In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss whether we need an editor for our writing, what the editing process entails, and how to find an editor who is a good fit.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, accredited editor with quals in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- The different types of editing
- What to expect from editors
- The spiritual aspects of working with an editor.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, Editors and Editing. I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books and blogs at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a romance writer and I live here in Brisbane in Queensland and you can find all my information under my penname alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. I’m a writer, a preacher, blogger, and a creative writing teacher. You can find out all about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: The topic today, Editors and Editing and three sub-topics under that: the different types of editing, what to expect from editors and the spiritual aspects of working with an editor, so appropriate to us as Gracewriters. Alison, you’ve been doing some research for us. Can you give us a summary of what you have found, in general, about the types of editing.
Alison Joy: Yes. Can I just say at the outset that before you submit your manuscript to an editor you need to do the best you can to make it the best it can be, because the better you can make it the less time and energy the editor needs to take, hopefully, to work through your manuscript. So, I think there’s probably four main levels of editing. You go, “Oh, I just thought editing was just this or that,” and no, it’s actually more specific depending on what they need to look for. So, an editor can look at them all at once, or all in combination, or just one section at a time. I’m sure, Belinda, you’ll be able to tell us how you work when you’re editing.
Belinda Pollard: What did you find though about the different levels?
Alison Joy: Okay. First one, content and developmental edit. So, that means the flow and the structure of the entire body of the work. Character arcs, the plot and fact checking. The second one, line edit. That means sentence structure and wording, checking for repetition or confusing word combinations, something like that. There is also the copyedit which is the mechanics of applying style, rules for grammar and punctuation. And then proofread which is the final check for misspelled words, extra spaces and that sort of thing.
Donita Bundy: In my experience, when I wrote my first book, I had no idea what I was doing but when it came to the end and I was looking for an editor, it was like opening the door to an alien world.
Alison Joy: Oh, yes!
Donita Bundy: All those things you’ve just said, Alison, and I had no idea what each of them were. What that meant. Where did I go to find them and how did I know what mine needed. I suspected I needed every single one of those. But, Belinda, as an editor, can you shed light onto what each of those levels that Alison shared and how do I know what I need in regards to editing? Probably leave all the other things aside. But as far as editing goes what is it, how do I know what I need in my manuscript.
Belinda Pollard: I love the general descent into confusion that happens when we try to define what editing is. I would actually agree on four levels and I would probably define them slightly differently to the way that the sources that Alison has found have done. And this is what you will find, and that is because editors are all spread around the globe. We all have our different ways of working. We’ve all come through different training processes and different experience, so there will be… the best thing if you want to find out what a particular editor means by a particular term is to talk to them about it.
So, yes, I would definitely agree with that movement, there’s the bigger ones, the developmental right through to the proofreading. And I would put fact checking a bit later in the process than at developmental. But I think that’s fine for some developmental editors to do fact checking. So, this is the thing, we’re all individuals. There’s no, out in space there somewhere near the moon, like, a little satellite that has all the details that are authoritative for the whole world of publishing as to what the different processes and different levels of editing are called.
Alison Joy: So, does this mean we actually need, if it is four levels, does that mean we need four different editors?
Belinda Pollard: Not necessarily. And it would be rare for someone to have four. Probably in the olden days when traditional publishing actually had budgets and weren’t under the financial pressures that they are under now. Some of those big manuscripts would have gone through four levels. But basically, there are four basic levels from the developmental where you’re looking at the big ideas and the whole sweep of the manuscript. Whether that is fiction and some of those things that you highlighted Alison, which are quite correct. And in non-fiction it might be some of the big issues of how your argument is developing and how you are pulling the different features of the manuscript together.
And then the content and structural editing is the second level. So, developmental might be done on a manuscript that’s not completed, or a manuscript that’s not fully polished, or a manuscript that’s not behaving. So, those are some of the areas. Or a writer that really wants to work with someone in developing their skills through the process of working on that manuscript. So, that’s what that whole developmental aspect, as I see it, is involved. And remember I’m just one editor, too. So, there’s lots of different editors seeing things different ways.
But then in the content and structural, the manuscript is complete and it’s polished, but the work can still be quite deep. So, there might be moving, deleting, adding. For example, in fiction it might be where an editor might say to you, “I notice that you have two characters here that are performing similar functions in the plot. Should you, perhaps, consider combining them into one character?” And it can be, should you move it to Norway? So, there can be some quite big and fundamental things that still happen in that content and structural phase.
