You finally finished writing your book. Now what?

In spite of all the hard hours put into it, and the sacrifices made, coming to the end of your manuscript is, for all writers, only the first step toward seeing your work published. Now that you’ve got your manuscript in hand, what do you do?

Most writers pass their manuscripts on to a “trusted reader” or readers. This would be anyone you know who you feel is qualified to give you sincere and honest feedback on your work, and who is willing to commit the time for this. If you are fortunate enough to have this as a resource, make sure you stress your desire for an honest opinion: it will do you no good as a writer if you’re out for nothing but empty praise.

If no friend or loved one qualifies, you might be able to find a reader through mutual support groups with other writers. These can be found through your local writer’s organizations, of which there are several in most major U.S. Cities.

Once you address any glaring issues pointed out to you by reader feedback, you’re ready for a professional edit. So – how do you find one where you live? How do you determine compatibility? How do you know what to expect, both in terms of fees, time and the actual work done?

Here are a few tips for finding your perfect editor:

  • Ask your local writer’s group

Many freelance editors belong to local writing organizations. Finding an editor this way allows you to easily check their reputations, as well as their qualifications.

  • Online search for local help.  Many freelancers have websites. Usually, they will list what they’ve edited in the past or testimonials, any genres that they specialize in, and their rates. (Expect to pay between $4 – $6 per page for line editing cleaned-up manuscripts). Using someone local is reassuring to most writers, although not necessary. Local help gives you the opportunity to assess your comfort level when turning your project over to the hands of someone else. And you can meet in person to discuss any questions or issues your editor finds.
  • Determine your budget.  Many professional editors will work with you to help you achieve your final goal of a manuscript ready to shop. We understand how dear your project is to you, not only in terms of the hours already invested and the hours of promotion ahead, but also with the costs for hiring professional help to bring your manuscript up to a competitive level. Determine how much you can spend each month, and if necessary, ask the editor if they can work within your budget on your project. It might take longer, but you can accomplish the desired goal chapter by chapter, if necessary.
  • How well does your editor write? It’s not unreasonable to ask your editor for samples of their own writing. You want the best possible judgment applied to your own project, and this is a sure-fire way to determine the skill level of your editor.
  • Remain open to initial feedback. I always ask for a sample, the first 20-pages, when first meeting with a new writing client. This allows me to determine whether or not the project is ready for professional editing. Believe it or not, I’ve turned many writers away. This does not mean that the writers in question are not capable of being good, even great, writers. It just means that they either don’t have a cohesive project in hand, their voices are undeveloped, or that they don’t yet possess the skills required to produce a draft that can compete in a highly competitive arena. If this happens to you, do not be discouraged and certainly, don’t stop writing! Keep at it, and save your money for a future edit that will result in a truly viable manuscript. No one wants to waste your time or money, so listen to whatever input your editor gives you, and don’t take it as a judgment of your talent. We see a lot of manuscripts.
  • Get it in writing.  Any editor worth their fee will insist on a contract before commencing work. Remember, you are absolutely within reason to discuss and amend any clauses that make you uncomfortable. A contract is standard, and ensures that both parties are clear on the level of editing work that will be done, deadlines, payment fees and schedules, and editing credits. If your manuscript is topical, i.e., hot in the news, you should ask for a non-disclosure statement, as well. Most editors won’t have a problem supplying you with one. As a rule, a professional editor won’t discuss your work with anyone other than yourself, but if you have any qualms, and it isn’t offered with your contract, feel free to ask for one.

A last word of caution is given for dealing with online companies that offer a flat, standard fee for editing manuscripts: check for complaints. Some people will accept any manuscript, without thought to the readiness or marketability of either the manuscript or the client. These are the folks who charge standard rates without first reviewing the manuscripts in question. They often sink the hook by charging much less than someone else for the equivalent hours of work. Unfortunately, in these cases, you usually get what you pay for, which is a manuscript not much evolved from the original. My advice is that you don’t waste your money on such superficial services. The exception might be with an already solid draft of non-fiction material needing nothing more than corrections in punctuation, table of contents, glossaries and/or final proofreading.

I have a few writers whom I’ve worked with for years now, in multiple genres and on a wide variety of stories. It is definitely worth your time to shop around until you find an editor with whom you feel comfortable, who is honest as well as nurturing to your talents, and who you can develop an ongoing relationship with for all your future writing endeavors.

And remember: even the greatest writers need an editor.

Break a pen!