence, paragraph, character, and plot point as they stand individually and in relation to the entire manuscript." Sarah approaches each book differently. "Some books," she says, "need minimal editing and suggestions while other books may need more shaping and suggestions to get it ready for publication. A lot of that will come down to experience--the more books you write, the better you'll get at knowing what you need to do, so don't feel discouraged if your first few books need more work." As far as Nikki's list of what she looks for in her editing? She covers everything from inconsistencies to lack of emotions/thoughts/reactions from characters, to word repetitions, plot holes, syntax, and more.
So, if you want to give your book one last read through before handing it off to an editor, Becky suggests looking for: continuity, names/features changing, timeline issues, unrealistic dialogue (especially in children), lack of contractions when speaking, filler words/fluff, underwear being literally ripped off, and excessive repetition of words for genitalia. Sarah adds, "tiny things like comma usage and past participle use" and "on the story side, generally I've found that backstory can be really tricky--it's difficult to strike the balance between delving too much into the past with info-dumps and not giving enough info about the past for context into the characters' present situation."
Nikki also points out that--yes, even in romance novels--there is a such thing as too cliché. "They're hard to get around in the romance genre," she admits, "and I think that's because 'love' is such an interpretive subject in fiction that has also been done many, many times. There is also something to be said about cliché scenes: the hero making breakfast the next morning, the love triangle, the heroine 'having curves in all the right places', and the hero having a larger than life 'member.' Some of these things don't bother most readers, but they're hard for me to ignore. I think there are many more interesting dynamics to play with in the romance genre, so why limit yourself to these played out ideas?"
Now, we're at the hypothetical point where you've finished that final read-through as as Nikki noted... you're sick of looking at your work. But how much money should you be expecting to spend on a high quality editor?
It's no surprise that the biggest concern for authors, primarily self-publishing authors, is how much money they will be spending on an editor given how much they've likely already planned to spend on cover design and marketing. And what can you even expect in return for the money you spend? Becky, Sarah, and Nikki all agree that for a 70-80k romance novel you're going to be spending anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 dollars for a reliable editing service. There's no standard price for editing, of course, and there's a lot to factor into the price including the level of editing you're looking for and the experience your editor is bringing to the table, Sarah points out. "Developmental edits are generally priced higher," she explains, "because they involve a lot of high-level analytical work; copy edits are general cheaper, while line edits fall somewhere in the middle." (Note from Sarah: "There's no standard terminology for the different kids of edits, so many sure you know what you're getting with whatever kind of edit you choose.)
All three editors emphasize: do not cut costs by being your own editor. Becky edits 4 million words a year in her job as an editor and has published ten books of her own and says she would "never dream of being the only person to edit my work...the reality is that you're too close to your own work. Your mind will 'read' what it thinks a sentence or word should say, completely missing obvious errors." Nikki, who is also a published author agrees, "writing is an intimately personal experience and oftentimes we are too close to it to see its flaws."
And Becky warns, "be wary of a 'self-professed' editor who only charges $150.00 for a 70k word manuscript as it is likely they're so cheap because they're not great."
You may be picking up your jaw from the floor after seeing the above estimate for a good editor, but your book is worth investing in. In the end, an editor is working with you to create the best possible final product. "A good editor," Nikki says, "will give input on the strengths and weaknesses of a manuscript as well as scope out any technical errors. It's disheartening to work so long on something just to have readers point out all the errors when they could have otherwise enjoyed the story, and many writers who start this way don't have the confidence to continue."
Once you've come to terms with the importance of paying good money for a good editor, how do you decide which editor is the right fit for you? All three of the editing services participating in this interview provide--and recommend getting--a sample edit from a few different editors to see if their editing style vibes with your process. Sample edits, Becky says, "are such a valuable process for both authors and editors. It provides both the opportunity to look at the book's needs as well as giving the author insight into their editor's reactions." But it's not just the editor's work you want to make sure fits your style, you also want to feel comfortable communicating with them and expressing your expectations. "It's really important to have good rapport," Sarah explains, "so that you can speak freely with them about changes they're suggesting and how that works with how you see the story."
