Thursday, April 23, 2015

Query Question: value of second read

 I’ve been on submission for about a year. We’ve been passed on about 28 times. Not the end of the publishing world, but I feel like we’re getting closer. Recently my agent suggested that I hire a professional editor to give the book a read, because the rest of the world doesn’t love the book as much as she and I do. She re-itterated that she loves the book and her representation of it doesn’t hinge on my agreeing to do this, but in her opinion, we’re missing something and after a year, maybe we ought to let someone with experienced eyes take a look because she wants it to have the very best shot it can have. And to be fair, I’ve edited this book so many times that I can’t tell the difference between “better” and “different” anymore and she’s probably in the same boat.

She referred me to someone who’s worked for a couple of the big five houses. I checked her books and she’s thanked in a couple of the acknowledgements, so I think she’s legitimate. It’s expensive — 4 grand —and it’s still spec. I can afford it — means a little less fun this summer, but not like missing a house payment or anything. But I’m mostly thinking of the mantra that money should flow to the author, and that amount of money would be hard to recoup. And while I’m sure she’ll make it better, there’s no guarantee she’ll make it more sale-able.  At the same time, I’d hate to pass on it, exhaust the rest of the publishing pool and always wonder whether I should have had her take a look at it.

Do you ever make that kind of suggestion to your clients? I figure the worst that can happen is I do it, everyone passes and I’ve got a really well-edited book to put up on Amazon. But four grand is still four grand. If it matters, I’ve talked to her — she’s read the first few chapters — and she thinks there’s something there (but that’s also something someone would say to a prospective client) Her fee is for a detailed editorial letter and a comprehensive line edit.

Yes, I do this. I think your agent is smart to suggest it, and it's something you should seriously consider.  A second set of (fresher) eyeballs on this can help.

That said, you don't need a $4K edit. You need what's called a "second read."  That is, you need someone to read it and say "I think this sux here, here, and here. Also there."  You're NOT paying for compliments. You want the Suck. You EMBRACE the Suck.

Write to this editor and tell her you need a second read, essentially a reply letter if she was considering the book for publication.

Make SURE you LIKE the books that this editor has worked on, and think they're well-written. Not every opinion is equal.


french sojourn said...

I'm not remotely at this stage, but it's a question I never realized I wanted to ask until after reading this.

(What a nightmarish sentence. But I'll leave it for laughs.)

Great post as always, Cheers!

Ali said...

Good Lord. Embrace the suck. I love it.

Unknown said...

4k!? Holy Toledo.

I don't have a lot of experience with editors but the couple I did deal with charged by the length of the book. My novel was just over 80,000 words and cost me around 1.5k for editing.

Maybe one of the problems with your book, or even the only problem, is the length?

Unknown said...

I think I have a new mantra: EMBRACE THE SUCK. So far this week covering the editorial side of things has been really helpful + fascinating. There are agents who add 'editorial' to their title, but that's a bonus. Today's post segues from yesterday's about hiring an extra set of (carefully selected) eyes to get that ms in its best shape. Never knew you would do this after it's been on submission. Curious and Curiouser.

Susan Bonifant said...

This bothered me yesterday, and it's bothering me anew today. Why, I wonder, why, why, why.

Oh, I know. Because of exactly the second part of Janet's response: you need someone to tell you where it's NOT WORKING and that should not cost four thousand dollars. Not, not, not.

I'm not opposed to the idea of paying for a second read. But how and why is it necessary to consider all that is available for 4K, rather than what is essential for far less? Grub Street in Boston for example charges way, WAY less to pair a writer with a completely objective, multi-traditionally published author, often an instructor, in the genre you select, who will tell you exactly where the suckage is from a reader's standpoint.

I could be myopic because I've been helped by Grub Street and hurt by pricey paid-editors, but oh man, 4K is a lot of money for an outcome of maybe.

Colin Smith said...

I presume this Second Read wouldn't cost $4K or even remotely that much since the writer isn't looking for a detailed edit, just a note on what's not working. One presumes the author and agent can figure out how to make the suck un-suck.

Interesting, you would think the opposite of "suck" (as in "bad") is "blow" but "blow" can also mean "suck" can't it? Oh English! :)

InkStainedWench said...

Now I'm curious. Do editors reject a book with a simple "Dear agent, no thanks, have a nice day."?

Or do they tell the agent their reasons for passing? One would think that, with 28 rejections, there would be enough useful information to fix the manuscript with minimal outside help.

Donnaeve said...

