Services for Authors: Editors

2015-06-01 Dog in HatWelcome to the second post in our series, Services for Authors.

If you’re an indie author, no doubt you’ve heard a lot of experienced self-publishers recommend that you have your work professionally edited before you send it off into the world. Today, we’re interviewing Catherine Jones Payne of Quill Pen Editorial Services. She and her team specialize in helping indie authors make their books publication-ready.

Catherine, welcome to Indie Plot Twist. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little about Quill Pen Editorial Services?


Thanks so much for the opportunity, Danielle! Books have always been my passion. I hold a BA in English literature, and I’ve edited professionally since college. In the summer of 2013, I launched Quill Pen to offer complete editing services to indie novelists. Since then we’ve launched a blog to educate and encourage writers, partnered with a cover artist and a typesetter to expand our line of services, and developed a coaching program to help writers finish their first drafts. We most often start our work with clients on their second or third drafts, but we can take a writer all the way from his or her initial idea to the finished, professional product.

Let’s start with the basics. Why should indie authors consider hiring an editor before they self-publish their books?

First, great books are not produced in a vacuum. All traditionally published authors use editors, often provided by the publishing house, to help them chisel the gem out of the rough draft. Even the most talented authors I’ve been privileged to work with send me imperfect manuscripts laden with plot holes, underdeveloped characters, awkward dialogue, a glut of adverbs–the list of common mistakes goes on.

Today, indie authors compete with hundreds of writers for a readership, and reviewers can be less than kind to unedited or poorly-edited books (and believe me, reviewers can tell when a book hasn’t been edited!). An excess of one-star reviews negatively impacts sales.

But more than that, I think indie authors owe it to themselves. If a story burns within you–if you have to tell it–that story deserves to be carefully refined until it becomes the best version of itself so that you can tell that story effectively. If you want to write a book that connects with readers, a team of editors (and beta readers) will help you see your own blind spots.

There are different levels of editing, and different editors split them up differently – but they largely progress from large-scale edits to small-scale edits. Can you describe how you define the different levels of editing?

2015-06-08 EditAt Quill Pen, we take books through four levels of editing: developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading.

Developmental editing involves large-scale changes. At this stage, we look for issues in plot, characterization, dialogue, themes, pacing, consistency, and setting. The manuscript will typically be read three or four times, at least once by a second editor, and revisions can require substantial rewriting on the part of the writer. These changes are the most important, significant changes the author will make to the manuscript.

Line editing focuses on smoothing out the prose so that the text reads smoothly. Here, we target awkward phrasing, ornate dialogue tags, 85% of adverbs, and anything else that would jerk a reader out of the fictional world. We try to eliminate as many typos, spelling errors, and grammar mistakes as we can, but that isn’t the primary focus yet. The line editor can be one of the developmental editors. Typically the edits are tracked in Microsoft Word, and the writer inspects and approves each change individually.

Copy editing takes place once the text is in its final form, and it eliminates technical errors–typos, misspellings, incorrect grammar, inconsistencies in capitalization, and more.

Proofreading, the final step in the process, occurs once the book has been typeset–or mostly typeset, at any rate. The proofreader won’t actually track any changes, as she’s typically working with a PDF or a hard copy instead of a Word document, but will notate any errors that are found so that they can be fixed before the book goes to print. If the book has been edited properly, the proofreader should find very few errors.

Do you feel the demand for freelance editors has been on the rise? Why? And who are most interested in your services – traditionally published authors or independent authors?

It’s an exciting time to be in editing! In response to the popularity of ebooks and more affordable print-on-demand technology, independent publishing has become more popular than ever. With the click of a few buttons and a relatively low up-front cost, aspiring writers can become professional authors without having to go through the lengthy traditional agent-publisher process, and by and large they realize that they need editors if they’re going to make a serious go at becoming a professional author.

