Been talking to a few new authors recently, both in my Discord and on Threads and realising that a lot of people struggle with the cost of publishing. Which I get – it can get up there.

I should note, I don’t use dev editors for the most part. I generally get a dev edit done once a year, with a very good dev editor, who I can then have look over my work with an eye to improving what I can do in future books. It gives me a series of projects to work upon and to clean up, when I later on newer projects (over and above just basic structure things that are specific to that book).

That’s my favorite way of using dev editors, partly because I feel that I learn best through doing. It’s very much the same with martial arts for me, where it took me dozens of repetitions to even get an idea of what we’re doing and thousands to get close to competent. Fixing small things with each repetition till I got somewhere near where others more talented managed.

Anyway…

I wanted to talk about copy and line editing and how I find editors. Also, how I test them.

Copy & Line Editing

Now, what do copy and line editors do, and why do I slot them together? Let’s quick go through what each type of editing is meant to be. Copy editors look at the basic grammar, spelling, missing words or style issues in a work and try to catch all of the errors. They highlight sentences that don’t make sense at times and basically try to keep the work, as written, as error free as possible.

Line editors look at style. They go in, line-by-line and adjust for tone, for style, for pacing and logical flow through the work. They offer word suggestions and try to help clean up your writing, finding things like repetitions to help build on your writing. It’s a tricky job, because a heavy handed line editor can mangle your voice and your work.

So.

The truth is, while the two jobs are different, the vast majority of independent contractors offer copy and line editing as a grouped service. Most, I will say, lean heavily towards basic copy editing and much less on line editing, with those who shift towards line editing much more expensive generally speaking due to the greater experience and time committed to the work.

Nothing wrong with that, but make sure you check what services are being offered when hiring.

The Sample

I have always suggested people get a sample when working with editors. If you have a short story, you can throw it at them too to get a paid for assignment version of their work, but most reputable editors will offer a 1 page or 1000 word sample edit for free.

If you’re new to hiring a new editor, you’ll want to get at least 3 if not 4 or 5 samples to work from. I know, it sucks that you’re getting so many and can only hire one person (for now!); but look at it this way – when you do hire the editor, you’ve likely paid for the samples they’ve given out for free to others who haven’t hired them.

Now, you can select your first page – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Though, it’s good to make sure your sample has a wide variety to be edited – which means to me, both description, internal musings (if any), dialogue and action (if any).

It’s why I actually like using shorts for the sample, because it’s likely within the first thousand words you’d have hit all that.

Anyway, make sure you have variety because you want to see them work with all of those areas.

Now, I do something a little sneaky with my samples (or used to. These days I have my own stable and a short or two that always needs a professional run, so it’s less necessary). I should further note, I’m a relatively ‘clean’ writer, so when I send my work over, there’s less copy editing mistakes to fix (yeah, line editing mistakes abound).

So, what I do is I purposely put 3-4 mistakes into the document. I then save the bad document as ‘Sample X’, and then I resave a new file and put commented highlights on the mistakes for my own review (sometimes edits come back a few weeks later and I’ll have forgotten).

What kind of mistakes?

  • a word switch (there/their, it / it’s, etc.)
  • a dialogue punctuation error (. instead of a , or vice versa)
  • maybe a description one (blond for a male description)
  • an incomplete sentence
  • Repetition of a single word in close proximity in a paragraph (though I rarely have to do it on purpose since it happens anyway… :P)

Anyway, I have these mistakes written in and highlighted. And then I send out the samples to see what happens.

The Results

If you’re thinking that the moment the editor misses any one of the mistakes, they’re out; you’re mistaken. People are human, though anyone who catches all of them get extra points, obviously. Anyone who misses all of them… well, that’s a concern.

What I want to see is what kind of comments they leave behind, what kind of mistakes they catch and what they miss. If they provide a quick run-through, and if I run this very sample through ProWritingAid or Grammarly and it gives me the exact same answers (or close enough); I probably don’t need the editor.

A good editor is going to find and catch a lot more, especially if they are doing line editing. They might suggest a change in tone, use of repetition or alliteration or imagery that would improve your work.

The best ones I’ve worked with? They’ve let copious comment notes, where I found myself learning from them about what I’ve done wrong and what I (accidentally) did right.

Oh yeah, it’s always nice to see personal comments too that help boost my ego, though it’s not necessary.

Anyway, that’s what I’m looking for, in an editor.

Things That I Dislike / Yellow or Red Flags

  • too heavy a hand altering sentences or sentence structures. If there are significant changes (beyond removing repetition or altering where things go for clarity, or when I start every other sentence with an And or Because or But) I prefer to see them as comments rather than in the document itself with explanations.
  • not using track changes. This is a HUGE red flag and I would never use an editor that didn’t make use of track changes at all. Just no.
  • not having a contract. If they’re a professional, I’d prefer to see a contract from them. If they don’t have one, I have a template myself. If they don’t want to sign it, it’s a concern.
  • wanting to be paid via PayPal’s Friends and Family method and/or requiring full payment upfront.
  • excessively long wait times to finish project / not offering a deadline.

Anyway, hopefully this is useful for someone. A lot of working out which editor works for you is a matter of taste, seeing which editor works best with your writing at that time. I should note – that might change. Some of the biggest improvements in my writing has come when I switched – or worked with – multiple editors who picked up on different aspects of my writing that needed change.


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