When you’re writing a book, you’re passionate about it. That goes without saying. Why else would you be putting hours upon hours of your life into writing it? This book is your baby, and you ought to know by now that for your baby to be the best it can be, you need a professional to help you polish it up. The first step of that professional help is content editing.
What is Content Editing
I have a series of articles talking about the different forms of editing, but for those of you who don’t feel like navigating through each of them, I’ll sum it up quickly for you. Content editing (editorial assessments, developmental editing, stylistic editing) looks at the big picture aspects of your book with a focus on the story itself and its elements. As the name implies, it has to do with the actual content of your book rather than the way it is presented (which is known as technical editing).
This includes everything from the overall plot to the characters, settings, worldbuilding, and theme of your story. A content editor will help you shape the world in a way that any reader will fall in love with it. They’ll help you hone your story’s message, help you craft believable characters, and set up your story so that everything falls perfectly into place.
Why You Should Hire a Content Editor
At this point, you’ve probably already gone through a few rounds of beta reading and/or self-editing, and you think the story is good. Everyone is saying that your characters are believable and that the story works well. So, why should you hire a professional?
There are a few reasons.
First and foremost, it never hurts to get an outside opinion. Most of your beta readers may be friends or family members or even acquaintances who’ve read your writing before. A professional editor can give you a fully objective opinion. As professionals, editors have studied storytelling, character building, and the like, and their opinions are highly valuable. Not only will they see things that you might have otherwise missed, but they can help you grow as a writer.
If you want to save money but also know if your story needs any work content-wise, the best option is to get an editorial assessment, which is a lot cheaper than diving into content editing right away. [Click here to learn more about Editorial Assessments] The quick version: an editor will read your manuscript, then they’ll write you a full, comprehensive report about the story, events, characters, etc. and point out what you might need to work on (and how).
How the Editing Process Works
Once you’ve written your first draft, you may think that you can just run it through an editor once and be done with it. Alas, that’s not how the process works. Any good book you pull off your bookshelf will have gone through several drafts—the average being about six (of both content and technical). But what exactly is a draft?
Every time you go through your manuscript with the intention of editing rather than writing, it’s a new draft. If you make revisions to the content based on advice from others (beta readers or editors) this also defines the manuscript as a new draft.
For writing, you’re probably using a word processor like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Scrivener. I’m most familiar with Word (and it’s also the most common), so I’ll be talking about that.
When working in Word, editors will use Track Changes because they show the author what changes the editor is suggesting. This is under the Review tab of the menu. The author can then Accept or Reject these changes as they like. For the sake of consistency, the editor will do all editing this way, including obvious things like correcting spelling mistakes and punctuation (though this is not something that Content Editors do [see Copyediting here]).
For changes that the editor might want to explain more in-depth, or notes that they’d like to give directly to the author about a certain part of the story (such as a link for research), the editor will use Comments, also found under the Review tab.
Google Docs (and other word processors, I’m sure) also has this function, and both the author and the editor (and the beta readers) can write, reply, and resolve comments. In Google Docs, one can be a Viewer (able to read but unable to affect the text), a Suggester (able to suggest changes, similar to Track Changes), or an Editor (changes the document directly by deleting and inserting).
*Note: Editors may be uncomfortable using Google Docs.
This is because the author always has full access to the document, even while editing is in progress. They may worry about not receiving their payment at the end from authors who already have the work and don’t want to pay for it. Be open, honest, and understanding with your editor. This is their livelihood, and unfortunately, there are untrustworthy authors out there.
Where to Find a Content Editor
Finding the right editor is a difficult task for authors, but luckily, editors are in large supply. You can find them directly through their websites (usually the best method) or in other places online. I know for a fact that there are quite a few editors advertising their services on social media platforms like Facebook, and there are also third-party websites such as Fiverr and Reedsy where authors can go to look for an editor.
Pricing can be really low or really high, and it all depends on what kind of editing you’re looking for. The different services have different average rates, and whether the work is good quality or bad quality, you typically get what you pay for. Editors who don’t have as many years of experience will also be more affordable to authors, as long as you understand that they aren’t pros who’ve been in the business for 10, 20, or 30 years—who can charge a whole lot more for their services.
For a 50,000-word novel, you’ll probably be looking at $700 for an editorial assessment and/or $1500 for developmental editing. But editing isn’t always that expensive. Consecutive drafts—when your editor is rereading your manuscript after revisions—are half price, so while the first draft is $1500, the second draft would be $750, as will the third and fourth.
If you’re worried about forking over hundreds of dollars to an editor who turns out to be a bad fit, fear not. Sample edits allow you to send the editor a small portion of your writing to them to edit, typically for a small fee, or maybe even free. That way, it’s a small investment, but they’ll show you a little of how they work. Plus, it also gives them a chance to see if you’re a good fit for them—editors don’t always want to take on a project if it’s not the best thing for them. Your work may not hook them, or maybe their style doesn’t mesh with yours. Sometimes, an author’s writing is just plain bad, and no editor wants to deal with that.
