Saturday, January 25, 2014

Rant: Hiring an editor

Question: I attended a conference in Southern California a little over a year ago where each participant on each of the author/agent/publisher-type panels urged the budding authors to pay an editor or professional reader to read and edit the book before an agent is even queried. (1)

At the conference, I ended up at dinner with a New York agent who had been on those panels. She told me that her office has a separate business of doing just this, under a separate name, email, etc.; editors who are paid to read and comment and/or line edit manuscripts. She certainly was legit-had an author featured at the conference, great website, several agents in her firm, etc. (2)

Sooooo, later in the year, I contacted her about having her or another editor read and provide comments to me. My problem is that my book is always requested by the agents I query, and after the first 50 pp. they request the entire mss. But, in the end they reject it. I wanted to pay someone in her editing group to advise me on how to fix the problems with the last half of the book. We negotiated a price for just reading and comments (no line edit) and I sent it off. She was enthusiastic about the book, and for three months we emailed back and forth. I finally asked for the comments by the end of October. She agreed, asked for a one-week extension. After that, I never heard from her again. FYI: I paid her $800. We kept her reading fees and contacts separate from her agent email.

As an addendum: At the same time, a well-known agent had my mss. In the end, she, too, rejected it but actually told me exactly why. Her three short sentences provided me with more guidance than I received from the person I paid.

My questions: Shall I just let it go? When I email her trying to close the issue, I never hear back. I don't feel like litigating anything, but I would like to know that the issue is closed. She would be known among New York agents, so I don't want to create any trouble. (3)

Second question: If this is a given among agents, how do we find legit book doctors, ones willing to work with us? (4)


This is my reaction when I read your email:





But I wasn't sure who I wanted to punch first, you or that idiot agent.  You, for not asking the questions you needed (see below) and not standing up for yourself, or that idiot agent for lying through her teeth and cheating you out of your money.

Now that I've had some milk and cookies and regained my otherwise sunny disposition





let's go through your letter to see how you got in the pickle you're in.


(1)"I attended a conference in Southern California a little over a year ago where each participant on each of the author/agent/publisher-type panels urged the budding authors to pay an editor or professional reader to read and edit the book before an agent is even queried."

This is utter and complete bunk. Horseshit of the finest kind.  When I see agents doing this, I actually interrupt them on the panel and howl "horseshit."

There's nothing wrong with hiring an editor. I've recommended it several times myself. I have an ongoing relationship with a very good editor who reads manuscripts I'm thinking of taking on.  The problem is not editors at all.

The problem is WHEN you consult them.  IF you're getting rejections, and you've been to writing conferences and taken classes, then maybe you invest some dough.

You don't hire an editor as step one of the query process.


(2) "She certainly was legit-had an author featured at the conference, great website, several agents in her firm, etc.

THIS IS NOT HOW YOU DETERMINE IF AN AGENT IS ANY GOOD!!! The question is "what has she sold!?"

And more important: Have you read the books she's sold? Did you like them?  There are a lot of VERY good agents out there who rep books I hate.  There are agents who sell books I've turned down on submission.  In other words, even if she's a very good agent (and I do not know that from what you've said in that sentence) she might not have a clue about your book or be a good fit for it.


 (3) "so I don't want to create any trouble."  WHY THE FUCK NOT? This agent took $800 of your hard-earned money and did not deliver what she said she would do.  That is breach of contract and it's not OK. NOT OK.

I swear to Godiva, this one sentence almost made me get on your (oops) MY broom and fly to your house and rap on your door with my claw and smack you around with my cute new red mini-spatula from Wisk





I read Terri Lynn Coop's hilarious Facebook page posts about some of her ebay dealings and my god people give one-star feedback if the post office is late delivering.

And have you seen those one-star Amazon reviews cause the buyer thinks the ebook price is too high?

And you are ok with giving up $800 and the critique cause you don't want to MAKE TROUBLE?? Honest to godiva if this isn't prima facie evidence of why writers need agents, well, I'll boil my hat and eat it for brunch.

Look.  You've been badly used here and it's time to take some steps.

First: certified letter to Agent Pond Scum at her Editor Purloin address and you ask for your money back.

