How to Work With an Editor

Someone asked about the comic editing process, specifically;

  • “How do you work with an editor?”
  • “What does it cost and how can I tell if I’m getting ripped off?”
  • “Will the format I use matter to an editor?”

In how to hire an editor, I breakdown the different types of editing, so I’m going to try and not repeat myself too much. That said, let’s get into it.

Ironically, everything that this site teaches is really part of the editing process.

For example, my article on Panel Descriptions, a good editor will point out when you’re unintentionally thin or overwriting. Or, in Tone, Mood and Style, a good editor will help you develop and maximize these aspects in your script.

After all this site breaks down everything you need to know to create solid, structurally sound, effective and engaging writing. This is ultimately, the same goal of an editor, to push a writer’s work as much as possible toward that end, or said another way, to maximize the writer’s potential.

 

What does it cost?

10% of total book production as explained in the editing article mentioned above.

Rates for editing can be assessed hourly, by the page, by the word or by flat fee. I offer some core editing services at a flat fee rather than hourly, because I hate putting indie people on the clock, charging them more and more money as the process goes–like a lawyer–makes me feel dirty.

But the reality is editing can be a long process and there’s no escaping the universal law; time is money.

 

How do you avoid getting ripped off?

Same way you don’t get ripped off buying any other service in life.

  • Find someone good.
  • Find someone reputable.
  • Find someone experienced.

As I’ve said elsewhere on the site, hire the best editor you can afford. If you hire a great artist for your comic, awesome, it will definitely help sales… but a great artist isn’t likely to affect your future stories too much. A great editor could change everything you produce from that point on. And always keep in mind;

Cheap and risk are long-time bedfellows.

 

Will script format matter to the editor?

Absolutely.

This is a big reason I advocate a script format standard. Inexperienced comic writers and editors are quick to say “format doesn’t matter, everyone writes differently.” Sure, if you write you panel declaration in bold, as compared to regular weight, the world keeps rolling, but I’ve seen some formats (or lack of formats) that make you cringe.

For example, this is a script sample someone posted in a public forum online (names changed to protect the innocent);

PAGE TWO

PANEL #1

JESSIE: having his nails done Marco is besides him Watching the scene on an ipad …

JESSIE:He said he had a buyer..why didnt you get the name ?

MARCO: a man would say anything to save himself.

PANEL #2

JESSIE: [eyeing Marco suspiciously ] ..now you have the debt..

PANEL #3

MARCO sits on a patio swank restaurant, sipping . He sits across from another man, Brooklyn. Brooklyn wears a beret and sunglasses and a ciggarret in a holder. Hes looking at photos

Brooklyn: If its the real thing than I will give you million…

MARCO: has to be cash..

Then of course there’s the king of “comic script” slop, my personal favorite, “comic scripts” delivered as straight prose. Yes, I’ve received more than one of those over the years. Sure you can assess story in a prose document, but not the writer’s ability to tell a comic story.

Personally, I find total disregard for format insulting. There may be no defacto industry standard, but if you spend any time reading comic scripts (or comic writer sites like mine), you quickly see there are certainly common patterns and practices.

Truth is busy editors don’t even accept sloppy projects.

But for those who do, if an editor has to pull the details out of a writer like pulling teeth, that’s more time, which brings us back to–time is always money.

Sloppy is always more difficult and time consuming to work with than organized. Period.

 

How do you actually work with an editor?

Think of an editor as a mentor and teacher. Someone who would meet you at a local coffee shop or in an empty college classroom, where it’s just the two of you. The editor’s goal, not to sit next to you and help you co-write your story, but stand over you, prodding, encouraging and helping you see the good and bad in your own writing so you can produce the best story/script you can.

While you certainly could meet an editor in the real-world, sit with them, and go over your material. More than likely in 2019 and on, you’ll probably do most of your communicating via email.

Just like if you were sitting in the coffee shop or classroom, how long could you discuss your project?

The answer of course would vary, depending on;

  • the complexity of your story,
  • how well you developed and executed it before you sat down with the editor  (or what overall stage it’s in) and
  • how quickly you grasped the concepts your editor explains.

With my flat fee editing coverage, I don’t usually keep going back and forth with the client. The bulk of my input is my initial written assessment of the work. But it’s imperative my clients understand all my notes and comments. So for example, if I make a comment about Master Theme and despite my explanation in the doc, the client didn’t understand Master Theme, of course I would take the time to explain it and make sure they grasped the concept.

