Don’t Dread the Red: How To Tell If You’re Ready For an Editor

If you’re a new writer and you want to take your craft seriously, and be taken seriously in turn, then sooner or later you’ll have to seek out constructive criticism. In particular, if you’ve decided it’s time to get a professional editor involved to develop your manuscript, then you may be wondering just what you’re in for. Are you ready for your story to be torn apart? Here’s how you can tell.


Beta readers versus editors

Perhaps you’ve already had several beta readers go over your manuscript — this is great practice and doubtless you’ll get some good advice from these readers, but the reality is most of these people will be a) your friends, b) untrained and c) unpaid. So that puts you at three disadvantages. The first being that your friends don’t want to offend you. The second: they don’t necessarily know what they’re looking at in terms of plot structure, narrative possibilities, and character development. And they’re not paid, so you’re less likely to take seriously the stronger points they might make about things that could be improved.

For any writer there are definite benefits to using beta readers, and listening to their critique. I strongly recommend you send your manuscript to friends whose literary understanding you trust, or join a writer’s group for feedback and assistance. The more you learn and the more you get used to accepting critique, the easier it will be when you face the lines of red scrawled all over your manuscript by a professional editor.

Going to a professional editor is a different beast altogether. Editors are professionals. Their express job is to seriously consider your manuscript’s context, themes, ideas and location in the wider literary market. They’ll work with you to develop your manuscript, give you a sounding board and coworker. But the manuscript will always be yours.


Are you ready for an editor?

So if you’re just starting to take your writing career seriously, and you’re thinking about finding an editor to help you raise the quality of your writing, you may be wondering what you’re letting yourself in for. Good editors won’t hold back, but they won’t be unnecessarily cruel or dishonest. Good editors will give you advice and respect your decision to incorporate that advice or not — after all, at the end of the day it’s your book, and your writing.

There are a few signs that you’re ready to send your beloved manuscript off to an editor, and there are signs you aren’t.

Signs that you are ready for an editor can be: 

  • You have a completed draft manuscript that has been worked on up to second or third draft level.
  • Your beta readers can’t offer any further feedback.
  • You’re hungry for new criticism and advice.
  • You want to publish your manuscript, either by self-publishing, submitting to agents or submitting direct to publishers.
  • You know your genre, competitors and where your book stands.
  • You genuinely believe your manuscript has a story worth telling.


If you can confidently tick off all of those — great. You’re ready. If, however, the list below sounds like you, then you may want to reconsider.


Signs that you aren’t ready for an editor can be:

  • You don’t have a completed manuscript at second or third draft level.
  • You get defensive about your manuscript when beta readers give you feedback.
  • You are looking for someone to tell you your manuscript is fantastic, perfect and you’re an amazing writer with nothing left to learn.
  • You don’t want to publish long-term.
  • You don’t know your genre, competitors or where your book stands.
  • You’re not prepared to tear your manuscript apart and rewrite it.


These lists are not at all exhaustive, and they’re not definitive. I’ve worked with authors who don’t have a completed manuscript, and I’ve seen them change and develop their writing significantly through the editing process. Anyone can benefit from editing, but to get the most out of your editor, you’ll need to be prepared.

When I was starting out as a writer, my mentor said to me that she always knew which of her students would be successful, because they were excited when told where they were going wrong. They were grateful to be given advice, and listened hard to everything they were told. And they took action, and weren’t afraid to tear their words to shreds and start again.

Sounds brutal. But good editors make you a better writer.


Preparing your Manuscript for an Editor

So you’ve decided that you’re ready to take the plunge and hire an editor. Great! But first, to make the best possible impression — to come across as a professional, ambitious, industry-aware writer, there are just a few simple things you can do.


Format your manuscript properly

Nothing puts a reader off like trying to work through a Word document formatted at Comic Sans 10pt with no margins and the lines cramped at minimum spacing. Don’t be that writer.

Regardless of whether you’re submitting hardcopy or digital, format your manuscript to the most basic standards: Times New Roman or Courier New (I prefer Times New Roman as it’s easier to read on screen and saves painful underlining to represent italics), 12pt, 1.5 line spacing minimum.

Check with your editor if they have particular standards they prefer, but this is the absolute basic of courtesy. The same goes if you’re submitting direct to publishers and agents — make sure you follow their standards to the letter or you’re already out the door. Always query if you’re not sure.

So now you have your manuscript at Times New Roman, 12pt, 1.5 or 2.0 line spacing, wide margins, ideally with page numbers on the right footer with your name, manuscript title and page number listed again in the right header. Excellent.


Don’t include character information or extraneous information

If your work is fiction, particularly genre fiction such as scifi or fantasy, editors don’t want to see a giant list of names with their character information and relations to other characters. We want to see all that information develop naturally through the story. If you have to provide us with this basic information separately to the manuscript, then you’d better be writing a Hilary Mantel-level historical epic.

Basically, if you can’t find a way to include necessary information into the narrative naturally, then … well, you need an editor, and more time to learn the fundamentals of writing.


Check spelling, grammar and punctuation before you submit

It’s not your editor’s job to fix your spelling and literal errors — at this stage frequent spelling or grammar mistakes will disadvantage you as your editor will fight to see past the mistakes to the story underneath. It comes across as unprofessional, rather like a musician auditioning with her instrument playing flat. The music may be excellent, but the poor performance will kill any future.

If you genuinely care about your manuscript, and the impression you make, ask a beta reader to go over your draft and proofread for errors before you send it to your editor. You can proofread it yourself as well, but your eye is far more likely to read what it expects to be there than what is already there.


Decide what you’re looking to get out of this edit

Make it clear to yourself and to the editor you choose to work with what your goals are. If you want to be published, and you think your manuscript is almost ready to start sending to publishers or agents, tell the editor that. If their opinion is different, they’ll tell you. But if you have clear goals in mind, it will make it easier on the editor and you to make positive progress.


Be willing to listen

My final point, and one you probably don’t need if you’ve made it this far: editors can tell who is serious about their writing and who is just looking for validation. If you’re hungry for improvement, willing to listen and accept that your manuscript may be returned to you with more red than black, then you’re already ahead.

If the thought of someone telling you that your writing really isn’t ready for publication makes your defensiveness rise up, then you may not get much out of the editing process and could waste your money, your time and the editor’s time in the process.


Don’t be afraid of editing

Good editing makes your work better. Good editors are invisible to readers. Good editors will become your best support in the long hard road to publication. Good editors are in the business to make writers better. Take that to heart and you’ll have a positive, satisfying editing experience that will improve your manuscript, give you new perspective on writing, and develop your own long-term skills as a writer.

Good luck!


If you’re looking for an editor, contact me today for a free 1-3 page assessment and a no-obligation quote.


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