There seemed to be a lot of naysayers to yesterday's post about freelance editors, so, I'm glad the discussion goes on - albeit in a bit of a different direction.

Having said that, $4K is awfully steep. I've not paid anything close to that - and I've had all three of my mss read/edited.

I like Ms. Janet's advice to ask for a second read. I.e., forget the line editing, etc. This is more about what's wrong with the story - if anything. What if it's simply that the publishing houses submitted to already have an author (or two, or more) who write the same sort of books.

This is what I find even more curious - beyond the $4K price tag - after 28 passes - did NO ONE even offer up a why? During my sub's, we received feedback on what didn't work for the editor. Not from everyone, but from some. Ms. Janet, don't you find it strange not one acquiring editor gave the OP and their agent any feedback?

Donnaeve said...

Ah! InkStained - we're on the same brain vibe, and while you were posting your comment, so was I.

Anonymous said...

I've been known to pay copious amounts of money for things that were questionably relevant.

I paid a photographer 3k for live photos of a big national show once. The photos turned out great. We monetized them by printing 5x7's (back when those mattered and some people collected them). Made maybe half our money back but gave many away as well. I still think it resulted in future CD sales. But that's tough to quantify.

I also paid, at minimum, 3x that amount to get a professional sounding cd (all the while Adam Young from Owl City was doing it in his basement 20 miles away from me and went on to recoup his investment exponentially better than I did).

Price tags don't scare me when I know what I'm buying. But before buying that photographer or that studio time or paying that producer, I spent months with my nose to the screen in research and my earbuds in listening to tracks from nobody bands that big-shot producer had recorded. Because the fact is, anyone will spend 100x the number of hours on something they actually love. And yet when looking for critics, we want people to tell us what they hate... And let's be honest, I know big-shot producer because, well... we've got the same initials.

This, to me, is why editing is such a mess. A good editor can give a poor opinion on a book because you paid them and they want it off their desk. And occasionally, a bad editor can work on a NYT bestseller. Whoever is working on it, they have to like it enough (or like you enough) to want to help, and yet have the skills and insight to be capable of finding the Suck.

And that's the magic of it, and the terror of it all.

Yet it's the risk takers that own the world. I don't envy your position OP, but like Janet said, I'd probably pay someone for an edge. Full edit or second read, it's one more chance for someone to solve the rubix cube.

Did I mention I hate rubix cubes?

Unknown said...

Susan--I think some of the reason is market driven: thousands more trying to squeeze into the same size door. Maybe even a shrinking door. Anyway: why. Yes, Donna+Ink: why didn't a single Editor pipe up and say "such and such" was off, or "where's the sizzle?" Was it purely interest? If this gets fixed we're in? With not a single reason after 28 editors seems weirdly silent, no?

S.E. Dee said...

$4000 for an edit? If that were me I'd just write a new book and come back to that one later. What if the editor were to come back and suggest a complete overhaul anyway?

My situation could not justify a £2000 spend unless that book was definitely going to make that money back.

If you can afford it, you can afford it but as a writer who believes she has a lot of stories to tell, I'm not sure I could allow myself to get so financially swept away by one project.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I would also just write another book. Obviously this one isn't flying, and after 28 editors passed, how many editors can there possibly be left to submit it to?

Susan Bonifant said...

Donna, you've nailed it - to think agent-sponsored submissions might be rejected 28 times without feedback?

It is trying enough to guess at how to improve a work without feedback, but to pay that much in faith that it will yield better direction, and then possibly not get it, well, I just can't have any more coffee today.

Wendy Qualls said...

Honest question: after a year and 28 passes, how much further does this particular manuscript have to go? $4K is a decent guess for what you might actually EARN on a debut novel (decent advance minus taxes/agent fees/promo costs/etc.), so spending that much all on the chance that maybe eventually you'll make your money back sounds crazy to me. Your time would be much better spent writing your NEXT book, something just as good or better, and your agent trying to sell that.

S.D.King said...

I am in the same boat as the writer: can't tell the difference between "better" and "different". I need to put the manuscript away for 2 months and then go back and read it.

S.D.King said...

OK - one more thing. The Captcha on this blog just asked me to identify all hamburgers! I had to guess because I saw what looked like a chicken sandwich (I used the bun as the clue) and a pulled pork sandwich (again the bun). I passed and proved to be human, but this is a new one to me.

Stephen Parrish said...

