So you’ve finished writing your novel, and now you’re in need of novel-editing services. What should you, as an author, expect a fiction editor to provide, and what do you need to watch out for?
Novel Editors versus Other Editors
First, make sure you hire someone with professional training in fiction editing. You don’t want to settle for just a copy edit, which any junior editor can provide. (A copy edit is a simple grammar and punctuation check, with occasional improvements in word choices.) The copy edit should always come after the substantive edit, which is what you’re looking for initially. The substantive edit (sometimes called a content edit or a developmental edit) entails an editor examining your story for issues and problems with the content—problems with the story itself.
Content problems that a qualified fiction editor will check for and help you correct include: plot holes/inconsistencies, confusing or ambiguous passages, secondary story lines or “set-ups” you forgot to close or complete, one-dimensional or stereotypical characters, missing character arcs, places where the story lags (problems with pacing), repetitious passages, wooden dialog, too-obvious expositional dialog—and the list goes on, but you get the idea. The skills involved in novel editing are obviously different than those required for nonfiction editing, and not all book editors possess both. So make sure the editor you’re considering has substantial training in fiction writing/editing.
The ‘Bestselling Author’ Editing Ruse
Second, beware of self-published novelists masquerading as “bestselling authors” and promoting themselves as book editors. This happens a lot. The reason is that years ago, a bestselling author was typically someone whose book had made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Today, thanks to clever marketing on the part of Amazon, virtually anyone can call themselves a bestselling author. You do this by listing your book on Amazon in a very specialized niche (topic category) where it does not have to compete with more than a few other books in the same category. If you manage to outsell your few competitors, Amazon awards your book the distinction of “bestseller,” even if it sold a handful of copies.
If you’re an author wanting to promote yourself, I suppose this strategy can be useful. But if you’re trying to find an editor, and someone calling himself a bestselling novelist offers to edit your precious book, make sure to get the names of those “bestsellers” and research them on Amazon for yourself to see how many copies have sold.
Keep this in mind: the skills involved in writing fiction are different than those involved in editing it, although naturally there’s some overlap. Even a genuinely brilliant novelist, unless professionally trained in editing, will likely miss flaws in your novel that a trained and experienced fiction editor would detect.
My Novel-Editing Qualifications
I have the equivalent of a master’s degree in fiction writing and am an industry-trained substantive editor (a former publishing house editor in chief). I’ve taught fiction writing at the college level and have helped hundreds of writers structure, develop, and improve their novels and short stories. I’ve also substantively edited award-winning books of fiction, including Michael Hurley’s two acclaimed novels, and have coached authors on manuscripts that have won them agents and book deals. And I’ve ghostwritten books of fiction for clients. If you want a detailed, line-by-line examination of your story that will not miss any of its potential problems, that is what I provide with my novel-editing services.
Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry-trained professional