Believe me, the quickest way to a bad editing experience is to have your manuscript edited too soon. There is no point wasting money on a copy-edit (that is, one that deals with spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency, and so on) until the structure and the story are completely sorted, because even the slightest redraft can result in most of the copy-edit, and the money you spent on it, vanishing into the Recycle Bin before your very eyes.
The key to a good edit is to know your manuscript and to choose the right type of edit at the right time.
Let’s imagine you have reached the end of your first draft. So, the next step is to send the manuscript to an editor? Actually, no. The next step is to give yourself a well-earned pat on the back for finishing the draft in the first place. Then shove the entire manuscript in a drawer (or the computer equivalent of a drawer) for a period of time and forget about it. Most people recommend two weeks proving time, I personally would suggest a month, or longer, if you can manage it. Go and write something else – a short story, a poem or flash fiction, assuming you aren’t already diving into your next novel.
When you are ready, take out your novel and read it straight through, just as you would any other book. This should give you a clear idea as to which parts of the story are working, which parts aren’t, and what, and where, the main problems are. Time for draft two, and, perhaps, even draft three or four, who knows? Repeat the process for each draft, and when you have the manuscript as good as you can get it, structurally-speaking, you can edit it yourself, checking in particular for obvious typos and spelling mistakes. Then send it to your beta readers: fellow writers, friends and family whose judgement you trust and who will be honest with you. Once you have all the comments back from your readers, proceed to draft and self-edit number whatever we’re at.
Now your manuscript is ready for a developmental edit.
Many writers are sorely tempted to skip this step mainly due to the expense of hiring a developmental (or structural) editor. But you should remember that the story is one of the most important elements of your novel (character being another). Forgive the bluntness, but there is enough evidence out there in the marketplace to show that a rattling good story will sell a book, even when the prose is fairly pedestrian. Hiring a developmental editor to help you get the story right could be the best investment you make. If you really can’t stretch to a full structural edit, at the very least, have it professionally critiqued, so that you are sure there are no major plot, character or pacing difficulties lurking in the manuscript just waiting to pop out and infuriate your readers.
Once you’ve implemented any changes you want to make after your developmental edit, then it’s a ‘rinse and repeat’ exercise: send out to beta readers, redraft/rewrite and self-edit.
Now, fast-forward another draft or three to the point where you are absolutely certain there will be no further amendments to the story or structure. Congratulations, you’ve made it! It’s time for a line/copy-edit.
For more details on structural and developmental editing, copy-editing, proofreading and manuscript critiques, check out the Editing FAQs section of Book Nanny’s website.