And then copyediting is probably where I would generally put the fact checking but, again, it can happen at all types of phases.
So, all the pieces of the manuscript are in place in the copyediting and the editor is checking grammar, spelling, punctuation, flagging potential copyright issues that you might not have thought of, smoothing the flow of sentences and paragraphs and ensuring consistency of spelling and usage.
And then proofreading which is one of those confusing terms which I notice often gets used as a synonym for editing, but it actually is a different, separate function. It’s right at the end. It’s right before the book goes to print or publication. The proofreader, it’s not their job really to change anything, they’re more about correcting and making sure that it’s as top quality as it can be, so they check word, every punctuation mark, every space, see whether the headings are in the right place, whether the index entries refer to the right pages. All of those kinds of little nitty gritty things.
So, yes, I would agree with you that it is complicated knowing how to do it. Proofreading would not be combined with the others. But there can be cases where you might work with the one editor across the course of developing your manuscript from development through to content and structure and copyediting. And I often do stuff with some of my writers where I do a copyedit but because I am a developmental and structural editor, I will weave in parts of that where I can see possibilities. So, yes, it’s moving from seeing possibilities through to dealing with what is.
Donita Bundy: So, Belinda, would you say that editors have preferences, or they specialise in certain areas or to be an accredited editor do you have to be able to do the lot and, whether you like it or not, you just do those jobs because it’s part of what the editing involves?
Belinda Pollard: Most editors do specialise in one form or another. That’s partly because they have a brain that’s good for that particular thing. So, some are really great at tiny details and really focusing in on those tiny details, and others are great at the big picture stuff. And lots of editors will do bits of their non-favourite process of editing. It just depends who’s coming to them and what they need and what they want and what their budget is. Because the price, like you’ve mentioned the four levels, Alison, and so also the price gradually shrinks across those four levels as well. Because it’s a faster edit generally, the more you move across the four levels.
Donita Bundy: So then, Belinda, how would I go about finding an editor that suited my work? How do I find an editor who’s going to fit well with my writing and my work?
Belinda Pollard: Finding an editor, the right editor for you, someone who’s going to be a good fit for you and your goals, your manuscript, can be a little bit like a mythical quest. It can be quite difficult to find the right person.
There are various way to start looking. A lot of the various editors’ associations do have directories of their members. So that can be one place to start, depending on which country you are in. And you don’t have to work with an editor who is in your country, but it can sometimes be easier in various ways.
You can ask for recommendations from other writers, particularly if it’s a writer who writes a little bit like you. Who is, perhaps, in a similar genre. And you can find out what their experience was like of working with their editor.
So, it’s quite a personal thing working with an editor. They can often be up to their armpits in your manuscript for quite a while, and it’s a conversation that happens.
Editing generally happens using Microsoft Word and the Track Changes function in Word, particularly once you get into the later stages of editing. So, it’s this, sort of, ongoing conversation in the margins of your work. You want someone that you can really connect with and feel comfortable with and work well with.
So, it can be good to check an editor’s website. Most do have one these days. Check their social media. Get to know them a little bit, find out about their personality, whether you like the way they think and talk, and whether you think you might be able to work well with them.
Some editors do offer a sample edit. That can be free, or it can be paid depending on the editor’s business model. That can be a way to get a sense of what they’re going to do, actually in your manuscript.
Some editors offer a small editing product at the beginning where they do a look across some of your manuscript and give you feedback on that, which is another way to test how it’s going to work and what they’re going to offer you, and whether you feel that it fits well with what you want.
Donita Bundy: Sure, thank you.
Alison Joy: So, Belinda, down to the dollars and cents. How much is it actually going to cost for an editor, or is this like saying how long is a piece of string?
Belinda Pollard: It is a little bit a piece of string question. You can find editors on Fiverr who might edit your book for $300, and you need to be aware what they’re doing for $300 because it could just be a spellcheck. I think from what we’ve already discussed it’s fairly clear that editing is more than a spellcheck. Good editing is a lot more than a spellcheck.
So, the prices can go from $900 up to $5,000 or $6,000, $7,000, $8,000, $10,000. It just depends on what level of editing you’re getting done. The experience and professionalism of your editor. Where they live in the world. Some editors live in developing countries and have a low cost of living so they are able to pass on those benefits to you in the cost of a lower edit.
Generally, it’s a good idea to be thinking ahead of time, as you’re working on your manuscript. It’s a good idea to be starting to put some money aside, if you can, through that process.
