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The Role of an Editor (Yes, Even in Self-Publishing!)

The Role of an Editor in Self-Publishing
(Yes! There IS One!)

Hello, Lifers!

Today, we're diving into the often-misunderstood world of professional editing in self-publishing. It's a journey filled with red pens, track changes, and the occasional existential crisis and/or hysterical thumbsucking. But fear not, for it's also a journey that can transform your manuscript from a rough diamond into a polished gem.

Do I Even NEED An Editor?

That's the big question, isn't it? And let me answer with two simple words:


Okay, that's more than two words--which is exactly the kind of mistake a good editor could have kept me from making. Curse you, universe, with your ironic twists!

An editor is like a personal trainer for your manuscript. They'll push it to its limits, make it sweat, and probably make it cry a little. But at the end of the day, your manuscript will be stronger, leaner, and ready to take on the world.

Now, can you get into decent shape without a trainer? Sure! But no one pays the big bucks for Chris Hemsworth to show up in pretty decent shape. And no one is going to pay even medium bucks for a book that doesn't rock their world from start to finish.

But Seriously, Do I NEED An Editor?


Many new Lifers, brimming with confidence and enthusiasm, believe they can take on the Herculean task of editing their own work. After all, who knows their story better than they do? They've spent countless hours crafting their narrative, developing their characters, and building their world. Surely, they can handle a little grammar and punctuation, right?

Unfortunately, this is a common misconception that can lead to a horrifically, embarrassingly bad less-than-stellar final product. First off, we're all human, and humans make mistakes. When you've spent so much time immersed in your own work, it's easy to become blind to its flaws. You might overlook a typo, miss a plot hole, or fail to realize that a sentence you thought was clear could be misinterpreted by your readers.

More importantly, editing requires a different skill set than writing. While writing is about creativity and expression, editing is about precision and consistency. It's about understanding the rules of language and how to apply them to enhance your story. It's about being able to take a step back and look at your work with a critical eye, something that can be incredibly difficult when you're emotionally invested in your manuscript.

Self-editing can--and probably will--limit your potential for growth as a writer. A good editor does more than just correct errors. They provide feedback, challenge your ideas, and push you to improve. They can spot patterns in your writing that you might not be aware of, help you break bad habits, and encourage you to take risks. By choosing to self-edit, you're missing out on these valuable opportunities for development.

While it's tempting to think you can do it all, editing is one area where it pays to bring in a professional. Not only will it result in a better book, but it will also make you a better writer in the long run.

The Different Types of Editors

Not all editors are created equal. There are several types of editors, each with their own specialties and, yes, their own price tags. Let's break them down: Some are like surgeons, meticulously cutting away at the unnecessary flab in your manuscript. Others are more like therapists, helping you to draw out the deeper meanings and themes in your work. Let's take a look at the three main kinds of editors you're likely to run into/need.

  • Developmental Editors: These are the big-picture folks. They look at your story's structure, plot, character development, and theme. They're the ones who'll tell you if your protagonist is as flat as a pancake or if your plot has more holes than a Swiss cheese. Because of the depth of their work, developmental editors tend to be the most expensive. They're making sure your story is solid from the ground up, and that kind of expertise comes at a premium:
  • Copy Editors: These are your grammar gurus, your punctuation police. They'll go through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, catching any and all technical errors. They're not as concerned with the overarching structure of your story, but rather the nitty-gritty details of language and style. Copy editors are generally less expensive than developmental editors, but their work is still crucial to creating a polished final product
  • Proofreaders: The last line of defense. They'll catch any typos or errors that the other editors might have missed. Proofreading is the least expensive type of editing, but it's by no means the least important. Even the smallest typo can pull a reader out of your story and/or convince them they're in the hands of a shlub, so having a proofreader should go in your "must-have" collection.

Remember, Lifers, editing is an investment in your book. It's tempting to cut corners, especially when budgets are tight. But a well-edited book is more likely to attract readers, receive positive reviews, and ultimately, bring in more revenue. So, while the upfront cost might seem steep, the long-term benefits are well worth it.

Finding the "Write" (Ha!) Editor

Finding the right editor is a bit like dating. You need to find someone who understands you, who gets your vision, and who isn't afraid to tell you when you're wrong. Here are a few tips:

1. Ask for recommendations: Other Lifers are your best resource. Ask your writer friends! Who have they worked with? Who do they trust? Do they know anyone else who might have even more info on other editors?

2. Check their credentials: Does the editor have experience? Do they have experience in your genre? A lot of editors, hungry for work, will let you know "I can edit anything." That's not true. Different genres have different expectations, different formatting requirements, even different punctuation in some cases. Can the editor you're thinking of hiring provide references or samples of their work--and does that work line up with yours?

3. Communicate: Before you commit, have a conversation with potential editors. Make sure you're on the same page (pun absolutely intended).

4. BE CONFIDENT: Remember that you are the boss! Make sure you hammer out a good deal ahead of time (as in, BEFORE paying)--one that you're both comfortable with. If it's not a win-win, walk away. There will be other opportunities, I promise! And once you HAVE hammered out your agreement with an editor, make sure they do what they've committed to do. Communicate clearly and confidently! It's a joint effort, but ultimately the editor WORKS FOR YOU.

Working With An Editor

Working with an editor, especially for the first time, can be a humbling (or terrifying) experience. It's like the first time my wife, Laura, and I went on a date and left our baby home with a babysitter for the first time. We'd done our homework, we knew we weren't leaving things to chance and the gal we hired was someone we knew and had vetted hard.

It was still REALLY hard to walk out that door. To trust another person to take over, even if only for a while.

This manuscript, which you've poured countless hours, sleepless nights, and immeasurable amounts of creative energy into, is suddenly in the hands of someone who might not see it through the same rose-tinted glasses. They might point out plot holes you never noticed, character inconsistencies you overlooked, or thematic elements that are underdeveloped. And while it's one thing to leave your kid with someone to watch, handing over your kid to someone and saying, "So...tell me everything that's wrong with this child--that I did wrong with this child!"

Nerve wracking, for sure.

But here's the thing, Lifers: your editor is not the enemy. Far from it. They're your ally, your comrade-in-arms in the battle to make your book the best it can be. They're not there to tear your work apart, but to help you build it up stronger and better. Editors want your book to succeed, sometimes even more that you do. Their reputation, after all, is tied to the quality of the books they edit. They're invested in your success.

So, when you receive that first round of edits, take a deep breath. It might sting at first to see all those red marks and comments, but remember: every correction, every suggestion, every query is a step towards making your book better. It's not a critique of your ability as a writer, but a testament to the potential your editor sees in your work. Embrace the process, learn from it, and remember, you're not alone on this journey. Your editor is right there with you, cheering you on every step of the way.

Your Editor Checklist

  • ​Understand the different types of editors and look for the right one at the right time!​
  • ​Ask for recommendations from other Lifers.
  • ​Check the credentials of potential editors.
  • ​Have a conversation with potential editors before committing.
  • ​Be open to feedback and remember that your editor is on your team.

Welcome to the Bestseller Life Blog!

I'm Michaelbrent Collings, an international bestseller and produced screenwriter, as well as a multiple Bram Stoker Award and Dragon Award finalist, and maker of a fair-to-middling chocolate chip waffle.

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