Hello, Goldilocks? The Best Time to Hire an Editor

Psst, I’ve got news: I just sent my next novel off to my favorite editor! Which means I’m actually making progress in this endless quest to finish my WIP.

The last time I worked with Kate Racculia (who helped me pummel Ferry to Cooperation Island into an agent-worthy story), I felt like I’d waited too long. Here’s what I said in 2018:

When should you hire an editor? Two answers: “much later than you think,” and “once you can’t make any more progress on your own.” I thought this story was ready to publish months ago, though looking back now I can see it was still a hot mess of a first draft. I’m glad I waited until I’d “finished” it (a few times), got some feedback that made it clear it still wasn’t focused enough yet, so I could give the editor some concrete direction about what I was looking for. I also wish I hadn’t bothered with a lot of the cleanup until I made the big changes.

Read more in Why Hire an Editor?

This time, I’m wondering if I’ve sent the manuscript too soon; what if the story’s missing a key component? Like so many decisions, I will only know in hindsight if the timing was Goldilocks-right. 

Story twists and turns

Most writing progress is impossible to measure. My last blog post of 2023 shared a fantasy about a GPS that could track my progress toward a book worthy of your time and money, but my writing process will never be linear enough for that. Even one step forward, two steps back doesn’t convey all the meandering paths that might be dead ends—or could be the next pivotal plot point. The only way to find out is to strap on my author blinders (the ones that block out the shiny publishing lights and voices saying, “this isn’t going anywhere”) and allow myself the luxury of just… following my characters.

So when I do make a measurable, definable step forward, like sending a “complete” manuscript to an editor, I want to shout about it to my readers—because otherwise it too remains completely invisible. 

What happens next? 

Over the next few weeks, the editor will go through the manuscript to identify what she calls “the beam of your story.” Typos are the easiest errors to correct, so I’ve asked her to focus on the big picture. She might suggest scene-level changes or tossing out unnecessary distractions, but her most valuable ideas will be about what’s not yet on the page. Which is why this timing might just prove to be perfect; I trust her to “see” anything that still needs to be added.

What she will NOT do: try to turn it into her own story. (This is a common writerly concern.) I love her novels (especially This Must Be the Place), but they are quite different from mine.

For FERRY, Kate’s thoughts were both really exciting and totally overwhelming—because I saw what the book could be, and realized just how much work I still had to do to get it there. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say.

But for now, after weeks/months/years of frenzied creation, I’m strapping on my patience pants—and trusting the timing will seem Goldilocks-right, even in hindsight. There’s still plenty of work ahead, but this pause is already granting me fresh perspective… along with time to savor a rare and mostly invisible step in my progression toward the next published novel.

Got a question about my writing process, or want to share your own? Drop in a comment below, or send me an email. I read every single one, with gratitude.

6 Replies to “Hello, Goldilocks? The Best Time to Hire an Editor”

  1. Carol,
    This is excellent advice for first time writer great base benchmarks to achieve with their book before hiring an editor. Maybe sort of like the Olympic training sense of tuning up to superb boat handling and incredible boatspeed so incredibly fast on all points of sail in all sea states. One’s first novel needs to be almost the best in the fleet to get an agent’s or acquisition editor’s attention. Would be great to have a post on how a writer knows they’ve hired a superb editor who knows and understands what they are going for in their novel. Your thoughts of how one can know or what to look for to find a superb editor.

    1. Larry, I love the analogy between hiring an editor and Olympic training! I guess that’s why they call some editors “book coaches.” As for a post about how to find a superb editor, it obviously depends on what you’re looking for (see Why Hire an Editor https://carolnewmancronin.com/why-hire-an-editor/for more). But I’ll put it on my list, thanks!

  2. Given the care you’re obviously giving to each phase of this mysterious process, I’m sure your newborn will turn out great, Carol. And I can’t wait!

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