Once you know that you’re a good fit, an editor will send over a project contract for you to sign. The basic layout is this: the name and details of the project, the contact information of both parties, what work is being done and for how much, and non-disclosure agreements.
For more detail, an editing contract begins with the contact information of both parties. Names, emails and/or phone numbers, and addresses. You’ll lay out the time frame as well: when the project starts, when it ends, how long to typically expect for the work to be done.
Then comes the Statement of Work. This is the project name, word count, genre, etc. All that fun stuff. It’s also what type of editing you’re getting and what that editing entails. It explains in detail what the editor is going to do with your project and what they are not responsible for. This, for a content editor, would say that they are not responsible for fixing spelling errors or other technical issues. For a copyeditor, it would say that they aren’t responsible for whether your story is good or not. The Statement of Work will also discuss deadlines, whether there will be any meetings, and what delivery time will be like.
There’s another section for the fees/rates, and then the bottom portion of the contract will be about the confidentiality of the project and what rights each of the parties possess in the editor/author relationship. And finally, the last page will be the signature page.
Make sure to read your editing contract carefully! Typically, they’ll be fine, but due diligence is always worth it. Plus, it will help you fully understand what you’re getting and for what price.
How to Set Up Your Document for a Content Editor
Editors typically get a lot of documents, so you want to make sure they know which one is yours. They all have their own systems of naming, so don’t worry if they change what your document is called, but make sure that the title is clear when you send it to them.
*Pro-tip: Don’t send a messy document!
The easier it is for an editor to read your work, the easier it will be for them to edit. If you’re using headers or footers, page numbers are always welcome and make sure your name and email address are listed.
Personally, I like using Styles (under the Home tab) to organize my documents. I will usually have a Normal style for non-indented paragraphs, an Indent style, a Chapter Number or Title style, and maybe a Break style. These are so, when my Navigation window is open, I can jump from chapter to chapter or section to section while I’m editing.
That being said, everyone is different, so don’t be alarmed if your editor has a different way of being organized than you. The best way is to find a midway point, or maybe even allow your editor to do their thing if you don’t have a preference. Again, as a professional, they’ve been doing this for a while, and they’ve created a system that works.
For content editing especially, you’ll expect to see more comments than changes in your work. Your editor may suggest rewrites for you, but most of the time they’ll be giving you their opinion about scenes and characters. For example, if one of your characters acts in a way that doesn’t fit, an editor will point that out and offer a suggestion about how you, as the author, can fix it. Or if a scene doesn’t have a clear purpose to the story (in other words, it’s filler), they might suggest how to make the scene meaningful, or tell you to delete it altogether. Every editor is different, which is why the editing contract is so important to read.
How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with Your Content Editor
If you’ve chosen your editor and entered an agreement with them, you’ll want to maintain a good relationship. Of course, you want the best work possible from them. You may even want to do future projects with them. But first, this project.
You’ll want to give them as much information as they need. Only about 10% of your worldbuilding research actually goes into the book, so if there is anything that you think the editor needs to know or anything they ask you about, be sure to provide them with whatever so that they can do their job appropriately. On the flip side, don’t bombard them with unnecessary information. They’re already reading your book; they may not want to slug through mountains of research documents as well.
The rule of thumb is to let them know that there is more to know and to wait for them to ask questions. Personally, I’d find it super helpful if an author went through their own work with thought and added Comments to things that may be confusing to let me know that more information is available if I ask. The better you are as an author, the better an editor can do their job, after all, so if you look at your own work with a critical eye, they can help you make it even more captivating.
Finishing a Project with an Editor
When the project is complete, meaning you’re both satisfied with the final product, the contract ends. Ideally, you’ve been paying your editor for their work with each round they’ve done, so you don’t have a huge bill to pay at the end. With the final payment made, the project closes based on what is outlined in the contract.
Done is done.
Perhaps you have more work you want the editor to be a part of. To retain an editor for the future, the best way is to just ask if they’d be willing to work with you again. At this point, you’ve, assumably, had a successful relationship with this editor, and they like your work. This will definitely make them more open to getting more work from you, but nothing is certain. Some editors have a waiting list, or they may have other reasons to decline the work. Perhaps you’re writing in another genre that doesn’t mesh with their experience, or the story you’re proposing doesn’t appeal to them. Whatever the reason, they’re allowed to say no.
Doing one project with them DOES NOT GUARANTEE that you have this editor for everything you write. They have the right not to enter another contract agreement with you, just as you have the right not to enter into an agreement with them.
If they do wish to be contacted for future work, however, good for you! You can either begin right away, or you can wait until your next project is ready to begin the editing process. Remember, if you’re writing multiple books, never stop writing! The best advice I can offer is for you to start writing your next book the moment you finish a first draft.
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