Second: if you don't get your money back in the time frame specified (30 days) you report the agent to AAR if they are a member.  And by GOD you get over to Absolute Write and see if anyone else is having this problem.  AND you alert Victoria Strauss, who keeps files on this kind of chicanery and a blog about how to spot these guys.

Third: You quit worrying about making trouble and start standing up for yourself.  You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing.  You contracted for a service that was not provided in any time frame let alone a timely one and that's the worst kind of betrayal of trust for an agent to be involved in.

(4) "Second question: If this is a given among agents, how do we find legit book doctors, ones willing to work with us?"

Well, if you haven't intuited by now, no this is NOT a given.  And anyone who tells you it is has an agenda for saying so.

Once more with feeling: a legitimate agent does NOT refer you to an editor or an editorial service in which s/he has a financial or any other kind of interest.  It's NOT ethical to do so. Don't just take my rant for it. Think about this: if running an editorial service on the side is ok, why are they going to such pain to conceal they do it? And truly, the problem here isn't even they're running this scheme, it's that they're not actually delivering the work they promise.


Any fucking questions??



37 comments:

french sojourn said...

Best website about the business of writing / querying / publishing on the interwebs.

Nice post...as usual.

William Plante said...

Talk about a tounge lashing.

Michael Seese said...

As part of #3, second-to-last paragraph, does Preditors & Editors (http://pred-ed.com/) include pond-scum agents?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Whew...I could feel your heart rate rising and see your face turning red and I'm three states away.

I recently hired an editor (writer referred, thank you D) to read and provide an editorial letter.(Thank you C). Best money I ever spent.

My novel may never be stacked on the front table at B&N but at least now I have a better understanding of how to prop the sucker up so you can see it when you walk in the door.

LynnRodz said...

Now that's a rant!!! Your post has even got my blood boiling! (Btw, I love the photos.)

french sojourn said...

P.S. I am on my way to a tattoo salon to have the following tattooed backwards on my forehead.

"You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing."

Nice!

Melissa said...

I think the author may be concerned that by creating trouble for this agent she will some how be blackballed in publishing. Thanks for giving her the understanding that what this agent did is unethical and the permission to do something about it.

There are many, many agents in the word, and they don't gather together to knit the names of their enemies to be beheaded. Or, do they, Janet? If you call out one crooked, I would think the others would stand and cheer.

Susan Bonifant said...

Years ago, I made the same mistake and had the same naive fear about "fall out" with the tiniest misstep. Worse than a representative who double dips like that, is one who intentionally exploits a new writer's (normal)lack of savvy. As for that writer who lost the $800, he/she didn't. He/she actually secured the attention (and reaction)of Janet Reid, and wound up smarter in the process (if a little pawed about the face). And that's not a terrible deal at all.

Lance said...

The water in the lagoon boiled in rage. It turned red with blood and yellow with bile. And it rose up in a great eruption, cleansing the reef of one more bottom-feeding, scum sucking parasite.

Alison Heller said...

Oh, yay! I love this post. One thing, though, the author-to-be did say:
My problem is that my book is always requested by the agents I query, and after the first 50 pp. they request the entire mss. But, in the end they reject it. I wanted to pay someone in her editing group to advise me on how to fix the problems with the last half of the book.

And you do comment:
The problem is WHEN you consult them. IF you're getting rejections, and you've been to writing conferences and taken classes, then maybe you invest some dough.

It does sound like the author-to-be was perhaps at this stage, so I think it was understandable that content/structural editing services were sought. Of course that is NOT the main issue here - the misrepresentation of both the need for editors and the editorial services provided are.

Kyler said...

Whew! This is why we love you Janet and why I keep coming back here. Great Saturday morning reading, thank you!

The Happy Amateur said...

I went from feeling really bad for the author to feeling really good for her/him, because I'm sure your post was a ton of help. You give great down-to-earth practical advice on your blog for free. Despite your angry cats pics and occasional swearing, you're a pretty nice shark, Janet.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Have just left an agent who I was signed with for only a few short months. It was NOT a predatory situation like this, but because of a larger pattern of a lack of follow-through.

The reason why I'm mentioning it is because the issues I was having were things I was able to make excuses for, because I didn't want to rock the boat by seeming too demanding. It took me so long to get an agent, I didn't want to blow it by coming across as a diva.