I paid $1800 for a crit once, and it was worth it. But I've since found a couple of crit partners who are just as good, and don't cost anything---except reciprocal crits. The trick is finding insightful readers who are brutally honest.

Donnaeve said...

Susan - yeah, it's odd to only have silence from all 28 - it sounds like no one offered any comments, at least the OP doesn't say. It's also (kind of odd) for the agent to say, hey, pay $4K - unless they just REALLY believe in the book. But...still..., this is one of those situations that makes me go, hmmm.

Wendy has a good point.

S.D. King - you should put it away! I just re-read my first book (it's been three years - no need to wait that long - haha) and wow, it's almost like SOMEONE ELSE wrote it. Very weird, but in a good way.

I've been picking out traffic signs, hamburgers, soups, wine, and sushi on reCAPTCHA. It's kind of fun.

Megan V said...

Brian, don't hate the rubix cubes. The cubes, like the writing process, are only complicated as you make them. Plus, they are a wonderful stress relief! Solving them is all pattern and once you know the pattern it's a mind-numbing, soothing, activity.

Back to the OP though.
Great advice as always from the shark. Ask for what you need—a second read—and don't over think what your MS may or may not need.

Like some of you above me, I blinked a few times at the 4k. IT is pretty steep price and for a debut novel, it doesn't seem likely you'll get a good return on it. Then again, I'm blinking at some of the other prices above me as well. $1.8k? *gulp* That's still like 3 months rent. Guess I never realized how much it cost to Embrace the Suck.

Craig F said...

I take the beach weather is more akin to reading weather. This goes along with my refusal from yesterday. 4Grand is way too much for something so iffy as a manuscript that is has a consistent failure to fly. It might be that it is in a market that is currently saturated. It might be something else.

Have your agent shelf it for a bit and write something else. Maybe adjust your genre a bit. In a year or two someplace for this manuscript might open up.

Hope the beach is treating you right my Queen.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

At work, gotta be quick.
This just proves what I have come to believe. If you're poor or scraping by, or living paycheck to paycheck, or barely floating and afraid to brave the rough sea another outgoing payment might make, then you are s**t out of luck unless your writing is more amazing than amazing. And even then...

Matt Adams said...

Hi guys -- OP here.

To answer some questions ...

We got some feedback and got passed around the office by three editors, but that was as far as we got. Two seemed close, but in the end decided not to offer. The feedback was diverse -- there was no universal complaint.

My agent has always thought it should be a big book and has told me she'll push it as far as it can be pushed. She's told me she feels confident she could find SOME publisher for it now, but thinks it deserves better -- I think she's more baffled by the lack of success than I am. And while I understand the concept of trunking it, that's hard to do when she's still willing to find it a home. She's not demanding the edit, but she thinks it would be helpful in helping the book become what she thinks it should be. I'm not saying that I'm sure the book is big or even publishable, but I think I owe it to myself (and her) to give it every opportunity I can to succeed. And before I give the wrong impression, my agent is awesome -- she got everyone to read, which was her job as far as I'm concerned. It was my part of the equation that was lacking.

But I think Janet's right in that saying a second read instead of the full edit is the way to go. Or second read then a full edit.

Thanks for the input everyone. I appreciate it.

Donnaeve said...

Hi Matt - thanks for filling in the details. You know us woodland creatures would have continued to ponder this thing, much like that ole "dam" building project, layering on the thought debris until we took it off topic because we'd exhausted all other avenues.

See? It's all good. We didn't go to Carkoon, or hint around at some more creative names for *fill in the blank*weezers.

You should keep us posted on the "second read!"

Anonymous said...

2N's, I'm pretty certain you work for the CIA or perhaps the NSA. Someone is always monitoring you. Unlike me in my dull retirement job. Atually my boss just sat at my desk while I posted a blog and laughed at me for not really caring. I'm bad at this job anyways. ;)

Megan, patience may be a virtue, but it sure isn't mine. Someday maybe I'll read a book about it and learn the secrets.

Matt, Congrats on writing a book that an agent is so passionate about! I agree that it's almost equally as important to have a great book as it is to have an agent so passionate about said great book. One without the other just will not do. At this point in the process, I'd probably pay for a second read at minimum. And I'd distract myself while I wait by writing another book. ;) Good luck friend!

Donna - I agree. Much like hats, there's a *fill in the blank*weezer for every occasion. Does it say something about us as writers that when we can't find answers, we create an entirely new world to distract ourselves until we get the answers we want? ;)

Unknown said...

