Sunday, November 18, 2012

How to Save a Bundle on Editing Costs

by Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor and craft writer

Fiction writers – do you want your novel to be up there with the best of them, garnering great reviews and selling like hotcakes, but without spending an arm and a leg? Who wouldn’t! And it’s definitely within the realm of possibility.

The solution is simple – don't assume writing a sellable novel is easy. Open your mind to honing your skills, read a really good craft book or two and/or attend some writing workshops, then roll up your sleeves and start revising, based on what you’ve just learned. If you then send your improved story, rather than your first or second draft, to a freelance editor, you’ll save big bucks on the editing process, and the editor will be able to concentrate on fine-tuning instead of just the basics, and take your manuscript up several more levels. Not only that, you’ll “get” the editor's suggestions, so the whole process will go a lot smoother and be more fun for both of you.

Don’t be in a hurry to publish your book before it’s ready. 
See my article “Honing Your Craft.” If you rush to publish an early draft, you could do your reputation as a writer a lot of damage. Once the book is out there and getting bad reviews because the writing is amateurish, the plot is almost nonexistent, the characters are cardboard, the point of view is all over the place, and it’s full of typos, the bad publicity could sink your career before it has had a chance to take off.

Step back and evaluate.

Say you’ve written your first draft or are at a spot where you can stop for a while – maybe your muse is on holiday or you’re bogged down in the middle of the story and not sure exactly how to get to the end. 

Now’s the time to put the story aside for a week or three and bone up on some current, well-respected craft advice so you can reattack your novel with knowledge and inspiration, and address any possible issues you weren’t aware of that could be considered amateurish, confusing, or just a turn-off for today’s sophisticated, savvy readers. 

Get a few really good craft books, take a course/workshop/seminar or two, and fortify yourself with knowledge and inspiration to continue.

Educate yourself on the current fiction-writing techniques any novel today needs in order to take off and sell well. Read a few books by the writing “gurus” (here’s an excellent list), and maybe some blog posts by knowledgeable, highly respected fiction writers, and then apply what you’ve learned to hone your skills and revise your first or second draft. (See my next blog post for a more detailed list of great blogs for writers.)

By the way, if you’re writing a thriller, romantic suspense, suspense-mystery, or other crime fiction, Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction extremely helpful.
you’ll find my concise, very popular guide,

And when it comes time to find a freelance editor, don’t shop for the cheapest one and insist that your manuscript only needs a quick final proofread or light edit. 
To put it bluntly, unless you read high-quality novels critically and you’ve taken some writing courses and pored over several craft books, then diligently applied what you’ve learned to your manuscript, it’s entirely possible you have no idea how many structural, content, and stylistic weaknesses your story may contain, which should be addressed and fixed before the final copyedit stage. Paying for a basic copyedit on a long, weak manuscript, only to find out later it needs a major overhaul, which will then require another copyedit, is short-sighted and money down the drain. 

Say, for example, your novel is a rambling, incoherent 130,000 words. It’s very likely you need to learn to focus your story, plug some plot holes, fix point of view issues, cut down the cast of thousands and all those intricate sub-plots, and turn those long, meandering sentences and paragraphs into lean, mean, to-the-point writing. Not only will this make your story so much stronger and more compelling, but it will save you a bundle on editing costs, since freelance editors charge by the word, the page or the hour, and editing your 80,000-word, tighter, self-edited, revised book will cost you a whole lot less than asking them to slug through 130,000 words written in  rambling, convoluted sentences. 

You may even need a structural or developmental editor.

If you’re at the stage where you know it's not great but you’re too close to your story and can’t see the forest for the trees, hire a developmental editor to stand back and take a look at the big picture for you and give you a professional assessment of your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. Or if you can’t afford a developmental editor, try a critique group or ask a smart acquaintance who reads a lot in your genre to give you some advice on your story line and characters.

Be on the lookout for inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

You don’t want to lose reader trust and invite bad reviews by being careless about facts and time sequences, etc., either. Find an astute friend or two with an inquiring mind and an eye for detail and ask them to read your story purely for logistics. Do all the details make sense? How about the time sequences? Character motivations? Accuracy of information? It’s possible that you’ve based your story premise on something that doesn’t actually make sense, for one reason or another, and the sooner you find that out the better. Maybe try to find an expert or two in the field, and rather than asking them to plow through your whole novel, just send them the sections that are relevant to their area of expertise.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. 

