Monday, February 12, 2018

Hiring an ind. editor

I'm a member of both the THIS and THAT writer organizations, and have the opportunity to go to monthly workshops and accompanying conferences. Just recently, we had a successful professional editor speak to us, and a question was asked about the benefits of having a manuscript professionally edited before querying agents. She responded that she believed agents would prefer to see the work pre-editing to determine what type of skills the writer actually possessed, especially if the submitted work was to be part of a series. We were a bit surprised at this statement, so I wondered what your take would be on something like this.

Would you, as an agent, rather get a professionally polished submission, or one that has been somewhat edited by the writer?

The absolute bottom line: I want to get something I can sell. How it arrived at that point is of less concern.

There's a lot to be said for getting independent professional eyeballs on your manuscript before you start querying. By the time you're ready to query you've read every page more than a dozen times and what may be crystal clear to you can be rather less so to those of us reading for the first time.

So, in that instance, I think it's wise to get that help. Whether it's a paid editor or someone else doesn't matter as much as the results.

If you have an independent editor and s/he is suggesting major structural work, or pointing out plot problems in a novel you thought was finished, you may not be ready to query. It's one thing to get second eyeballs to find plot inconsistencies or small mistakes. It's entirely another if s/he's finding things you should already be able to see.

That said, this is how you learn to write. Write, get comments, revise, get comments, rinse, lather yourself into a frenzy, repeat unto death.

The ONLY concern I have if you have professional help is that you be able to write that second book on the contractual deadline, and that deadline is about a year from when I sell the book. Bringing in an editor and doing any kind of revision takes time, and time is going to be in short supply on book two.

But, the real answer is I don't much care how your novel got into its present condition. I only care that it's terrific and I can sell it for wheelbarrows full of cash.


Kathy Joyce said...

Um, Janet, I think you spelled "dozen" wrong. It's "h-u-n-d-r-e-d."

Kitty said...

Love your comment, Kathy Joyce, but I spell it "h-u-n-d-r-e-d-s."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"...wheelbarrows full of cash."

I spent a 2T toddler shoebox full of cash to get my book edited and it was worth every George Washington. No plot holes, no big changes (it's not that kind of book) simply the kind of editing which is not simple at all.
It was as eye opening as my first pair of glasses.

The hell with your wheelbarrows I'm looking at boatloads of cash. If not this book then the next one.

Why is it that dreams as a result of effort seem so possible on Mondays?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yes, Kathy.

Linda Strader said...

Interesting! I would have thought the answer would have been to pay for an editor. That being said, I didn't (couldn't afford to), and relied on beta readers and a retired English teacher...still landed a book deal with a small publisher, and their editor found little to fix. (Nice!)

To those of you who expressed interest in hearing when my book will be available for pre-order, the time is here! Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure, Love and Courage is on Amazon right now. Thanks everyone for your support!

Gerald Dlubala said...

It's difficult sometimes, as a writer on a novel size project, to finally say those words, "This is ready for query and submission". Great advice, and thanks for clearing up some confusion on the topic.

Sherry Howard said...

At the beginning of your publishing, I think professional eyes are worth that toddler box of cash. The vision a pro has for your work, I find anyway, is like nothing you can do for yourself. A developmental edit is a great help along the way.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm a moron with commas. My three nonfiction mss were edited by my publisher's in house editor. At no cost to me, of course.

After completing my first work of fiction, and leaving my publisher, I paid big bucks to have my ms professionally edited. I felt it was worth the cost (although the poor thing is sitting in a cyber drawer collecting dust). Then I completed two more mss but didn't have the money for pro edits. I enlisted the help of two close friends who are smarter than me to search for typos ... because, I'm a moron with commas.

I'll add, the pro edits were after all my own rereading, revising, and more rereading, plus beta readers.

Linda Congratulations on the upcoming release of Summers of Fire. YAY you!!!

Julie Weathers said...

