Advice for first-time fiction writer seeking editor?

No, not advice for me - I’d love to be a “first-time fiction writer” but have yet to demonstrate the discipline for that to happen.

IRL I’m a technical editor, not a fiction editor, but “editor” is all that sticks in most people’s brains. So one of my son’s friends recently wrote me to ask:

It’s a good question, but I got nuthin’. However, I’m sure some Dopers will have advice to share. Thoughts? What does it usually cost? How do you verify that someone is actually a good editor? How long should you allot for work to be edited? What kind of advice/editing can you expect (for example, suggestions on character development, pacing, and other higher-level input, and/or basics like fixing run-on sentences or identifying plot inconsistencies)?

First, if you’re paying, you can tell the editor what level you’re looking for. Developmental editors work on things like character development and pacing, and there are best-selling thriller writers who use them for every book. Expensive. Probably $3000 for the whole book assuming around 100,000 words.

Final polish if you think it’s ready to go out to publishers–this would include things like grammar, punctuation, spelling, your run-on sentences for instance, and notes about any obvious continuity errors or plot holes. Could be done for around $1500. A lot of writers will only send the first 50 pages or so to an editor for this kind of polish, because that’s the first thing an agent or acquiring editor will read and if that hooks them, the publishing house will pay to fix the rest. Obviously that would be a lower cost than for the whole book.

Copy edit: These people are very, very picky and if they’re any good will catch inconsistencies in your story world along with grammar etc. They will also suggest changes that will make it read better and even do a certain amount of fact checking. Publishers pay for this once they’ve acquired a book (or anyway, some of them do) so I would say there’s not much point unless you plan to self publish the book, or if you go with a small press that isn’t going to do it.

Coaching/critique. You can pay people to do this, but if you live in a metropolitan area you can probably find a writer group that has workshops and/or critique groups. Genre-specific critique groups are probably the best. Workshops should be led by people who are already published in the genre, for best results. It shouldn’t have to be said, but the critiquers should be readers of that genre as well. Workshops usually cost a nominal amount through writers groups, sometimes free if you’re a member. There are also a lot of much more expensive writers’ workshops around that connect novices with big name authors.

How you verify that someone is a good editor–well, in the case of the developmental editors, you can ask for a list of their published clients. But not every published client will admit to using an editor. So in that case the editor could be editing best-sellers but sworn not to tell.

A lot of editors will also do a free sample edit of up to like 10 pages so you can see what they’re about. They can also use this to give you an estimate of what the edit will cost.

Editors for hire have websites and they’re pretty easy to find. Writers’ groups will probably have some recommendations, too.

If an agent recommends an editor, be very careful. Could be legit, could be agent getting a kickback. If hiring a certain editor is a condition of the agent’s representation, run away.

Find another writer who is willing to be a beta reader. That should be enough. A local writing group is ideal, but you need to be selective. Often they become mutual admiration societies; if no one sees anything that needs fixing, it’s not helping you.

Thank you, Hilarity N. Suze and RealityChuck - I’ve shared your ideas with my son’s friend!

The new author needs to start reading Writer’s Digest magazine.

And then I’d suggest buying Writer’s Digest “Guide to Literary Agents.”

Learn to write a query letter to contact agents, then learn to write a synopsis: of the first five chapters, or even the entire book.

The query letter is BIG. That single sheet of paper has to create an immediate interest, or it gets thrown in the trash.

Do NOT send the manuscript unsolicited. If the writer is asked to send, say, the first five chapters, be very careful to follow all formatting instructions. If it doesn’t look right, it won’t be read.

Some of the most popular books were rejected countless times before the book was accepted.

Here’s another idea, do NOT buy the Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents, it’s probably out of date.

How to find an agent: First, read a lot of books. When you find a book that seems to be a good book that is in your genre, or written the way you think your book is written, or otherwise really impresses you–or alternatively if it’s a terrible book but in your genre, that could work, too–go to the Acknowledgments and find out who the agent is. A great many writers thank their agents and editors in the Acknowledgments. So there you know that that agent sold that book to an actual publisher. Make a list. If you read lots of books you will probably find the same agent listed more than once. That list is where you submit your book, when it’s done.

Once you have the agent’s name it is easy enough to find where and how to send a query, and what the agent wants to see in a query.

On the whole I am not such a big fan of the whole Writers Digest world–not the magazine and not their associated advertisers, who are all out to take the money of writers IMO. They do have some good advice. You don’t become a good writer by reading Writers Digest. You become a good writer by reading a lot of books, hopefully gd ones, and by writing a lot, just like you get good at playing the piano by practicing the piano and by listening to the kind of music you aspire to make.

Actually, the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents comes out every year.

Writer’s Digest magazine does have some good stuff. You don’t have to buy every book, attend every seminar, or listen to every lecture series. There are people soliciting writers for various assigments, and there are ads for proofreading and keyboardists who can put your longhand in text files, in the correct format.

There are other magazines for writers, also. I recall one for poetry. I never paid much attention to that one, because I happen to hate poetry.

My parents, in their retirement, have a small publishing company that offers at least some of the services you are looking for. In order to not break the spammer rules, PM me for their website/contact info. They’ll give a quote once they understand exactly what you’re looking for.

^^^ yeah this.

You (the writer) aren’t going to want to surrender control of your creative work, or at least not any sooner than you have to. You want feedback, input, another set of eyeballs. Not someone to do stuff to your work, charge you money, and then leave you staring unhappily at the results.