“Hey Editor, at what stage is it best to get an editor involved in my writing process? After the “vomit draft” or after it’s been tweaked more?”

Great question. Thank you.

Like a lot of similar decisions, this one starts with an analysis of the value you assign to time versus the value you assign to money. It also depends on your ultimate aim: do you want to publish a book or become a writer?

If you want to minimize the amount of time you spend on your book, send the version you’ve so aptly described as the vomit draft to a skilled and experienced editor.

An early handover is the best option when your book is one that furthers your career by positioning you as a credible expert, a step that is becoming almost compulsory these days.

In this case, your aim is not to become a writer but to publish a book that synthesizes and highlights your expertise and brings value to your clients or field.

Your focus is the quality of the content, so if your days already have way too few hours to complete the list of things you need to achieve in them, outsourcing is wise time and financial management.

To break it down a bit: In my work with The Self-Publishing Agency, I clients a discount of 15% from my regular (non-corporate) editing rate, so my discounted rate is $60 per hour.

Editing a vomit draft of a 200-page book (about 45,000 words) takes somewhere between 40 and 60 hours, or $2,400 and $3,600. If you compare this cost to others related to career advancement, such as courses, attending conferences, etc., it’s an incredible bargain.

If you are a fiction writer or a memoirist hoping to sell a few hundred copies of your passion project, however, $3,600 can be a daunting investment. (Compared to a package vacation in Cuba, for example.) In this case, unless you’re okay with skipping that vacation, I’d advise doing at least two full rewrites and an edit round before passing your manuscript onto an editor.

In the first round, focus on content, and on revising those bits that might embarrass you when you share it with your early readers. Then share it. Choose people who read whatever genre you’re writing in, who will be honest with you, and who love you enough to read a book in its rough form.

The important thing to remember here is that one opinion is just one opinion, but three similar opinions are a trend. Don’t try to respond to every piece of feedback you receive, or you’ll be rewriting that book forever, but do give it careful thought. Write it all down somewhere, and when you sit down for the next round, ask yourself how valid it is to you. You know what you mean, but your early readers will be able to point out where a typical reader is likely to get lost, intimidated or bored.

Attention is the most precious commodity these days, and every word on the page has to move the story and reader forward effectively. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what you mean — your potential reader will find something else to do. Rewrite, and be prepared for things to change. Let go of those bits you want to write but that don’t move the reader forward. 

When you’re happy with the story, do an edit round in which you focus on language. I’m sure I’ll be covering this process in a future question, but for now, I’d recommend picking up a copy of The Little, Brown Handbook. Spend 15 minutes reading a bit each day and then keep it at hand.

If your aim is to become a professional writer (indie or traditional), this DIY version of the editing process will improve your skills as well as your book. Then send it on to an editor, knowing that you’ve saved yourself some money and become a better writer in the process.

– Lori