So, you’ve written a novel. You’ve put in the time and effort. The many years. Sweat, and certainly tears. But, what now? How do you turn that mess of words into a workable story that people actually want to read?
Not that I’m saying the work you’ve slaved over is a mess, but to paraphrase Anne Lamott, first drafts aren’t supposed to be good. And maybe you’ve gotten to your 3rd or 4th draft and something still isn’t working.
That’s where an editor comes in. Someone who can look at your writing with fresh eyes, an unbiased opinion, and years of critically looking at stories in a way that they can clarify what you should do to fix what needs to be fixed.
Many writers hesitate to hire someone to look at their work. It might be that they are scared to share something so close to the inner workings of their mind. Or, to shell out money when they don’t know what they’ll get in return. Whatever the case, editors can vastly improve your work if you let them.
But, there are many types of editors doing lots of different things. How do you know when you need one or which type you need? Spoiler: Do your homework. Also, make sure you like the editor you choose as much as they like your work. And, be prepared for criticism, but don’t take it personally.
Here are 5 different walls you may hit and the type of editor who might be able to help.
1) You’re going cross-eyed trying to make sure your commas are in the right places
If your manuscript is ready except for the final touches, you probably need help from a proofreader. They look at punctuation, grammar, and spelling. You’ve stared at and read your novel so many times. There is no way you can still find errors in those categories. Blame it on science. Your brain skips over those kinds of issues the more you read something. It’s well worth it if an agent, a publisher, or a bunch of readers are going to be looking at your book soon.
2) You want to learn how to improve your writing without spending years rewriting books
How did the great writers learn to craft a story that is publishable? Steven King will tell you to write 2,000 words every single day, but that strategy doesn’t work for everyone. Though there is something to be said for getting a few novels written (and put away in a desk drawer) to learn your craft, not everyone has the time or patience to take that road.
Think the 10,000 hour rule Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his book Outliers. It takes deliberate practice to learn how to write well. Many people think they can just sit at a computer and pop out a work of art just because they’ve watched movies their entire lives, but that’s not reality. In fact, if you want to shorten the time it takes to learn what your audience expects of your books (because once it’s out in the world, a story belongs as much to the audience as it does to you), a developmental editor can help. Personally, I recommend The Story Grid, but I’m also biased when it comes to that sort of thing.
3) Everyone who’s read your book says it “doesn’t work” but can’t give you a reason why
Once more, a developmental editor can help with a manuscript problem like this, especially one who’s able to articulate its problems (and how to fix them). But there’s also a growing trend of manuscript evaluation using computational analysis. If you’ve read The Bestseller Code, you know what I mean. If not, it’s basically a computer algorithm that analyzes your manuscript to tell you how it shifts from the beginning to the end and whether or not that means it will hit the bestseller lists.
Although I am curious about computational analysis, I still think using someone well versed in story is the route I’d take. For those curious, two such options are https://www.archerjockers.com and https://fictionary.co.
4) The overall story might work, but you have some style problems to fix
You’ve worked on revising your novel so many times you can no longer look at it objectively. If the global story is solid (meaning you’ve hit all the points that move your readers in all the right ways), bring in a copyeditor to see what they can do. They work on consistency, voice, and formatting on a line-by-line basis.
5) You want to make sure what you’ve written is going to resonate with and not offend its intended audience
Though not exactly an editor, sensitivity readers are an invaluable resource for writers. Especially those who want to write in a way that is representative of the world we live in. But, how can you make sure your writing isn’t going to harm the very people you’re hoping to reach? That’s when you should hire a sensitivity reader. They will help you figure out if your story includes instances of bias (even those we don’t know we have). They’ll help you cut “negatively charged language” as described by writeinthemargins.org.