So yes, freelance editors find themselves in more demand than ever, even while editors at publishing houses are cut back—-their projects often outsourced to freelancers.

In our firm, we most often work with independent writers, though a small minority of our clients are seeking publishing contracts. Typically, a writer who wants complete editing services is pursuing independent publishing, while those who just want a developmental and a line edit may still be interested in a traditional contract.

The author-editor relationship is obviously going to be pretty intimate. What is your advice for finding the perfect editor? Do you feel genre matters?

2015-06-08 Business MeetingYou want to make sure you’re working with someone with whom you can build rapport and trust. Look for someone you can develop a good working relationship with, who exudes positivity, but takes a no-nonsense approach to making your book better. Hire an editor that other writers speak highly of, and always, always, always check references before you finalize the deal.

Also, make sure that you’re working with someone who is willing to put expectations in writing in a formal contract. If an editor expresses unwillingness to sign a contract, detailing the responsibilities of both editor and writer, that’s a major red flag.

Genre is a secondary consideration but can be important. As a general rule of thumb, the larger-scale the edit, the more genre matters. So, it might not matter that a copy editor usually does science fiction when you’re looking for someone for your romance novel, but in a developmental editor, you might want someone who specializes in romance.

An editor should be up-front if your manuscript isn’t in their primary area of expertise, but that doesn’t mean they can’t branch out into a new field. I specialize in YA fantasy and edgy Christian fiction, but I’ve had a lot of fun working on a self-help book recently.

Common advice is to contact your desired editor early, since many are booked far into the future. I notice on your website that you promise a quick turn-around. But what is your ideal advance notice on a new project?

Flexibility proves to be an advantage of working with an established editorial firm rather than creating your own team of individual freelance editors. I’m typically booked out two months in advance, though I can sometimes work new clients in quickly because author slots have to be held tentatively–revisions sometimes take writers longer than they expect.

However, I work with a fabulous, talented team of editors, and I can almost always get a new writer’s manuscript in to a member of my team within a week. So, for a firm like Quill Pen, if you have a specific editor in mind, try to send in a quote request two or three months in advance, but if you’re comfortable with the firm looking at your project and selecting an editor for you based on editor expertise, interest, and availability, you can get away with sending it in a week or two early.

Some indie authors are remarkably prolific – some turning out a new manuscript every 30 to 90 days, and yes, they have an editor! What is your advice for finding an editor who is willing to keep up with that kind of output, and working smoothly together on such a fast schedule?

2015-06-08 WriterThis is another circumstance for which working with an established team is helpful, so that the managing editor can coordinate the rapid movement of your project through the four stages of editing. Not to mention that, should one of your editors have a crisis, your project doesn’t come to a grinding standstill while you vet a replacement. Instead, the managing editor can just pick another suitable editor from her supply of pre-approved candidates, and the show goes on.

But the most important thing to remember if you’re turning out manuscripts that quickly is to communicate with your editors. Give them dates by which you’ll have the manuscripts and revisions to them, and discipline yourself to stick to those dates. As a rule, editors like prolific authors–it’s good business, as long as those authors are on predictable schedules, so that the editor can plan for them.

How do editors charge for their services? And what kind of price range should authors anticipate across the industry for a good edit?

Fee details vary a lot from editor to editor. Some prefer to work by the hour while others lean toward flat-rate contracts. Often, they require a hefty deposit–fifty percent is typical–before work on the manuscript begins, especially for new clients. At Quill Pen, we use a flat-rate pricing system that is paid out in several installments over the course of the editing process. For example, if you wanted developmental, line, and copy edits, you might pay 20% before work begins, 30% upon completion of the developmental edit, 35% upon completion of the line edit, and
the remaining 15% upon completion of the copy edit.

