Must Haves for the Indie Author, Part One: A Good Editor

I’ve been an indie author for six years now. I’m looking at that number thinking, dang, it has to be longer than that. But it isn’t. I launched Descent, first novel in my Outcast Angels series in August of 2013, and a lot has happened since then.

I’ve launched more books. The industry has changed significantly and continues to do so rapidly. Still, there are certain basics that Indies still need, regardless of what else may be changing.

With that in mind, this is the first in a short series of articles on what today’s indie author must have to put them on the road to success.

An Editor

You still need an editor. I know I’ve mentioned this a time or two already, but there is NO bigger turn off to a reader than a poorly edited story. There are a couple of ways to go about obtaining professional editing, and a few things to avoid.

Show Me the Ways:

If you have editing skills yourself, consider trading editing with a fellow author whose writing you respect. A lot of us come from editing or educational backgrounds, which gives us a leg up in that department.

Ask for referrals. Any fairly successful indie author in your circle should be able to point you in the right direction. Alternately, do a shout in the dark on your favorite FB author group (one for authors, not readers) and you’ll likely get some recommendations, as well as hints on who to avoid.

Danger Signals:

Avoid anyone who refuses to give you an editing sample on request. A sample should be 1-3 pages in length and can be an evaluation of your work or a sample the editor has on file. I prefer the former since it’s easier to tell how they will interact with your particular genre and style. Either way, the sample should be long enough to give you an idea of their level of expertise and editing style.

Avoid anyone who demands changes to your manuscript instead of suggesting them. Look at the tone of their comments in the sample. An editor who insists on overriding your author voice isn’t someone you want handling your work.

Editors generally give you a total cost upfront. They will usually ask for half in advance with the balance due upon completion. They should also be able to tell you how long it will take them to complete the job. If they waffle on either point, consider finding someone else.

A reasonable charge for editing is anywhere from .1¢ to .3¢ per word, depending on the editor’s level of experience and workload. However, for highly experienced, in-demand editors, the cost can be upwards of .5¢ to .6¢ a word. Some may charge even more, but at that point, I would shop around. More expensive doesn’t always mean better, and editing is no exception.

For works of 100K words or less, two weeks should be sufficient time for completion. Longer manuscripts will take more time, shorter ones often take less. An editor who can’t give you a firm completion date or who says they will need a month or more to complete your manuscript might be someone to avoid.

Editors who miss the deadline they’ve given you by more than a day or two should be avoided in the future. If they miss it by more than a week, you may want to consider cutting your losses and moving on. Ask for the work they’ve done so far. They may give it to you as a show of good faith. If they don’t, or they become argumentative or non-communicative, take it as a learning experience and move on rather than throw good money after bad. Never pay the balance before the edits are complete. Never pay “additional costs,” that weren’t in the contract.

A Word On That Final Payment:

When paying that balance, use Paypal or another service where you can cancel the payment if the edits are not delivered as promised. Most editors are honest, hardworking and want your return business. But, as with any profession, there are scam artists out there. If something seems off, it probably is. Trust your intuition.

A Word on Reasonable Practices:

Example: When I edit for someone, I provide an estimate before receiving the manuscript. Once I receive the manuscript, I send a contract with the exact amount based on the actual word count. Once that is signed, and the deposit is paid, I begin work. When I finish, I send an email notifying my client that their manuscript is ready, and an invoice requesting the final payment. When that payment comes in, I send the completed manuscript the same day.

Not everyone works the way I do, and there may be nothing wrong with their process. But a good editor is open to communication with the client, offers a reasonable price and time frame, understands that they are the editor, not the author, and keeps their word.

What do you look for in an editor? Let me know in the comments.

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