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Having spent the past two years or so working on my manuscript– all while doing the juggling-dance of work, family, and writing that will be familiar to artistic types the world around–and finally arriving at what felt like a point of completion, I began the editing process.

My use of the word process is deliberate. Like writing, editing is never done. You just keep going until you can’t take it any more.

The process begins with showing the book to a few trusted readers. These people are ideally not literary professionals (although in my case, one of them was). They’re just people who represent the average reader, and whose opinion is therefore important. If they like it, chances are there are others who will like it, too. Marketing is all about finding those people… but that’s a different topic.

More important, though, is the fact that if there’s something these early readers don’t like, chances are very good that thing will also bother other readers.

The first read by trusted friends is like the first pass over a rough board with a planer. It’s critical, but by no means final. If one person says something about a thing that they think needs fixing, you can safely ignore them. If two people say the same thing, you need to think more carefully about it. If three people say the same thing, you have a problem.

After that round of reader comments, and further edits on your part, and perhaps yet more reads from friends, it’s time to send it to an editor.

About editors, I have quite a bit to say. The most important thing is this: choose someone who knows what the hell they’re talking about.

An editor is not your best friend who’s read every book under the sun and knows a bad book when they read one. Nor is an editor your high school English teacher who will fix your grammar and punctuation and offer a couple of tips on how to make better word choices. That’s a kind of editing, but it’s not the kind of editing you need right now.

What you need is a story editor. This is the aspect of editing that many freelance editors really suck at, and as a result, they pay the least attention to it.

Story is hard. It’s not about individual bricks. It’s about designing the whole building. There are endless paid seminars out there on how to become a better storyteller. The information they give out for a high premium is all available for free, and has been for well over two thousand years. How do you find it? You can start by reading an article I wrote about Aristotle’s rules of storytelling. Don’t worry, it’s free, too.

I also wrote a book called Writing for First-Time Novelists, which is free as well. Just click that link to download it.

What you need in an editor are the following things:

  • Someone who already knows all the things I mention in the afore-mentioned article and book
  • Someone with a deep understanding of what makes a story work
  • Someone with a deep understanding of the publishing marketplace
  • Someone who you mesh well with personally and who respects your work
  • Someone with editorial experience

Notice I didn’t mention grammar, spelling, or punctuation. That’s because none of those things have anything to do with story editing. That’s copy editing and/or line editing, and it doesn’t matter all that much right now. It will in the next phase, when you start working with a copy or line editor.

Where can I find a good story editor?

Some careful Googling will set you on the right path, but don’t just hire the first person who agrees to allow you to pay them. Choose your editor the way you would choose someone you’d take a cross-country trip with. You’re not exactly getting married, but you’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so it’s a decision worth making carefully.

Here are a few places to get you started:

Peggy Hageman edited The Best Polish Restaurant in Buffalo. She’s got decades of experience in publishing, and she probably won’t have time for you. But it’s worth asking, because she’s very nice. You can email her at greenpointless at gmail dot com.

Writer’s Workshop in the UK is the best place to start for my friends across the pond. I’ve worked with them for many years, including offering them my own story-editing services for many clients, and have a great deal of respect for them.

In Canada, the Editors’ Association of Canada is the best place to start. They have a strong roster of very qualified people who can help you.

In the US, there is a plethora of possibilities. Rather than approach an individual, I would suggest you approach an organization, and ask them to help set you up with the right editor for you. Just Google “american editors association” for some very strong possibilities.

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