Yup, I've heard the same thing. Agents have said before they want to know if a writer can revise/edit their work. That being said, I guess if they have money from the sale of a work they have the cash and time is the hangup.

That being said, I have considered an editor for Rain Crow. I'm not getting any younger. I don't have time to fool around.

What makes me nervous is this: "and that deadline is about a year from when I sell the book"

I realize I'll be querying for God knows how long and even after I get an agent it will take a while to sell the book, but even though this is a historical and you'd think it's only natural that I know what happens next, I don't. I know sort of what happens down the line somewhere, but where along the line that is God only knows. Plus--research. My old friend and curse.

I'm not going to think about it. I haven't had coffee yet. It may send me scrambling back into my hole.

Julie Weathers said...

Linda! Congratulations. You must be thrilled and you should be.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

A word of caution: not all editors are offering the same service. You need to know exactly what kind of feedback you're looking for, and that the person you're hiring specializes in that specific kind of editing. Basically, there are three kinds:

What I think of as a developmental editor will look at the big picture and give you feedback on things like plot, world building, character arcs, overall voice--all of the things that make the story better, or your writing better. They may point out a few typos or poor word choices, but nitpicking detail isn't their specialty. If you want someone to tell you whether your book grabs them by the throat and what you can do to improve your grip, this is the person to hire.

A copy editor has their style manual of choice memorized backward and forward. They will tell you whether school yard should in fact be schoolyard, or even school-yard. They will question the placement of commas, point out where those em dashes should be ellipses or maybe a colon. If you want to avoid embarrassing gaffs using viral where you meant virile, this is your editor.

A line editor puts on the final polish. They are pros at catching every typo, missed words, etc. I honestly can't think of why you'd want to hire this person pre-submission, as editors and agents don't expect this level of sparkle.

Regardless, don't hire an editor without talking to some of their previous clients and specifically asking if they are good at WHAT YOU WANT DONE. The best copyeditor in the world might try to help fix your plot, but it's not their wheelhouse. And as I learned the last time I hired an editor, a decent developmental editor may well not even know what it means when words are underlined in your manuscript, so she's definitely not the last pair of eyeballs you want on something you're about to self-publish.

Jill Warner said...

LindaCongratulations! That's exciting.

I paid an editor to look at my first ten pages and I'm *still* giddy about all the feedback she gave me. It's totally worth hiring an independent editor at least once, if only to teach yourself the sort of things to look for when you revise.

KariV said...

Depending where you're at in the write/revise/query stage, good crit partners or beta readers might be a better "investment" than a developmental editor. Join some writers groups and ask around. You might have to go through a couple before you find one that gives you the level of feedback you're looking for, but I've found readers who will do this for me.
Ultimately, since I'm writing for readers, it's been helpful to see what readers think of my plot, characters, and pacing. A book I thought was done is now going through substantial edits because several readers pointed out the same developmental errors. I feel like I've gotten valuable feedback, but I haven't had to shell out big bucks for professional editing.

Steve Stubbs said...

OP: Ms, Reid is absolutely right that you need eyeballs not your own on MS that is your own. But there is a possible problem with a professional editor.

If you spend $5000 having an editor work it over and the most you can reasonably hope to realize from its sale (and most books do not sell at all) is $2000, minus taxes and agent fees, you don't have to be Tom Peters to figure out that's no way to make money.

Until the news broke that "Robert Galbraith" was a pen name for J.K. Rowling, THE CUCKOO'S CALLING only sold 2,500 copies. That neighbor of yours in the Hamptons who just bought a Rolls Royce is not a writer.

So a question you have to ask is, does profitability, or at least breaking even, figure in as a decision criterion.

If you take what's left of your royalty check after you pay everybody and splurge on a Big Mac at MacDonalds, you may be going into the hole.

If you are a hobbyist with lots of cash, that does not matter.

Lennon Faris said...

When I'd just started my current WIP, I had a freelance editor look at my query and first three chapters. I knew both were going to change, but I knew the basic story and wanted to get an outsider's POV for red flags.

