Don’t spin in circles with your writing, but try to find other writers and readers to give your work an evaluation before hiring an editor.
By Shelley Widhalm
For writers wanting to self-publish, hiring an editor is an investment, as is getting a great cover design and the correct formatting for an upload.
But writers can do some of the editing work themselves—they can self-edit, work with a critique group or partner, and send off their work to beta readers.
Start with Self-Editing
To do their own self-editing, writers can use a checklist to evaluate the issues of their work (novel, novella or short story collection). Often in question format, checklists go over each element of writing, including plot, character, dialog, setting, tension, conflict, pacing and themes. They can help with things like gaps in plot, inaccurate calendars if it’s June but winter, and blurred secondary characters that sound the same or serve roles that could be combined.
Writers also can revise the book as a first “reader,” looking for skipping of plot points, logistical misalignments and description inconsistencies, as well as areas where the book is boring or moves too quickly, glossing over essential story points.
I like to do this and then do a couple more rounds while still looking at pacing, identifying what doesn’t make sense and where there are gloss-overs in descriptions or dialog. Could things that are summarized be set into scene for instance?
Work with Others
Once the book has gone through at least two rounds of editing, ask for feedback—more than one evaluation is ideal for varied and more comprehensive comments. Evaluations are essential since writers miss things from being too close to their work and not having the ability to encounter it for the first time as new readers.
Feedback can come from beta readers or a critique partner or critique group. Beta readers are readers first, while critique or writing partners are readers who also are writers.
Find a Critique Partner
Critique partners (and groups) generally do an exchange of work to provide feedback, typically more general in nature as opposed to looking for grammar, spelling and punctuation issues.
They can point out where the writing gets muddy—descriptions might be unclear or assume reader knowledge about a specialized topic. They can check character identities to see if details of appearance are consistent throughout (brown eyes stay brown) and that characters are differentiated by their mannerisms, speaking styles and ways of approaching life.
Working with partners is way to figure out what’s not working in the story and to get suggestions for making improvements.
Add Beta Readers
Beta readers may not enjoy writing but do love reading. They should have a basic knowledge of what makes for good writing, as well as an understanding of the elements of the craft. They also should read in the book’s genre.
Beta readers provide feedback based on their skills, knowledge and experience of writing. Like with writing partners, they point out what they think isn’t working in the manuscript and offer ideas for improvement without changing the writer’s voice. They point out areas that don’t make sense and ask questions, providing clarity on how the reader experiences the work.
Make the Hire
Once the book has had a critical audience, then it’s time to hire an editor, either at the developmental or copy editing level.
An editor will give that professional overall or line-by-line view of the work, not skipping over things because personal life gets in the way or they’re learning about the craft or the genre. They are paid to pay attention to every aspect of the work, identifying areas to fix and asking targeted questions for a rewrite, or simply polishing it up to make it ready to publish.