I met Marie Dees a few years ago through an online writing group and we've kept in touch. She's written romance, mysteries, and erotica. She posts snippets from her work on Sundays on her blog - www.mariedees.com - which are always fun and steamy! On top of her impressive fiction list, Marie also works as a freelance editor for publishing houses.
I’ve told Krista that I’m going to be snarky and perhaps downright bitchy in this article. But I’m doing it to save someone some money and perhaps some grief. Why? Because I recently sat through yet another writing group where I had to tell a writer that his work has basic problems with an uncontrolled point of view, rampant tag line abuse and lethargic pacing. Problems an editor can help with, you say?
Well, in this case the writer has already paid an editor to help him with the work. What I saw was the edited work. But you know what, that’s not uncommon anymore. I see it over and over again. Someone with a background in journalism or non-fiction decides to pimp themselves out as an editor for works of fiction or as a book coach or a writing guru. They make promises like “if I edit your book when it’s accepted, the publisher won’t have to send it through editing.”
So, let’s set some overall expectations.
- No editor hired by an author can guarantee a book will be accepted by an agent or publisher.
- Hiring a freelance editor for your work does not mean that it will skip the editing process when it reaches the publisher.
- Even if accepted by a publisher, your book may not bring in a large enough advance to cover the fees some editors charge.
- If your book is good enough to interest a publisher, they will provide you with an editor at no cost to you.
Got all that?
Now consider this:
I’ve heard editors explain that they don’t edit for story consistency, plot development or basic accuracy of the information. In other words, they proof-read. Which is useful, but only if done after someone edits for plot, consistency and accuracy, not before. And now I’m seeing editors actually create their own publishing sites so that if their editing isn’t good enough to land a publisher, they can provide self-publishing assistance for you. All for a fee that the author pays.
Still want to hire an editor? I’m not going to tell you it won’t help. But remember that there is no single definition of what an editor does and hiring an editor without clear expectations and requirements can be an expensive exercise in futility.
If you’re looking for someone to read through your manuscript for spelling and grammar mistakes, you might just want a proofreader. Proofreading is a valuable asset to any writer, but simple proofreading should cost far less than hiring a full editor. In fact, often members of writing groups will proofread for each other for free. Or are you expecting the editor to go through your story and offer story development advice? Have you considered joining a critique group? Because they may be able to help you with that free of charge.
Now, if you’ve tried to above – I always like to try free help first, and feel you still need an editor, what should you look for? Simple. You want an editor with direct and proven success in your genre. And success doesn’t mean they’ve edited a lot of self-published books. Ask for references. Can this editor provide names of the authors, titles of books and names of the publishers the author published with? If so, contact some of the authors. Find out if they were satisfied. I’ve been told by authors that they paid large sums to editors and still found issues in their work that the editor didn’t address.
Know what you expect from the editor. Put together a list of the issues you’d like to see the editor address. Yes, this means you have to be a strong enough writer to know where your potential problems lie. Remember, just plopping a manuscript down and saying “fix everything” gives an editor a chance to charge you for “everything.”
Do a test run with a chapter or two. Some editors will do this for free or for a nominal charge. But don’t just look at that sample on your own. Take it to a writing group, critique group or writing friend. Present it to them and get their feedback. Are they able to find technical problems in the edited work? Now, those technical problems may be the writer’s problems, not the editor’s mistakes. But a good editor should still address them.
Also, keep in mind that the process an editor with a publishing house follows for a book is not to give the book a single editing pass and return it to the author corrected. An editor with publishing house will first review the book for story, plot and structure. They’ll return the manuscript to the author with requests for changes. The author tackles the rewrites. Then the editor reviews the changes. The book goes back and forth this way until the editor and author are both satisfied with it. Then it goes to the proofreader who checks again for spelling and grammatical errors. Then back to the writer again for approval of the final copy. A publisher invests the time for several editing passes in each book because it is seldom feasible to make a book publication ready in a single editing round. Are you hiring an editor who will work through multiple rounds of edits?
And always remember -- at the end of the day, the author is responsible for the quality of the manuscript. Not the editor.