eFingertip – Editors galore

In the world of self publishing here is nothing more important than affordable editing. Why can’t we help each other at no cost, or at a cost that the author decides after seeing the Editing (Line as well as Copy).

Join this group only if you are honest. As an editor please bear in mind the time and quality requirements.

Editors are asking us to use their services at unimaginable costs and they present no guarantee for acceptance by the publisher.

This group will discuss the different sites in the market for publishing with merits and demerits of each, and why not highlight those editors whom we just cannot afford.

The 10 Rules of Beta Reader Etiquette

1. Be Honest

You can’t be useful to fellow writers unless you’re willing to be honest with them: about the good and the bad of their stories. No, you don’t want to hurt any feelings, but just assume that any writer who asks your opinion will be big enough to handle even a negative response.

2. Be Specific

Generalities like, “I loved it!” or “Your plot was boring!” aren’t going to be much help. Even if you start out with only a gut feeling about the story, do your best to figure out why you liked or disliked something. Give your writer friend something concrete on which to build his revisions.

3. Couch Criticism in Praise

The whole point of a critique is the criticism. But be a sport and don’t be too rough on a writer’s delicate ego. Say what you gotta say about the book’s faults, but couch your criticism in praise. Whenever you can, be lavish in your comments on a bo0k’s good points. Open your critique by telling the writer what you liked best, and sum up with either a generally positive opinion or a belief that the author will be able to refine his rough draft into something good.

4. Avoid Negative Absolutes

Insofar as honesty allows, try to avoid negative absolutes: “This book is awful.” “I hated this character.” “Your theme is nonexistent.” Focus on the fix, rather than the problem: “I recommend using a more cheerful tone.” “What if you let this character pet a dog?” “Have you considered a theme for this story?” Even writers who want to hear all your criticism will grow resistant to accepting it if you put them on the defensive.

5. Observe Deadlines

Aside from the fact that most writers will be chewing their fingernails with anticipation from the moment they send you their precious manuscript, they’ve also probably got some serious deadlines to meet. So once you agree to a timeline, try your darndest to meet it. Yes, you’re doing the writer a favor, but he’s also depending on you. If you’re going to be unable to meet the deadline, always take a moment to let the writer know about the delay.

6. Observe Standard Editing Protocol

Make things easier for both yourself and the writer by observing standard editing protocol. Either use Word’s Track Changes to mark your comments and corrections right into the manuscript, or use standard editing symbols for marking up a hardcopy. No need to waste either the writer’s time or you own with comments he won’t be able to access or decipher.

7. Respect the Author’s Guidelines

If the author says she’s only looking for a general overview of the story–not a line edit–then respect that. She knows what stage her story is in and what kind of opinion will be most helpful. An unasked for line edit at too early a stage may not only end up wasting your time, but also killing the writer’s confidence in her story.

8. Check Your Personal Agenda at the Door

Remember: as a beta reader, you’re there to serve the writer, not the other way around. If you have a personal dislike for characters with red hair, the word “stupendous,” or rainy scenes, keep it to yourself. There’s a difference between pet peeves based on technical mistakes and pet peeves that are specific only to us and our personalities.

9. Identify the Author’s Vision

In the same vein as #8, your job is to help the author realize her vision for the story. It’s definitely not your job to try to impose your vision (or worldview) onto the writer’s story. If she wrote an adventure story, but you wanted a romance, don’t take it upon yourself to rewrite the genre. Do your best to figure out what type and tone of story the author is going for, and shape your comments to help her figure out where she’s falling short of her vision.

10. Respect the Author’s Autonomy

No matter how much effort and time you spend critiquing this story, there is no guarantee the author will make the changes you’re suggesting. Once you’ve turned over your critique, let the story go. You’ve had your say; you’ve fulfilled your duty. It’s not your responsibility to talk the writer into using all your suggestions. When the book comes out and the main character still has red hair, resist the urge to throw up your hands in frustration or write the author a scolding email.

The 8 Rules of Writerly Etiquette in Response to Beta Readers

1. Show Gratitude

Taking the time to read and comment on a manuscript is a humongous favor. Never take that for granted. Even if you should get your manuscript back and end up disagreeing with every single thing the beta reader said, never discount the effort that went into making those comments. Always thank beta readers profusely and let them know you’re aware of the effort they put into trying to help you.

2. Don’t Argue

Upon reading some (or all) of a beta reader’s comments, your first instinct might be to argue. But don’t. Just… don’t. If you’re face to face with a beta reader, simply nod and smile as they explain their thoughts. Only challenge their opinions if you need clarification on a point, and even then make sure you do it with graciousness and humility. No need to let a bossy beta run you over, but try to keep any knee-jerk negative reactions simmered down to a professional, “That’s a good point. I’ll take that into consideration.”