Along those same lines, when it comes to communicating with your editor, make sure you do it effectively! Don't just simply hand over your book without letting your editor know what you're concerned about or where you'd like them to take a harder look. Sarah recommends pointing out your trouble areas to your editor so they can help you fix them and being upfront with your editor at all times. "You're paying for their expertise," she says, "so don't be afraid to ask questions! If you don't understand why your editor made a certain change, ask."
Once you get your book back from the editor you've hired you may be overwhelmed by the amount of editing that has been done to it. And, maybe, you don't necessarily agree with all the suggestions. Do you have to agree with them simply because they came from a professional? Becky says, "Absolutely not. But ignoring a recommendation is inadvisable without discussion. I always recommend an author takes a step back from revisions and reflect on why they're balking at an editor's suggestions. Once they have, open dialogue is important."
Sarah points out that the decision to take an editor's suggestion can sometimes lie in whether you're self-publishing or traditionally publishing a book. "If you're self-publishing," she says, "you have the final say in everything. This doesn't mean the editor might not try to argue for it, but you have the ultimate decision. If you're traditionally publishing, it's likely that your publisher or editor has the final say, so compromise will be necessary here." Nikki goes so far as to stress that most of her edits are merely suggestions for the author. Still, she says, "It's important for an author to be able to view their work objectively, of course, and not think everything they've done is perfect and they shouldn't change anything."
Are you like me and take criticism incredibly personally and consider an editor's remark on a grammatical error to be an insult to your very person? Nikki recommends starting with a workshop class or revision partner to help prepare yourself for comments coming from an outsider's perspective.
No matter what stage of writing you're currently in, it's never too early to be researching editors. Follow them on social media, get a feel for their style and their personalities, and take down names of ones you think are worth pursuing for your book. If the cost seems daunting, start saving now. When it comes to the book you've poured your heart into, no amount of money is too much to make sure it comes out exactly the way you picture it in your mind (or maybe better!).
I hope that this article has helped clarify some of the who's, what's, where's, and when's of the editing process. If you have any further questions about specific comments made by one of the participating editors or want to inquire about hiring them, please feel free to reach out to the editor's whose information is below.
And good luck on your writing!
Special thanks to:
Becky Johnson, CEO of Hot Tree Publishing PTY LTD and award-winning editor and publisher, has worked closely with USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors, assisting them in preparing their incredible books for publication. Becky spends her free time with her husband and son on their property in the Sunshine Coast interland, Qld, Australia. A lover of the classics, a fan of urban fantasy, and a devoted lover of romance ensures she always has the next amazing read close by. For editing information, click here. For consultancy information, click here.
Sarah Pesce, editor at Lopt and Cropt, is a lifelong romance reader who has a real-life passion for editing romance novels. Writing romance can be a vulnerable and emotional journey and she firmly believes that chemistry (and trust) between an author and their editor is a vital component to the editing process. Therefore she makes sure to take the time to get to know each author she works with on a personal level (and visa versa) to ensure that you are comfortable putting your work in her hands. Her editing specialties include: historical romance, contemporary romance, erotic romance, New Adult, and Jane Austen-inspired fiction (JAFF). For editing information, click here.
Nikki Rae, editor at Metamorphosis Editing Service, prides herself on being reliable, affordable, and helpful. With ten years experience as an author and editor, she has a passion for revising and helping authors by ensuring their book is the absolute best it can be. She particularly enjoys editing: speculative fiction, fantasy, paranormal, romance, erotica, horror, dystopian, science fiction, New Adult, and Young Adult, but is open to all genres. She wants editing to be accessible to any and all authors and offers affordable pricing and payment plans. For editing information, click here.