Matt, congratulations on having an agent so devoted to you and your work. That's a big obstacle out of the way right there.

I assume you're writing the next one while your agent is working this one? That would be my advice for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Janet. As I always say, \fFresh eyes are valuable.

I'm thinking the $4K would be for a complete developmental + line edit. I think you'd want a developmental edit, first, and from reading Kristin Weber's site yesterday, it looks like she offers a developmental edit for $800–$1500, depending on length and how much work is needed. Does the editor the agent suggests provide a lesser edit for less money? (Note: I'm only using Kristin's site as an example to compare prices to. I'm not trying to promote her services. She seems professional, but I've never worked with her.)

I had a whole long paragraph here (yes, my paragraphs can get long) about how they probably received some feedback, but nothing specific. But that's what Matt's told us now, so nevermind.

As for the mantra "The money flows TO the author" -> Yes. This is absolutely true and important to remember to avoid being taken advantage of or scammed. But there's also a matter of investment. You've spent countless hours working on this novel. You've dripped your blood onto the page, one word at a time. That's a huge investment. It can be worth it to spend some money to figure out what exactly is wrong with your novel.

Paying for an editor is not being scammed - unless your agent and this editor are in collusion somehow. Although I think if this were the case your agent would have suggested this at least 24 rejections ago. You'd be completely within your rights to find and research your own editor, as well. This might just be an editor your agent knows will work quickly, reliably, and with the excellence he/she knows your book deserves.

Matt, you obviously trust your agent, and your agent is obviously passionate about your book. If you have a critique group or partner(s), I'm sure they've already read this a few times, so their eyes are far from fresh. In your case, I would definitely go at least as far as a second read. As I said earlier, see if the same editor has a lower price for a less complicated service, or research other editors.

Unless you're not as passionate about your book as your agent is. If this is the case, then it's time to write another book you CAN be passionate about.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey BS, ha, not so romantic as the eye in the sky or the men in black peering over my shoulder. Actually the highlight of my morning is my 15 min break which I spend on my Kindle checking out Janet's blog. If I want to comment I end up typing on the Kindle screen which is as slow and laborious as texting. How you young'uns' get your thumbs flying so fast is beyond me. Give me a regular keyboard and no one can keep up with me but on-screen or phone, forget it.

Matt, so happy you have an agent who is passionate about your novel. Second read sounds like the way to go and as Donna already said, please keep us posted on the outcome, and updated as to your progress. You know, some of us live vicariously through other people's success. Not me of course but some do, or so I've been told.

Flowers McGrath said...

I can't always comment. Sometimes, I just need to absorb everything. Can say, I'm continually being enlightened, deepened, whatever the right words are, expanded (?) by this ongoing writer-agent conversation Janet is hosting here. Sometimes, it's terrifying. The next minute it's overwhelming. Then it's just soothing to have this place to come to and douse myself in all things behind-the-curtain of the book world. Thanks, y'all.

Anonymous said...

"Embrace the suck!"
That's gonna become my new work mantra, I just know it.

"It's all going horribly wrong, somehow…"
"That's okay. Just embrace the suck, and everything will be okay."


Ardenwolfe said...

Heck, ask some of us to read it. We'll tell you where it sucks . . . er, needs work. And we'll do it for free. ;)

Unknown said...

Since we're banging the editor drum I can't tell you how often I'll read phrases like: “Slippery as an eel” + “Reeked of desperation” (I did) and think...where was the editor?

Because they all want fresh + original.

Flowers McGrath said...

@ardenwolfe I would too, read and offer my humble and hopefully constructive opinions. Awhile back i left a comment saying I think some of us should try it. Maybe we could set up some sort of basic questions we'd like our readers to answer. Where are the speed bumps? Where is the suck? And trade manuscripts. One for one.

Amy Schaefer said...

Hmm. With 28 rejections but no consensus on what is wrong (or holding you back, or making editors say no), I sincerely wonder what insight any new editor, paid or otherwise, can give you. 28 is a decent sample size; if there were a major fault in your work, I would have expected that feedback to bubble to the surface from multiple sources by now.

Which leaves the paid editor's professional opinion about what is going wrong here. It doesn't sound like you have much to lose in buying a second read, but if there is no particular thing wrong with your book, I wonder how much she can really help you. Maybe your book is just quirky and different and hasn't found the right home yet. Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Wait, Margo, so you're telling me that my new novel Felix Buttonweezer's Day Off has a garbage opening?

