Friday, February 22, 2019

developmental editor and query timing

My coauthor and I have written a YA fantasy novel. It is the first in a series. We have edited it to the best of our abilities (we think), but currently do not have the funds for a professional developmental edit. We have started on book number two of the series. Is this a wise decision, or should we wait to edit and query the first book and see if there is any traction? I have other novels that I can work on in the mean time. Is it better to continue with those?
I think it's smart to have two different books percolating. If you fail to get traction with this first one, and the agent or editor says "what else ya got?" it's better to have something different than more of the same.

I'm perplexed why you think you need a developmental editor before you query.
It most likely won't hurt, but how long do you intend to wait to get started here?



Is this a thing with authors now?
Are you hearing "you must have an editor before querying?"


I know the emphasis is on "you must be polished before querying" and that's VERY true, but polish does not require an outside editor. (At least I don't think so.)


Let me know what you're seeing and hearing out there in authorland!















45 comments:

CynthiaMc said...

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is a big help.

On a side note, checking real estate for back home, the house where Winston Groom wrote Forrest Gump is for sale - only $6 million. I was surprised to note that house is the dream home I've been carrying around in my head all this time. (Not that house per se, Winston rented the servants' cottage. I like the main house, but it's one bedroom short). Also, one of Jimmy Buffett's album covers was shot on the pier there.

Happy Friday, Everyone!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

The thinking is a writer should not have to pay anyone for anything to query. There was a big debate on twitter about this a week or so ago. Agents mostly fell to team "do not pay for this" although it doesn't hurt to get a professional pair of eyes on your work. I think you get beta readers. If you have the funds, a workshop or conference to look at your submission materials is a nice to have. If you can afford an editor just for spit and polish, make sure it is someone well-reputed.

So, it doesn't hurt to get that edit, but no, a writer should not have to pay for anything prior to submission.

Kate said...

I spend a lot of time on writing forums and there is definitely a small – but loud – minority out there screaming that professional editing is essential if a 'nobody' wants to get out of the slush pile.

This advice usually comes from the same voices that grumble at length about how the system is rigged, how agents are corrupt (and hate authors), and how you have to know someone to get published etc. So all in all, it's people who hate the system giving bad advice because they think it's true.

From what I've seen, people who have researched the process are the first to say: you can absolutely get there on your own by self-editing, and utilising betas and writing groups etc.

Sadly, their voices are often drowned out by the noise.

Leslie said...

I agree with Kate and was about to post similar comments. In one particular online forum for writers, it seems that more and more people are hiring developmental editors before even submitting to agents. Then they debate whether or not to tell the agents.

Gloria said...

Yep, I'm in a writers facebook group, and they told me I definitely had too much ego and wouldn't get far when I said I wasn't going to pay 400$ to an editor before querying.

It specially infuriates me when they talk about "style edits" and "voice edits" needed, it seems, to polish your writing voice. They prey on rookies and people who don't know better and want to sell books fast, because you know what polishes your voice? Ten years of writing. Or twenty if you need them...

But then, while querying I got a reputable agent asking me for a similar fee just to read my MS... So I'm afraid things are pretty grim around here.

Aphra Pell said...

Agree with the above - there are some people about insisting writers need professional editing before submitting to agents. None that I've seen so far have been agents though!

I did see one publisher (who had best remain nameless, although they weren't a pay to play publisher as far as I could tell) state that any submission (agented or unagented) must come with proof of full professional editing prior to submission, as they view it as the writer's responsibility to invest and prepare the book for sale. I noped my way off their website at high speed. Their entire tone and attitude to authors was... unattractive.



Lisa Bodenheim said...

I've also been contemplating whether or not I should work with a developmental editor after I've send my work through beta readers but before I start querying. I guess I've become paranoid about my ability to write a story! Plus there's the ever-shifting job descriptions (or is that just my imagination) of what particular agents or publishers do or don't do in the editing department when they work with an author.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Gloria A reputable agent/agency will never charge for reading your full. Was this some side gig for the agent? When querying, if the agent asks for a full from a query, they are not going to charge you a dime.

This is different than if you go to some agent or editor's side editing business where they might give you feedback on some pages for a fee. Then, they are not going to represent you. They are going to give you feedback. Agents get paid exactly $0 until they sell something. It can lead to lean times so some of them will have side gigs offering editorial services. But they are not required.


