I get a lot of people who email me and ask about book editing. How do you choose an editor? What should you look for? How do you know if they’re doing a good job? Every editor will have a unique approach and style, however all we can do is build on what you give us.

Your novel is kind of like a rough sketch of a product design. We’ll take it and convert it to a pristine, perfect vector image graphic that looks amazing. We might suggest improvements or fixes. But we’re still basically working with what you give us.

And 95% of the time, the writing isn’t your problem. The sentences don’t really matter. If you’re writing non-fiction, getting the right premise, the right big idea, the right title, the right focus is much more important. What is your book about, who is it for, why does it matter, what central idea are you pitching?

For fiction, you need to focus on plotting, story arc, character motivation and conflict. What really happens? What’s the story hook? What do the characters need to achieve and what’s blocking them? What happens in the middle that changes everything, and converts the protagonist from reactive to active? From observer to soldier? Is the end satisfying?

If you’re just paying for proofreading or copyediting, your editor may not tackle those essential problems. They’ll clean up the writing and make it better without fixing the story – and that’s a big problem. You’ll end up with a clean, well written book that people don’t really like.

For both fiction and non-fiction, it’s your job to engage the reader, keep them hooked and deliver the goods. An editor can’t really make that stuff up for you (or we’d be ghost writers).

Before you spend a lot of money on editing, make sure you self-edit as much as possible. Buy some books on plotting. I recommend:

  • Storyfix or anything by Larry Brooks
  • Write from the Middle
  • Plot Perfect
  • The Story Grid

Especially for popular fiction, you need to understand that genres have certain conventions, certain expectations. You need to add in the scenes that deliver on the reader expectations. You need to know what has to be included to satisfy readers of that genre. If you don’t deliver, your novel will feel off. It won’t be emotionally satisfying. A great editor can help you fix this issues, but it will take longer and won’t be as powerful – it will be much more cost effective if you learn this stuff yourself first, fix what’s missing, rewrite and self-edit before you send your manuscript to an editor; then they’ll be able to take it even further.

No matter what kind of editing you end up paying for, make sure they are fixing the big picture problems first: allow them to comment on and critique the basic story, before focusing on the small stuff and writing.


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