"He woke up on his first day of school in his underwear, staring intently at Sloan Peterson's twinkling blue eyes like two oceans, long brown hair and smokin' body. She was too hot to handle, but he had an ace up his sleeve. Sink or swim, it was time for Felix Buttonweezer's moment of truth.

'Pencil?' Felix asked and never looked back.
'Sure,' Sloan said, reaching in her bag. She always landed on her feet, for what it's worth. She handed him the pencil and said 'Let's cut to the chase, baby,' and she leaned in for a kiss.

Let's call a spade a spade. Felix Buttonweezer saw fireworks, that's what it boils down to -- until he woke up.

It was all a dream."

I'm thinking the movie adaptation will star Bruce Willis as Salmon Frye (Felix's quirky best friend), Tina Fey as Sloane Petersen and of course Matthew Broderick as Felix Buttonweezer (the one who gets the day off).

Hold your horses, Janet (and your lunch) because this book is gonna sell in the ka-billions...

Unknown said...

Brian - good one! Still giggling.

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Good luck, Matt. I, too, like the solution offered by Janet of the 2nd read . It must be so nice to have an agent that believes so greatly in you. My humble opinion is that if you truly believe in your book, stick with it!

Unknown said...

As a writer who can't yet afford an editor, second reads are all I really have. I have great people in my writing group (all three of us) and they each have a totally different perspective and taste. Then there is my sis, who has a completely different outlook altogether, and suggests things that my writing group doesn't.

Never underestimate the power of a second (or even third) read.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Heidi-come-lately says,

Second reads, especially by someone who knows what they're doing, can be a boon for the question, "Why isn't this novel getting picked up?"

I recently had a novel garner 50 agent rejects. (Granted, half of them were "I'm not handling Regency Romance at the moment.") But the other half... only two of them agreed on the reason they weren't interested in the novel. The rest of the responses were all over the place.

With such lack of cohesiveness in the feedback, it's hard to say what's truly wrong.

Yet something is.

My second reader pointed out some flaws, and I smacked myself on the forehead for not being able to see them in the first place. These flaws weren't anything truly WRONG, but they were wrong enough that they might have twigged in the back of some agent's brain, and the agent didn't quite realise what the wrongness was.

Nevertheless, a rewrite is in this novel's future and it will be a stronger novel for it. Whether or not an agent will pick this up, or if it's destined for Smashwords waits to be seen.

$4k seems a bit steep for editing.

I've had other novels pro-edited, and it didn't quite cost me half that.

As for Captchas, I only get asked for random house numbers. Why don't I get hamburgers or sushi?

Mary Feliz said...

I did a lot of homework on paid editors. I asked for suggestions from published and unpublished authors. I asked my published friends to ask their agents if they ever use freelance editors and, if so, who they might suggest. I looked at pricing for all the suggestions and compared it to prices for online services (idk!) I asked the editors for lists of clients and read any published books. I found ONE editor who used to work as an acquisitions editor for a "brand name" publisher and whose clients include blockbuster titles I've thoroughly enjoyed for the writing as well as the plot. While each editor had different ways of calculating their charges, every one of them came in at about $1K for a read through and comments. So, I was pretty sure the "one" editor wasn't overcharging at all. I considered it a learning experience -- like a master class focused on my book alone. And that's exactly what it was. I learned so much, and gobbled up every word from the editor. There was one suggestion I didn't understand, so I took a stab at what I thought she meant and asked for more help if I missed the boat. SHE then took a stab at crafting a sentence that illustrated what she meant, and I rewrote it and we both LOVED it. She's also been available to me to answer questions and has become a friend that I pay to read my work and tell me where it sucks. But every time she points to where it sucks, my reaction is that deep down in my heart of hearts, I already knew that part sucked. If you've got the money, I think everyone should do this step. But for the MUSES sake, do your homework on the skill set of the editor and the price point you're looking at.

JEN Garrett said...

Oh, Janet, you are so right. When I first started submitting, all I got was "Awesome, looks great wouldn't change a thing" comments. I began to CRAVE THE SUCK. Because nothing - nothing! - that I was writing at that time was polished and publisher ready.

Sherryl said...

I've also been at that stage where a manuscript I and my agent loved and had faith in was getting rejections and still needed that "critical edit" to get it to a higher level. The best thing about it was how much I learned for future manuscripts, not just the one being edited. To me, that's the sign of a terrific editor.
And it didn't cost me anywhere near $4000. Mainly because at that stage you aren't paying for copy editing, you're paying for that super critical objective eye.