I am a little bummed by some of the comments. So many writers are being taken advantage of. No, you do NOT need to pay for editing to query. Good beta readers are worth their weight in gold. It's not wrong to pay for a some feedback, but it is not necessary either.

Reputable agents will never charge a writer for anything in their capacity as agent. Except maybe celebratory drinks but that is totally optional. A proper agent will agree to represent your well-polished book (this takes nothing but lots of revision and passion),then sell your book because that is how both writer and agent get paid. Furthermore, the more the writer makes, the better the agent does. Agents NEED writers. They do not hate them. Where does that tripe come from?

This is a long game. It is not for those in need of instant gratification. Remember, the agent works closest to the money first - active clients and all that involves before they work through the slush pile of queries. Patience and persistence.

If a writer has the funds, attend a reputable conference. It goes a long way to demystifying the whole publishing world. Talk to some agents face to face. Most of them are people, just ordinary folks pursuing their passion. Look at sites like Writer Beware (and this one) to find out about scams and such. Be careful out there. There are lots of scavengers and rats looking to take advantage of desperate writers.

Margaret Turkevich said...

I am preparing to query a reputable agent who asks on the fill-in form what professional editors I have worked with.

I also had my query letter and synopsis critiqued at a writers' conference.

Craig F said...

I might turn to a developmental editor around published book 4. Hard to tell, because book 1 (5 actually) is, hopefully, blowing up the query trenches.

I say fourth published because that is the end of the first trilogy. I might need some help forming up a new one. I say that because I always thought developmental editors worked with the basic plot. Line editors doe the grammar thing. Voice can't be edited, lest the magic of it go away.

Gloria said...

Hi! No, it was not, as far as I could tell. I sent the query to the email listed in the agency's website, and received a reply from the agent stating that due to the sheer volume of her everyday work, if I wanted her to read my MS, I had to pay her in advance according to the number of pages. Also, note that she didn't offer feedback or anything, the money was just to get her to READ it and see if she could... get more money from it, I guess. It was crazy.
I've seen at least other agency of those that appear in the "serious agents" lists ask for money to read MSs, but those said it in their website, so I avoided them. This one just surprised me.

Ryan Neely said...

What is interesting is that, from the writing circles I'm in (outside of this one) hiring a developmental editor is practically anything people talk about. It's clear these authors want their work to be the best it possibly can be, but it's also clear they don't ha e the confidence to believe it might already be great (or they're allowing the fear of not being good enough drive them).

For them, it seems as though spending a little extra time and money to have a "publish-ready" manuscript prior to querying will help them beat the odds of signing a contract. (Hell, I used to believe it myself ... It's hard not to when these are the only voices you're hearing.)

MegEbba said...

I have seen writers encouraged to pay for an outside (aka not the agency you're querying) editor to do a developmental edit with the thinking that if your query is good and an agent asks for the full, you want to make sure you're not caught with a sagging middle or other structural problems. Writers who are submission-savvy know how hard it is to get an agent, and want to bring the best quality product to the table. What we read from agents, however, is how woefully NOT ready so many manuscripts are---that's where I think the writer panic comes in, and so people rush to hire a developmental editor when they really need to check out Janice Hardy's Fiction University site, or some other free resource to build their craft. I definitely thought I was ready before I was ready!

Getting someone not related to you to betaread your entire novel and offer professional-level advice is like finding a unicorn, though there are "you beta me, I'll beta you" agreements on reputable sites.

Colin Smith said...

I seem to recall a comment on Twitter from someone who, I believe, offered editing services saying that you need to be professionally edited before you query. I also recall almost all the most reputable agents and editors on my Twitter feed rounding on this comment and throwing rotten vegetables at it. I don't recall who the OP was, probably because I dismissed them as a loon and everyone else got their 2c in before me. :)

Professional editing can help, but it is not necessary. If an agent asks you if your manuscript has been through professional editing, it's okay to say NO. I'm not sure why an agent would even ask. They don't ask if you have an MFA, and that's just as necessary (it isn't).

You're doing fine, OP. Get some good beta readers and you should be good to go. All the best to you! :)

Aphra Pell said...

Gloria - that's... not an agent I would choose to work with.

