*originally posted in 2015
The cost of professional editing services can take a big bite out of the budget you’ve set for your book.
Here are 5 tips to help you save money on editing while preserving the quality of your product.
Know Your Genre and Its Style
Did you know that fiction follows a different set of editorial guidelines than journalistic articles do?
And if you’re just out of high school or college you might think that MLA is the go-to style guide for all of your creative writing. It is not.
Generally speaking, if you are a fiction or creative nonfiction writer, the Chicago Manual of Style should be your guide. If you write for newspapers or magazines, follow The Associated Press Stylebook.
If you know your genre and follow its style guide, your editor will have much less work to do. If you’re paying by the hour, less work means less time. And less editorial time means that more money stays in your pocket.
QUICK TIP: Use Owl of Purdue for quick style lookups.
Know Your Ideal Reader
Having a very clear idea of who your ideal reader is will help you write directly to them. For example, using words from your Word of the Day calendar when writing a YA novel for eleven- to fourteen-year-olds is probably not the best idea. It’s best to use words and phrases your ideal reader understands and relates to.
An editor’s job is not just to watch for poor grammar, improper use of punctuation and misspelled words. A great editor thinks about sales. If your book won’t appeal to your intended reader, it won’t sell.
Pay as much attention to your reader when you write as your editor will when they edit. This will simplify the editing process saving the editor time and you money.
Communicate with Your Editor about Style Choices
Writing is an art, and each writer has a unique voice. Part of that voice is how we string words together to make sentences, including punctuation. Great writers use punctuation appropriately. Great writers also use punctuation to create an effect.
Virginia Woolf was one such author. In To the Lighthouse she wrote a paragraph that takes up almost an entire page. The first six sentences are ordinary enough, but the seventh sentence is twenty-two lines long and contains twenty-nine commas, two semicolons, and two hyphens!
Virginia Woolf was arguably one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, but I’d be willing to bet that her editor worked very hard for her or his paycheck.
If you have a specific artistic reason to deviate from your genre’s style, communicate that to your editor so she or he does not spend their valuable time on grammar and punctuation choices you purposefully made.
Read and Study Bestsellers
The next time you pick up a book, pick up one that represents what you hope to achieve in your market. If you want to indie-publish and hit the New York Times Bestseller List, find an indie book that matches yours on that list and read it. Become a student of success.
Ask questions of the book:
Why did the author-editor-publisher team decide to open the book the way they did?
How is it organized?
What kinds of words do they use?
How long is it, et certera?
I am not suggesting that you copy their format or style. What I am suggesting is that you read with intent.
Notice patterns and incorporate the things you like about bestselling books into your book.
How will that save you money on editing?
Smart writers are better writers, better writers have tighter manuscripts, editors spend less time editing tight manuscripts.
Keep your budget tight by keeping your manuscript tight.
A tight (well organized) manuscript is written with style and audience in mind. And it has a unique voice.
Some writers sit down, start writing, and see where the story takes them. Others like to outline, storyboard, draft, and re-draft. That is a matter of personal preference and creative flow. But when it comes to editing, a lack of organization in a manuscript is a huge time suck, particularly during the substantive editing phase.
Regardless of your flow preference, make and keep lists. If you're writing nonfiction, draft an outline or list the topics and points you want to make. Jot down names and anecdotes to use as examples that support your thesis. A table of contents is a good start, but articulating your vision for the book and its critical points will help you and your editor focus on what matters most.
Tip: Even if you plan to self-publish your book, I highly recommend that you write a book proposal like the ones agents require. It will make your book easier to write, edit, and market.
If you're a fiction writer, make a list or chart of your story’s characters, their characteristics, backstory, and important associations. If the main character’s name is Malcolm and he has black hair, brown eyes, and hates the color blue, make note of that. It will help you keep things straight as you write, but it will also save your editor time if you give them that list along with your personal style guide. Good editors watch for continuity. Your guide will make that job easier.
Making a character list as you go takes very little time. It takes much longer on the back-end and draws your editor's attention away from other important details. Anything you do to reduce the amount of time an editor will spend reviewing your manuscript will save you money.
Do You Even Need an Editor?
You might be thinking that if you follow the advice above you won’t need an editor.
You do. We all do.
I am a professional editor and professional writer. Before I submit any piece for publication I send it to my editor. I just finished a piece today. I was very pleased with it and, because the submission deadline is only two days away, considered submitting it without having it edited by an outside source. But I know better.
My editor told me to cut the first sentence and reorder the next few to increase the tension. She was right.
Now, why didn’t I think of that!? Because I was too close to the work.
The difference between a nice paycheck and a rejection letter can be a professional edit.
A professional editor earns their up-front paycheck by helping you get a bigger paycheck on the back-end. Use these five tips to pay less and make more.
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. New York. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 1927.