Module 4: Editing

Editing and Finalizing Your Manuscript, Part Three: Editors, Staying Consistent, Indexing

Andrea Levitt from Reader's Digest introduces the third video on the process of finalizing your manuscript. George Nedeff from Author Solutions explains what to look for when hiring a professional editor, how to write a consistent manuscript, and for the uninitiated, he breaks down how to index a nonfiction book.

Video Transcript

Hello, my name is Andrea. I'm a senior editor with Reader's Digest Select Editions. Today, we're going to watch part three of "Editing and Finalizing Your Manuscript." In part one of this webinar, we discussed the different types of editing and the value of each. Part two covered 13 mistakes that writers often miss but readers always catch. Today in part three, we'll talk about how to select the right editor for your book, or you may want to consider more than one editor. Because as you'll remember from part one, there are several different types of editing, and different editors will be stronger in different types of editing. You'll also want to consider the subject matter and genre of your book, because again, certain editors will have more experience or more of a feel for different types of genres and subject matter. In this part, we'll also talk about the importance of maintaining consistency in your point of view, in your voice and several other areas. We'll also talk about the importance of indexing for a nonfiction book. In part four, we'll review the do's and don'ts of writing an effective title. We'll conclude in part five with common roadblocks that writers often face when completing their manuscript and the best ways to get around them. So let's begin with part three.

Hi, this is George Nedeff. I'm the learning instructor at Author Solutions, as well as a former editor from the traditional industry. When choosing an editor, not just anyone will do. You need to find an editor that fits you and your work.

How to select the right editor for your book? You know you need an editor for your manuscript, but how do you find one? How do you know if he or she is the right editor for your book? There's a big difference between hiring an editor and hiring the right editor. A good editor greatly increases your project's chance of success. You can find a professional editor one of two ways. You can do the legwork to find a freelancer for your book, or you can utilize the editing service provided through your publisher. Of course, if you are traditionally publishing, you may not have a choice. However, for self-publishing authors, there's a huge pool from which to choose.

For authors who are publishing using a supported self-publisher, you can purchase editing services directly through your publisher. The benefit to this method of finding an editor is that you know you will be paired with a professional editor backed by the company of your choice. Also, you don't have to spend the time searching for a reputable editor, laboring over a contract, negotiation or managing the process. Your supported self-publisher does that work for you. Many authors choose the supported self-publishing path, because it's a one-stop shop that can provide all of the services needed for a book project. Utilizing the company's editing services is a convenient option for many authors.

The difference between working with a freelancer and working through a supported self-publishing company is that when working through a company, there is a standard workflow in place to streamline the process. You have less to manage because your publisher fills that role. You may not have the opportunity to pick your editor, but typically, your book is matched with an editor who best fits your book genre. Additionally, you may not be able to speak to your editor regularly, but may be in contact with an associate instead. Talk to your company representative to learn the details of the editing services provided by your supported self-publisher.

For authors who plan to hire a freelance editor, there are some important tips to learn about selecting the right editor for you and your book. First, one of the most important aspects of working with a freelance editor is your comfort level with that editor. Talk on the phone, or Skype, so you can get better acquainted. Find someone you respect and with whom you feel comfortable. Editors are human after all, and they have their own personalities and communication styles. Do you want someone who's more collaborative? Would you prefer someone who tells it like it is, or who sugarcoats bad news to soften the blow? Do you want an editor who is all business, or one who is more talkative and friendly? Finding the right match in personality and professional style makes all the difference in a functioning author/editor relationship.

When searching for a freelance editor, browse the editor's website for testimonials. Notice the words that clients use. They might use words like "hopeful," "thoughtful," even "compassionate." These recommendations should give you a good idea of the editor's style.

Another aspect to consider when choosing a freelance editor is his or her track record. Has the editor completed projects that have succeeded? Ask for the titles of books the editor has worked on. This is where word-of-mouth suggestions from members of your writing groups or forums come in handy. Ask your peers for references of editors they've used for their books. It's helpful to find an editor with experience in your genre. Of course, a great editor can work in nearly any category. However, it's important that your editor is familiar with your genre and is excited about your project.