Side-note on the scavengers mentioned by EM. If you do want to work with an editor for whatever reason, remember, anyone can call themselves an editor and sell services, so it is very much buyer beware. I'd always ask for a (paid) test edit of a chapter / few pages to see if the writer and editor are a good fit.

I'd personally also look for a specialist - a developmental edit on high fantasy is a different from a structural edit on a non-fiction science book, which is different from editing poetry. And developmental editing is very different from copy-editing.

Dena Pawling said...


If you really want professional eyes on your work but have limited funds, I know of a VERY qualified and reputable agent who will give you comments and suggestions on your query and first 5 pages for only $250. If that's more affordable for you, I'd give it a go. If there's major problems in the first 5 pages, you'll have a less-expensive way of knowing you really do need a professional editor. If the first 5 pages are awesome as they stand, or only need a minor revision, it's likely your entire manuscript is in good shape too.

nightsmusic said...

Color me clueless, but I don't even know what a 'developmental' editor is...

Megan V said...

If I recall correctly, the person who made that comment on Twitter was Keidi Keating, who is a freelance editor. She essentially made statements that writers needed to hire a professional editor before they send their books to agents if they want to get published and that they should even go so far as to take out a loan, etc. Her tweets about this have now been deleted.

Around that time another person(a published author)informed the Twitterverse that writers really ought to quit their day job if they want to get anywhere in the publishing world.


I hope the Shark can forgive me for quoting another agent on here, but I really liked what Eric Smith said about that whole mess.

"Quit your job. Write full time. Take out a loan for an editor. Cause you quit your job. Or borrow from rich friends! Starve for your art. Isn’t this so glamorous-

What the f*ck is going on?!

Read widely to inform your work. Critique your friends. Write when you can. The end."

Solid advice. In fact, it's quite similar to the advice the Shark has repeatedly given on this blog.

But basically...

Writers should write their own way. Polish it up. Send.

And definitely don't plagiarize. (That's another recent Twitter scandal).


In other news, I'm snowbound here in AZ and would greatly appreciate some book recommendations for research purposes. Anybody know of any great books written in 2nd person?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Megan You will want to read N.K. Jemisin's The Broken Earth Trilogy. It won like every award there is - Hugo and all his buddies. Some new awards were made up just to give them to Jemisin. These books are written in 2nd person. Really ground-breaking stuff in the SFF arena.

Colin Smith said...

Megan: I believe your memory serves you well on all fronts. Those tweets sound all too familiar.

Clearly we're not doing a good enough job promoting Janet's blog on the Twitterverse.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Megan V: the Choose Your Own Adventure books are all written in second person, but I'll bet that's not what you have in mind. :)

Regarding the do-we-need-a-developmental editor discussion ... The psychology is strong with this one. Most authors are already a mix of this-is-genius arrogance and deep, nagging doubts. Add to that the fact that in order to get an agent, you might need to interact with 100+ who "just don't connect" with your book. In that context, of course it's tempting if someone comes along & tells you there's something you can do to find out exactly What Is Wrong and skip all the uncertainty.

I've had 2 small publishing houses offer on my book (passed on both for different reasons). One of them, on acceptance, said they wanted to work with me on certain developmental edits that made me wonder if they really understood the goals of the novel. The other, when I turned them down, replied with a passive-aggressive, "Suit yourself. Your novel had some serious problems that we would have been willing to help you with."

Nathan Holland said...

All: I don't want to ride the coattails of OPs question, but I will. What about paying for query critiques. What is a good number or rejections for no requests before you realize your query needs to be revamped? Thank you all.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'm babysitting a 2 year old today so I haven't the time just now to read all the comments BUT

"...polish does not require an outside editor."

REALLY ???

I've taken the copy editing as far as I can, (I did not get straight A-s in "English Class". Composition I aced.
Do I query now or pay the three-grand to have it edited BEFORE I query? Frankly I DO NOT HAVE THE MONEY and am having a hard time finding someone to clean up my pages. My 'readers' have called the book "Golden" but I do not want to turn off agents because I am not perfect.

The Sleepy One said...

I've seen "agents expect a book to be professionally edited" advice floating around and it drives me batty. Because it's not true. I suspect it comes from the sheer number of people who sell editing services.

