Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Find an Editor Without Going Insane

"The first draft of anything is shit." 
Ernest Hemingway

Every writer, no matter how brilliant, needs an editor. Throwing books out into the world without professional review is not advisable (See Are Self Published Books Always Inferior?). When you have a traditional publishing deal, you work with the editor attached to your publishing house. They may be brilliant or horrible, but you don't bear the burden of choosing that person. 

In the evolving world of independent publishing, it is your job to find the editor. It is your responsibility to find the good instead of the horrible. Like many aspects of this world, there are few established norms on how to do it the right way. This essay describes the process I used to find an editor for my upcoming book Smooth Operator and the results of that process.

Step 1: Request for Proposals
I went through a three step process to find prospective editors:
  • First, I posted my request on my blog and placed links on Facebook, Linked In, Good Reads and Craigslist (See Nightlife Publishing is Looking for an Editor). 
  • Second, I asked writers that I looked up to which editors they could recommend
  • Finally, I sent inquiry letters to larger companies that provided editorial services as part of their business. 
Overall, these three methods produced seven proposals and seven random posts that didn't qualify as proposals.

Step 2: Selection Criteria
I used a process of elimination when it came time to make my choice. I did a Google search on each viable editor proposal and then cut the list down based on the following factors:
  • I kicked out any editor who sent an incomplete proposal or didn't provide what I asked for.
  • I removed any editor whose price was radically higher or lower than the rest of the field.
  • I rejected any editor that had questionable information or reviews in their Google search.
The process of elimination left one candidate standing; CreateSpace editorial services.

Siding with the Borg that is Amazon
You might have a philosophical or political aversion to CreateSpace. The company is owned by Amazon, and some independent authors and sellers feel that Amazon is creating monopolies within the publishing world that are as bad as (or worse than) the system put in place by traditional publishers. 

Your venom towards Amazon/ Createspace/ Audible might have increased since the company announced plans to purchase Good Reads or when the sock puppet scandal broke (See Life, Death and Sock Puppets). You might consider Amazon an evil Borg like entity bent on consuming all of independent publishing. 

All of that might be true. It might also be true that Amazon is in a position to manipulate prices, reviews and other the factors that I used to make my choice. The brand name of Amazon itself and my experiences with other aspects of the company could have influenced my decision as well. I acknowledge all those things. But I'm not running my publishing company to make a philosophical or political point. I'm trying to make the best book I can create. Based on the results, I have no regrets about the process.

Step 3: The Editorial Experience
This is what happens when you sign up with CreateSpace:
  • They take your money first; all of it. The full fee is due before the work starts. 
  • Once they separate you from your cash, they ask you to fill out a questionnaire describing your book and what you are trying to say. 
  • A few days later you upload your manuscript. 
  • A few days after that you talk to your content manager who discusses your book, the way the process works and the due date for getting the edited book back to you. You don't have direct contact with the editor, but if you have any questions you can talk to the content manager. 
  • Then you wait. Working on another project is the best way to pass this time, but you could just wait if you want.
Step 4: The Results
Three weeks and $1,200 dollars later, I got my manuscript back. It arrived earlier than the date that I was quoted, but the Borg has a long standing policy of managing expectations by delivering things ahead of schedule. You send them one document and they send back two. 

The first is an editorial letter. The letter contains the editor's overall impression of the work and a detailed opinion of your use of character, setting, genre, plot progression and many of the other elements that go into writing a book (See Building a Better Novel Part 1). The second document is the edited manuscript with the edits visible in MS Word format. From there, it is your job to accept or reject each edit and move on to the next part of your publishing process.

I found several positives about working with CreateSpace:
  • The editor clearly has experience and comfort in my genre. Her edits went beyond just the grammatical. She displayed a good feel for the theme, tone and mood that I was going for.
  • The editorial process itself was clear and comfortable. While there were many layers to it and many people to talk to because of the corporate structure, I never felt like my book was just grist for their mill. Of course, Smooth Operator is just another project to them, but they never made me feel that way and I appreciate the customer service.
There are two downsides with using Create Space:
  • The lack of contact with the editor. I was very impressed with the woman who reviewed my book. I'd like to use her again for my next few novels, but there is no way to contact her directly (I tried to find her using social media without success). I can see why the Borg doesn't want a swarm of anxious and nervous writers harassing the editorial staff. I just hope I can request the same author again when my next book is ready this winter.
  • The cost of each editorial round. I mentioned before that CreateSpace's  $1,200 price for a 75,000 word manuscript was in line with other proposals. It is worth mentioning that I believe that price is the cost per round of edits. I don't recall if the independent editors charged per round, but I don't think they did. I only purchased one round of editing and I don't think Smooth Operator needs more than that. If it did, CreateSpace's prices would be much higher than everyone else.
If you are an independent publisher looking for an editor, CreateSpace is an option worth looking into. If you are anti-Amazon or you need direct conversations with your editor or multiple rounds of editing, they might not be for you. But I'm happy with the way the process turned out. I hope the editorial quality is reflected in the final product.

Have fun.


  1. Great post! As a longtime newspaper writer and editor, I needed a solid fiction editor to convert my first novel manuscript from my usual AP Style to Chicago Style. Not an easy task, but CreateSpace did a great job. As a result, "Maggie Vaults Over the Moon" is holding its own against titles by major publishing houses in the YA sports fiction category. Thanks to the editors at CreateSpace, 'Maggie' is an inspiring, 222-page read with ZERO typos.

  2. Thank you Grant. Did you use CreateSpace for basic or comprehensive copy editing?

  3. Thank you Gamal. Very informative post! I had my first experience with CreateSpace recently but not in the area of editing.

    It was a very positive experience, the process was easy to maneuver through, when I had questions they were prompt in getting back to me and their instructions were easy to understand.

    Your process was very thorough and well thought out, much like your writing...right? ;)

    Again, thank you.

    1. I think my blog posts are easier to understand than the twists and turn of my stories, but hopefully both wind up being entertaining in the end. ;-)

    2. I don't use CreateSpace's editing services because I'm an editor and publisher, but I found your article very informative from other perspectives. I use CreateSpace as a distributor and have been mostly satisfied. Thanks your sharing your experiences and your research! Dr. Jocelyn A. Brown

  4. Correction: I don't use CreateSpace's editing services because I'm an editor and publisher, but I found your article very informative from other perspectives. I use CreateSpace as a distributor and have been mostly satisfied. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your research! Dr. Jocelyn A. Brown