When should a writer hire an editor, someone asked – after the first draft or the final draft? My first, facetious answer – When it’s done?
First draft? Um, no…
After I finished cleaning up the wine that shot through my nose when I started laughing – not a pretty sight and it scared the cats – I’m afraid I might have responded a little harshly to what was a fair question from a new writer. But after all a little logic could be applied, as a ‘first’ draft implies that there will be others, or you’d just call it the final draft. I’d also like to add that you should know your craft, spelling, the basics of grammar, etc.
But the question of drafts and when to bring in an editor is a fair one.
One other thing before I answer that, if your vision of an editor is of someone who has tons of time to nurture your talent and polish your manuscript until it is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold… reality check. Only if you’re independently wealthy. Editing a novel is not the same as reading one, it takes a lot more time.
Now, I have to explain that there are many kinds of writers, from pantsers like me to plotters. Pantsers write from the seat of their pants – for me it’s like watching movie. Most of the time I have only a vague idea of the ending, I know the characters and their situation and I just transcribe what happens. Plotters often have outlines or storyboards laid out, explaining the story from beginning to end, and there are also all kinds of variations in between. So, when do you involve an editor, and how many drafts should you do?
Either way, I think there should be a three draft minimum. (My editor friend says four… ) Why, you ask?
Let me ask you a question… You’ve completed your first novel – first draft. Don’t you know your characters and plot so much better now that you’ve finished? That should be your second draft, going back and adding everything you’ve learned about them, their surroundings, the things they love and hate. I love writing that second draft for the additional depth I can give to my characters, catching the little plot monkey I suddenly find scrambling the logic or that sudden burst of inspiration that adds another level. And, of course, revisiting characters I love.
Third draft? Editing and polishing. Yes, I said editing. Unless you have a couple hundred bucks to throw around it makes absolutely no sense to pay someone for something you can do for yourself. Pick up a nifty little book called The Elements of Style (and I do mean little). Do not turn off the grammar checker in Word if you use it. Read it out loud. My friends don’t have dictionaries or thesauri, they have me, and I still own two dictionaries, a thesaurus, and downloaded more. Scour the internet for lists of editors’ pet peeves. Try to make sure you’re using words you actually know. There is a world of difference between a trader and a traitor. And that’s not even one of the most egregious mistakes I’ve seen. (Don’t know egregious? Great word. Go look it up, I’ll wait….)
Now, apply what you’ve learned. I have a list which I update regularly because as soon as I get rid of one bad habit, another takes its place. It’s really annoying.
Now it’s time to bring in your beta readers – people you implicitly trust who will read your novel and tell you the absolute truth. And you can’t get mad at them when they do. Finding good ones can be tough, you want to avoid the wannabe authors who decide rewriting your baby is proof they should be the one writing. On the other hand one of mine still teases me about the excessive use of the word ‘astonishing’, which was used with astonishing frequency in a erotica novel about demons. He was pretty astonishing, but that’s another subject. *grin* With beta readers you can take or leave their advice. But at least consider it.
Now is the time to hire that editor. Shop around a little, interview them, get to know them before handing over your manuscript though. You want someone who will work with you, who won’t want to change your book but improve it. Which by the way will be draft four, and possibly the final draft. All this talk of drafts, I wished I liked beer, suddenly I’m thirsty.
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