3. Don’t Take Offense

Yes, you’ll occasionally run into a nasty beta reader with a personal axe to grind. But generally speaking, most betas aren’t out to get you–even when they may sound less than kind in their critiques. Give your betas the benefit of the doubt and assume they just want to help you. Even if they’re dead wrong about your story, don’t take offense. This isn’t personal. It’s business.

4. Give the Edit Some Time

Most of us need a little time to process a critique–especially if it’s harsher than we expected. Before outright rejecting a beta reader’s critique, always give yourself a week or so to process the comments. Step away from the manuscript and just let those initial emotions brew for a while. When you’ve cleared your head, come back to the critique and evaluate the true worth of the beta reader’s offerings.

5. Remember the “Two People Have to Agree” Rule

Just as you shouldn’t outright reject your beta reader’s offerings, you also shouldn’t swallow everything a beta says. My personal rule is that “two people have to agree” on a change before I’ll make it. One of those people can be me: if I immediately recognize the worth of a beta’s suggestion, obviously I’ll go ahead and make the change. But if I don’t agree, I’ll put the comment on the back burner, where it will stay until another beta reader or editor makes the same comment. If that happens, then I know I have to reevaluate my initial gut feeling.

6. Respect the Reader’s Time

The beta reader is giving you the gift of many, many hours of his time. You’d be paying a professional editor thousands of dollars to be doing what your beta is doing for free (probable discrepancies in knowledge and skill aside). Respect that gift. Don’t ask beta readers to adhere to impossibly tight schedules, and once you’ve agreed upon a reasonable deadline, don’t pester the beta with requests for progress updates. Only after the deadline has come and gone without response from the beta reader should you send him a gentle email, asking if he’s had time to look at your book. If he hasn’t, tell him that’s all right and look elsewhere for another beta.

7. Don’t Request Brainstorming Assistance

A beta reader isn’t necessarily a brainstorming buddy. Brainstorming requires almost as much time and effort as critiquing, so don’t assume that just because someone agreed to read your manuscript he’ll also want to help you name characters and figure out how to fill plot holes. Pointing out the holes was his job; filling them is yours.

8. Return the Favor

It’s an unspoken rule in the writing world that if you receive a critique, you should also be willing to give one. Offer upfront to return the favor, and when that favor gets called in, do your best to promptly, kindly, and professionally fulfill the duties of the beta reader every bit as well as you’d like to have them fulfilled foryou.

The dance between writer and beta reader can sometimes be a tricky one, since not one, but two big, fat, bruisable writer’s egos are in play. But figuring out the rules of the dance is always worth the effort. Treat your beta readers with kindness and respect, and always critique other writers in the same measure. When it comes to beta reader etiquette, that’s really the only rule any of us needs to remember.


What Editors Do

A freelance or independent editor, sometimes called a book doctor, is someone who, for a fee, will undertake to read your manuscript for structure, style, plot, character development, continuity, and grammatical and technical errors. They may rewrite your ms. to fix problems, or provide notations and detailed advice so you can address them.

What’s the difference between a freelance/independent editor and an in-house editor (an editor employed by a publishing company)?

  • An in-house editor works with authors on a publisher’s behalf, editing books prior to publication. She edits to her own taste but also to the publisher’s standards. Any book acquired by a reputable publisher will be edited in-house. This is part of the publication process–the author should not be charged for it.
  • A freelance or independent editor is an independent contractor working directly for, and paid by, the author. What kind of editing is done, and how extensive  it is, is entirely up to the author.

Most freelance editors offer different levels of editing. These may include:

  • Manuscript assessment or critique. A broad overall assessment of your manuscript, pinpointing strengths and weaknesses. Specific problem areas may be flagged, and general suggestions for improvement may be made, but a critique won’t usually provide line editing or scene-by-scene advice on revision.
  • Developmental editing (also known as content or substantive editing) focuses on structure, style, and content. The editor flags specific problems–structural difficulties, poor pacing, plot or thematic inconsistencies, stiff dialogue, undeveloped characters, stylistic troubles, flabby writing.
  • Line editing. Editing at the sentence level, focusing on paragraph and sentence structure, word use, dialogue rhythms, etc., with the aim of creating a smooth prose flow.
  • Copy editing. Correction of common errors (grammar, spelling, punctuation), incorrect usages, logic lapses, and continuity problems.
  • Proofreading. Checking for typos, spelling/punctuation errors, formatting mistakes, and other minor mechanical problems.