If you don’t mind spending several thousand dollars on the editing process for your novel, go ahead and send a reputable editor your first draft, and use it as a learning experience, a lengthy, costly, one-on-one tutoring session with an expert in the field. That’s if you’re lucky, of course. If you’re not informed yourself on current standards and the techniques novels need to sell well in today’s market, you may think your story and writing are fine as they are, and wouldn’t know a high-quality content and stylistic edit from an uninformed basic grammar proofread.

How to save bundles on the editing process, and sell more books:

So, I repeat, to save money and make more money in the long run on a book that sells well, don't seek out the cheapest editor you can find, regardless of their credentials. And whatever you do, don't tie the editor's hands by insisting your manuscript only needs a light edit, because that's cheaper. You could well end up paying for that "cheap" light edit, then finding out somewhere else, either from workshops, your reading, a critique group, a manuscript evaluation, or another editor, that the story has big issues that need to be addressed and requires major revisions. Then you'll end up paying for another complete edit of the new version! $$$ multiplied!

To-the-point style advice to help you learn to write tighter:
If your time is limited and you want a quick read that distils most of the best advice of the writing gurus into one shorter book, check out my popular Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power. It’s got lots of internal links, subheadings and bullet points, so it’s highly skimmable, and the chapters can be read in any order. The print version of it will be out within a month.

A few excellent resources to start you off:

First, if you’ve never written a novel before, I definitely recommend Writing Fiction for Dummies, by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy. An excellent resource – not for dummies at all.

Another great book for beginners is The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel, by Hallie Ephron.

After that, I highly recommend James Scott Bell’s Revision & Self-Editing. It’s a real eye-opener, as is his Conflict & Suspense.

Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, by Jessica Page Morrell, is an excellent, detailed resource with great examples for honing your fiction style.

I have over forty craft books written by the “gurus” so I could go on and on, but for a more detailed list, go to the Resources page of my website.

And for a great list of resources for crime fiction writers, see my two recent posts here on CFC.

Also, see these articles: Honing Your Craft, Revising and Polishing Your Novel, and It’s All About the Writing.

Fiction writers – Do you have a favorite craft book or two to share? Which book or books inspired you and helped you hone your skills? How about blogs with really good craft advice?

Copyright © Jodie Renner

Jodie Renner, a freelance editor specializing in popular fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power (soon to be re-titled Fire up Your Fiction), which won a Silver Medal in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013, and Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards, 2013. Upcoming title: Immerse the Readers in Your Story World. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her blog, Resources for Writers, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Jodie also blogs alternate Mondays on The Kill Zone blog. Subscribe to Jodie’s newsletter here.  



  1. Words of wisdom. As a freelance editor and manuscript evaluator, I typically wouldn't take on projects that were more than 100,000 words. It's usually a sign that the author is an amateur.

    Now back to editing my manuscript before I send it to my editor. :)

  2. It would be lovely if there were an equivalent to Angie's List of freelance editors.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Caroline, L.J. and Carol.

    And Carol, thanks for the suggestion about a list of freelance editors. The only thing is, I wouldn't be in a position to know how good they actually are at editing fiction...? I may do that, anyway...

  4. Great advice, as usual. Thanks.

    Jodie, I don't know if they have Angie's List in Canada, but it is not just a list of service providers. They're vetted and recommended by the members of Angie's List.

  5. These are excellent tips. Jodie. One thing a new author learns - and fast - is humility! We're all too proud of our words. There's no shame in paying a good critique service to give us a candid overview. I suggest that what we don't need at this stage is a proof reader. That's important but it can (and should) come after our friendly critic has told us: 'Your novel would be excellent, if you simply rewrote every word after the first sentence...' :)

  6. I would suggest joining a critique group of writers who share similar interests. This is an excellent way to gain revision insights, find inconsistencies, and learn from others. Even Steve Berry, the NY Times Bestselling author and Keynote Speaker at the 2012 TWA Conference, honed his writing and storytelling skills in a critique group. You'll probably still want a professional editor to review, but reviews through critique group process will save you money.

  7. John - So very true. I was maybe a bit too subtle in trying to make the point that writers who've never had their work critiqued but contact an editor insisting that all they need is a proofread are very likely just throwing their money away! Big-picture edits, content edits, manuscript evaluations or critiques all come first.

  8. Good point, Jenny! I enjoyed Steve Berry's excellent talk at the same conference - the one with all those great workshops by Jessica Morrell, too! I hope to make it back to the Tallahasse Writers' Conference next year!

  9. Great advice Jodie, and it can't be emphasized enough. Some people just don't understand that they're doing themselves no favors by rushing to get their work out there. This market is getting too competitive, and only the strong will survive. Even after I've had an editor thoroughly go through my work--I still worry it won't be good enough. I can't even imagine putting something out there without first taking that step.