Lipstick & Danger

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Indiana Jones and the Golden Editor

Do you remember that first scene in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark? Indiana Jones carefully maneuvers through a cavern full of spiders, booby-traps, a disloyal guide and numerous warnings along the way to be careful. Then the golden statue is finally in the hands of the handsome Indiana, only to have it snatched away by yet more pitfalls, natives with spears and an unscrupulous treasure hunter. My heart races remembering this story.

Writing is exactly like Raiders of the Lost Ark. There lies your manuscript upon the alter of magical tales, beautiful and full of golden words for the taking. The only thing it needs is an editor. If you are an indie author it is up to you to manage the edits somehow. Will you, like the disloyal guide, grab the prize and run with it only to find yourself pinned against the wall with no hope of survival? Or will you be like Indiana Jones and do what it takes to survive? Indiana Jones must have been an indie writer at heart.

When I first started writing in hopes of landing a contract with a traditional publisher I worked hard trying to improve my story. I hired someone who did indeed help me make the changes the manuscript needed. Although she wasn’t an official editor by trade, her keen eye and intuition guided me enough to make the necessary changes. Sadly, it still wasn’t enough. Of course, I didn’t know all the ins and outs of editing until I actually got a contract and experienced the gut wrenching work laid before me once they sent in their editorial raptors. However, I learned many valuable lessons. I became a much better writer. After all, it wasn’t personal, just good business.

Then came the day I discovered being an indie author was pretty magical and adventurous. I still wanted the golden prize of success but needed help. So here are some of the things I learned along the way in finding a good editor.

The Do’s of Finding an Editor

  1. I ask other authors who they used. First, I check out their books to see if the editor has done a good job. I also ask around at writers’ conferences.
  2. Contact several editors and tell them about your project.
  3. Are they sensitive to your concerns?
  4. Do they answer your questions in a timely fashion?
  5. Are they up front about the cost? Ask if they don’t tell you.
  6. Do they offer other services like formatting, cover design and help with promotion?
  7. How long can you expect them to take with your manuscript?
  8. How in depth are their edits?
  9. Do you have to alert them ahead of time to be put in the queue? If so how much in advance? This makes a difference if you are on a deadline, which I often am.
  10. Be kind, respectful, friendly and polite. Be a professional. I’ve never met my editor in person, but we have visited on the phone and by email. We’ve developed a friendship where both of us feel comfortable in sharing our lives with each other. That makes it a whole lot easier when you get your edits back and it looks like someone opened a vein over the pages.


The Don’ts of Finding an Editor 


  1. Using friends and family members can cause hurt feelings if they tell you the truth. More than likely they won’t which is even worse because then you have a manuscript that even the disloyal guide in Raiders of the Lost Ark wouldn’t touch. It’s okay for them to read over it, but not be your editor.
  2. Don’t take the first one that comes along. You want to get references, read their work, see if there have been complaints.
  3. Don’t be demanding or be that writer who thinks their words are golden. They aren’t. If an editor suspects you’re difficult to work with, you won’t make it across that chasm when you leap across like Indiana. That door will close and you’ll be left high and dry.
  4. Don’t refuse to make changes. If this is something you find difficult then before signing on with an editor ask if they might edit a sample chapter to see how they work, their style, and if together, you are able to see their vision for the project. You want someone who will listen to your concerns, but by shutting them out you’ve wasted time—mostly theirs, not to mention money.
  5. Don’t negotiate the fee. You already know how hard it is to make money as an author. They are making your baby golden so in the end it has worth.
  6. Don’t send an editor something that is poorly researched. It makes their job harder and they really don’t have time to do that for you. Not being on your game is a quick way to lose a good editor.
  7. If you are a first-time author in search of an editor, be willing to open yourself up to change. Don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. It is frustrating to an editor and they may question whether the two of you are a good fit.
  8. Don’t send an editor an unpolished manuscript you haven’t bothered to edit or have someone take a look at first. My last manuscript I sent to several readers and they found some problems with the storyline. There were unanswered questions never addressed. I went back to fix those potholes before I sent it to the editor. Even though there were still things I needed to do, I felt confident my editor wouldn’t throw up in a nearby trashcan.

An editor from http://bezuki.com recently told me, “As far as firing a writer? We’d much rather work with them to remedy what we feel needs attention. Neither they, nor we, gain anything by a failed publication. Our job is to make it good and that means attention to story structure, in-depth characters and a satisfying ending. That’s what resonates with readers.”

Finding the golden editor doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t need to wear

a fedora or carry a whip and sneak into dangerous territory. Take your time and explore your options. You’ll soon be on your way to publishing something Indiana Jones just might want to read.


6 Responses

  1. All great points, Tierney! I also recommend a simple contract where realistic terms are clear. This protects the writer and the editor; essential details include expected turn-around, services included in fee, fee schedule, guarantees – and anything additional the author and editor have agreed to verbally. Putting it in writing ensures expectations are clear for all. Very valuable post! Thank you.

    1. Thank you for adding those details to the post. I’m so disappointed when I read the book of an author who has skipped the editor trusted themselves to be right. Hopefully this will take a little of the mystery of editor shopping away.

  2. Great post, Tierney and very informative. As I hither through and frough about whether to go Indie or with a publisher for my second novel, this is one point I know not to skim on. And as Tanya states, a contract is a must. It’s important to note, also that even when you work with a publisher, not every editor is a good one. It doesn’t hurt to get an unbiased outside opinion, too. As an English Professor and Chair, I always run it by a second pair of eyes of another English Professor before passing my work onward for publication.

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