Oh Editor, is it getting drafty in here?

Author Valerie Douglas
Author Valerie Douglas

When should a writer hire an editor, someone asked – after the first draft or the final draft? My first, facetious answer – When it’s done?

First draft? Um, no…

After I finished cleaning up the wine that shot through my nose when I started laughing – not a pretty sight and it scared the cats – I’m afraid I might have responded a little harshly to what was a fair question from a new writer. But after all a little logic could be applied, as a ‘first’ draft implies that there will be others, or you’d just call it the final draft. I’d also like to add that you should know your craft, spelling, the basics of grammar, etc.

But the question of drafts and when to bring in an editor is a fair one.

One other thing before I answer that, if your vision of an editor is of someone who has tons of time to nurture your talent and polish your manuscript until it is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold… reality check. Only if you’re independently wealthy. Editing a novel is not the same as reading one, it takes a lot more time.

Now, I have to explain that there are many kinds of writers, from pantsers like me to plotters. Pantsers write from the seat of their pants – for me it’s like watching  movie. Most of the time I have only a vague idea of the ending, I know the characters and their situation and I just transcribe what happens. Plotters often have outlines or storyboards laid out, explaining the story from beginning to end, and there are also all kinds of variations in between. So, when do you involve an editor, and how many drafts should you do?

Either way, I think there should be a three draft minimum. (My editor friend says four… ) Why, you ask?

Let me ask you a question… You’ve completed your first novel – first draft. Don’t you know your characters and plot so much better now that you’ve finished? That should be your second draft, going back and adding everything you’ve learned about them, their surroundings, the things they love and hate. I love writing that second draft for the additional depth I can give to my characters, catching the little plot monkey I suddenly find scrambling the logic or that sudden burst of inspiration that adds another level. And, of course, revisiting characters I love.

Third draft? Editing and polishing. Yes, I said editing. Unless you have a couple hundred bucks to throw around it makes absolutely no sense to pay someone for something you can do for yourself. Pick up a nifty little book called The Elements of Style (and I do mean little). Do not turn off the grammar checker in Word if you use it. Read it out loud. My friends don’t have dictionaries or thesauri, they have me, and I still own two dictionaries, a thesaurus, and downloaded more. Scour the internet for lists of editors’ pet peeves. Try to make sure you’re using words you actually know. There is a world of difference between a trader and a traitor. And that’s not even one of the most egregious mistakes I’ve seen. (Don’t know egregious? Great word. Go look it up, I’ll wait….)

Now, apply what you’ve learned. I have a list which I update regularly because as soon as I get rid of one bad habit, another takes its place. It’s really annoying.

Now it’s time to bring in your beta readers – people you implicitly trust who will read your novel and tell you the absolute truth. And you can’t get mad at them when they do. Finding good ones can be tough, you want to avoid the wannabe authors who decide rewriting your baby is proof they should be the one writing. On the other hand one of mine still teases me about the excessive use of the word ‘astonishing’, which was used with astonishing frequency in a erotica novel about demons. He was pretty astonishing, but that’s another subject. *grin* With beta readers you can take or leave their advice. But at least consider it.

Now is the time to hire that editor. Shop around a little, interview them, get to know them before handing over your manuscript though. You want someone who will work with you, who won’t want to change your book but improve it.  Which by the way will be draft four, and possibly the final draft. All this talk of drafts, I wished I liked beer, suddenly I’m thirsty.

*     *     *     *     *

Valerie Douglas is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and prolific writer in multiple genres. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and her blog: www.valeriedouglasbooks.com


11 thoughts on “Oh Editor, is it getting drafty in here?”

  1. >>Unless you have a couple hundred bucks to throw around it makes absolutely no sense to pay someone for something you can do for yourself.<<

    Grammar and spelling, when included in the editor's chores, may indeed cost that extra "couple hundred bucks." Thank you, Valerie, from an editor who would like to see more writers understand that basic grammar and spelling are generally proofreading chores and not editing, but when left for the editor to do, the editor is going to charge for those chores.

  2. *laughing* Never, Christopher… or.. rather, rarely.

    And Julia, yes, I sympathize. I did 21 edits on one of my novels. It exasperates me to no end to read that someone did only one before passing it to an editor.

    *grins* yep, 21…

  3. Valerie, I know what you mean. I'm also a pantser. At one point I seriously considered slaving over outlines and storyboards, but in doing so I wondered if it would kill the spontaneous creativity. Thus I decided my talents would be better served writing with my "pants on the ground." So far, so good. And yeah, I didn't do quite as many prelim edits as you did (21), but I think I was satisfied enough at the 12th edit to send it on over to a "professional" editor.

    Thanks for the post…great stuff!

    PS: Val-ur-ree! Val-ur-ree! Val-ur-ree!(Lol…had to do it!) 🙂

  4. Great post Valerie!

    David had done four redrafts before I even got to see Fezariu and even then there wasn't a page without ink. In total there were six drafts before the finished product.

    Is an editor essential? I believe so. You need someone who will step in and show the detachment that, after multiple drafts, you're unlikely to have anymore and be willing to kill an irksome paragraph or highlight some unwieldy dialogue.

    A book is your baby and sometimes there are just people who are better placed to help your baby at a particular stage in the creative process.

    Just my two cents anyway 😉

  5. Great stuff, Valerie. All too many writers seem to think "editors" take a draft and get it in to shape, like all there is to writing is really "drafting." I've always felt like the writer's work starts after the first draft is done, and when the work is as perfect as we can get it ourselves…then it is time for an editor. 😉

  6. Great post. I generally edit and revise until I am literally so sick of the piece that I want to burn my laptop. Then I figure it's ready. 😉

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: