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Self-publishing authors’ expectations of an editor—How to give them what they need

Many self-publishing authors don’t understand the levels of editing well enough to know what type of editing they need. Some may think their manuscript only needs copyediting, because they have self-edited a few times before sending it to you. This may or may not be true. We as editors need to assess their manuscript before accepting the job, guide them to understand the stages of editing, and which one we think their manuscript needs. Sample editing is a good way to judge what it needs versus what the author wants or thinks it needs.

I suggest asking for the first five pages before signing a contract with the author, so you can correctly determine the level of editing necessary. I understand you can’t see if there are any plot holes in such a short sample, but I will get to that later. What you can tell from the sample is the writer’s tone, POV, setting descriptions, dialogue—you get the point—and know if what they have written is ready for copyediting or if they need line editing instead.

If your potential client needs line editing, but they asked for copyediting, I suggest you perform the copy edit only on the sample but point out the bigger issues in the comments. Write a short summary of what you think the issues are and explain why you think they need line editing—to create variation in sentence structure, better flow, correct POV changes, etc.

Usually self-publishing authors can only afford one round of editing. Both you and they know it is not the ideal, but money matters, and it matters to both of you. One way of handling this is to provide a substantive edit and line edit combined, or a line edit and copyedit combined at a higher cost, but lower than two rounds would be. Explain this in your email or letter of assessment. Explain your usual pricing for each round, and how you are willing to work with them on the cost.

Many self-publishing authors also expect a quick turnaround-time—a week or two at the most for a full novel. Be prepared to block out your schedule and work on their manuscript for most of the day. What I like to do is set aside a few hours in the morning for marketing, and the rest of the day concentrate on their novel. So, I usually spend two hours a day to market my business, and five to seven hours digging into the manuscript.

So, what do you do when you have already signed the contract for line editing, start your edit, and find plot holes, character arc issues, and confusing POV changes? In this case, I suggest you pause the edit and contact the author. Explain you have found a few bigger issues and you want to know how they would like to proceed. I have found some will agree and want to sign a new contract for upping the level of editing, the cost, and agree to an extended TAT, while others will want you to stick with the level of editing and ask that you only point out the issues and they will handle it. Unless you feel so strongly that what they have written isn’t working, do as they ask. They may just surprise you and hire you for a second round.

Remember you are working with them. They hired you because they felt you were the right editor for you. Most of the time everything works out. Chances are you will get at least one client who is difficult to work with, constantly pushing back, and not listening to you. So, what do you do then?

I suggest you put a couple stipulations in your contract that gives both you and your client a way out of it. I’ve learned this by failing to do so and getting into a huge job that I couldn’t get out of. My contract states that either party can end the contract through written notice at least seven days prior to when either party wishes to stop the contract. This benefits both the client and you. When you see the level of editing they hired you for isn’t the level the manuscript needs and the author doesn’t agree to a change in the contract, both of you have an out. It also provides you with the opportunity to cancel the original contract and draw up a new one as I stated above.

I hope I have provided you with some helpful information.

Happy Editing!

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