March 2016

Once you’ve found your perfect editor, it’s important to do some ‘housekeeping’ to ensure your writing is editor-ready. 

There’s a saying: ‘Happy wife, happy life’ [source unknown and probably unreliable anyway]. The same could apply to your editor: ‘Happy editor, happy writer’ . . . Okay, that doesn’t rhyme, but you get the idea.

Whenever my cleaners come, my son has to tidy up his room so they can dust, vacuum and mop the floors. The rest of the time it looks like, well, a teenage boy’s bedroom. ENTER AT OWN RISK.

The point of mentioning this is that I don’t expect my cleaners to spend time picking up my son’s clothes and paraphernalia; I expect them to spend time cleaning his room. If they also had to tidy up beforehand, I would obviously have to pay them more for their extra time. It occurred to me that manuscripts or documents sent to me for editing are no different. It all comes down to PREPARATION.

Sometimes I open a file and think, Holy heck! where do I begin? But if the client has made some effort to get it into the best shape possible before sending it to me to edit, I will have to spend less time ‘fixing it up’ before I can begin the editing process.

But isn’t ‘fixing it up’ your job? I hear you ask. Of course it is! And if money is no object then you don’t need to read this article. BUT, if you hand me a piece that resembles a dog’s breakfast; with a mishmash of fonts, single line spacing, a hybrid mix of Aussie/US English, no page breaks – or twenty returns to separate each section – and instead of indents you’ve used the space bar to varying degrees at the start of each paragraph – I am not going to be a happy bunny. More importantly, you are not going to be happy with the extra $$$’s I have to add onto the price to do all this housekeeping before I can get down to serious editing.

So if you’re planning to send your manuscript, thesis or document to an editor, there are a few simple things you can do beforehand to save yourself some money and optimise the editor’s time to improve your writing. But FIRST, you need to ensure you can (a) afford an editor and (b) hire the right editor. Here’s how:

  1. BE PREPARED. Unless you are comfortably off, you should begin putting some money aside for an editor’s services while you are in the writing process (or even before). Most editors will request an upfront deposit of about 50%. It’s wise to get quotes from several editors once your first draft is completed, to get an idea of cost based on the word count and calibre of your writing. If you think you can find a great editor on FIVERR at $5 per hour or have a friend/relative edit it for free, that’s your prerogative, but you probably won’t be happy with the outcome. Just saying…
  2. BE REALISTIC.Have a good understanding of the different types of editing and what level of editing your writing might require. If this is your first manuscript, don’t type ‘THE END’ and expect it to ‘just need a proofread’. Chances are it’s going to require developmental/structural editing as well as a thorough copy edit. Proofreading is the final stage pre-publication – after these other editing processes have taken place.
  3. BE PATIENT.Editors are a diverse bunch. Many of us specialise in certain types of editing and/or specific genres. Take the time to contact several editors and get their feedback/sample edits. It’s crucial to find an editor you feel comfortable working and communicating with. If you’ve written a sci-fi novel, try to select editors who work on this genre. Editors often detail their specialties on their websites or social media profiles. For example, my website states that I don’t edit horror. So if you approach me to quote on your manuscript ‘Bloodthirsty Vampire Massacre’, I will politely decline. 

Now that you’ve found your perfect editor and have squirrelled away the money to pay his or her fee, here are some tips on how to ensure you get the most from their service, and the best outcome for your writing:

  1. LANGUAGE MATTERS!It’s important you are clear from the outset which version of English is the best to use taking into consideration the context, the setting, main readership etc. Once you’ve decided what version of English you wish to use, make sure you are consistent. Note that Word defaults to US English, so if your readers are Australian, make sure you change the language setting accordingly. You will also need to have the proofing language defaulting to the correct version, otherwise if you write in Australian English but spellcheck in US English, it will highlight every Australian spelling, e.g. ‘colour’ as an error. Your editor will see which version of English you have used – and if you have mixed up versions he or she will ask you to clarify whether you want it in US English, Australian English, or another version of English.
  2. SPACE MATTERS. Use double line spacing (or at least 1.5). Yes, this is easily changed by the editor but it’s beneficial for you to write using bigger line spacing as you’re more likely to spot errors yourself and fix them before handing it over.
  3. THEM’S THE BREAKS!I wish I had a dollar for every document I receive that either has no page breaks at all, or has multiple returns instead of page breaks. On long documents, it can be time consuming running the macros to fix this (particularly when there are no breaks at all and the editor has to search for unformatted chapter numbers or headings).
  4. LEARN HOW TO INDENT.Again, your editor can run a macro to replace spaces at the beginning of each paragraph instead of an indent or tab, but she’d rather spend her time (and your money) focussed on your writing. Learn how to indent paragraphs and insert page breaks. It’s not hard but if you’re unsure, use the Help function or ask someone to show you.
  5. USE FREE GRAMMAR/SPELL-CHECKING TOOLS. Run a spell/grammar check in the correct version of English. Word’s spell/grammar check is by no means perfect. You do need to check each error it picks up carefully, and ignore any that are incorrect or unnecessary. Still, it’s useful for obvious typos and will catch simple grammatical errors quite adequately. Your editor will pick up everything else. That IS our job! 

Given that price is one of the major factors in deciding whether to hire an editor, it seems to make sense to get value for your money by ensuring they spend their time editing your work to be the best it can be, rather than on simple ‘housekeeping’ jobs that can be done by you. If you are on a tight budget, make the most of your editor’s time by tidying up your manuscript or document beforehand. Happy editor… happy writer – and great results!

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