Once you’ve finished writing your novel and you’ve decided to hire an editor, you then have to find the right editor for you.
Just as there’s no one way to write a novel, there’s no one way to edit a novel – and every editor will bring something slightly different to the process.
First off, you should choose an editor who specialises in editing fiction.
Many editors work on all kinds of texts. In Carolyn Haley’s post ‘Thinking Fiction: The Subjectivity of Editing Fiction I’ on the blog An American Editor, she describes her informal experiment of sending a piece of text to several volunteer editors and comparing the results.
Haley observed that the ‘strongest overall performance came from the most specialized copyeditor who ha[d] been working in fiction the longest’. It makes sense that the more often an editor works on a certain kind of text, the better they will become at editing that kind of text.
But how specialist does your editor need to be? Should you, for example, choose an editor who not only specialises in editing fiction, but also specialises in editing the genre in which you write?
It depends on the depth of editing.
Editors provide all kinds of services, and each service will fall somewhere on spectrum. On one end of this spectrum the deep/broad issues of story crafting will be addressed (coaching, critiquing and developmental editing), and on the other end, the focus will be on the minutest of detail at the word and sentence level (proofreading). Line editing and copy-editing fall somewhere in the middle.
Would it be beneficial to hire a genre-specialist proofreader?
Probably not. Typos are typos, and spelling errors are spelling errors. A proofreader scrutinises your words so closely that it’s unlikely they’ll absorb much information about the story itself. And they don’t need to follow your story, because by the time a manuscript is ready for proofreading, the story should be finalised.
Would it be beneficial to hire a genre-specialist copy-editor?
Perhaps. It depends what the service entails. Copy-editing, line editing and substantive editing are not universally defined services, and editors have vastly different ways of conducting them.
One copy-editor might provide a service that falls towards the proofreading end of the spectrum; they’ll address the mechanics of grammar, punctuation, spelling and stylistic consistency and not much more.
Another copy-editor might provide a service that falls towards the other end of the spectrum; they’ll address issues of point of view, voice, scene structure and may completely cut or rework your sentences.
And just to confused things further, one editor might call this service a line edit, and another might call it a substantive edit or even a developmental edit. There’s so much scope.
None of these services are better than the others. The right service for you will depend on several factors: what will best help you achieve your publishing goals, what will benefit the manuscript the most, what you can afford, how you prefer to work, and so on.
But as a rule of thumb, the closer to the deep/broad end of the spectrum a copy-editing service lies, the more useful it is that your editor has specialist knowledge of your genre.
Why is this important?
A copy-editor who understands your genre will:
- Understand word choices appropriate to your genre
- Know how much cliché is acceptable
- Recognise genre-specific stereotypes
- Be familiar with capitalisation rules in your genre
- Have a sense of the right pace for your sentences
- Know how best to handle specific literary devices
- And more …!
A fantasy novel that uses invented species names, where characters use the occasion word from an invented language and where some characters communicate using telepathy would need an editor who understands how these elements usually work. Should the species name be capitalised? Should the foreign words be italicised? Should the telepathy have a special format?
A literary novel shouldn’t be riddled with cliché and stereotype because one of the main reasons to write a literary novel is to focus on the artistry of the writing, but a few clichés and stereotypes in fast-paced crime thriller might actually delight readers in their familiarity (as long as it’s not overdone) or help them quickly understand elements of the plot that don’t require detailed originality.
Would it be beneficial to hire a genre-specialist developmental editor?
Though there are universal elements that go into making a good book, you’ll get more detailed and relevant feedback from a developmental editor who specialises in your genre.
Developmental editing and manuscript critiquing analyse the deepest and broadest story telling issues – such as theme, plot, characterisation and so on. Again, these services will vary in how broad and deep they go, but each big-picture issue can be assessed with genre in mind.
For example, a YA coming-of-age novel probably shouldn’t have an overly complex structure that jumps back and forth in time, follow six different characters of various ages and use a highly omniscient narrator. That doesn’t fit with the genre conventions. Instead, a linear plot with a few key flashback scenes written from a single first-person narrator might be more appropriate.
As well as recognising these big-picture genre conventions and suggesting how an author can make the most of them, a genre-specialist developmental editor can also recognise when an author is deliberately subverting genre conventions and help them do this to maximum effect.
An editor wouldn’t be able to do this without a deep knowledge of the genre.