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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

The Editing Agenda: When Is It Time to Call in a Professional?

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

You’ve written the first draft, you’ve had your friends read through it, and you’ve even edited it a few times yourself. Time to start hunting for a professional editor, right? Well, not quite. First, there are a few steps you should take to ensure your book is at its best so you can find the perfect editor for it.

1. Beta testing. One of the easiest ways to find out if your piece is successful is to hand it over to some beta readers. Ideally, these readers will not have seen any of the drafts up to that point, nor will they know the details of the plot. Some of your beta readers can be your friends, but be sure you also have impartial voices who will provide completely honest feedback, even if it means that your book didn’t work for them. Sometimes that’s tough to swallow, but it’s a crucial step you don’t want to shortchange yourself on. If you can’t rely on honest feedback from your betas, you might end up with a book that is doomed to flop, but you won’t know it until after it’s published and the negative reviews roll in—or until you receive a brutally honest letter from one of the publishers or agents you queried telling you just how bad it really is. That’s not to say this always will be the case. Your book might be totally amazing, and if so, that’s awesome! But to be sure, get a second opinion before you commit to the final steps in the process. Once you hit the “send” button, you can’t take it back.

2. More edits. Once you get feedback from your beta readers, it’s back to the drawing board. A good place to start is with the comments that cropped up more than once. Those are usually the ones most worth listening to, and they should take top priority. Make any necessary adjustments, then scan over the remaining comments. Do they make sense? Are they based on personal opinion, or do they add validity to what you’re trying to accomplish in your piece? Pick and choose those which are both critical and uplifting—the ones that point out the positives in addition to what could be improved. Not all comments will be worthwhile, but the ones that are can vastly improve your manuscript. When you’re done editing your piece—again—or when you no longer know how to fix what’s wrong, that’s when it’s time to seek out a professional.

3. Research. Not all editors are the same. We each specialize in various types of editing and different genres, so you’ll want to find an editor that is the best match for your piece. Querying an editor who primarily deals with sci-fi about a romance novel probably won’t yield great results. Having said that, editors also have varying levels of experience, and you’ll want to find the right one for you. I recommend searching for one with reasonable pricing who is also a qualified professional. Two great sites to look on are Reedsy and 10 Minute Novelists. There are TONS of awesome editors on both, and I’m honored to be one of them. If you still can’t find a good match for your project after searching there, I’ll be glad to help!

4. Commitment. One last step before you send your query: Make sure you’re willing to work hard at improving your manuscript. Even with copy and line edits, you’ll still need to review changes and suggestions. An editor should ideally coach you through your piece, helping you identify its strengths and weaknesses. The best editors will not only give you suggestions to improve your piece, but they will also teach you how to become a better writer. For my own clients, I generally give suggestions first, then have my clients implement the changes themselves. It’s a lot of work for both parties, but by doing so, the author can practice the techniques of better writing as they learn them, making them stick longer. An editor can only be as invested in you and your work as you are in them; if you’re not willing to make sacrifices and work hard on your piece to make it perfect, you won’t get as much out of the editing process as you could.

Well, that wraps up the editing series. I hope my tips have been helpful, and if anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!