Writing a book is hard. It often involves late nights, early mornings, crippling doubt, and the looming sense that nothing will ever be right in the world again. But, eventually, anyone can put 80,000 words onto a page and write a novel.
Making the novel coherent, enjoyable, and memorable is a whole other matter.
A content editor is like a personal trainer. They come in, they note the novel’s weak points, and they focus on tightening and perfecting the plot. Just like someone timidly approaching the gym, most authors are inclined to stay in their comfort zone while editing. There’s a temptation to cheat the book and keep a beloved scene because it just means so much to you!
Your content editor keeps you from cheating on yourself. They can tell you when your characters are acting out of character, when the logic fails, and where the gaps in the plot are.
More importantly, content editors edit with the intent of improving the pacing and making sure the emotional highs and lows are dramatic and breathtaking. The difference is a book that’s OK, and book that develops a passionate fan base of fully immersed readers.
Which probably leaves you wondering… what does the content editor look at, specifically, when do I need one, and how do I find one?
First, let’s start with WHEN you need a content editor. If you are published by a press – big or small – the first round of edits you do with an editor are content or developmental edits. You may also do a round of these with your agent before shopping the book. For indie authors, you hire a content editor after you’ve done your basic edits (all the scenes are written, you’ve checked for typos, and it is edited as well as you can on your own). After getting your content edit back you’ll probably rewrite a few scenes, maybe cut a few scenes, and then your manuscript will go to a line editor who will look for spelling and grammar errors.
So, what is the content editor going to hammer you on? The most common mistakes I see are:
- A lack of body language. Human communication relies heavily on tone and gestures. Without those in the text, the dialog can become confusing.
- A lack of descriptive language, or too much description. Either is bad. You need to set the scene well enough that the reader can visualize what is happening, but not spend so much time describing the rolling hills that the reader falls asleep
- A missing plot. Sometimes author write beautiful books but all they’re showing is vignettes, cute little scenes where things happen, but nothing really matters. There needs to be a risk of failure, an antagonist keeping the hero from their goal, and a ticking time bomb that keeps the whole book moving along.
- Illogical or out-of-character responses to situations. A genius character makes an amateur mistake, a frosty character falls madly in love after a single glance, a detective ignores compelling evidence… if you have to bend a character to fit the plot, something is wrong, and a content editor can help get you back on course.
That leaves us with the last question: How do you find a good content editor?
Anyone, literally anyone, can hang up a shingle and say that they’re an editor these days. So before you hire anyone there’s a few things you need to do to make sure you are getting the right editor for you.
1 – Make a budget.Content edits can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per edit depending on how in-demand the editor is. If you’re planning on querying the novel it’s much more cost effective to get a partial edit (the first three chapters) and then make sure anything learn in those edits is applied throughout the book. If you are self-publishing, you need the full manuscript edit but you probably don’t need to pay $2000 for the edit and a skype session with a bestselling author who edits books on the side.
Side Note: If you can afford the $2000, by all means hire the bestselling author. The skype session will be informative and you’ll have a wonderful experience.
2- Find someone who knows your genre. If you write erotic horror you do not need someone who specializes in MG Fantasy editing your book. Shop around and find someone who knows your genre and market.
3- Ask for recommendations. Network with your other author buddies and see who they recommend. Even if the editor is booked solid, they can probably recommend another editor who will have an opening. Be aware that most editors book several months in advance, the better known they are, the fewer openings they will have. But, it doesn’t hurt to ask! Someone’s last minute change of publishing schedule could always make an opening for your book!
4- Ask for samples. Good editors will either be willing to edit sample pages for you, or will have permission from one of their other clients to share sample pages. Since every editor has a different style, and every author learns a different way, it’s important find an editor who speaks your language.
5- Don’t be afraid to make changes. Publishing is a very fluid industry and it is always changing. If an editor isn’t working out for you, can never fit you in, or seems to be giving bad advice… go shopping! Friendships are great, but this is first and foremost a business. You should always be learning, improving, and working for your next stretch goal. If you’ve outgrown a business contact, that’s okay. Send them a thank you note for all their amazing help, and move on to the next stage of your career!
Liana Brooks writes science fiction and sci-fi romance for people who like fast ships, big guns, witty one-liners, and happy endings. She lives in Alaska with her husband, four kids, and giant mastiff puppy. When she isn’t writing she enjoys hiking the Chugach Range, climbing glaciers, and watching whales.
Before jumping into the wonderful world of fiction Liana was a newspaper editor for a local paper. She’s a hybrid author with experience prepping books for Big 5 publishers, agents, small presses, and self-publication, and she knows what the publishers are looking for right now.
You can find Liana on the web at www.lianabrooks.com or on Twitter as @LianaBrooks.
To request a sample and see her editing style, contact Liana at firstname.lastname@example.org