One of the most frequent topics I’m emailed about, is Editing and Story Consulting. What they consist of, how it works, what does someone look for when hiring an editor, etc.
This article is long overdue… Let’s get into it.
Do you need even need an editor?
If you care about your personal quality of work and the script/project you’re working with… without a doubt, yes.
If you read novels, you’ll often see writers (even best seller, big wig, successful writers) give a nod to their editor in the front matter of the book.
Good editors often become confidants and life-long friends with their writer clients. As I’ve stated elsewhere on the site, the editor’s job, at the end of the day, is to make the writer a better writer. And when you find an editor you connect with, who does the job well, the relationship is really something unique.
As I’ve also said before, a good editor is worth their weight in gold.
The types of editing.
“Editing” is a blanket term. Since some publishers define it differently than others, the terms can get intermixed and a be a bit confusing.
I break editing down into four categories:
1) Developmental Editing.
Focuses on overall story structure and story development. The heart and bones of the story.
In my opinion, this is the most important editing. If you have a great story, but botch the script, you can always go back and rewrite and fix the script. If the story is buggered, it’ll stay buggered, no matter how many times you tweak the script.
Lots of folks claim to be “story gurus.” Be aware that your personal goals for a project may greatly affect how you develop an IP. Any good developmental editor should know your goals and have wide enough knowledge and experience to steer you in the direction of success. It’s not just about story, it’s about the right story to achieve your goals.
2) Line Editing.
An assessment of the script line by line (thus the name). Focused on execution:paragraph structure, sentence flow, diction, voice, etc.
Most writers vastly underestimate the time and skill required for a solid line edit. Just think how much time it took you to write the script, now imagine considering every single sentence from a host of perspectives… then, looking to those same sentences in groups all relative to each other. Speed comes with experience, but not matter how you cut it, you can’t rush line editing.
Someone who respects your voice and work, and strives to make you reach your full potential, not simply replace your potential with theirs.
3) Copy Editing.
Focuses specifically on grammar, spelling and punctuation, to make sure communication is correct, effective and efficient.
Someone detail oriented, consistent and a creative thinker. You don’t want someone who works with blinders on, someone who merely mimicks “spell check.” In my experience copy editors with personality and the ability/willingness to chime in on other areas–the folks really paying attention, are the most valuable.
The final pass, looking for typos and obvious mistakes that slipped through the cracks (which they always do).
Sticklers for details and extremely thorough. Folks who can get the job done.
5) Art Editing
Specific to comics is Art Editing. This is where the editor checks the script against the art to make sure everything is consistent and executed properly. Comic Art Editing usually comes in multiple stages, first, checking pencil thumbnails, to make sure the overall concepts are conveying… then (ideally) at every additional stage of art production, final pencils, inks, colors, etc.
Excellent communicators. Someone driven and committed to attacking each stage with passion and enthusiasm.
Where do you start?
In order to bring an editor on, you must have something to edit–typically, this is a script.
If you bring a developmental editor on at the beginning discovery stage, you’re really bringing them on as Story Consultant–where they’ll help define and shape the content (they) or another editor will help refine later on.
Story consulting can start at any point. I’ve had plenty of people contact me with a rough idea, sometimes little more than a simple logline.
How early you start depends usually comes down to budget. Obviously, the longer someone works at something, the more expensive it is.
When you’re first starting the story discovery process, you’re likely to open doors, travel down paths, then decide it isn’t working, back track and travel through another door. For this reason, you may save some money if you approach a Story Consultant or Developmental Editor a bit later in your process.
At the same time, having another set of eyes and some good advice at the very beginning can produce the best results. It really comes down to personal preference.
What does it cost?
10% of your TOTAL book production cost (file production only, no print costs or ancillary costs).
As a ballpark.
Nailing down a theoretical editing cost is tough for a number of reasons.
First, staff editor is a salary position. It’s not based on a page rate like other comic production positions.
Editorial pricing is also complicated as “editing” is a blanket term (as we noted) and the needs of each project differ as well as the scope of content. Editing a George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien script is likely to be quite different than editing a Ben Edlund, Tick script or an Archie comic.
The quality of the content itself has tremendous impact in the speed at which an editor can work. In a nutshell, a script that’s a total mess, with dozens of considerations on every page will take significantly longer to edit, than a clean, pro-level script, with only 2 or 3 considerations per page.
When you’re writing your script, you probably make distinct additional passes–you may check the dialogue, you may check the panel descriptions, you may look through the script checking the escalation of tension. In writing, there’s really no definitive end to these internal editing passes. Us writers generally keep tweaking our scripts over and over until we finally get it to the point where we call it done.
Developmental Editing and Line Editing are similar in nature, in that there’s almost always MORE you can do. At the end of the day, it’s just a matter of calling it when you get to the point where you’re comfortable–or waiting for your publisher to make that call for you.
And this brings us to the last price consideration, additional passes.
A script edited once will be light years ahead of an unedited script.
But a script edited twice, is twice as nice.
I know of no law for the set number of editorial passes required to finalize a script. Again, it’s an arbitrary number set only when you feel the script is done (tied into the skill level of both, writer and editor).
Realistically, in indie comic circles, budgets often only allow for a single edit pass, with perhaps a light follow up. And that’s ok.
Just remember, the more you go back in and change, the more likely the script can use another pass.
What about when the Script is already done?
When you bring an editor into the project later on, there are two main considerations;
1) Improving the story/narrative. – the Creative.
2) Making sure the format is on point. – the Technical.
Depending on where you are, where your publisher is with the material, and what your goals are, it’s important to know where your focal point is and how deep down the rabbit hole you want to go.
Are you willing to pull the story apart and totally rework it, if that’s what it needs? Or must the story basically stay how it lays with only minor spit and polish?
These are points you definitely want to communicate to a potential editor and of course, points that affect an editors rates.
Many times creators approach me who are the artist as well as the writer, so in these instances format is not as important… Yet, sometimes these same creators want to pitch to Image or another publisher and then having your script clean and pro-level can make a big difference in making that first impression.
When you approach an editor with a “completed” script and are strapped on budget, I always advise to take a look at the story’s bones. A less experienced writer (that’s you) can go a long way with a professional breakdown of the major movements on a story.
In screenplay land we call a basic review and analysis of a script, “coverage“.
Coverage is a great editorial bang for your buck in comic land. I do them all the time for folks.
So many times, someone will drop a completed issue on my desk to check out and after reading through, the story was solid but totally dropped the ball in one or two major areas. Issues that keep the book from really shining. Imagine having an Eisner winner in your hands, if not for a one or two issues… Coverage nips those guys in the bud.
Sure, ideally, you want to get the full treatment from an editor. But budgets are a reality.
I make the analogy that hiring an editor at this stage is like going to the doctor when you’re sick.
Today’s medical practice usually gets minimal info and throws a bunch of antibiotics at the symptoms. As a story creator, that’s shouldn’t be your first line of defense.
Instead, get the x-rays, find out what’s wrong with you. Knowing the real problems, then you can go home and figure out how to treat it yourself.
And remember, not matter what you do;
Bring your editor in BEFORE the comic goes to art. ▪
About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S. Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.