A brave fellow client spoke up on Absolute Write and showed the tarnish on her once-shiny expectations, and made me take a closer look at my misgivings. What's more, some clients started comparing notes--and their experiences were eerily similar to mine, but they'd been putting up with it for months. Or over a year.

But we'd all dismissed our gut feelings for various reasons: "I'm not his only client", "Publishing is never an overnight success", "Maybe this is just an overwhelming time of year and Agent just needs time to catch up on things", etc.

I am so grateful for the discussion on AW that spurred me to make some tough decisions. It's also made me much more clear with myself in what I want for myself and for my book--it may still be an agent, it may be a different path. But in whatever scenario, I'm confident I will be a stronger advocate for what my hard work deserves.

Janet Reid said...

Alison, in my zeal to jump up and down waving my arms in the air, I might (err, ok, DID) sacrifice some clarity.

I intended to convey that the panel of at the writing conference who advised writers to consult an editor before querying was the timeline problem, not the author who wrote this question's problem.

Thanks for pointing out that wasn't quite as clear on the page as it was in my fevered brain.

donnaeverhart.com said...

I always learn something out here, and my fave line, amongst many in this post, "You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing."

In reading what this author experienced, I sheepishly admit I would have thought/behaved the same way.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

God, can I call you my publishing spirit animal? (in the most professional, complimentary, and non creepy way possible....)

You're such a strong, reasonable, and informative voice for people who are writing and who intend to dip their toes into publishing waters, I come to your blog almost daily. I don't write what you rep (unless I somehow knock your socks off the way Trickster apparently did), but advice like this isn't genre specific.

Sara J. Henry said...

I'd add to this that if you don't get your mney back in the time specified, file a report with the Better Business Bureau in whatever state the agent resides - you can generally do this online.

Never be afraid of standing up to someone who cheated you - I see writers at conferences afraid to complain when they were shafted during a paid-for-session by, say, an agent running out of time and never getting to their critique - or when a conference organizer pairs them with, say, an agent who doesn't handle their genre so cannot comment. COMPLAIN. Politely, but firmly.

jan said...

Thank you for clearing up THAT little problem!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing."
"You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing."
"You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing."
"You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing."
"You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing."
Times 100

Tonight I'm writing it in longhand in my journal of writerly practices. WTF is that you may ask. I was going to say it's a roll of 1000 single ply sheets but the sentiment is much to valuable for that.
I'm carving it on a couple of stone tablets as number eleven.

Fatboy said...

"When I see agents doing this, I actually interrupt them on the panel and howl "horseshit."

"Third: You quit worrying about making trouble and start standing up for yourself. You are not a goddamn beggar at the banquet of publishing."

I love you and I'm not really fat.

MNye said...

HA HA LOVE the pic. Gawd I needed that. I want a blown up frame copy. That's my avatar!!

D. B. Sundstrom said...

My panties are wet. Thanks. Now I have to explain myself to my husband.

Nadine Laman said...

Once you figure out something is wrong with your ms, this will cost about $50 to fix. Print two hard copies of the ms. Get a great pen. Think about which of your friends (1) is like your target audience; (2) can commit to a weekend with no distractions. Get healthy snacks or the number to the pizza delivery, an armload of bottled water, and wear comfy clothes. Read your ms aloud to your friend. Don't be defensive about comments or questions, and encourage their honest feedback. Make notes and fix what was identified. Mention said friend in the acknowledgements or dedication. Send your revised ms to an AAR member agent. Also, demand your money back and narc on that agent.

Dor said...

It's also worth mentioning that if a person is concerned about causing a ruckus, it's fine to PM an AbsoluteWrite mod with their story. They've put things on the board on behalf of people who wish to remain unidentified before now.

NLB said...

Fantastic! This blog is a great service to authors and I am glad your rants show up in my email each time. I have been fortunate in finding folks I trust to edit my self-pubs, and am helping one person get her won business going...she's that good. Trust is a big part of the process, but this subject was simply horrifying. Thanks!

Anne said...

Janet, Thank you for the comments, advice and tongue-lashing. Signed, THE beggar at the banquet of publishing.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Beautifully ranted.

Now, can you please take on the folks who think that any agent who offers to represent them is by definition a good agent?

Sherryl Clark said...

