How do you prepare your novel for an editor?

You've written your novel, 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 novel is no easy task, it's only the beginning. From there, a mountain 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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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 can 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

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.

Define your target audience.

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 age group or some other piece of information about their audience, 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.

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.

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.

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.

Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more posts about editing you might like:

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Preparing your Novel for an Editor FAQ

How can I edit my book for free?

If you want to save time and money when hiring a book editor, then the best thing you can do is edit your book yourself before hiring your editor. You can use a free editing software like ProWritingAid or HemingwayApp to give you a helping hand, but don't rely on them to catch everything. Make sure you self-edit at least 4-5 times to polish it as much as possible before sending it to an editor.

How long does it take to self-edit a book?

Depending on the number of hours you have to dedicate to your editing, you can probably expect to spend between 3 and 6 months for a thorough editing job.

How much does it cost to get a book edited?

Book editing is one of the most expensive steps in the publishing process. The exact fees are going to depend on how much polished your book already is, what level of editing you need done, and how long your manuscript is. You can expect to spend anywhere from $2000 to $3000 for a 250 page book.

Do book editors get royalties?

Typically not. Most book editors charge their fees up front (or in a series of milestone payments) for their work; then once they are done their contracts are over. However, there are some movements looking to change this and start allowing editors to also make money on the sale of books in the form of royalty payments.

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