Editing terminology is fluid. Some editors define the above terms differently, or use different terminology. Others simply provide “light”, “medium”, and “heavy” editing–light being on the order of copy editing, medium and heavy being some combination of line and content editing. It’s important, before hiring an editor, that you’re clear on exactly what services they provide.

When Do You Need a Freelance Editor?

Hiring a freelance editor can be an expensive proposition. A thorough content edit from an experienced, credentialed editor can cost four or even five figures. Is this an expense you really need to incur?

If you’re self-publishing, and are serious about building a readership, I think the answer is “yes.” The self-publishing field is highly competitive, and if you want to stand out, not to mention give good value to readers, it’s essential that you present a professional product. Editing and copy editing are an important part of that.

A qualified freelance editor may also be a good investment if you’ve written a nonfiction book on a subject in which you’re an expert, but you aren’t a professional writer. Especially if you’re seeking traditional publication, an editor may make the difference between publishable and not.

Or perhaps you’ve been submitting your polished manuscript to literary agents for some time and are getting positive comments, but still racking up rejections. Something’s wrong, and you aren’t quite sure what–or the rejections all seem to identify the same problems. A good freelance editor may be able to help.

If you’re just starting to submit for publication, though, or are self-publishing but don’t care about starting a career, the benefits are less clear. Before you pull out your wallet, investigate alternatives–a friend who’s not afraid to criticize, a local writers’ group or critique circle, an online writers’ group, a creative writing course or teacher, a professional writer with whom you’re acquainted. Any of these may be able to give you the help you need, free of charge or at a fraction of the cost. (You should be seeking such sources of feedback anyway–no writer is capable of being completely objective about his or her work, and outside viewpoints are essential.)

Whatever your situation, hiring a freelance editor shouldn’t be like taking your car to a mechanic (e.g., you go away for two hours and when you come back your car is fixed). You’ll get the most out of your experience if you treat it as a learning opportunity–a chance to hone and improve your own editing skills. Self-editing is an essential part of the writer’s craft; if you’re really serious about a writing career, it’s something you need to master. In fact, investing in a writing course, or joining a critique group, may be a much better initial investment for a new writer than springing for an editor.

There’s more on the vital importance of self-editing at Writer Beware’s blog.

Warning Signs

Be wary if you encounter any of the following.

A referral from a literary agent or publisher.

This is not necessarily questionable. Reputable agents do sometimes suggest that writers consider hiring independent editors–usually for projects they believe may be marketable, but need work the author may not be able to provide. They’ll often recommend a few names, qualified editors they’ve previously worked with and trust to do a good job.

You should always think carefully about such a recommendation, though, because it’s an expensive gamble that may not pay off. And be on your guard if the recommendation comes from a publisher (publishers provide their own editing at no charge), or from an agent who doesn’t have much of a track record or charges fees. Some sort of kickback arrangement may be involved, a la Edit Ink, or the agent or publisher may own the editing service (possibly under a different name).

Recommendation of a publisher’s or agent’s own paid editing or assessment services.

This is a clear conflict of interest. If the agent or publisher can make money from selling you editing or critiques, how can you be sure that the recommendation is in your best interest?

Editing or assessment as a requirement of representation or submission.

Some questionable literary agencies require you to buy a critique as a condition of representation. Some dubious publishers make you purchase an assessment as part of the submission process. Again, this is a conflict of interest, allowing the agency or publisher to increase its profit margin by charging you for extra services–which may or may not be of professional quality.

Extravagant praise or promises.

No reputable editor or assessor will tell you that your book has huge commercial potential or that it’s likely to become a best seller. Nor will they claim that an edit or assessment will improve your chances of selling to a major publisher. Why? Because these are promises that can’t be guaranteed, and a good editor or assessor, like a good agent, knows better than to make them.

Assurances that agents and publishers prefer manuscripts that have been professionally edited.

Dishonest or ignorant editors sometimes prey on the anxieties of aspiring writers by saying that agents and publishers give preference to manuscripts that have been professionally edited. In-house editors, they say, no longer have the time to edit–they want books that are letter-perfect and ready to publish, and it’s impossible for authors to get their manuscripts to that point on their own.

This is false on two counts. First, as noted above, there are many resources other than paying for editing that can help you get your manuscript into marketable shape–critique groups, colleagues, writing courses (and don’t forget the importance of being able to self-edit). Most traditionally-published writers do not use freelance editors.

Second, it’s true that in today’s world of big publishing conglomerates, where in-house editors must handle enormous workloads and do double duty as administrators, the days when an editor could afford to invest months working with an author to shape a promising but unready manuscript are largely gone. But it’s false to say that in-house editors don’t edit (they do), or that professional editing is a prerequisite for publication (it isn’t), or even that the name of an editing service on a manuscript will make a publisher more likely to read it (it won’t. See above).

