CQUILL Writer Blog

How to edit novel?

You wrote your first draft. Then you went through your book again and again. Rewriting, extending, removing.

By now, you’ve read the story so many times that if someone told you to read it one more time, you’d beat him with your laptop.

Editing Novel
Congratulations, now it's time to do something really daunting: Editing

“Editing is the process of reviewing text with the goal of improving clarity, concision, and coherence. It involves correcting errors in grammar and sentence structure, removing repetition, rearranging sentences for greater logical flow, providing additional information, and making sure the author’s voice shines through on each page.”

Lifeless Dictionary
"But with all the revisions, I've already edited my book ten times."

You did go through your manuscript a few times (hopefully). And yes, you did fix all the errors you could find.
Sadly, you may not be as critical as you think. When it comes to your own writing, it is possible to cultivate amazingly resilient blind spots.
A good writer knows that it is crucial to have someone who is not too close to the novel to point the finger.

You need an editor

man editing manuscript

As the saying goes, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
There’s a reason authors invest in good editors.

A well-executed edit can turn an ordinary manuscript into a great book.

Editing can be divided into three simple categories by the scope:

Developmental editing

Developmental editing focuses on the big picture of the manuscript. This type of editing is more like an assistant that helps the author create better work. Developmental editors will make sure that the plot is engaging, make sure that the characters are compelling, and help create a well-thought-out structure. They also tackle any problems that authors might not see on their own.
It is usual to hire a developmental editor early in the writing process. If you have already gone through many drafts and many rewrites, it may be a bit late for you to think about a developmental editor, unless your novel has a really serious issues.
Typically, a developmental editor would like to see your first or second revision after you already fixed plot holes that were obvious to you.

Copy editing

Copy editing is what most people think when you say “editing”. This type of editing is one of the most important in the publishing process as it improves the readability, comprehension, and accuracy of your work.
It is assumed that the author already went through all the drafts and rewrites and he considers the novel (or the submitted parts) being finished.
The editor reviews the entire text and offers corrections in grammar and spelling, word repetition, dialog tags, and any general inconsistencies.
Since the editor goes through your book a few times, it is often true that they would also point out minor problems that are related to the plot or characters, even if it is not exactly their job.

I was told by several editors that they knew the novel better than the author after they worked on it for a while.

Line editing

Line editing is a more refined Copy editing, where the editor goes through your sentences with the focus on the style and flow. If a copy editor is like your car mechanic that makes sure all the parts of your car are working, oil has been changed and the tires have the right pressure, the line editor is more like a car detailer trying to make every detail of your car look shiny and lustrous from inside out.

Line editor goes (as the name suggest) line by line, polishing and tightening each sentence while thinking of the style and voice. They would specifically look at the word choices and sentence flow.
Line editors are not too concerned about your story or even if the plot makes any sense. They may not even notice if your character has blue eyes in chapter one and brown in chapter seven as long as the description is delivered precisely and with the right words.

They are the word-crafters, wearing gloves and using magnifying glass.

Copy editors (or often called just “editors”) are, by far, the most common types of editors a beginner writer needs. Many freelance copy editors would also suggest an occasional deeper edit, if it was something that jumps at them from the page, thus blurring the line between copy and line editing.

Don't publishers edit your work for free?

Yes, trade publishers used to have their in-house editors go through the manuscripts and it may still be true for some of them in in 2022.
But sadly, unless you are a well-known author, that doesn’t mean you can just skip on the editing step. A manuscript with issues and grammar errors will be the perfect candidate for rejection. Publishers receive too many submissions (sometimes hundreds a day) and if something looks like it would require more work, it is quickly rejected on that issue alone.
With a little nod and wink, trade publishers expect your manuscript to be ready without much of additional editing effort. Of course, if you are a money-making writer, you can probably submit your manuscript written on a roll of toilet paper with all the spelling errors you can muster. But the chances are you are not one of those authors.

That gives you a simple answer: you always need an editor, regardless of how you publish.

What is the cost of hiring an editor?

The prices depend on the length of your novel, genre, and of course on the editors themselves.

A typical fiction novel of 50-70 thousand words would cost roughly around $1000 for copy editing (More if the editor has a good reputation, but a safe range in 2022 is $800-$1500)

Developmental editing is usually on a bit more expensive side. Some experienced white-glove full editors could easily charge $10k or more, but a typical range for new writers (who don’t yet have any idea if they can recoup the money spent) would be around $1500.

The EFA, Editorial Freelancers Association quotes $0.02 per word as the lower end rate for copy editing, while for developmental editing they quote $0.03 per word. That indeed puts the price for a typical novel at the $1000 and $1500 range respectively.

Line editing is often more expensive than Copy editing or Developmental editing. It is usually done by the same person, wearing multiple hats. The EFA quotes $0.04 per word, which makes it twice as more expensive as copy editing.
Of course, you can instruct your copy editor to focus more on the style and fluidity if you are confident in the technical aspect of your writing or do a mixture of both. Most editors are freelancers and they would work with you on the exact issues you have.

Even though it can add up, you probably don’t need all three types of editing when you are starting up. In most cases, new authors simply choose copy editing as the catch-all scenario.

There is a type of hybrid publishing (don’t confuse it with vanity publishing) where the author would pay for some of these services to the publisher. I talked about it in the previous article, but I would advice to stay away because it requires you to find an honest hybrid publisher, not an outfit that greatly inflates their pricing. It is also true for many writers’ services that try to hide the actual cost in a lot of buzzwords-jumbo and checklists. It is often as simple as charging you $4000 then turning around and finding a copy editor who does it for the standard rate of $1500.

How to find a good editor?

Editing is not cheap, so how do you find the best editor for your buck? First, try word of mouth. If you can contact other authors, they may point you to a good editor. (Make sure this is not some referral deal)
Facebook has many groups where authors socialize, so are there some writers groups in your locale (a less physically active in COVID days).
You can also contact publishers or agents who can direct you to their associated editors – but that may be a more expensive option.
The number of editors who first began as authors is now on the rise. It is no secret (or maybe it is, but not to me) that editors make in average more money than most authors do, usually in the range of $40-$50 per hour at their standard freelancer rate. Most authors simply can’t match that.

In any case, most editors would agree to edit a sample page for free and would give references to their previous work.
Another option, if the money is an issue, would be to contact students in the English language department at universities who would often gladly take work for a more reasonable rate, but they may be quite inexperienced.

Why not do it cheaply?

If you want to try to go the cheap route, the usual consensus is that you should probably not bother at all. An editor who charges a few hundred bucks is likely not doing anything else than run the text through Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or other spell-and-grammar-checkers that you can do yourself and probably more thoroughly.

You can also use help of relatives and friends. However, they are very unlikely to give you an honest opinion or critique, nor would they be very attentive since they have other things to do. To edit a 300-page book takes a lot of time, much more than most people realize at first.

Many authors will tell you that their relatives seldom read their books (they just pretend they have and say it was so great).

The last option is self-editing

Self-editing is basically returning to the beginning of this article.
Yes, self-editing is possible, but you have to stop being an author and became an editor for a considerable time. On the same account, you will be spending that time on editing and not writing.
And of course, let’s not forget, it is still you. You with your blind spots. You, who for some reason, misspell the same word again and again. And also you, who really like what your character is saying, even if it is something a good editor would cut down.

All that said, it is still a valuable skill to learn, if only to appreciate how much time it takes if you want to do it right. Do it yourself and very soon paying $1000-$1500 to a good editor would feel like a bargain.