Let’s face it, getting rejected (or not hearing back on your manuscript or pitch) can be tough. Would an editor maximise your chances of success?
Read this before you pay someone to critique or edit your work.
When not to hire an editor
I recently did a phone session with a writer who had paid thousands on editing sessions over a couple of years, and she still didn’t have a manuscript ready to send to a publisher.
I would never recommend a manuscript assessment or even an edit if you were working on your first draft.
Why? The first draft is meant to be bad. It’s you feeling your way into the story, finding the story, getting it down on the page. So much of that manuscript is going to change.
Hiring an editor at this early stage is ludicrous! And, like I always say, you can’t write a first draft of a memoir with one eye on the reader. The first draft HAS to be just for you.
If your grammar and syntax is really bad, and you’re not from a writing or journalism background, yes, I’d recommend you get someone to proofread or copyedit your manuscript before you submit.
But, you need to get the book as good as you possibly can before you get someone to proofread it. Why?
It’s going to cost you at least 2-4K and you want to make sure the manuscript isn’t going to change again, which would make all their work redundant!
Invest time, not money, particularly in the early stages, on your manuscript
Don’t spend money you don’t have on editing or coaching. Learning is free and costs nothing but time: read widely, study online, leave your manuscript and try and find some writing friends online in a Facebook group. Perhaps you can do reading swaps?
Similarly, don’t spend thousands on a writing retreat when all you really need is a quiet room, some nature and perhaps a pet to pat in between writing bouts. Check here for how to create your own self-directed writing retreat.
If you want someone to keep you accountable and motivated, great, but be sure to check their credentials (see below for what to ask).
FYI: Traditional publisher don’t charge you for editing
Once a traditional publisher signs you on, they take care of the editing, the marketing, the publicity, the cover design, sometimes even a (small) book launch. You do not pay any money for these services.
If you find a publisher who demands up-front payment for editing or any other services, they aren’t a traditional publisher.
They’re either a Vanity Press or a self-publishing service.
These can be costly. And while they can get your book out there quickly (which may be your priority over the sometimes long and laborious process of finding a traditional publisher), their distribution networks are small.
So, be wary.
All of that said, I do recommend getting professional feedback on your work before you submit it. Here’s what you can expect from typical services and when you might think about engaging someone:
When should I hire a book coach or editor?
If you’ve been approached by a publisher, or you have some other reason that you need to get a draft manuscript ready in a short space of time, it can be helpful to pay for a book coach to keep you on track with your deadline.
Like a personal trainer or any other kind of coach, they can break down the process for you and set you week-by-week tasks, as well as answer any questions you may have.
I personally think that you need to have a good chunk of writing down (at least 10-20 000 words of your first draft), before you begin a 3 – 6 month relationship with a book coach. You need to be committed and motivated and this ensures you actually enjoy writing! They will not write the book for you. Just like a personal trainer won’t do the actual exercise for you! They’re there to ensure you maximise your potential, learn more, stay on track, and reach your goal.
I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people have asked me for book coaching and what they actually want is a ghostwriter!
The other reason I recommend doing a large chunk of writing before you engage a book coach is so that you’re clear on where you want the story to go so they don’t sway you or confuse you.
Feedback can really mess you up in the early stages. I really think our deepest creative selves come out to play when we can tap into this solitude and have the perseverance to get out a messy, bad first draft, before we start trying to make it better with someone else.
That said, you may just want to have one session with a coach to get feedback on your synopsis, ask a few questions about the publishing process, get some help finding comparative titles or just answer a few specific questions so you can go off on your own and work on your manuscript.
What should I look for and expect?
Before paying for any kind of book coaching, check their credentials!
- What transformation are they offering? ie. a manuscript assessment, a full query edit, full line edit of the manuscript?
- Are there testimonials from others they’ve worked with? Who and where and what have they worked on before – and is it similar to what you’re after? LinkedIn is also a good place to check credentials.
- Do they offer a one-off ‘taster’ session so you can see how you work together before making a large commitment?
- What have they written / edited before? Do you like what you see?
TIP: Even if the coach you’ve found offers a three or six-month option, make sure you have a fifteen minute chat before you pay for anything to check you’re a good fit and get a good vibe.
When should I hire an editor?
From ghost editors who can help you restructure your memoir and give you feedback through different drafting stages to someone who can give you a one-off manuscript assessment or edit your query, get super clear on your ideal outcome before you hire someone. And know what the process will involve!
Is your manuscript the absolute best you can get it on your own? Are you up to the 10th or 12th draft or really struggling with the structure before you start sending it out on submission?
Before you pay for a query edit, a manuscript assessment, or even a ghost editor to help you with your structure, you need to have the draft, the synopsis and the material as good as you can possibly get it on your own.
What should I look for?
- Again – look for credentials.
- Have they published their own work or worked with a large publisher? Who with? Have they got testimonials either on their website or elsewhere?
- Lastly – are there any glaring typos on their own website?!
What to expect:
When you get your edits back, you want feedback.
Most editors work with track changes (unless otherwise specified up front).
- Get familiar with track changes so you can see how they’ve made their editing decisions and you can actually see their notes.
- Make sure you have an agreed time frame and list of feedback or services to expect before you pay any money.
- Expect feedback. Any editor who gives you a few paragraphs of “this is great!” and nothing else, has totally ripped you off. Editors are like surgeons, you’re paying them to find problems. Not to make you feel better! You want them to spot any glaring plot holes, chapters that don’t add to the story, query fluff that needs to be removed etc.
Editing and ego
You need to park your ego at the door when it comes time to open up your editing feedback because this is how professional editors work. An editor is an objective assessor who is reading your work with the mindset of “how will the general reader respond to this?” and they are assessing your work as though it’s out there in the world. A good editor will raise your book to the next level. If the feedback seems harsh, take a break, sit with it, remind yourself you’re awesome and brave but ultimately, you are paying them to look at your book objectively.
You’ll have to develop a thick skin to get a book published, anyway. From the feedback you get when you send the ms out to query or even reviews on Goodreads, the public can be brutal. With memoir, it seems, even more so. Don’t think if any editor writes pages of notes on one chapter they’re criticizing you! They’re assessing your work in the aim of making it even better.
What you don’t want
The worst thing is to you pay for a manuscript assessment and only get light-on and positive feedback.
You want your manuscript assessor to give you feedback on pace, plot, timeframes, inconsistencies, voice, so you can go back and do a solid re-draft with their advice.
This is another reason why you shouldn’t hire an editor in the early, vulnerable stages of crafting your manuscript! All this stuff will be shifting and changing in the early stages. To get a manuscript assessment your book needs to be ready for a next level re-draft.
Be ready for the feedback and park your ego at the door. Criticism will make your writing better!
Help that costs nothing
Having trouble with structure? Read everything you can in your memoir’s genre and sub-genre.
Invest in your writing by educating yourself about the process. Work on your memoir as best you can, and only engage someone to help you when you think it’s the best way to bring your writing up to the next level. Working with an editor or book coach can be a really valuable process.
The most important thing, with memoir, is mindset and confidence. Validate your idea, form a clear synopsis and focus sentence, and measure your story up against those that have been published in your realm. Make it as good as you possibly can, before you pay someone to look at it.