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I hired an editor ... and it changed everything

by Kathy Hopewell

Previously published in Writer's Blokke

Friends had read my novel manuscript. Some were creative writing lecturers, some were writers themselves, and some were readers in my genre (historical literary fiction). I’d had lots of positive feedback from them but the fifty rejections I had accumulated over the years, from agents and independent publishers, kept niggling away. Maybe my novel wasn’t any good and my friends and colleagues couldn’t bear to say it outright.

Taking the decision to self-publish rather than chuck the lot in the bin took a lot of self-belief, but luckily I began with the right first step and struck gold. I hired an editor and she turned out to be a stellar one. Now, my manuscript and my attitude towards it are completely different.


Looking for an editor

My first challenge was finding the right editor for my book, by which I meant someone who could grasp what I was trying to do, someone I could get along with, and most importantly someone with reliable and extensive industry experience, I went looking for the best, and I honestly think I found it.


My method was as follows: on the directory of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, I entered my genre and selected ‘Advanced Professional’. I then filtered the search results for people who were based in the UK. I narrowed these results down to a shortlist of about ten and scrutinized their online presence, striking off the ones who didn’t have websites. Then, because I have access as an associate member, I cross-checked that they were on ALLi’s list of trustworthy professionals.

Choosing the right one

I emailed three, giving details of the genre and length of my novel, the type of edit I required, and attached a sample. I also specified a deadline. My first enquiries all came back saying they had no availability for over a year, which rather threw me.


I began again, and the next tranche of three included my future editor and two others. I had been slightly unsure whether I needed a copyedit or a developmental edit. After all, my novel had been revised and rewritten about eleven times and I had had two interventions from editors at publishing houses giving me large-scale suggestions for improvement. Asking what type of edit to go for was a genuine question but also a sort of test: could the candidates explain themselves in a way I related to?


One of the three kept emailing short, merry messages saying she loved the sound of my novel and would get back to me soon. The second one gave me an explanation about the differences between types of editing and told me in no uncertain terms that what I wanted was a copyedit. The third (this sounds just like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?) was the perfect response and it was from my future editor.


While the others took days to reply, within hours she had sent back a detailed quote attached to a long, friendly email including all the figures for both types of edit. She said that she couldn’t tell from my 1,000-word sample whether it would need a major developmental edit and, although it might be better to go for that if possible, the decision was mine. The speed at which she replied and the clear, extensive, broad-ranging information she included tallied with what I had read in her testimonials. It took one night to sleep on the decision and I said yes.

Hearing the painful truth

I wanted to enter a big, biannual competition for which I had been long-listed twice before, and my new editor kindly agreed to give me a discount on a separate edit of the opening 5,000 words in time for the competition deadline. In fact, she sent back the work a week early which helped enormously because it turned out there was a lot to do before I could enter it into the competition. She sent me two documents. One was a critique of over 2,000 words, and the other was the text marked up in red with corrections and comments. Her main criticism was that the opening was too slow and she had put a red line through about 800 of the 5,000 words, with suggestions for further cuts. I was at first shocked and resistant: she had crossed out pretty much all of my ‘darlings’ but, when I made a copy of the document without the lines and passages she had struck out, it was so much better.


Oddly, the more faults she found, the better I felt! My confidence in the manuscript grew and my editor is as skilled at praising the good as she does at finding the bad. When she said I had ‘nailed’ the use of point of view (‘well done!’) and that my book had commercial appeal, I believed her because she has 30 years’ experience in the industry, both in-house and freelance.

Going above and beyond

I really loved getting my editor’s emails and she seemed to genuinely enjoy the work.  A particularly brilliant example of her flexibility was when I came to send the whole manuscript to her and had a sudden last-minute panic about whether I had opened with the right scene. We agreed that I’d send the manuscript as it was and also an outline of the alternative opening. She addressed this, at no extra charge, and gave her view on which was best. This time her critique, for the whole manuscript, ran to over 6,000 words.


Money well spent

I paid just over £2,000 for her to edit my 92,000-word novel. The level of detail went down to putting the accents on the correct letters of French words I’d used and encompassed broad questions such as genre and potential readership. I now have a close to publishing-ready manuscript (I will be getting it proofread) and a firm belief that this is a good, well-produced readable novel of a standard worthy of publication.


Unlike my friends, my editor has no personal stake in telling me exactly what’s good and bad about my manuscript. She knows what to look for, how to fix it and how my book might fare on the open market. Apart from wishing I’d done this years ago, before submitting to all those agents, my only regret is that the editing process is now over and I shall miss the emails which were wise, cheering and often amusing. I’d like to think of her as my friend but I know that when I have another novel for her to edit (and yes, I’ll definitely be going back to her next time if I can afford it) she will be objective and professional in a way that my friends in real life can never be.


I hope you find a really good editor, if and when you need one. My editor’s name is Gale Winskill and you can visit her website here.


Kathy Hopewell is a novelist, who loves freewriting and writing about female surrealists. Find out more at The Freewriter’s Companion

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