Your manuscript needs to be as perfect as you can make it–finished, polished, and properly presented. But no one will hold it against you if you accomplish that yourself.

One-size-fits-all editing or assessing, all comers accepted.

Expert editors and assessors have areas of specialization that reflect their experience. The skills required to edit or critique a romance novel, for instance, are quite different from those needed for a work of narrative nonfiction. That’s not to say a single editor or assessor won’t possess both skill sets–but it’s unlikely that one person will be able to edit any and all subjects and genres with equal effectiveness.

Also, within the basic scope of services they provide, a good editor or assessor will tailor the job to the client–including asking for a sample of your work ahead of time to make sure it’s something they can work with (good editors do turn down jobs). Standardized services and a lack of specialization suggest a lack of professional knowledge and/or experience.

Anonymous editing or assessing.

Some editing and assessment services don’t post staff resumes on their websites, and don’t tell you in advance who will be assigned to you. This makes it impossible for you to verify the credentials of the person you’ll be working with, or to ensure that he or she has experience appropriate to your work.

Direct solicitation.

Independent editors or assessors may maintain websites or advertise in industry journals. But they don’t cold-call writers. If you’ve registered your copyright or subscribe to a writer’s magazine, you may be a target: disreputable people sometimes purchase mailing lists from these sources.

Refusal of reasonable requests for information.

Like a reputable agent, a reputable editor should have no problem providing a resume, references, and samples of their work. Be wary if you encounter resistance in any of these areas.

Vagueness about specific services.

Editors should be willing to say exactly what they will do for you. If an editor won’t give you a firm price, or doesn’t want to specify what your fees will cover, or won’t tell you exactly who will be working on your manuscript, move on.

Other Writers’ Work (While Remaining Friends)

8 Tips for EditingHave you ever been asked to edit someone else’s work? Do you need tips for editing without ruining friendships? You’re not alone!

If you’re part of a workshop group, or if you have a bunch of writer friends, then you’ll probably find yourself acting as an editor at some point.Perhaps:

  • In a group workshop setting, giving feedback on a draft-in-progress.
  • As a paid editor, carefully reviewing a client’s work.

Your role is a significant one: as the editor, you could well make the difference between a so-so novel and one that really lives up to its full potential.

A bit daunting?

Probably. After all, you not only want to do a good job… you also want the author to still be on speaking terms with you afterwards. You also don’t want to end up spending countless hours perfecting someone else’s prose, at the expense of your own writing.

Top 8 Tips for Editing Someone Else’s Book

Here are eight key tips to have in mind when you’re editing (or thinking about editing) someone else’s work.

#1: Be Careful How Much You Take On

Do you struggle to say “no”? Me too (though I have two small children now, so I’m getting plenty of practice!)

If a friend (or even an acquaintance) asks for your editorial help, it can be really tough to say no. Ultimately, though, if you don’t have the time to help, it’s kinder to say so straight away–rather than taking their manuscript and doing nothing with it for months on end.

Editing can take a surprising amount of time. You might think all you need to do is read the book–which may take you three or four hours–and circle any typos along the way. Chances are, you’ll find that editing a whole book takes a lot longer than just reading it.

When you edit, you need to:

  • Read considerably slower than you normally would.
  • Flick back to check things are consistent (did that character have blue eyes at the start of the book?).
  • Pause to think about whether or not a particular scene, paragraph, sentence, or even word is working.
  • Jot down coherent comments or suggestions as you’re going through.

If you have some time available, but you know you’ll struggle to do a thorough edit, be clear about that up front. Say something like:

I’d love to read your novel! I don’t have time to actually edit it, but I could give you some big picture feedback on things like characterization and plot, if that would be helpful.

Whether you’re editing for free, in an editorial exchange (“you edit my novel, I’ll edit yours”), or for money, it’s a good idea to set a deadline. Ask if the author has a particular date in mind – they might, for instance, want to submit the manuscript for a competition. Obviously, if you can’t realistically get feedback to them before that date, say so.

#2: Check What Stage They’re At With Their Manuscript

When people ask you to edit their novel, find out what stage they’re at. Is this a first draft? (If so, you might want to encourage them to self-edit first, or you could offer to give big-picture feedback on characters and the plot.)

If they’ve already spent a lot of time revising and reworking the novel, then they’re probably not going to be looking for editorial feedback that suggests making sweeping changes–and you’ll want to read and comment accordingly.