I'd also be interested to know what you think of agents who offer these $99 or $199 webinars where they supposedly tell you stuff that will lead to you getting your manuscript accepted.
I've heard a couple of good things where the agent saw a query and asked for the ms and took it on, but mostly this seems like a simple money-making exercise, and not far off the $800 issue you so "nicely" dealt with here!
Are any of your readers able to chip in on this?

Beth said...

POW! Knockout punch by the fabulous Janet Reid :) <3 Love your blog!

Nikola Vukoja said...


This was/is a great post/rant whatever you want to call it.

The way I’m reading it, this person was targeted from the beginning.
I mean, think about it, some aspiring writer asks questions about editing services and then, POW, what do you know? They are having dinner with, wait for it, an agent who also happens to offer editing services… scam/sham/scum all the way!

But I have to reinforce what Melissa mentioned about rocking the boat and to a lesser degree what Angelica was talking about, though, to be fair, those who know the agent in question re: Angelica, will know there is/was never a suggestion of anything 'shabby' just a less than perfect marriage.

My example is based on a bit of both.
I too was getting a lot of requests for partials then fulls then rejections. Helpful though the feedback was I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. I hired not one but two editors, with references & exp. in my genre etc.
One got sacked after they 'corrected' PRUSSIAN for PERSIAN when asked why they said they'd never heard of Prussia, part of the MS is set early part of 20th C before WWI.
The second was sacked after they attempted to 'correct' INCUBUS for INCUBATOR...
In the end, I actually LEARNED where my issue was from a wonderful agent who went to the trouble of telling me EXACTLY what stopped her, where, why and how to fix it... all it cost me was to wait for her to get around to reading it and it ended in a request for future work and a strong friendship.

My second example is along the lines of Angelica's comment.
Recently my MS was rejected because I 'did not spell my MC's name correctly in the QL. I was 'told' how to spell it and to do some major editing before submitting to other agents. The agent in question, who is a quality agent, thought I had misspelled the MC's name and therefore assumed the MS would be full of errors.

I didn't, it isn't and it doesn't matter.
Regardless of the quality of that agent, I knew we'd have issues had she 'seen past' my MC's name. I listened to my inner voice, even as I was tempted to send a war & peace epic of an email explaining the name and whatnot, thinking said agent might reconsider, but I didn't.
I didn’t for two reasons. At first I was afraid I’d be somehow set alight on Twitter for wanting to explain the spelling was correct and then I thought, who cares?
The second was, this agent deserves better and so do I.

As for the $800, damn! I totally get where you are coming from, but don’t let it slide. I totally fear; some sort of backlash, but hell, you don’t have to call-out someone to get something done, contact your version of consumer affairs, get in touch with Victoria Strauss, get in touch with the president of the parent company of the Agency or the organisation at the conference.

At the very least you deserve your money back.

KayC said...

As always, I love your "paw to the nose" approach and the words of wisdom for us all to heed.

Oh, and you really should quote yourself more in your header, it's a fabulous line.

Jeanette Andersen said...

Thank you for your comments. I am in a rut and needed to read this. Thanks.

The Notebook Blogairy said...

Thanks Janet for this post! I have been struggling with this question. An agent also suggested I work with a book editor because my line-by-line writing needs work and my writing needs to go to the next level.

This editor does this type of work on the side but shared with me that they were full and not accepting any new clients but felt this type of service would be good for me.

After reading this post I am going to re-think getting an editor and do more work on my craft.

Thanks so much for your excellent post. I needed to hear/read your rant! :-)

Scout Dakota said...

Great. Now, I'm gonna go read every blog you've ever written. I love a good ranter. Cheers.

CourtneyC said...

I laughed, I cried, I wanted to hug you. Best post ever. You are the best, Ms. Reid.

AmyShojai said...

HOORAH!

*clapping cute pink spatulas like a seal*

dianastaresinicdeane said...

I, too, have encountered keynote speakers at conferences who argue that the "new norm" will be for authors to hire their own editors before they even start the querying process. "You can expect to spend $1,000 to $2,500 as part of your investment," that particular agent (who was an editor before being laid off by one of the big houses) said. He was followed by a big-name editor (who is now a freelance editor after being laid off by one of the big houses) who nodded sagely when someone asked about the validity of the agent's claim.

The really sad thing is that most of the people at the conference were newbies and might not even think to question the claim.