The only time I can see paying for editing is if 1) your manuscript has gotten close many times (a lot of requests) with no offers and the feedback you've received is inconsistent. And 2) the editor has the right background to give you feedback--e.g. they were once an acquiring editor at a publisher you'd want to work with. 3) if you can use the experience as a learning opp for future projects. And conference critiques can be worth it, especially since it comes with the workshops and talks of the conference.

I've also met a few writers who went the editor route because they didn't want to have to critique someone else's manuscript. The jokes on them since I learned more doing critiques than I did having my work critiqued.

BrendaLynn said...

Kate nailed the writing group issue.
I’m a firm believer in the theory that the first 1,000,000 words are practice. Would we expect an electrical apprentice to know her job before she put in her time? Of course not.
We writers are always looking for a shortcut.
Get a good beta or two, OP. They don’t even have to be in your genre.

John Davis Frain said...

I'm a member of Sisters in Crime and also a local Writer's Guild. Both of our groups, within the past year, have had editors as speakers for our monthly meeting. Not hard to imagine the advice they're giving. The takeaway is pretty straightforward: Hire an editor to give yourself the best chance. It's hard to argue with the logic of that message, right?

I used to think editing would mean it's not completely my work being submitted.

But when you hear plagiarism talk like Dan Mallory (AJ Finn) and Cristiane Serruya, you start to think editing might be merely the price of admission to get a seat at the table.

So, the short answer to Janet's question: Yes, there's a lot of talk about hiring an editor, developmental or otherwise, that a writer hears during the course of a typical week.

Christine said...

I am an editor and I may be doing myself a disservice here, but I sincerely believe that a book does not need to be edited before querying.
At the very least, have a couple of good beta readers (and I don't mean your mom and best friend) give your book a thorough read through. I do a lot of free beta reading on Goodreads and there is an astonishing amount of crappy writing out there. I would hate to have those authors spending a lot of time and effort trying to publish the unpublishable.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: How perfect do you think you must be? If I've been reading Janet correctly (and our beloved Shark can flay me with noodles if I'm wrong), the standard is "as polished as you can get it." We're writers. Second-guessing ourselves comes with the territory. But if we've done all we can to put our work before others, to spell-check, grammar-check, Czech-check, and whatever other kind of cheque, I'd say stick a fork in it and call it done. Of course it could be better. But an agent would probably think that even after you've paid $3,000 for a pro to developmentally edit it.

Is it your best story? Is your query compelling? That's what matters. I don't think any agent is expecting to take your ms and go straight to submissions. They're expecting to have to work with you to polish it up. As long as it doesn't require a lot of work, and they love it enough to believe the work worthwhile, you're solid.

Now, either run with that encouragement, or hand Janet a bucket of noodles... :)

Unknown said...

I'm a developmental editor, which for me means helping authors substantially revise and reshape early drafts of novels and memoirs.

Yes, editing can be expensive. No, you need not buy editing before querying. But...

As a writer, I write 1-3 drafts alone, reading sections to writer friends. Then I share the whole draft with my first reader. Revise. Beta readers who aren't close friends. Revise. More beta readers. Maybe ask a former teacher if I'm ready to use a big favor. Revise again, proofread, have a friend proofread. Same process with the query. I rarely pay cash at any point...but I know all those people because I have an MFA, I am physically and financially able to attend workshops and conferences, and I participate in online writing communities.

As an editor, I see people who have never read an agent's blog. They have zero writer friends and they aren't on Twitter. Writers send me first drafts - classic "tell the story to yourself first," "vomit," "shitty first" drafts - and tell me "all it needs is a quick proofread." I see people who have never taken a workshop or an online course, read a book about dramatic structure, or even reread a novel they enjoy while watching what the author is doing and thinking about why.

This blog's audience is people who intentionally learn about publishing and craft. We can tell when our words aren't working, and we know where to look for help. Many early-stage writers either genuinely can't differentiate between a book on the shelf and their own first draft, or they want individual hand-holding and accountability as they write.

My favorite clients have a burning desire to write well, and for them I function as a writing coach/individual MFA. It's a joy to figure out what's making their sentences thud instead of sing, and teach them how to apply that throughout their book. It's exhilarating to brainstorm plot points, asking questions that lead them to discoveries and excitement to get back to the page. Some send me a whole draft, some work chapter by chapter, some bounce book ideas and first pages between me and their agent and their publisher's editor until we all think "this one will sell, and you can write it well."