Of course, authors might not be quite sure how close to “finished” they are: probably they’re torn between hoping you’ll say, “It’s brilliant, don’t change a word!”–and hoping you’ll be able to fix the nagging issues that, deep down, they’re sure exist.

Important: If you’re not already reasonably familiar with the author and his writing, get a sample of the manuscript before committing yourself. Editing a really poorly written novel is a painful and painstaking experience… you might, instead, suggest the author spends some time workshopping the writing in a small group before getting it edited.

#3: Set Aside Time (But Protect Your Own Writing)

When someone first hands you his novel to edit, you’re probably feeling a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and apprehension. You’re keen to read this great story, you’re flattered he wants your feedback… but you’re also a bit daunted by the task ahead.

The more you put off getting to that manuscript, the more reluctant you’ll be to start. Neither you nor the author will want the editing process to drag on for months.

Set aside regular time for your editing – but protect your own writing time too. That might mean:

  • Doing your writing first, each day, then editing afterwards.
  • Using your best time of day to write, and editing when you’re not feeling very creative.
  • Having set days for writing and set days for editing (if you write/edit full-time, or close to it).
  • Setting an overall time limit for your edit–e.g., two hours a week for a month.

#4: Jot Down Comments as You Read

You might want to read through the whole manuscript before you start digging into detailed edits–that way, you get the whole picture upfront and you don’t start questioning things that get resolved a scene later.

On your initial read-through, however, you may spot things you’ll later forget about. Jot down a quick note about anything to double-check later. Highlight the text on your Kindle, scribble in the margin on a physical copy, or add a comment in Microsoft Word.

On a subsequent reading, you can expand on these comments, and you can look out for more detailed edits or for issues of consistency (like capitalization, or a character’s eyes changing color half way through the manuscript).

#5: Give at Least Some Positive Feedback

As an editor, you’re inevitably drawn to what’s notworking in the manuscript: after all, that’s your job! It can be really disheartening to a writer, though, to get a whole string of red-pen edits without any positive comments at all.

Even if the manuscript you’ve just edited is a hot mess of a first draft, there’ll be something positive you can point out. Perhaps:

Don’t assume the author already knows these things are good. Point them out! If you’re giving overall feedback, start off with what’s working well–“this is beautifully plotted, and the pacing is spot-on,” before coming to issues that need to be addressed.

When you come across little things that are working well, pop a comment in the margin (“haha, loved this!” “great word!” “wow–didn’t see this coming but it fits perfectly”). It takes seconds to do this while you’re editing, but it can make a world of difference to the author.

#6: Point Out Recurring Problems

If a particular editorial issue crops up againand again in the author’s manuscript, don’t feel you have to go through and carefully root out every single instance (unless you’re being extremely well paid…).

Usually, it’s enough to spot a trend and comment on it, whether it’s a grammatical or punctuation issue, or something bigger:

  • “You often have the wrong sort of its/it’s– you might want to do a find for ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ to check each one.”
  • “Sometimes, you’ve got a space before and after an ellipsis and sometimes you haven’t: either would be fine, but they need to be consistent throughout.”
  • “Your sentences often start with He / She and then an action. You might want to vary them a bit.”

Sometimes, it will be sensible to highlight several examples of a particular issue to clarify what you’re talking about.

#7: Offer the Author a Chance to Rewrite

If you get part-way through a close/line edit and find there are some serious issues–like a character who just isn’t working, or a plot full of holes–then it might be best to go back to the author and give them the chance to rewrite.(There’s not much point in your perfecting the prose if they’re later going to have to cut out completely.)

It can be really tricky to know how to do this tactfully–and if you’re editing a friend’s work, you’ll probably need to be careful how you phrase things. You could try something along these lines:

I’m enjoying the novel, thanks for the chance to edit it. The characters are fantastic–deep, rich, and compelling. I’ve edited the first three chapters in detail, but I’m increasingly feeling like the plot might not be quite there yet. Do you want me to do a quick appraisal of the whole thing, so you can rework the plot a bit before I edit the rest? I can recommend some great beta readers, too, if you want a second opinion.

#8: Run Through an Editing Checklist

If you’ve edited more than one or two manuscripts, you’ve probably noticed some issues crop up again and again (even if they present themselves slightly differently each time).

It’s worth using a checklist to help you edit smoothly and efficiently, watching out for common problems. You could create your own–especially if you do a lot of editing–or start with these handy ones:

A lot of checklist items will be fairly intuitive as you edit: you’ve already had a ton of experience with stories and grammar, after all (as a reader and as a writer). The checklist can be a great backup, though, to jog your mind or to help you spot why something isn’t working or needs tweaking.

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