So you’re a novelist, you’ve finished your book, and now you’re researching fiction editing services. What should you look for, and what should you be aware of?
First, be aware that any novel worth its salt deserves more than a “proofread” or “copy edit.” As an author, you want to make sure that your plot hangs together without holes or inconsistencies, that the characters arc and engage, and that your dialog sounds like real people talking. You want to know that you don’t have set-ups you forgot to pay off (places where you suggested something would happen that subsequently you forgot about and never wrote into the story). You want to be sure the action rises and falls, but always in an upward direction, building tension as the tale unfolds.
A proofread or copy edit won’t check for any of that, so you’re in need of a critique and/or a substantive edit (popularly called a developmental edit) by an industry-trained developmental editor. More than that, the editor should be someone trained and skilled in fiction writing.
Maybe it surprises you, my suggesting that after all the work and rewrites you’ve put into your novel, it could have plot holes and inconsistencies. Actually, it would be surprising if it didn’t. That’s because a novel is a complex, evolving thing, something that develops through multiple iterations, each one layering in new ideas and material. An inspired addition or wise deletion affects other places in the story that an author may easily forget about, given the length and complexity of the manuscript.
Let’s say, for example, that you decide to remove a certain minor incident from the plot. You delete the pages about the event, and remember to delete three subsequent references to it. What you forget, though, is two additional places in the text where the event is mentioned. Perhaps you do a proofread when you’re finished writing the novel, checking for just this sort of thing. But because you’re so close to the story, your eyes pass over the spots where the reference appears, because you’ve forgotten, for the moment, that the incident was deleted.
This is an oversimplified example of how plot holes can occur in a novel, but you get the idea. A novelist needs a careful, fresh set of eyes to read the manuscript when it’s finished to catch the inconsistencies. This is one of the things you pay for when you order a critique or a substantive edit from a trained fiction editor. It’s insurance against embarrassing yourself. (For the difference between a critique and a substantive edit, please see the following article.)
I’m an industry-trained substantive editor with the equivalent of an M.A. in fiction writing and a B.A. in English. The award-winning novelist Michael Hurley is one of my clients, and his book The Prodigal, which I substantively edited, has been optioned for film. I’ve taught fiction writing at the college level and have helped hundreds of writers develop and elevate their novels and short stories. If you’re my client and something you wrote doesn’t work, I explain the reason or principle, so you understand why a change is needed. I carefully find every small thing you missed, the little inconsistencies and plot holes that can derail your story.
All fiction editing services are not created equal. Most of those that advertise online are staffed by so-called editors who’ve had no professional training in either fiction writing or substantive/developmental editing. You’ve put your heart and soul into your novel, so make sure to give it the editing job it deserves.
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional