How to Choose a Novel Editor
Author: Gareth Hoyle
So, you've written your novel. You're proud of it (and you should be). Your mother loves it (and she should do). But that doesn't necessarily mean your novel is yet ready to be taken to a literary agent or publisher. As a rough guide, agents take about 1 in 1000 manuscripts, so your novel needs to be excellent before you send it out there.
Perhaps, then, you need help from a professional editor.
1) Do I need a novel editor at all?
Maybe not. If you think your work is strong enough to publish without the help of a pro novel editor, there's an easy way to find out. Simply send your work to approx 10-12 literary agents and see what happens. If your novel is taken on, it's good enough. If it isn't, it's not.
2) How do I choose a good novel editor?
First off, you MUST choose a professional author for your editor. These guys are the experts at creating, shaping, refining, editing and polishing novels – because they have to do it with their own work. What's more, any pro author has proven their ability to write novels that are strong enough to sell. That's the skill-set you need.
Secondly, you should choose an author who has sold big books to big publishers. If an author has sold work to Random House or Penguin, that means they've excelled in the very toughest arena. If an author has only sold a collection of short stories to HereTodayAndGoneTomorrow Press... well, their skills may not be all that great.
Thirdly, don't make a couple of classic mistakes:
Using a novel editor whose background is in publishing only. Yes, I know they're ‘professional editors' – but remember what that means. Modern publishers only ever work on novels that have already been accepted by literary agents and which have been authorised for purchase by the publisher in question. That means the manuscript is already in excellent editorial shape, and the editor's job is about giving the novel a relatively light polish. Almost certainly, your issues are more fundamental than that.
Secondly, don't fall for the blandishments of an English PhD, a copyeditor, a qualified proofreader, or anyone of that ilk. 99% of first-time novels have some kind of structural or other pervasive issue. That doesn't mean they're not fixable – they mostly are – but it does mean it makes no sense paying for wallpaper until you've fixed the walls. That means you need a novelist with plenty of editorial experience.
3) Do I choose a company or a one-man or one-woman operator?
The advantage of having a solo operator for your novel editor is that your relationship is that bit more personal. BUT:
A larger company can select the right novel editor for you from a much larger pool of people.
A larger company will have much stronger connections with literary agents.
A larger company will therefore be the best choice for most writers.
4) Do I want to get advice on my novel, or do I want hands-on editorial work?
For nearly all writers, it will make more sense to get tough feedback on your work, in the form of a detailed editorial report from a pro novel editor. In most cases, if a writer gets strong, clear advice on what needs to be done, they'll be able to do it themselves. This isn't just creatively more satisfying, it's also cheaper. If you decide you want hands-on help, then most large companies can arrange this – but make sure you get a pro author doing that work on your behalf.
About the Author
By Harry Bingham, of the Writers' Workshop. Harry is a best-selling, prize short-listed author of novels and non-fiction, including the category-leading book on Getting Published. The Writers' Workshop's team of novel editors is second to none. Between them, our novel editors have written hundreds of books, sold millions of copies and won or been shortlisted for countless literary awards.