Yes, there are terrible people online bullying authors into services they don't need. But there are plenty of good reasons to choose to spend money on an editor or a conference or an MFA. They are all windows into writing better and joining a writing community. People with more time can read and Google; people with more money can choose to have the info most directly relevant to their work delivered personally at the time it's useful.

If you're hiring an editor, get a sample edit. Get references. Ask around your writing groups on and offline. Don't pay in full up front if it's more than three figures. From that edit, learn more about your craft challenges and polish those skills with practice and reading so you'll need less editing the next time around.

Love, Allison (Longtime lurker, this isn't my regular email, but I'm at guerillamemoir and would love to be your Twitter or Instagram friend)


Kate Larkindale said...

This advice seriously horrifies me. Hiring an editor is expensive and there's no guarantee that the editorial advice you get will be any better than advice you could get from a critique partner or beta reader. You're just going to be out of pocket and possibly shocked at how many more rounds of edits you will do with your agent before the book goes on submission.

Liz Penney said...

I'm seeing this more and more in writer associations/groups (reputable in general) where people offering editing services are pushing this concept in response to posts from writers. I think in some cases working with the *right* editor might be like getting a mini course in writing craft. But IMHO opinion the goal should be to gain skills not depend on paying editors to fix books. To spend money on a editor before querying, at the point where you don't know if it will ever get repped let alone published, is often a case of fools and money soon parted.

Liz Penney said...

And $250 to an agent for query and 5 pages? Outrageous rip off.

Colin Smith said...

Thanks, Allison/Unknown. That was a helpful response from the professional developmental editing perspective.

Barbara Etlin said...

*shudders* I just dispelled this notion for a newbie who thought he needed to pay an editor before submitting his work. Man, there's so much bad information floating around, waiting to chomp at the unsuspecting new writer. And so many vultures eager to grab their money.

Yes, you need to polish your work before querying it. But a critique group or beta reader will do the same thing for you, for free.

Lennon Faris said...

I once paid (a small amount) to have someone look at a query, synopsis, and first couple chapters for a book I hadn't written yet. I wanted to get a professional opinion before I sank years and blood into the mss.

Also, if you apply what they say to the whole thing you get a lot of value out of a small portion of editing.

2Ns, if it's just typos you're looking for, I'd be happy to take a look. I'm so good at finding typos, sometimes I even make them up.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

OK, so I went to the mighty river to take a peek at the book Cynthia recommended above (and yes, it does look excellent). Then I started scanning down the column of titles to see what else might be in there. And found this:

Nine Day Novel-Self-Editing: Self Editing For Fiction Writers: Write Better and Edit Faster (Writing Fiction Novels Book 2)

Damn. There goes that nonfiction novel I was thinking of doing. Looks there are other volumes of this helpful manual too. But I didn't stay around long enough to find out.

Unknown said...

It's insulting, and reflects ignorance of what professional editors do, to insist that all freelance editors provide nothing of value above what writing friends have to offer.

Yes, it's hard to figure out which editors are the "real deal" because the available certifications and professional organizations are not commonly known. It's challenging to find the right fit at the right price. Certainly, a critique group and beta readers can do a great deal of editing for only the cost of your time.

However, I have spent ten years learning to give direct, specific and receivable criticism that encourages rather than discourages. I have an MFA, a track record of books published by Big Five houses and successful independents, and am published myself. I keep up to date on query practices, publishing trends, what agents seek what genres, scams, vanity presses and fake contests so I can advise both my clients and people I see randomly on the internet. I network with agents, editors, publishers, and established authors who can blurb my clients' books. I write editorial letters 15-20 pages long covering every aspect of writing craft, structure, plot and presentation, and I've learned that more than 300 comments in a single manuscript becomes too much to deal with at once. I can tell you which run-on sentences and comma splices are working, and why.

Yes, you certainly can plumb your own sink. But the plumber knows where to buy exactly the right supplies, skillfully use exactly the right tools, and can get the job done considerably faster and without having to google tutorial videos every five minutes. Sometimes you want to learn the most you can about your own pipes; sometimes it's worth it to get a professional.

(Allison)

Liz Penney said...

I don't think people question the value of editors, it's the advice that it's now "standard" to have an editor before you query, let alone before publishing. If people have the money, then "shrug" go ahead. But editing a book that agents and the market don't want (concept, topic etc) won't change their minds.

KDJames said...

