"My name is Piotr. I'm one of your "friends" on Ello. I really like your posts, especially your "pathologically immature" label in your bio... I feel that describes me perfectly. I am also a writer, but behind you in the amount of stuff I've written. Currently, I work for a website creating content. It's silly and forgotten as soon as you read it, but it allows me creativity, lets me be funny (a must), and gives me a paycheck. Anyway, long story short, I'm writing a novel. It's a funny, alternate-history-à-la-fantasy-scifi. That might not make sense now, but if you read it, it would. My question to you (since you are the only writer I can even pretend I know) is, how do I go about getting someone to edit my manuscript once it's finished? Someone who actually knows what they're doing?"
Thank you, Piotr! I tell people I'm permanently 5 years old. Perhaps it's not a pathology, perhaps it's bliss, but I can tell you I'm having a ball. As to your question, I have had experience working with only two editors so far, which isn't much, and I have no clue (well, very little) as to how the relationship between an editor and a writer works in the traditional publishing world, so I'll tell you what I've learned by self-publishing my books and how I went selecting an editor and working together.
It all started with a tweet. See, there might be some value in social media after all. I think I got some mad streak up my ass to do a writing contest of sorts, or maybe it was one of you guys who suggested that I publish a series of short stories on my blog all written to the same prompt. You wrote them, I posted them. Here they are: Ferret Story 1 (there are 7, click on NEXT POST for more), Siren Story 1 (there are 8, click on NEXT POST for more). Everyone participating liked this experience and asked me to do it again and I did, and this time it was one continuous story written by several writers, a chapter per writer. Here they are: Bloody Santa vs Zombie Siren and Easter Bunny Apocalypse. I believe each has around 15-20 chapters or something.
Well, in the process of managing this I've been firing off emails to the participating writers and got to chitchat with one of them, Colleen Albert, who offered to beta read my drafts (I was looking for beta readers) and told me that she is also a professional editor. I was finishing Siren Suicides back then and when I received Colleen's feedback on the 4th draft, it blew my socks off, and when I asked if she'd be my editor and she agreed, I was so giddy I didn't think twice before accepting the offer because, one, I was broke and couldn't pay, and Colleen offered it pro bono (she did 1 client a year pro bono), and two, I really liked Colleen's writing and her attention to detail and simply liked her as a person. So you might say I did a foolish thing, but I plunged right into it. And it was fantastic. Colleen turned out a golden find and I got so spoiled by knowing that I had an editor and nothing could go wrong that when she decided to take a year off work to focus on her family and on personal affairs I was devastated. We became such close friends though we never met in person, only talked online.
Colleen edited my trilogy Siren Suicides, and my books Rosehead and Irkadura. The thought that she won't be editing more of my work made me cry, but what can you do? Life goes on. So I posted a request for editors on my Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else. Within a few days my Inbox was flooded with emails and I was tearing my hair out, not knowing how to go about selecting someone until Sarah Grace Liu, my current editor, told me that the writer she worked with before has sent prospective editors a sample chapter to edit and based on those results selected her. So I did this. I sent out a sample chapter to everyone who contacted me and when it came back it was Sarah's snarky witty commentary and complete deboning of my prose that won me over instantly. I said yes without thinking much again, trusting my gut.
When the time came to edit The Badlings, I wasn't sure if I should change the process I have established with Colleen. I was eager to try something new. You see, by this time I have talked to enough traditionally published authors to learn that many of them sent their first drafts to their editors and get huge gobs of feedback. We decided to try it. Sarah gave me feedback, but I went ahead and changed the story from draft to draft so drastically that she was at a loss as to how her work helped me at all, and so after The Badlings was done, I think Sarah was as exhausted from seeing my book as I was, and we decided that with TUBE I won't be sending her anything until the very final draft is done and we will do the approach that worked for me before with Colleen (and because I'm very stubborn and want the story my way no matter what anyone tells me).
You see the common theme here? Trial and error. You're asking how to find an editor who actually knows the craft. And I tell you, you won't know until you try it. It's like shopping for a friend, or for a lover. "Hey, can I have a tall one and the one with dark hair and I want her to cook killer stew and rub my feet and look me in the eye when I read to her?" Yeah, right. Good luck.
An editor is like your best friend and your lover and your mom and dad and everything in between. You have to like each other as people. You have to share interests. You have to find common points where your editor will get you without you telling a long tale. I got to love Colleen through that silly writing contest and our emails. We shared our adoration for all things dark and funny at the same time. I got to love Sarah over our favorite books and authors that were so much the same, we giggled when we spoke on the phone, and Sarah's editorial comments on my writing always make me laugh out loud. (Like, once she said something like, "Okay, I get it that you learned this new word and you're sticking it everywhere, but please, no more.")
I need to make one more point that is important. Both my editors are doing work for me pro bono. Colleen had a practice of selecting an author a year for pro bono work and I was lucky to be her choice, and Sarah offered me to do work because she loved my previous books and of course I'm screaming about her and about how amazing she is EVERYWHERE I CAN and I hear I have landed her interest from other writers and one day I will be able to pay. I will, Sarah, I'm on my way to make my shiny millions. I promise.
If you can pay your editor hard cash, I don't know what that relationship will look like as I never had one. I imagine it will be very similar? Maybe not. Maybe you'll be able to stomp your foot and demand they meet your deadline, or maybe it will be your editor rushing you along. You see, I had to be patient and to wait for Colleen to edit my work when she had time between paying clients. And I have no problem waiting for Sarah to do work for me after she is done with her college exams.
There is that rule, about good and cheap and fast. You can never have all three. So if you want good and cheap, it won't be fast. But if you want good and fast, it won't be cheap. And if you opt for cheap and fast, it won't be any good. I tend to stick with waiting rather than having a bad end product. That takes a great deal of patience. Will you be willing to wait? Do you have cash to pay? It's up to you.
So here it is, Piotr. My short tale for you on how I found my editors. I should say, they found me and I was very lucky they did.
Both of my editors did amazing work because they loved what they did and I loved what they did. They loved my stories, my writing, and I loved their feedback. Through that love we became friends. Do you have someone who you think would edit your work because they want to help you out of love for your writing? Then go for that person. Until you have bags of cash sitting in some hidden vault, your choices are pretty slim. So share yourself. Get out there on the sparkling Internets and ask people, and maybe someone already familiar with your stories will offer their help. In both cases for me, my readers became my editors. Colleen beta read my draft, and Sarah read my books.
And one last point, to your question on how to find someone who knows what they're doing. Well, here is the deal. Unless the editor can flaunt some big names in your face, you won't know. And even then, I can tell you from experience, unless they love your work, it's going to be painful. Imagine you have to read a book you don't like over and over and over again. You'd want to kill yourself, right? So go by instinct. If it seems like you're enjoying the same types of books and believe in the same types of writing rules (or break the same rules), give it a try. You have nothing to lose, only to gain. Experience. The time you will spend on working together will teach you more than I can give you in this short post.
I guess finding an editor is like finding a nanny for your baby. Would you look at the number of degrees and qualifications the nanny has printed on a pretty piece of paper, or will you watch her face as she leans over your baby, watch it like a hawk? What's written there, on her face? Adoration or disgust? That's what will decide it for you, over pompous statements on paper that any fool can write. Same with books. Your book is your baby. Find loving hands and in the loving hands it will bloom and grow and prosper.
I love you, and good luck! Let me know how your search is going.