Welcome to the sixth post in the How to Edit Your Novel series. Now that you’ve put your novel through the ringer, and likely gone through rewrites, it’s time to look at a few options: contests, conferences, and editors.
Novels. While entering novel contests can be good exposure for your book, take caution in which contests you enter. Some may take exclusive publishing rights (like Amazon’s recent break through novel contest). Be certain you know what you’re getting into before you enter.
The contests I hope you’ll seek in particular are critique or feedback based contests. Even if it’s only the first few hundred words or first two chapters. For example, awhile back I won a first chapter critique from Aimee Salter. Her feedback was immensely helpful, and it’s something she does professionally.
I know I keep mentioning Pitch Wars, but I got a lot of great feedback from it too, especially from my mentor Marieke. And recently I entered the Cupid’s Literary Connection contest. I didn’t win, but I got helpful feedback there too–especially on my query. Feedback can be just as valuable as a win. Plus you can see how your novel stacks up among the works of your peers.
Short Stories. Whenever you need a break from the novel, or need to put it in cold storage, it’s the perfect opportunity to write something else–flash fiction, short stories, novellas, etc. This is where the creds part comes in. Winning a contest where your work is published in something gives you credentials for your query letter. It’s no guarantee, obviously, but anything you can do to stand out in the submission pile and catch an agent’s eye is worth the effort.
Even if you plan to self-pub, never hurts to be able to say “winner of the…” whether on your book or in your bio. You want to catch that reader’s eye.
Choosing the right conferences can get you good feedback as well as connections. There are a fair few to choose from, but look for those with workshops or critique sessions and, if you feel ready, agents.
I went to a conference last year where I got feedback on my first two pages from published authors. But I also did done writer networking and learned a lot about Twitter because of one writer. You never know what you can learn from new friends and in turn you can share your knowledge with them.
I also attended the Backspace Conference in NYC (where I met the fabulous Mystic Cooking ladies). I got feedback on my query and my novel, plus one on one time with a couple agents. They certainly don’t sugar coat their opinion, so be warned. But at least you know you’re getting honest feedback.
And at conferences, there’s always a chance of getting requests for material. 🙂
HIRING AN EDITOR
When is it time to hire an editor? That depends on several things, but because editors can be expensive, it’s best to have exhausted all other avenues of feedback before paying for it. Besides, you don’t want an editor to waste time fixing stupid grammar mistakes or bad formatting or anything you could have corrected yourself if you’d gone through all the other previous steps before arriving at this point.
The type of editor. Something you must consider is the type of editor you’re hiring. You can hire a person fresh out of college who will be less expensive because they haven’t established themselves. But they may be focused more on grammar and sentence structure than plot and character development.
There are some editors who focus solely on plot, character development and story structure and won’t bother with the grammar. Often the more professional types will state what they specifically focus on as a part of their services.
The one I used was in the middle of those two, but the thing I learned while working with her was the more typos and bad sentence structuring I had, the more grammar fixes I got. Whereas the cleaner pages received more of a story structure treatment. It seemed she could focus more on the meat of the story when the surface flaws were removed.
I would recommend finding an editor that’s at least in the middle, and maybe leans slightly more toward story structure. To me, grammar just seems an easier fix than story structure. Not all beta readers will be able to state why they didn’t think a scene worked, just that it didn’t feel right. An editor is trained to see and elaborate on those things.
The cost. I did a trade with her, but she said traditionally she charges $1/page—some charge more. So if you have a 500-page novel, you’re looking at paying at least $500. We also did it that she looked at a chapter a week. If you’re paying someone, I think you can expect it faster than that.
The reason I liked the chapter a week is it gave me time to apply all the things I learned from the previous chapter to the next chapter and subsequent chapters so that she wasn’t fixing the same mistakes. If possible, I recommend this method. You’ll get more bang for your buck.
But that’s not to say that you necessarily have to pay an editor. Do you have skills you can trade? Maybe you’re a mechanic, a fabulous costume maker, a great cook, a handyman/woman? Never be afraid to offer services as trade, even if it only cuts the price in half. Maybe you’re also a photographer, a web designer, a lawyer, an accountant—whatever it is, I’m willing to bet if you think about it you have something valuable to offer as a service to them.
Is it really necessary? If you’re going to self-publish, then 100% yes. It’s going to be difficult enough marketing your book on your own. That means your product should be as shiny as you can possibly make it. So either begin putting a little money away for an editor, or figure out how you can trade services for it, but please get it edited.
If you’re going the traditional route, I still think it is worthwhile because of what you learn. Think of it as a college course on writing, with the course solely focused on you and your story. It’s not that far-fetched. Many colleges are charging more than $100/credit hour, and gaining this kind of experience could be seen as a 3-credit hour class. If you were willing to fork out that kind of dough for those classes you didn’t want to take, but had to, then shouldn’t this decision be a no-brainer?
One more thing. When hiring an editor, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask if they could do a sample edit to see if you feel like their style is what you’re looking for. (Make sure this is different than you just having thin skin and not liking anyone being critical of your book).
I might approach it trying to let them determine how much they’re willing to look at to give you a sample. I probably wouldn’t expect more than a chapter (and we’re talking probably an 8-15 page chapter, double-spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman). But I think it’s reasonable to request at least 3-5 pages. There should be enough happening on those first few pages for them to have advice and perhaps some questions.
COMING TO THE END
Tomorrow brings the last post in our How to Edit Your Novel series, Win the War? Wait, There’s More! I hope you’ve found some useful information to use in your own writing quests. I have to make one more recommendation for editing help before we close for today. Regularly check out Janice Hardy’s blog. She posts tons of writing tips, usually with examples, so you can see how to take a blah description to wow.
See you tomorrow!