For a book of 80,000 words, expect to pay between $1500 and $4000 depending on how polished the manuscript is. Choose an editor like you might choose a tattoo artist. Yes, there may be someone willing to do it more cheaply, but if you release a poorly-edited book in the internet age, it can be difficult to re-establish a credible reputation and you can be permanently marked by bad reviews. A number of my regular clients started out with cheaper editors and quickly realized reputation, quality, and dependability were more important factors than price.

What is your advice for authors on a small budget? How can they get a well-turned-out manuscript while being savvy about their bank accounts?

Use beta readers! I cannot overemphasize the importance of quality beta readers if you’re trying to keep costs down. They can help you fix a lot of a novel’s issues before it gets to the editorial stage, and the more polished a novel is, the less expensive the edit will be. Look for beta readers among people you don’t know or don’t know well. Your mom and your best friend will love your book regardless of that one plot arc that doesn’t make sense, and you need betas who are willing to be brutal.

When you’re discussing your services with a new author, what misconceptions do you find you have to correct? What expectations should they have instead?

2015-06-08 ManuscriptOften, a new client will approach me requesting “copy editing” for their manuscript when it hasn’t ever been evaluated by a professional editor. Most of the time, a copy edit would be a waste of money at that stage.

Sometimes, a client will approach me for an initial edit hoping to release their novel within a month or two, which is unrealistic if they want to publish a high-quality novel.

We try to start our clients out with an evaluation, in which we read the novel and prepare 5-7 pages for the author detailing what works, what doesn’t, and what the book will need before it’s publishable. (This is typically Phase One of the developmental edit.) While new clients often aren’t convinced they need the evaluation, they’re consistently relieved that they opted for it. “I’m so glad I didn’t publish the book with all those problems in it” has become a common refrain among those who thought they just needed copy editing.

What are some good ways for an author to find an editor? (Besides clicking through to your website, of course!)

Word-of-mouth. Talk to your friends in your writing group. Come up with a list of three or four indie writers you admire, and email them to ask who edits their novels. Once you have the names of at least three editors you’d like to speak with, send them each an email detailing your project and asking for a quote. Before you hire anyone, get references and check them. I’m convinced that 90% of editor horror stories could be avoided by checking references.

What are authors’ chief concerns about letting someone take the red pen to their manuscript? How do you answer those concerns?

The pen is mightier than the sword as shown with a writing utensil and a dagger

Some writers feel concerned that an editor might wreak havoc on their voice or push them into changes to the manuscript they don’t feel comfortable with, especially if they’ve had negative experiences with an editor in the past. I find that this fear is typically put to rest once the writer receives the first round of feedback because a good editor partners with a writer to further the writer’s vision for the novel and always preserves the writer’s voice.

Thanks so much for joining us, Catherine. Do you have any final advice or topics I didn’t cover?

Thanks so much for having me. The first thing I’d say to writers is “Finish the draft.” Most aspiring writers never become authors because they spend too much time dreaming and not enough time writing. They start dozens of first drafts and never finish. The hardest hurdle you will overcome is finishing that first draft. Once you’ve done that, you’re invincible.

The second is a refrain that I often repeat on our social media and blog: “Your book is beautiful.” The story burning inside you is lovely because you are lovely, and it is a part of you. Don’t let the naysayers and the critics bring you down. Yes–it still needs some editing because it deserves to be carefully refined until it’s the best version of itself. But it has value and beauty. See it through–you’ll be so glad you did.

Other & Upcoming Posts in This Series

About Our Guest

2015-06-08 Catherine Jones PayneCatherine Jones Payne is a Texas-based editor with three years of professional experience. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Wheaton College. She has edited ten published books, including Katie Cross’s bestselling fantasy novel Miss Mabel’s School for Girls, and is particularly seeking fiction that creatively explores meaningful themes in the areas of gender, beauty, and religion. In addition, she is experienced with non-fiction, blogs, and writing aimed at a professional audience. Her passions include rigorous editing, polished prose, and exceptional literature. When she isn’t editing, she can be found reading, drinking Twinings tea, writing her novel, or playing racquetball.

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