Some editors (especially editing services with a bunch of staff editors on hand) may be very strict about delivering coverage and then not talking to you again unless you pony up more money, but really what’s the point of hiring an editor in the first place if you don’t understand what they explained–that would be the worst teacher or mentor in the world (or a lawyer pretending to be an editor, looking for all that $$$).

For me personally, editing is more about the relationship than anything. Of course people need to get paid for their work, but people are people too. And I’ve found the more you help and give to people, the more the world helps and gives back to you. There is a big human element to the writer/editor relationship. (You’d do well to find an editor that isn’t just good at what they do, but resonates with you on a personal level… Knock, knock, hello? Shit, everybody just split, didn’t they? 😉

OK, philosophical outlook aside, of course, going back and forth with a writer in an ongoing relationship happens all the time. Every relationship and hire, every project in editing is unique, so if you’re looking to engage an editor, talk. After all, working with an editor is all about communication. When I’m approached for editing work, I want to know the following;

  • Your goals for the work.
  • What kind of budget you’re working with.
  • And the condition of the work you’ve done (either in part so I can get a rough idea, or the full amount, so I can get a more complete picture.

These 3 parts give me the ability to make effective recommendations.

 

Staff Comic Editor

At the larger comic publishers, editors hold a staff position, usually working on multiple titles at once.

In this role, the editor not only works with writer, but all the production artists responsible for the book. Basically, overseeing the entire production, making sure everyone is on track, and all the individual elements jive with the script.

In my experience, most indie creators and publishers like to take this role, but it’s certainly viable to hire an editor to get it done. When bringing an editor on in this capacity, they’ll first work with the writer on the script, then work closely with every member of production throughout the creation of the book.

In indie circles an editor filling this role almost serves as a partner to the creator/publisher. So I recommend reading that paragraph above about the human element again.

 

Does Timing Matter–When do I bring an editor onto my project?

There is only one true editing rule in comics;

bring your editor in before you go to art.

  • When you bring an editor in early, you’re generally increasing your cost, hiring a helping on day 1 costs more than hiring help in the last week. But bringing someone in early positions yourself to create a more effective, more structurally sound story that needs less “fixing” later on.

I’ve had plenty of clients approach me with little more than a rough concept or logline. I’ll use the logline from my sample story in Storycraft for Comics as an example. If someone sent me this;

ROBOT KIDS: “A soldier ordered to put down an insurgent force winds up leading the very rebels he is sent to destroy against his own military, which is secretly intent on converting the entire planet into mindless automatons.”

I can easily compose a lengthy email querying the writer about their MAF, their Master Theme, their protagonist Character Arc, setting, and more. All of this dialogue opening doors, putting the writer on track, and beginning our working relationship.

  • Bringing an editor in later, reduces your cost in that you’ve already done the bulk (or all) of the work. When an editor comes in later, they don’t need to help you find your way to the work, it’s already sitting before them. The difficulty here is that if botched your story in a bad way, you may have wasted a large amount of time, and be discouraged in having to start over or be faced with publishing a work that will likely under perform.

Of course I’ve had plenty of scripts land on my desk that were quite good and only needed tweaking, polishing and added focus. But on the flip side, I’ve also seen plenty of horror stories. One of the worst, I once had a client scrap AN ENTIRE GRAPHIC NOVEL, pencils and inks completed! because their story missed the mark in too many key areas and they were intent on getting it right before publishing. That’s what I call dedication.

 

The Double Edged Sword of Working with an Editor:

I guess the scary part about working with an editor, is that you could be afraid going back and forth with an editor for a while could cost a lot of money.

Just think if you met your editor in the empty classroom, went over some of your key points in the story and at the end of the day he said “ok, great work. Tomorrow will go over this, this and this.”

Then at the end of the next day, he said, “Ok revise those points and let’s review tomorrow.”

This could go on and on for some time and no editor good at what they do, will continue to spend time on a project without getting paid.

So your fear of spending (or more accurately, wanting to spend) more money is quite realistic.

What you have to remember when considering to work with, or working with an editor, is that the knowledge you gain serves two really significant purposes.

  1. It improves the story you’re working on. Assuming you have commercial aspirations for it, this is highly relevant.
  2. It improves you as a writer and all the future stories you produce. When you struggle through integrating a solid Character Arc in your story, you don’t forget the experience and knowledge for your future work.

In these regards the fear, money and time spent, is well worth it.

This is why when I edit for people, that first thing I always ask them, is their goals for the story and what they’re trying to get out of the process. Because at the end of the day, you get out of editing with a pro, however much or little you want to.▪

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.

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