Finishing the first draft of your novel is an epic achievement. When you finally reach “The End”, you half expect a ticker-tape parade to march down the street. You might reward yourself with a long-awaited treat or some well-deserved time off. But once the euphoria of finishing your novel starts to wear off a little, you might find yourself asking…
The dreaded ‘R’ word
You know there’s still work to be done: a first draft is never perfect (sorry), and your novel will need to be revised and re-revised many times before it’s ready for publication. (For more on the importance of revision, take a look at this article.) But where do you start?
When you’ve been working on a novel for months or even years, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to distance yourself from your manuscript sufficiently to gain a good perspective on what is and isn’t working. Your emotional investment in the story might also hamper your judgement.
That’s why it’s so useful to have trusted beta readers lined up to read your first draft. Your beta readers will be the first people to read your manuscript: their brief is to provide you with brutally honest feedback on what they did and didn’t like about your novel. They could be your friends or family, or even members of your writing community (take a look here for tips on where to find the best online writing communities).
Often, your beta readers will tackle their task with aplomb, and their feedback can prove totally invaluable to your novel. Sometimes, however, beta readers don’t quite live up to your expectations.
When your beta readers disappoint you
I’m a member of several online writing communities, and a common gripe amongst members is the failure of their beta readers to provide any useful feedback. It’s a huge letdown: handing your work over to be critiqued is both exciting and nerve-wracking, no matter who it is doing the critiquing, and it’s disappointing when all that anticipation is met with an anti-climactic response.
Many authors complain that their beta readers are too “nice” (often the case with loved ones who don’t want to hurt your feelings!), or that they go to the other extreme and nitpick in a way that isn’t constructive. Many beta readers don’t have the experience or literary consciousness to pinpoint specific issues with a novel; their feedback will be vague and frustrating, as they sense problems are there but can’t really identify them. Just this week, an author in one of my online communities complained that his beta readers are lazy, and haven’t even started his novel weeks after he sent it to them.
The advantages of hiring an editor
It’s at this point that many authors consider hiring an editor to give them a professional critique of their first draft. (There are lots of different kinds of editing available – read more about them here.) There are so many advantages to hiring an editor: he or she is qualified and has the experience to identify any issues with your narrative and – more importantly – will be able to give you practical, clear advice on how to effectively resolve these issues. It is this second aspect that is so often overlooked, but it’s actually the most important component of any novel critique. It’s one thing to say there’s a problem, but getting advice on how to fix that problem is where the true value lies.
An editor will also have the emotional distance from your manuscript (and from you) to be objective in their assessment of your work. What’s more, they’ll have the tact and professionalism to offer criticism in a way that doesn’t make you want to bin the manuscript entirely! A good editor won’t just focus on what’s wrong with your manuscript, either: they’ll highlight its strengths, and more importantly, your particular talents as a writer. What’s more, when you’re paying someone for their services, you’re entitled to hold them to a high level of professional conduct – which means no more “lazy” beta readers!
But of course, that’s the sticking point for many authors: the “paying” part. The attributes I’ve listed above are true of good editors; and, like anything in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to editors. The price tag that comes with professional editing from a top-notch editor can be prohibitive for some and, at the very least, gives most a moment of pause. Editing is, no question, a big undertaking and something that requires serious consideration and commitment.
So how do you find a good editor?
Our advice is to shop around, and to be very wary of editors who seem to be charging much less than the industry’s “going rate”. There are, unfortunately, many irreputable individuals and companies out there who seem to be offering great deals on manuscript assessments and developmental editing. Almost invariably, their feedback is substandard and they won’t provide the kind of quality assessment that you’re hoping for when you hire an editor. In this case, the “great deal” ends up simply being a waste of time and money. Keep in mind that editing is a time-consuming and intensive process: if an editor is not charging a rate that reflects the amount of effort they should be investing in your manuscript, it’s because they’re cutting corners.
When you hire an editor, be sure that they’re clear and upfront about what they’re offering you. Make sure that you have a good understanding of each of the different services they provide, and which one you’ll be getting. Ask about additional costs that they may spring on you unexpectedly at a later date. And always, always ask to see a sample of their work before you sign them on – that way, your expectations will be clearly defined, and you’ll have some form of recourse if they’re not met. If the editor is not willing to share all this information with you, then run a mile!
The Author Secret approach
As an editor, my primary concern will always be that my authors are happy with the process and that their expectations are being met. Communication is key to that. For any editing relationship to prove successful, everyone needs to be on the same page – pun intended! I’m always upfront about what an author can expect, what they’ll receive from the package they’ve selected, and the kind of timeframe they can expect it in. At the same time, I want to know from authors what’s important to them and what they expect to get out of the editing process – this plays a major role in the way in which I approach each individual manuscript.
We’re sensitive to the fact that hiring an editor is a big decision and a financial commitment. We offer several different packages to suit a variety of different needs and budgets. If what you’re looking for is a beta-reader-on-steroids for the first draft of your manuscript, we recommend that you check out our “first draft” services: the manuscript assessment and developmental editing.
I’m always happy to hear from authors, so if you want to discuss your project further or simply see if we might be the right fit for each other, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.