(Disclaimer: So, this is a little bit aimed at a particular author – they probably know who they are – a little bit born from Mum going off on another one of her rants about dumb authors who ask for an editor and then ignore our suggestions.)
(What right do I have to this topic, you may ask? I've been a writer for *muffled number* years, and I've utilised a beta reader for probably about ten years now. Probably about six years ago, I took up the task for beta reading fanfiction for other people, and I've since added editing 'real books' in the past three or four years. I'm hardly an expert, but I've been in this game a while.)
So, you're looking to get someone to edit your work! That's awesome! Fanfiction or original fiction, either is a great choice! And I'm not saying this because I think you're a bad writer; human beings make mistakes, it's what we do, and there's generally no shame in that. (I mean, if your mistake involves wiping out an entire country, that's a problem, but for most of us, that just involves overcooking the pasta and things like giving a character a third hand.) If you're a traditionally published author, the publishing house is going to be passing your work through an editor, because chances are pretty good there's something you've missed, which is especially true in longer pieces.
Here's the thing, though, about asking for an editor, which not all authors seem to get: You are asking for their time and their expertise. Your editor wants to help you, that's why they're there! (For original fiction, they may also be there for the money, but they're generally offering their services because they want to help someone.) If you're going to ignore your editor's suggestions out of hand, you're not looking for an editor; you're looking for someone to read it and gush, which isn't what your editor is there for. (Although we're certainly happy to gush if we enjoyed it!) If you don't like something your editor changed, that's fine, change it back; we all have our personal styles. If you're confused about why your editor made/suggested a change, ask them.
The other thing to remember, of course, is to give your editor time. A 'beta reader' is your second reader (assuming you, the author, are the first). That means they get it second. (Or third, or fourth, or however many beta readers you've actually scripted to help out.) If you're incapable of waiting to give the general populace a piece until after the beta reader has had a look, you're not looking for a beta reader; you're probably looking for a reader willing to point out mistakes. Which some will do, but most won't make that a priority, and plenty won't think to point errors out at all.
Okay, so, there's a few different ways an editor can look at your work:
- Proofreading is the most basic form, and generally involves a quick pass, pointing out grammatical, punctuation, spelling, and weird word usages. (This is pretty much the extent of a beta reader's job, coming in after the piece is written and giving it a quick check, though some will be a bit more thorough. If it's a super short piece, though, this is really all that's needed.)
- Copy editing or line editing is a lot more in-depth, and often involves going through the piece with a fine-toothed comb, looking for all of the same things as proofreading. (In a traditionally published setting, this is done after all of the other editing, looking for things that might have been missed on a first pass.)
- Substantive/substantial editing is when the editor pays a bit more attention to the whole piece, keeping track of whether your characters are staying true to themselves, finds potential plot holes, and/or points out potential scenes or lines that could be brought back in later on. (This is best done for long, completed pieces of fiction, so your editor/beta reader can read it all in one go.)
- Developmental editing involves the editor and writer working together from day one, and the editor might be thought more as your idea-bouncer. (Like with substantive editing, this is best done with longer pieces.)
Personally, I pride myself as a copyeditor, and I can manage a pretty good substantive edit if you give me a day or two to think about it. And while I don't so much any more with the developmental editing, because I tend to get distracted with my own stuff, I've done it with writers I'm really good friends with, usually who I started out copyediting for, and we eventually escalated to bouncing ideas and specific lines back and forth.
Because I don't have a full-time job right now, I'm generally pretty happy to beta fanfiction for fandoms and/or ships I'm familiar/comfortable with, and I do that for free (though I reserve the right to turn someone down if they're an arse about asking and/or they make a habit of ignoring my help >.>). For original fiction, again, pretty open all the time, but I do charge for that, and you can contact me via our editing services page. (Please don't use the email on that page for fanfiction, okay? Contact me on tumblr/twitter/LJ and we can chat.)
Okay, so what if you don't want to go through the hassle of finding an editor, or don't have the patience to wait for someone else's schedule? Can you just edit your work yourself?
I mean, I do this sometimes, and it's generally not a great idea, but, sure, you can do it if you're looking to avoid the hassle of asking around. If you're looking to speed up the process, LOL, no. The best suggestion I have for self-editing is to set the piece aside for a couple weeks (yes, even super short pieces, stop being impatient), and then come back and look it over. You can also change the font or the size, or change the width of the page. The trick is to forget what you meant a line to be, and see it as it actually is. It's not fool-proof – trust me – but it's better than nothing.
That was both....longer and shorter than I expected, somehow. ^^; Thanks for bearing with me, folks.