Now, if you’re going to be seeking traditional publication, you don’t necessarily have to hire an editor. So, that’s something to keep in mind. It is actually the job of your publisher to ensure that your manuscript is edited. But, having said that, publishing is under enormous pressure these days from technology changes, the rise in self-publishing. A whole lot of issues have put traditional publishing under a lot of pressure. They have less time to spend on each manuscript so they’re more likely to be interested in a very polished manuscript, if it’s your first book.
So, bear that in mind, you don’t have to hire an editor to be traditionally published. You may choose to hire an editor to give you a better chance of having your book acquired by a publisher.
Alison Joy: Just speaking from personal experience, I’ve mentioned before my son also writes, so, when I went to my editor, I got back a sheet that said these are the different sorts you will require, and this is the price range. It will be minimum of this and maximum of that. So, I could go through, and I could go, “Okay, at the worst it’s going to cost me this much.”
Whereas the editor my son went to it was like they were drip feeding him. So, they’d get him to do a little bit, and he’d edit, and he’d pay for and then they’d say, “Oh yes, by the way, now you need to do this.” So, he’d go through the next stage and he’d pay for that and, “Oh yes, now you need to do this.” They didn’t set it out.
I got it all upfront, so I knew from the outset the maximum price it was going to be. Whereas his was, like, never-ending expense, never-ending cycle, it seemed. It’s just trying to find, I guess, the right person who will help you on your journey and give enough information so you can make an informed decision.
Donita Bundy: Yes. So, speaking on that about informed decisions, roughly how long will it take to edit the manuscript and also how far in advance would we need to book an editor?
Belinda Pollard: It varies very much across editors and across types of editing as you are very wisely noticing, and across your wordcount. And sometimes even across what the different genres are.
So, for instance, if you’re writing a textbook there’s going to be a lot more checking than there might be for a humorous novel. So, the editor will need to spend a lot more time.
But there’s a lot of misconceptions about editors and how they work and whether they’ll be available right now because I need them now. Some are booked up a year in advance, people, so if you’ve found an editor you really like, get in touch with them now!
Some are available. They work on a different business model so they’re available quite soon. Some will work on one manuscript until it’s finished, and so they might turnaround a book in three or four weeks. Some even can turnaround a book in two weeks, depending on the way that they work, the length of the manuscript, various issues.
I, personally, will usually schedule eight weeks for a particular book. Working on multiple projects at once works well for me. I can spend a couple of hours on this manuscript and then I work on another manuscript. My brain is, in the background, processing issues from the first manuscript and then I move on to the third manuscript. That works for me but we’re all different.
Just to give you an idea of how long you need to be thinking ahead and how long it might take to get those things done. What I find is that often it’s a bit of a shock to people how expensive editing is, and because I’m also a writer as well as an editor, I’m a writer who hires editors, I feel your pain. I understand how painful that is, but I still do hire editors because even though I am a 20-year editor myself, there a still things I cannot see in my own work. I want that professional opinion and I want that professional polish before I publish a book.
Alison Joy: Take the plunge and invest because it’s an investment.
Belinda Pollard: Well, it is an investment, and I don’t despise people who don’t hire an editor and who want to self-publish their book just to get it out there and to share it with people. Put it this way, if you want to have a self-published book that is of the same standard as the ones in your local bookstore, the editor is your key component of that process.
Alison Joy: Can I just say as an aside that if, being Christians, if we’re doing this under God, or whatever, shouldn’t we be trying to make it the best we can? So, therefore, wouldn’t you want to have an editor so the manuscript or the book, the finished product can be the best it can be?
Belinda Pollard: Well, I certainly would.
Donita Bundy: I think, it’s a personal thing, as you said, Belinda. I would have thought that if you were going to try for traditional publishing, even though you’ve suggested we don’t need to, you would need to do that. But for the self-publishing, again, that’s our choice but I totally agree that if you want it to be the best it can be, again, look at that as an investment.
Belinda, what do we do if we don’t like the edit that we’ve received? We’ve paid our money and we’ve received it back and we don’t like it. What do we do then?
Belinda Pollard: It’s a very tricky question. It depends partly on why we’re not happy. So, for instance, are our expectations unrealistic. I’ve seen people who’ve been unhappy, and these are not my personal clients, there are some Facebook forums of editors and there are things that get discussed. But I’ve seen people being very unhappy because a book had maybe 20 typos left in it, and the author has not taken into account that the book had 2,000 typos when they submitted it. So, we need to be aware that editors aim for excellence but they’re not always perfect.