I suspect this advice to hire an editor before querying came from the strongly held (and not necessarily wrong) belief that you need to hire an editor before self-publishing your work. Then writer insecurity and hamster wheels took over and extended that advice to querying. This is not something you would have heard 10 years ago.

Sure, times change. Markets change. Demands of publishing change. A bunch of Big 5 professional editors get laid off and streams of revenue change.

I'm going to stop myself before this turns into a 3K-word essay, but bottom line is that no editor in the world is going to be a sufficient substitute for putting in the work and time necessary to hone your craft. Putting a shine on dreck doesn't change the fact that it's dreck. Serve your apprenticeship before you seek recognition as a master.

2NNs, I think by now you can call yourself a master. Stop procrastinating.

Megan V: Haven't read it, but I heard good things about YOU (novel in second person), by Charles Benoit, when it came out years ago.

Megan V said...

Although I can understand where you are coming from Allison, I would like to counter some of what you've stated with another perspective.

It's important to note that, generalizations are rotten all around.

To say that all editors can be replaced by CPs is not fair.
However, to say that no critique partner can perform the same job as a professional editor also seems disingenuous.

It's true that if you want a professional job done then your best bet is to hire a licensed and trained professional. Nevertheless, just because someone is a licensed professional doesn't mean they will automatically do a professional job. Moreover, in almost every field there are people who know as much or more than those licensed and trained to do the job (life experience can do wonders). So while my first choice to get a professional job done is a professional, in some cases, I might choose to go to someone who can utilize their experience to assist me.


For instance, if I want someone to fix my car then I'm going to hire a mechanic.

And some mechanics are better than others, so I'm going to do my research.

After my research, I discover that I can't afford even the cheapest mechanic.

What do I do?

I reach out to a neighbor who's been working on cars for years.

That neighbor is not a professional, but it's quite possible they will provide me with quality service. They may not compare to the best mechanic. But they might also a good sight better than the worst mechanic I could hire.

For almost every type of service, you're going to want a professional. Although there some services where you might be more insistent on having one simply because of the stakes. AKA If I'm sick or injured, I want a doctor dammit. I value my well-being a lot.

But while I might place more importance on certain services, whether or not I need to utilize a professional will be dependent on certain circumstances i.e. how bad off am I to begin with?

If I have a cold, then my friend can bring me cold medicine and chicken soup just as easily as a doctor can.
My first-aid trained friend can perform the Heimlich maneuver or CPR if I need it.
BUT if I need my appendix removed ASAP am I really going to have my friend try to perform the surgery?

HECK NO.

So yeah. I get it. Critique partners are not professional editors. Critique partners are not going to be able to perform the exact same function as a developmental editor all (or even most) of the time. However, much of what an amazing critique partner can do parallels the services provided by an editor. A critique partner is often utilizing the experience and the training that they do have. Some of them can perform just as good of a job. Some of them can't. It depends on a lot of things.

Thus, IMHO saying that some CPs (or author mentors/agents) are equal to professional editors shouldn't be considered an insult.

And since CPs are free...or at least a tit for tat arrangement, they are the best place for writers to start when they don't have the money.

I am fortunate in my CPs. They're not so fortunate to have me, but we work through it. That said, if I could afford to hire a good editor then I wouldn't hesitate. I have a feeling that I would receive an enormous benefit from one. But ultimately, while many writers would benefit from a good editor, it seems to me that some writers can definitely succeed without one.

On another note, thanks everyone for the excellent book recommendations!

Craig F said...

Alison, may I ask why you are insulted? You call us ignorant and rant about it. We come here to learn what can make us better at our craft, we do not choose to ignorantly fly into the face of the publishing industry.

You say how great you are and that we don't understand all of your certification. Then you choose not to edify us on how to make a better choice.

I live in an area where every scam artist on the east coast come for winter. They all have circular arguments of certification and can say why they are so good. Just as you have done.

Your analogy of a plumber does not hold true. Mainly because they are not your friend, they do not always do their best. I know because I recently contracted a remodeled bathroom.

The plumbers sent rushed through it all and had to come back three times to fix things they slopped together. I still ended up having to redo most of it.

Your rant does not prove that you are better than those editors that started the rumor of and edit being needed before querying. I understand why they did it, to bring in more business, but I don't have to like how they did it.

