When we’re elbows-deep in outlining, drafting, redrafting and revising our manuscripts, it can be hard to imagine that our works in progress will ever be truly finished.
Yet, we will inevitably get to the end—or what feels like it could be the end—of our novel-writing process. And when that happens, the question of what to do next comes up.
One logical next step after finishing your manuscript is to reach out for the help of a professional editor. There are various types of editing support available. A developmental editor will take a big-picture look at the structural and narrative features of your work, a line editor will focus on refining your language and flow, and a copy editor will zoom in even closer to make suggestions that ensure consistency, clarity, and correctness.
For details about the different types of editors, I like these definitions of editorial skills from Editors Canada.
Essentially, an editor will help you take your manuscript to the next stage of its journey, whether that is self-publishing or querying for traditional publication.
When you’ve narrowed down what type of editing you need and want, the next question to ask yourself is whether or not you are ready to work with an editor. As an editor myself, I often meet clients on both ends of the spectrum: those who aren’t quite ready to work with me, as well as those who I wish had reached out years ago but have been stalling on their writing journey.
But, if you’ve never worked with a professional editor before, how are you to know if you’re ready?
1) Your manuscript is not a first draft
As tempting as it may be to fire off your manuscript to someone who can help, be sure to edit your own work for glaring errors and inconsistencies before you hire an editor. Run a spell check and fix discrepancies in characters’ names, major plot holes, and typos at the very least. When your editor sits down to dive into your manuscript, you want them to be focused on the essential work that requires a professional, not correcting endless typos or querying to ask if your main character is Abbie or Abby.
Naturally there will be errors, but do the grunt work yourself so your editor can do the detailed work you’ve hired them to do, like referencing the appropriate style manuals, perfecting dialogue, and ensuring professional, publication- or submission-ready formatting.
2) Your manuscript is actually a fifth draft
Or even a fourth, sixth, seventh, or eleventh draft. Sometimes when we find ourselves writing and rewriting the same piece over and over, it means it’s time to get some professional support from someone who hasn’t been living in the pages of the manuscript for months or years.
A developmental edit or a manuscript critique can help you see where things may be falling flat, and will give you detailed recommendations from someone who is both knowledgeable and objective.
3) You’ve shared your work with an alpha reader, beta reader, and/or a critique partner
In other words, you’ve shared your work with someone you trust who can give you feedback from the perspective of a reader. This type of feedback can be given by friends or family, or can be found for free in online or local writing groups. Because it’s free, sharing your story with a writing pal before you fork out for a professional edit makes sense. This will help you address issues with elements such as character, plot, and pacing before hiring a professional. Whenever I work with a client who has already shared their manuscript with a beta reader, I know that this author has a solid understanding of their ideal reader, important information to have as you move toward publication.
4) You feel open to constructive criticism and inviting someone you trust along on your writing journey
This is not to say you want your work to be ripped to shreds. No author wants (or should have to go through!) a demoralizing and mean critique process. Working with the right editor will feel like a collaboration with a kindred spirit who really gets your work. Your editor should respect and preserve your unique voice and style, but it’s important that you’re open to suggestions and feedback, or the entire process is kind of a moot point.
5) You’re ready to take yourself seriously as an author
That’s right: I said author. Not aspiring author, or even just writer. When you finish a manuscript, you need to pat yourself on the back for a (difficult) job well done, and assume your deserved title as an author. With this newfound confidence, the decision to invest in an editor, if doing so is right for you, will be easy.
When you can picture your book on a shelf, and somewhere deep in your limbic system, beneath the self-doubt and worries, you know that you’re ready to go the long haul with this work in progress, you’re ready. Your dream editor is out there, and she can’t wait to meet you.
If you have a manuscript that feels ready, go ahead and take the leap! Do your research, and find the editor who is right for you. A good editor will cheer you on, hold you accountable, and show you the light at the end of the tunnel on your darkest writing days, all while polishing your writing to make you the best writer you can be.
Sarah Fraser is an editor and writer, as well as an alternate education teacher living in Vancouver, Canada. She helps new authors tell their stories through kind, but honest, editing and writer mentoring services. When Sarah isn’t editing, she can be found exploring the Pacific Northwest, wrangling teenagers in the classroom, or working on her latest WIP with a steaming cup of Orange Pekoe tea and her cat by her side. Connect with Sarah on Instagram or on her website.