What to Look for in a Fiction Editor?

Fiction Editor

The recent changes in the publishing industry, such as the advent of self-publishing, have presented a number of opportunities and challenges for aspiring authors. Not least is the need to find and select a fiction editor. This can be daunting, particularly the first time, with multiple options to choose from that include price, experience, and type or level of editing provided. Where do you start? Well, let’s take you through a step-by-step guide to assist with this process about what to look for.

What do Book Editors do?

This is a crucial question to ask so you understand what you are actually looking for in this process. Editors assess your work by word, line, or page, picking up on inaccuracies in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. However, as most writers or their beta readers do a lot of this before submission to an editor, you may want an editor that goes well beyond the basics of syntax. The level of editing they perform for you may be stipulated by what service you have requested, so make sure you understand these from the get-go.

Proofreading and copy editing are services that look at typos and technical issues in your formatting and any repetitive text, missing words, and other basics. This level of editing can be very good at picking up the little details needed in your words and sentences, and provide consistency to your work. However, there are levels of editing that go beyond this, and look at the structure and development of your work. These big-picture elements look at how the plot, characters, and setting elements work together to present your ideas.

Line editing ensures your editor will take meticulous care in polishing your sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters so they flow well. Developmental editing handles content editing and character development, and delves more into the overall structure of your work. In non-fiction work, we look at technical formatting, structure, and the cohesiveness of your overall argument.

Difference between fiction and non-fiction editors

It should come as no surprise that there is a difference between editing fiction and non-fiction. Fiction stories often have a plot, characterisation, an opening hook to entice readers, and elements like tension and conflict to carry the plot from beginning to end. A fiction editor therefore needs to be better in tune with the author’s distinctive style, tone, language and rhythm and have a good understanding of story writing elements and the story arc. In this way, they can assess character motivations and goals, that the story hits the right notes at the right time, and there is a cohesiveness and consistency to style and presentation. This is quite an art form in the editing process.

In non-fiction, these elements are not so important, but organisation, clarity, and sections that reflect the premise of the argument are. The editor of a non-fiction book needs to focus on the clear and logical presentation of the subject matter. The editor may need to have a better eye for referencing, quoting source material properly, and the format and structure the work requires. Some knowledge of the subject can be an advantage in non-fiction editing, but is not a pre-requisite.

A good editor in either category needs to understand the elements at work and perform their role accordingly. And one editor may well be versant in both fiction and non-fiction.

Must-haves of a fiction editor

One of the most important ingredients to look for in the recipe of elements you want in your editor is their experience. Ask them for a sample of their work, and how many years they’ve been an in-house editor for their company or in the capacity they are currently working. If they’ve been in the game a long time, they will have testimonials and references they can give you. They may even have other book titles they can show you, and it would be a bonus if any of these covered the genre of your work. While there is no definitive requirement that an editor has the same knowledge, experience, or understanding of your subject or genre as the writer, it helps if they’ve worked on similar material before. Some companies do offer specialist editors that have experience within particular fields.

Best qualities to look for in a fiction editor

One of the best services a fiction editor can provide is a sample of their editing on your work. Many provide this as a courtesy anyway, but don’t be afraid to ask. A sample performed on writing that you know well will show you just how much help they can provide you, although it is good to understand that a limited sample might not furnish the same level of feedback as you would get on your entire document. Samples, particularly in track changes, will also show you what they are looking at or for, the number of things they pick up, if they understand your writing style and the story or topic, and if you are a good fit together.

Don’t be afraid to seek samples from multiple editors before you decide on who to go with. Send them a small selection such as five or ten pages, and see what they come back with.

What to avoid

All writers are attached to their work and may find the editing process hard. But you also want an editor that is not afraid to point out the issues in it, and where it can be improved. Obviously, you don’t want an editor that completely disregards your feelings, but you do want them to be rigorous in their approach. Editing can be handled sensitively with suggestions for improvement rather than edicts about what you must do. Editing in tracked changes also gives you complete authority over your work to disagree with any changes they have made.

The best editors can be busy and asking them to fit you in or edit a very long piece of work in record time (even with a rush fee) probably isn’t the best approach for them, or you. Do your homework and make sure they have the time when you need them. This homework should also include the cost per word, hour, or project and determining if it fits your budget.

Benefits of hiring a specialized editor

An editor with experience in the same genre as your book is a real plus. If you’re writing a children’s story, an editor with experience in romance literature or crime probably isn’t the best fit. Similarly, if you’re submitting an academic thesis about engineering, you probably want someone that is familiar with scientific papers and the formatting and technical detail required. While they don’t have to be an exact fit, the closer they are, the better. So consider not only the genre of fiction but also if they are a fiction or non-fiction book editor and what narrative your work is.

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