Clear communication is the key to an effective author/editor relationship. With a freelance editor, this may be more challenging. Unlike editing through a supported self-publishing company that may have associates available throughout the day, the freelance editor is reporting to no one but him or herself. So you have no customer service to fall back on if things aren't working. As you begin to communicate with a potential editor, take note of how accessible he or she is. Can you get in touch with this editor easily at a website or blog? Does he or she respond quickly, or is there a long delay? Rapid response is important. Delays can predict a frustrating experience down the road.

Always use a contract when hiring a freelancer. Make sure you have an accurate cost estimate with a cap that can't be exceeded and precise schedule for the stages and dates of the work to be done. Editing is like any other kind of job in this respect. You need to set clear expectations. The contract is important for both sides. It clearly lays out what you can expect the editor to do as well as the editor's compensation for the work. To get an idea for the typical rates of the editing needed for your book, visit the Editorial Freelancers Association website. Remember to consider location when you learn an editor's fee. For example, an editor who lives in San Diego or New York City will likely charge higher fees than someone in the middle of the country.

Also in the contract, it's important to include an escape clause in the event that things don't work out. Part of the original agreement should provide for a fair separation with specific expectations and obligations.

Now that you know what to look for in a freelance editor, how do you find one? Many editors today have their own website or blog. You can also look in the acknowledgements pages of books you like and are similar to your own. Ask authors you know with whom you've worked, or meet editors at writers' conferences, workshops and trainings. Also, be sure to understand the difference between copy editors who correct spelling and punctuation and development editors who work with core issues like story, characterization and structure. Development editors are more expensive.

A good editor does more than just edit. He or she should also be able to provide suggestions on how to make your work better and more marketable. You should never be hesitant to tap into the expertise and experience of your editor in these regards and should strive to build a rapport that makes this give-and-take flow easy and painless. Remember, as you have to deal with the editor on a professional basis, so too does the editor have to deal with you. Be open to comments and criticism, or they won't be offered to you. You'll end up cheating yourself.

As you work toward finalizing your manuscript, it's important that you maintain consistency throughout your book. A good editor will help you catch inconsistencies in your work, but it's also something you can work on to make your book as polished as possible before an editor sees it. Here are a few areas to consider: character behavior, worlds, setting, your punctuation style, the tense, your using point of view technique and voice. Throughout this webinar, we're going to break down each one of these elements.

As a fiction writer, you have introduced numerous characters in your novel. Draft after draft, you know these characters may have shifted and evolved in your mind, even on the page. Make sure that your characters' behaviors, including their reactions, word choices, mannerisms and attitudes are consistent throughout your book. Everything that a character does and says must be believable for that character, or your audience won't buy it. If a character's evolution is part of the plot, the evolution must fit within the means of the character and must be caused by actions in your story.

For writers who create alternate worlds in which their stories take place, such as fantasy and science fiction, it's important that the rules of the world are consistent. To effectively create an alternate world in the reader's mind, there must be constants, or it will seem unrealistic. Even if fantastic things happen to your characters in the world, they still must follow the rules you have set. Likewise, for other fiction genres, the setting must be consistent. What is in the setting, how it feels, what role it plays for the characters, what it sounds like. All of these pieces come together to form the setting in the reader's mind. Once it is formed, the reader shouldn't have questions about it or be surprised later in the book, unless that's part of the plot and it's explained.

For nonfiction books, or any book with mentions of books titles, songs, plays or website addresses, the treatment of the text should be consistent throughout. Rely on a style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, to determine how to handle special terms and characters. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style states that all book titles should be italicized and not placed in quotes. Also, keep your punctuation consistent. For example, there are different kinds of dashes: "em" dashes, "en" dashes. Learn the appropriate uses of em and en dashes and use them correctly and consistently.

With the exception of special cases, like flashbacks, make sure that your tense remains consistent throughout your book. Look for areas in the text where you switch back and forth between present and future tense or past and present. It's an easy mistake to make, especially considering how long it takes to complete a book and all the times that you stop and start up again.

The point of view that you select for your book should remain consistent throughout your book. For example, limited point of view is frequently used in fiction. Here's a trick: examine your scene, take a look at it and figure out who of the characters in this scene is most impacted by the events. Choose this character to be the point of view of the scene. When writing this scene, any time you discuss something or describe something in the background, always describe it through the eyes of the character. Only reveal information to the audience that that character knows. This will help you maintain limited point of view.