Now, there can be other things. Alison’s mentioned that situation with her son that just didn’t seem to work very well. It is tricky. It’s very tricky. I think the first thing to do is probably to discuss it with the editor and see what can happen. Apart from that, it is quite difficult, sometimes, to resolve. So, it’s very hard. It’s very hard.
Alison Joy: Donita, didn’t you have that problem with your editing of one of your manuscripts.
Donita Bundy: Yes, early on, it was part of the whole ignorance thing, not really knowing what to ask for, not knowing what to expect, and then when I wasn’t happy not knowing how to deal with that. It was an expensive lesson, but one that I’ve learnt and moved on with.
But just continuing on with that question, Belinda, if we are writing Christian books and I’m a Christian writer, do I need a Christian editor, or do I find just a mainstream editor? What’s your advice?
Belinda Pollard: It’s again, one of those questions that has various answers. One of the possibilities… when I was working on my first novel which was a secular novel but with Gracenotes, I actually had chosen an editor that I was hoping would work with me on it who I had discovered on social media. I had visited her website and looked at her blog posts and was happy with the way that she worked, and she was not a Christian editor. And I thought that could be a good thing for me to, sort of, “keep me honest” in a way. To make sure that even though I had the Gracenotes in it, they weren’t making it read like a Christian novel.
So, that’s what I tried to do. It didn’t actually work out that way. She wasn’t available in the timeframe that I needed, and I ended up working with a Christian editor who, instead, could look at my Gracenotes, help me with the clunkiness of them because she is actually a Gracewriter, herself, as well as being a Christian editor.
She even suggested some places where I was missing opportunities to incorporate Gracenotes. For instance, my character, there was a point, someone died, they’re in the wilderness, he got dobbed in to do a sort of little, short memorial service for this person and I’d mentioned that he’d prayed, and she said, “Why have you not given the words of what he prayed because this is an opportunity.” I thought, “I think the reason I haven’t put words is because I don’t know what he prayed!” So, I had to then go away and work on that. But that was an instance of what I felt was a good relationship with an editor, and one where I was glad I had a Christian editor.
So, sometimes it can be really good to have, particularly if you’ve got an editor with some theological training. They can help you pick up some of those little glitches, perhaps, in your theological underpinnings to your work. So, there are different cases to be made for which way to go on that.
Any final thoughts on the topics of editors and editing?
Alison Joy: It’s just such a big thing. It’s a big part of the process and trying to find the right fit. It’s just something, I guess, a lot of prayer and asking around and just see how you go.
Donita Bundy: For me it’s just critically important to get my work edited. As a lay minister leading services, I would quite often get a long line of people coming up to point out a spelling mistake or a typo on slide 33 or something. They were so caught up and distracted by the surface they were missing the message underneath. And it reminds me of that Martha and Mary story. Martha was doing a lot of great stuff, but she was so distracted by the work around her she was missing the fact that Jesus was there and that was where the power was.
And so, I don’t want to distract my readers with the little bits and pieces, the typos, because I know that that will pull people out of the story. I want to keep them focused and in, living that story with the characters. Anything within my power to eliminate those distractions, to me, is what it’s about. I’m hoping, and my prayer, is the power is in the story and I don’t want anything to detract from that. So, as we’ve been saying, the investment and the ministry is about quality.
Belinda Pollard: And I think that can be another advantage too, to having a Christian editor. They’re going to be, well, I’m not going to speak for everybody but a lot of us are going to be praying for your book as we work on it. And calling on God for His… when we reach thorny passages where we’re trying to resolve a problem, we will be calling on God to give us wisdom and clarity. And this an extra layer of God’s involvement through different ones of His people who are involved. So, yes, that’s another possibility. I know my editor prays for me and I value that.
Donita Bundy: I value my Christian editor because she can discuss theology with me, so, that’s great.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. It’s an interesting process. There’s masses to discuss. We could probably keep talking about it for another hour and a half but unfortunately we can’t because we’ve run out of time. So, just as we finish up, how about I pray for us and for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the opportunities and the potential to get out there in publishing in different ways. We’ve been talking a lot about books but there’s various other forms of writing as well, and we thank you for those possibilities to communicate your truth in different ways to people out there. I pray for all of us as we work, to do the best we possibly can on our writing, and as we try to find editors who are going to be a great fit for us. Who are going to be affordable for us. Who are going to be focused on our goals and Your goals for our writing. And we commit it all to you in the name of Jesus, Amen.
Thank you, Alison Joy and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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