This was truly helpful. Patterns of an editor's markups highlight what you what you need to work on. If you carry the ideas (rather than just the implementation) of the edits throughout the rest of your writing, editing can help you quite a bit.

Then, your mss looks good while querying, AND you still shine with your second book.

Kathy Joyce said...

Steve Stubbs is probably right. It might help to think of investment in a professional editor as a two-fer: MS editing and intensive writing seminar. You're investing in yourself, not just your MS, (and you're worth it).

I have two other suggestions:

1. Offer to critique others' work. I do this periodically (not just in writing or crit group) and I learn so much every time. I see something that doesn't work and realize, "Oh, I did that too." Or I see something great and think, "that's how I could fix my [enter MS problem here]."

2. You don't have to have the whole MS edited. For example, a while back, Janet highlighted a twitter special offer from Barbara Rogan. She offered to critique the first 30 pages of an MS for $50. Best money I ever spent on writing. Everything she mentioned I could extrapolate to the whole MS.

My favorite comment was on a scene where a character is attacked. I introduced the attacker arriving, then wrote, "and Hell descended." Rogan wrote , "This is very literary. Readers don't want literary fight scenes. They want blow-by-blow." I edited every scene with that in mind!

Anonymous said...

Kari Lynn Dell said what I was going to about types of editors.

And one thing I've learned from critiquing for other writers is:
a - which mistakes bother me or what bores me in THEIR writing
b - then I can see them far more clearly in my OWN writing

John Davis Frain said...

Am I the OP? I don't remember writing this. But I do remember the meeting, and I was the one who asked the editor this question. Maybe OP was sitting next to me because we talked about how surprising the answer was. Wow, what a small world.

Kathy, I absolutely LOVE how you spell dozens. You, my friend, are a writer. Only a writer can spell something so wrong and not have it be a typo. Exquisite!

The last time I hired an editor and sent my first 30, she fired a note back, "C'mon, send me your real pages. I've seen more entertaining grocery lists." I wanted to fire her for competence, but instead I started reworking my first 30.

Which is exactly what I'm going to do now. Thank you for the advice, Janet. Now it's up to me not to waste it.

John Davis Frain said...

Kari Lynn,

I hit PUBLISH before I read your comment. Thank you for adding that to Janet's answer. So succinct, and so accurate. Man, the people that hang out around here are smart. I must be grandfathered in under the old membership policies.

Julie Weathers said...


"C'mon, send me your real pages. I've seen more entertaining grocery lists." I wanted to fire her for competence,

Yes, that's what has me terrified. Someone told me once they thought I should get rid of everything else and just start with the spying. Well, that would certainly help with word count, about 70,000 of them.

Colin Smith said...

Good topic, and some great comments. In fact, I've added this to the Treasure Chest (on the "Gems" page).

I've also updated the Published Works page. Can I take this opportunity to ask, if you have a book listed there, could you take a moment to check the listing is correct and up-to-date? Also, if you have a book or short story you want me to list, please let me know via email (see my Blogger profile for my address).

And to everyone else: These lists aren't there for decoration, or to give me something to do. Check them out! Maybe buy or borrow a book by a fellow Reider. :)


AJ Blythe said...

Great question, OP (and John...cue Twilight music).

Thanks Colin for filing =)

Craig F said...

It is very hard to be objective about your babies. Sometimes developing as a writer is akin to the difference between a new parent and one with four grown kids.

For some reason you sometimes must pay someone before what others have told you. Things like how the start of your book doesn't have anything to tie it into the rest of the book, that you have Roget's Disease or god-in-a-box syndrome.

There are fine lines between grounding your readers in you story and boring the shit out of them. You really do need to have other eyes on your work. Critique groups can give you a multitude of line by line editorials. One who can help with the structure of your work is a rare bird indeed.

One step forward in developing as a writer is critical reading. Buy a used copy of a favored book and find out why it worked for you. Then move on to critiquing others. Eventually it will make rational talk about your book possible.

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