Editor & Author Rob Bignell Answers Common Questions
One of the (many) pieces of advice offered to authors who plan to self publish is “find a good editor.” Many writers don’t know anything about working with an editor. How do you find an editor? How do you know if an editor is a good fit for you? What is a reasonable cost? Mostly, writers just have no idea what to expect when working with an editor.
guidebooks. He was kind enough to answer a few questions that may be of interest to writers who are curious about working with an editor.
1. What kinds of books do you edit — mainly fiction, or nonfiction or a mix?
I’ll edit anything a writer tosses at me, even if it’s a crumpled one page outline tied around a rock! Seriously, about half of my work consists of novels
and short stories, with the other half being nonfiction books, dissertations, and business documents. When I started edited, I wanted to focus on fiction, specifically science fiction and literary works but soon found myself getting requests from authors of other genres and of nonfiction. They’re stuff was just as interesting to read, so I’m very wide open.
2. How can a writer know if he needs substantive editing or simply proofreading?
If the writer hasn’t had anyone – such as participants in a writers’ group or workshop – read the book, they almost certainly need both substantive editing and proofreading. If other people have read it for content and the writer has gone through several revisions, then a proofreading probably will suffice. Writers always are too close to their work – and the same applies to me when I write my books – to really look at it objectively, so they always need a critique from other intelligent readers, writers and editors.
3. What are some red flags that would let a writer know her work is not ready for an editor?
That depends on the level of edit that the writer is seeking. Some writers need editing but not proofreading after a first draft just to ensure they’ve punched in the right storytelling numbers on their GPS writing map. Since the goal of an editor generally is to guide the story to its full potential, you’re never too early in the process to get an editor’s help. Still, that can get expensive, so if you forgo it because you’re on a tight budget, I’d recommend finding serious readers and fellow writers to critique your book during those early drafts. And always run your manuscript through spell check before sending it to an editor!
4. What is the most common problem you see in the manuscripts authors send you (mostly grammar/typo errors, or more gaping plot holes, story structure, poor writing errors)?
The most common problems are craft of writing issues – telling rather than showing, repeating words within or between sentences, passive voice, verb tense shifts, point of view shifts. Most writers I edit have an excellent understanding of plotting, probably because they’ve seen so many television shows and movies since childhood that they instinctively know what is good and bad plotting – I mean, even my son when he was four-and-half-years-old understood that you don’t kill off a reoccurring character in a series. Unfortunately, what happens to many novice writers is their great plots drag because a lack of craftsmanship undercuts the dramatic tension and narrative drive. It’s sort of like fumbling teenagers on a date – they know what should happen thanks to what they’ve overheard big brother and big sister say, but they aren’t quite practiced enough to make it all flow smoothly.
5. How important do you think promotion is once a book is published?
Unless you want your book to rank in the lower 3 million for book sales on Amazon.com, you’ve absolutely got to promote your books. The idea of promotion often comes as a surprise to a lot of writers and is anathema to many. They want to be artists not salesmen. But getting public attention for your book and meeting your readers can be fun and inspire you to keep writing. Promotion doesn’t have to be time-consuming either; my book “7 Minutes a Day to Promoting Your Book” covers how to do the basics so you can keep writing rather than become a full-time marketing man.
6. What advice would you offer an author who just completed his first manuscript?
Get started on your second book! Once you’ve promoted your first published book, you’ll create a small fan base. Take advantage of that by doing what you do best – writing for them. Your second book will broaden your fan base and bring new readers to your first book.
7. As more writers see self-publishing as a viable option, what would you like them to know? (In other words, what big thing (if any) should people know before they decide to self-publish?)
They should know that they’ve just become the president of their own publishing company! Like a traditional publisher, you’ll have to either contract skilled professionals to do various tasks or you’ll need to learn how to do them yourself. Among those tasks are editing, formatting, book cover design, working with a printer and/or ebook publisher, and publicity. Don’t be overwhelmed by all of that, though. Print on demand houses automate some of the process, and a number of self-published writers are amazingly good at it.
My next book in the “7 Minutes a Day…” writing guide series is about mastering the craft of writing fiction. It’s due out around Thanksgiving.