As you work on your manuscript for weeks and months, your writing voice may evolve over time. Once you find the voice that works best for you, make sure it's consistent throughout. If you find the right voice halfway in your writing, go back and change any inconsistencies in voice in the first draft.

An index is a reference tool designed to help the reader quickly locate instances of certain key topics in your book. Does your book need an index? If it's a nonfiction book, the answer is yes. An index adds value to your book in the eyes of readers, librarians and book buyers. Potential book buyers may look at the index before they buy to see if a particular topic of interest is covered.

Having an index, and getting it right, is crucial. Indexing must be done at the very end of the publication process, after all of the writing, editing, proofing and layout are complete. This is because the pagination needs to be set. So, why think about the index while you are still writing the book? While you don't need an index at the point of submission to a traditional publisher, it's prudent to think about your index now. I mean, often publishers expect the author to create the index after the book is typeset since it's technically part of the book's content. Or, they may ask you to supply the terms that will be included in the index.

On the other hand, the publisher may take care of it completely. What the author is expected to supply regarding the index varies from publisher to publisher, so it's best to be prepared. And if you plan to self-publish your book, you'll definitely need to create the index yourself or hire someone to do it for you. Warning: indexing is tedious, detailed work. If you are thinking of indexing your own book, you must be dedicated and set aside the proper time to do it right.

Like editing, sometimes it takes an outside perspective to properly index a book. Authors may become too close to their works to create an effective index. On the other hand, some authors feel that they know their work better than anyone else, and therefore, are the best man or woman for the job. Whichever path you choose, remember that a well-done, professional index will add prestige to your book, while a poorly done index will turn off readers and buyers.

Like anything else, indexing has a set of best practices. The key to compiling a good index is to include every pertinent topic and name mentioned in the book. A good index term is what most readers would intuitively look for in the index. If there is more than one perfect term, you should create cross references to help point readers to all the sections that cover a certain topic. As you work on your nonfiction book, you may want to keep a list of index terms for reference. Use your judgment about what is pertinent. Try to identify the subjects covered on each page, or on a range of pages, and then create index terms for those subjects.

For example, do you want to make it easy for the reader to locate the information about apples you included in your book on healthy fruits? The index should cover relevant mentions of the topic, but not instances where it's mentioned in passing. For instance, include the chart describing the variety of apples, the reference to where they are commonly grown, the best place to buy them and the tips list on how to pick a good apple.

Be sure that your index clearly separates different perspectives on the information. For example, you wouldn't want to list "apples, pages 1, 4, 6, 29, 65, 99." Apples is a pretty broad topic and doesn't help the readers narrow down the information they are trying to locate. Instead, you might index: "apples; varieties, page 99," or "apples; commonly grown areas, page 101," "apples; best places to buy, 102" and "apples; how to pick, page 103." Also, don't forget to cross-reference with other topics. If you are indexing "autumn fruits and vegetables," you will want an entry for all items mentioned, including pumpkins, persimmons, pears, butternut squash and of course, apples.

As you are compiling your list of terms, here are some things that should not be indexed: authors cited in the bibliography; illustrations, if the book already contains a list of these; unimportant subjects (of course, this is subjective and is a matter of the indexer's perspective); incidental names of people, topics and places that are not mentioned beyond being used as examples.

There are a number of software programs designed to assist with the indexing process, including CINDEX, MacRecs, PDF Index Generator, SKY Index Professional and TExtract. Also, most word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, includes an indexing tool. However, the key to a good index is the proper selection of items to include in it. This is a manual effort, by which you select each word that you want to index and mark it as part of the index. It requires that the book be well-structured to begin with, and that the indexer be familiar with the content.

Another resource that is a useful reference while working is the chapter on indexing from the Chicago Manual of Style. If you are planning to hire an indexer, hire one as soon as you have a publication date for your book. Before the indexer can actually work, the typesetting on the book must be complete, so that the page numbers will remain constant.

That concludes part three of "Editing and Finalizing Your Manuscript." In part four, we'll talk about things to consider when writing your title. For more information about publishing, go to and get a free publishing guide and a free consultation.