The right editor is an invaluable tool for whipping a manuscript into shape – a private editor that is. Sure, someday we all hope to have a great editor guide our novel onto the bestseller charts, but long before that time comes, you will likely have to work with an editor you hire and pay out of your own pocket. This person should be someone you’d trust with your life since, in essence, you are staking the life of your novel or play on their opinion. But how to know who the right choice is?
I was skeptical at first but my experience was overwhelmingly positive in that my editor – John Paine – helped me clarify the structure and characters of After Empire to the point where it was a million times better than when we started. John specializes in thrillers and is a good cheerleader when you need it, but more importantly he doesn’t hold his punches. He worked for me because I wanted the tough critique. If I was spending months and months writing a novel, I wanted a fair shot at selling it. And his critique was incisive and right on target.
So how do these private editors work? Generally they will quote you a flat fee for reading a novel, play, screenplay, etc. This will come with extensive notes and often a phone call/skype chat. Follow-up readings and comprehensive copy editing are also possibilities too if you want to spend additional money. In my opinion, you should complete at least two drafts of your work before contacting an editor. You should have a clear destination in mind for your characters and plot as well as a clear set of questions for him or her. Ask what isn’t working, look to consolidate characters and make sure that a reader can follow the action. Most of all, ask the editor to help position the book in terms of marketing and eventually selling it. Because in the end, the publisher only cares about making money.
Does all this guarantee the sale of your novel? Of course not. But at the very least it’s a relatively inexpensive lesson in how to become a better writer.