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Originally published on November 26, 2016 @ 7:00 am

Estimated Reading TIme: 7 minutes

How do you prepare your book for an editor?

You've written your book, or at least the majority of it, and now you're thinking about finding an editor to help make it the best it can be. Where do you start? Do you just hop online, do a search and send your baby off to the best editor you think you can find? Maybe ask some of your author friends who they used and start contacting some editors?

Although writing a book is no easy task, it's only the beginning. From there, a mountain (not really a mountain – more like a mole hill – but it feels like a mountain when you're not sure how to start climbing it) stands between you and the title of published author.

And one of those steps is getting your manuscript into the hands of an editor. But, believe it or not, there are things you can do to help save yourself some money and speed the process along as well.

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4 Steps to Prepare your Book for an Editor

First, get as much of your book written as possible.

A lot of writers want to send their books off to editors even before they've finished writing out the story. Partly because they are excited for the glowing feedback, but also because if they can get constructive feedback from the editor earlier on in the process, they hope to save time and money by applying that feedback to the rest of the book as they write.

The problem is that most of the time, your editor is not a mind reader. If the book is still unfinished, the editor will have a much harder time trying to work within your vision when they don't know where you're going. It's also a lot harder to point out deeper issues, such as plot holes and underdeveloped characters, with only a partial story.

Additionally, the less complete your manuscript is, the more questions your editor will need to ask before finishing the work. And every time your editor needs to stop to talk to you or ask you a question, that's more time and more money that will cost to get it all done.

Book editing is expensive. You don't want to make it even more expensive by sending an incomplete manuscript.

Don't send your first draft to an editor.

I know you're excited over having your book finished. That's huge. But don't finish the book and then send it off to the editor. Take some time, take a break, and look back over your book with fresh eyes. Then, start self-editing.

Self-edit, self-edit, self-edit. I cannot stress this enough. The easier your manuscript is to read, the faster your editor will work through it. That means taking the time to run through it yourself and correcting as many mistakes as possible. Believe it or not, misspelled words are probably not your biggest enemy. Some of the most common mistakes I find when editing books for authors include:

  • Overuse of weak words (that, just, really, then, suddenly)
  • Passive voice
  • Overuse of adverbs to try to express emotion
  • Misuse of dialogue tags
  • Run-on sentences

Many of these mistakes can be easily taken care of with careful self-editing.

Another mistake that can really slow down an editor is the formatting. Jumbled words, bad fonts, bad spacing… Trying to sift through bad formatting can really slow an editor down. And slowing down your editor will cost you more money in the end. Self editing will minimize all of this.

That way, the editor can focus their attention on what you need them to look at: the structure of the book and making your words shine.

Define your target audience and your premise.

Make note of your target audience and any other plans you have for your book and hand that over to your editor with your manuscript. I receive manuscripts all the time and when I ask the author about the genre or the niche or the age group or some other piece of information about their readers, they don't always know.

Sometimes they want to wait to choose a genre and target market until everything is complete, and sometimes they just don't know enough about the differences and which genre the manuscript would fit into. Sometimes they are looking for another set of eyes, a professional who knows more about the industry than they might, who can tell them where the book fits. Sometimes they just worry about getting pigeon-holed into one demographic when their book really could fit into several categories.

And sometimes they're so afraid of choosing a target audience and excluding other people that they would rather not bother.

And those are all good reasons for waiting. But waiting to determine your genre can also slow things down for your editor. While “writing is writing” and things like spelling and grammar rules are all the same between genres, there are differences in tone, language, and expectations that make editing easier if known ahead of time.

It helps your editor to share in your vision so your editor can get your book there. Without that vision, your editor is flying blind. He or she won't know who you're writing to: teens? young adult? new adult? fantasy or sci-fi? And while he or she can make suggestions, the overall process is much, much slower than having that direction to begin with.

And finally, talk to your editor about your style guide and which grammar rules you are adhering to.

Language is an ever-changing, evolving system of communication. And writing changes with it. So rules you might find important, many editors may find unimportant. Some of the more controversial rules include:

  • “They” used as a singular pronoun when the character's pronoun is fluid or unknown.
  • Verbs being used as dialogue tags (ie., “That's no good,” she sighed.).
  • The use of adverbs for expressing emotion or clarifying action.
  • Using said as the primary dialogue tag.

As an editor, there is nothing worse than completing a project and sending it back to the author only to hear later that the author was unhappy with the work because of one of these things. And most editors are not happy to go in and “fix” one of these things — especially since the rules they applied are correct. So it's best to be sure you have an understanding upfront about your expectations for these or any other debatable grammar rules, so your editor can work with you and apply the rule you want to follow.

Overall, your book is your baby. And editors understand this. We aren't there to cut up or hate on your writing. We're there to make it better. We're there to give your voice and your story strength. And the best way to do that is to know your vision early in the process.

If at all possible, when you've finished your edits and rewrites, find some beta readers or a critique group and send a few copies of your book out for feedback.

Once you've received their feedback, rewrite and re-edit the book again, taking that feedback into account. This feedback is important because it's from people who haven't agonized over the creation of the book itself. Instead, they get to read and react to it as if they bought the book. Fresh eyes with a different perspective to lend you all new insights and to catch things you might otherwise miss simply because you've been working on the story for so long.

This is an important step. Don't skip it. I know a lot of authors, especially first time authors, who either spent so much time writing their books they can't wait for it to all be done and over with so they can just send it off to an editor and have the editor handle the rest or zipped out a new manuscript (NaNoWriMo?) and were so excited that they just couldn't wait to send it out and streamline it into publishing. No matter which end of the spectrum you are, skipping this step will hurt you in the long run.

Remember, edits are not carved in stone

one last thing that everyone really really needs to understand about working with an editor is that the manuscript that you received back, the one that has all of those recommendations and corrections all the way through, none of that is carved in stone. If you receive your manuscript back from an editor and you do not agree with any of the recommendations, You are free to ignore them. If the number of recommendations that you want to ignore seem overwhelming, if it feels like your voice has been completely removed from the manuscript, if it doesn't even feel like your book anymore, I implore you to contact your editor and talk it out with them.

A few years ago, a black author hired me to edit her book. It was a self-help and discovery book, it was nonfiction, and it was a great book. I was so excited to take on this client and help her get her book finished. In the contract, I specified that I would be editing the book to Chicago Manual of Style guidelines. So, I took my time, I went through the book, I made my recommendations, and then I sent the manuscript back to the author.

When she got the manuscript, she did not respond to me at all. But I did not realize that the time was that she was so upset about the manuscript that she received back, that she could not talk to me. She almost immediately went to go find another editor to essentially start all over again. Thankfully, this other editor asked her why she was looking to replace me.

And that's when it came out that I had inadvertently erased the author's voice in my quest to make the manuscript adherent to grammatical guidelines. There were certain word choices that she had made that were a part of her culture and her upbringing that I ignored and erased. Now, this is a lesson that I will never forget. Now I am much more careful about making widespread changes like that to a manuscript.

But also, this is an example of one of those times where the advice and the recommendations made by an editor don't have to stick. If you don't like them, if they don't match your vision, if they erase your voice in a negative way rather than highlighting or lifting your voice, then you do not need to stick with them. Reject the changes, talk to your editor again, and make sure your expectations are clear and they will get it done.

Remember, your book editor wants your book to succeed just as much as you do.

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