Sell Your Book: Get in Bed with a Professional Editor
Authors, writers, ghostwriters, and aspiring writers debate endlessly in communities, forums, and social media sites about editors. One author will say a professional editor is worth any price—you can’t publish without one. Another writer insists that self-editing is good enough. I’ll tell you this: I believe most self- or digitally-published authors are clueless about what editorial services they should seek and what the cost should be. Fear not—the truth lies herein.
Editors and their Editorial Specialties
Proofreading: Editor assistance at its most basic. Every book, paper, article, blog, or candy wrapper must be proofread. A proofreader compares each area of text with preceding areas to ensure continuity—fonts, page makeup, layout. A proofreader checks printing proofs against typesetting regulations and may or may not verify digital formatting compliance. The proofreader should query usage errors or inconsistencies and read for typos while making sure wording makes sense. Proofreading is the final step after copy-, line-, or substantive editing of a final draft. Proofreading fees can be hourly with nine to fifteen pages per hour, or on a per page basis.
Copyediting (also known as line editing): This editor should be expert at grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, and usage. She should be experienced in making changes without interfering with the goal of the work, your author voice, and general meanings. She isn’t a red-pen wielding English teacher, but a beta reader who shines up mechanical errors while keeping a close eye on formatting and styles—style sheets should be second nature to this editor. You may get lucky and find a copyeditor who can cross check references, permissions, tables, charts, and graphs. Fees are hourly: Light copyediting runs $30 to $35 per hour at five to ten pages per, heavy copyediting costs up to $50 per hour for two to five pages per hour.
Substantive or developmental editing and maybe even ghostwriting: This is where we hear a lot of noise in editing arguments. These specialties are so closely aligned as to be under one umbrella. If you’re working on your first book or project, which will set the tone for your future success, you’ll want to consider and even interview an editor in one or all of three. Specific skills and experience qualify an editor to delve into a written work at this level, and believe it or not, the editor’s personality, ethics, and ego figure hugely in whether or not he or she should work with you and your book. This editor understands that your book is not his or her book. I’m not saying she fails to care about or to connect with your book, I’m saying if this editor makes suggestions or advises changes and you decide differently for whatever reasons, it’s her job to let you drive. It’s not her book. It’s not her voice. It’s not her idea. So what is her job?
A substantive or developmental editor is as much a mentor or coach as an editor; he works closely with the client and communication is critical to success. This is not a job where the editor runs through an entire manuscript, plunks it back to the author, and collects her fee. This editor is in touch with you on an almost daily basis, working a chapter or section at a time, reviewing comments, suggestions, and issues with you, explaining issues, errors, and options, and completing approved changes before moving on. She addresses any or all of these:
- Is overall content appropriate to a target audience defined by the author and editor?
- Advice and mentoring based on analysis of competing works, publishing trends, client market analysis, comments of respected reviewers, or other resources.
- Writing, researching, or rewriting as needed and to whatever extent is needed.
- Identifying and solving problems of resources, clarity, accuracy, characterizations, plotting, arc, organization, readability.
- Creating a smooth, seductive flow of words that never pops readers out of the prose.
- Finely polishing presentation, formatting, and styles.
- Demonstrating techniques and ideas that will garner the respect the author’s manuscript deserves in the industry and with readers.
- Providing guidance, suggestions, and coaching about successful digital or print publishing.
This editor/mentor has marketing experience and expertise, but most are wise enough to focus energies on perfecting your project. leaving the marketing to a marketing person. Ever hear the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none?” Don’t look for a one stop professional —one size does not fit all. This level of book assistance and mentoring comes at a cost, but talk to writers who have matched up with their perfect mentor and they will tell you with great clarity that the experience was worth the investment. Most writers feel mentoring provides as much insight and knowledge as a college-level course, and makes a huge difference to their career path.
If your manuscript draft is in decent condition, fees can be project-based, hourly, per page, or a hybrid. Expect to spend upwards of $50 per hour at two to three pages per hour. If you begin with an outline, notes, an idea, or a really messy manuscript, fees can be as much as $35,000 and more. The cost is significant and worth every dime if the mentor is right for you. Most editorial professionals decline to take on the responsibility of marketing or selling your book.
Just as different writers or authors require different levels of editorial input, so are there a variety of specialties within professional editing ranks, and you can’t get what you need if you don’t know what you need. If you’re publishing for the first time, developmental or substantive editing would be a good investment for you. If you choose the right professional, you’ll build a strong foundation from which to develop a viable writing career. From my experience, most authors know in their gut when they need help.
If you’re ego-driven and you believe your book is perfect as it stands, phone me immediately and we’ll talk. My specialty is author mentoring. I’m a trained, certified professional ghostwriter with a dozen ghosted projects (print and digital), two traditionally published books of my own, and half a dozen digital books. I have never had an unsatisfied customer, nor have I felt the need to charge $35,000. Yes, that’s shameless self-promotion, but I’ll hook you up with past and current clients to verify my boasts. Respect yourself and your work. Quit complaining that editors cost too much—you get what you pay for. Following authoring conventions, rules, and standards is not optional, because your book is one of the most important things you will ever undertake.