I also know that I might need an editor, but I have to see if I am hitting the mark with what I write, first.

Ryan Neely said...

I think it's also important to note that a vast majority of the advice running around out there, and (I suspect) part of OPs original dilemma, is that there is a difference between hiring an editor for line edits is one thing; the extreme push to hire a developmental editor is something else.

These developmental editors are there specifically to ensure you've told the best story you can. Most aren't going to sit through the writing process or scan for grammatical errors when you're done. They're there to help you develop a story, most like co-writing with a partner.

I have limited experience with this: a few years ago, when drawing up the outline for what I was certain would be a huge, successful, septology, it seem sound advice to hire a developmental editor to make sure the overarching story was as sound as possible. Wanting to make sure I received the best quality advice, I pulled a John Hammond and "spared no expense," contacting one of the most celebrated names working in that field.

A year later, my series ballooned from a planned seven to somewhere around a possible thirty and had become so confused it didn't know what it was anymore. It was unreadable.

Now, there are many reasons why this happened, but I tend to believe it came down to simple miscommunication. I was searching for validation from a professional source that the overarching series plot had cohesion and (perhaps naively) that it was saleable (I've had issues with concepts in the past where the feedback has been, this is great writing but we just can't sell it--think Feliz Buttonweezer's Visit to the Dominatrix Dungeon ... for Children).

Anyway, what Hot Shot Editor was doing (the job I was paying for) was to attempt to get me to a point where I could actually start writing instead of brainstorming and outlining.

Not every editor is the same, but the role (as far as I've been able to discern, and I'm willing to be proven wrong) of all developmental editors is to help with the pre-writing stages ... the development. For us woodland creatures, it's akin to having Mom hold our hands as we walk up to the stage before giving that 3rd grade valedictorian speech. It's comforting to habe someone with more experience, a professional in the field who has been through the minefield and can help navigate us through. That's a huge emotional draw, but one that isn't necessary and (in my opinion) could be dangerous.

We don't all have that level of confidence to believe what we're doing is worthwhile, and some people may benefit from that little push a developmental editor can offer, but sometimes advice like this seems like an escape route from actually submitting and putting yourself out there. It keeps you safe because you can justify not submitting (or writing) by "working with my editor to make sure I got it right."

Ryan Neely said...

During this treatise, I meant to offer some validation for our friend, Allison. My situation when choosing to hire a developmental editor was exactly what she describes. I don't have an MFA in English or creative writing. I live in a Hobbit hole in the middle of dense forest a few miles from Canada (the closest Wal-Mart is an hour drive). I'm not online (I quit social media several years ago) and my writers' group is full of poets who also haven't studies the mechanics of story dynamics or dialogue. (I have, however, read practically every book out there on craft, and make copious notes in my Kindle while reading [and rereading] my favorite authors.)

The point to all of this is to say that Allison and her colleagues do provide a service that many may appreciate. Is it necessary? Maybe not (though, any leg up over the vast snow horde of competition could be seen as a good thing). Is it for everyone? No. (And, in fact, it was a combination of my own experiences followed by a reading of Jeff Sommer's book Writing Without Rules that changed my mind for me.)

Regardless, thank you Allison for offering an insightful view as part of the debate. I don't think anyone on this blog would suggest that a professional editor's services could be replaced by a critique partner (at least, in most instances).

Kerry Gans said...

I will start by saying that I agree it is not necessary to hire a developmental editor before you query. I will then follow up by saying that I always do. While it has not helped me get representation (still looking), these edits have greatly improved the individual stories and raised my overall craft skills. I must be learning, because with each new book, the editor is finding fewer and fewer areas that need improvement. So I personally have found it money well spent.

Jamie McCullum said...

I remember Janet blogged on this topic a few years ago saying she did not see any substantial difference between the edited
manuscript and unedited ones sent to her.

This had made a lot of sense to me, for besides basic competent craft and prose, I would imagine an agent is looking at others things that are independent like style, story idea, character, current market demands etc. I've read a lot of published works that could have used editing, but still sold. Lord of the Rings for example is dreadfully amateurish in places, but sold half a billion books.

Also how can you develop confidence in yourself as a writer and your writing if you think you have to find an editor to fix all the mistakes. The best first editor is the writer himself or herself. There also are a lot of good books on editing your own novel that can help, and they don't cost 400 bucks.