Editors: what are they worth?

You’ve written a book. You’ve had it beta’d, you’ve gone over it yourself several times and fixed all the obvious garbage (typos, punctuation, awkward sentences, etc., and if you haven’t done this, shame on you), and now it’s time to submit it to a publisher. Or perhaps you’ve decided to self-pub. Either way, your manuscript needs editing.

If you go with a publisher, you get this service for free. Well, their cut of your royalties pays for that, but you don’t suffer money out of pocket. A manuscript will usually go through several edits before it’s pronounced ready for the next step. Remember my novella, Blue River?  Betas went over it. I went over it. I didn’t think DSP could find anything wrong with it.

WRONG. Their eagle-eyed editors caught some things, and one of them was important. That manuscript went through three freaking edits! Three! I was humbled by their focus and attention.

That short story I submitted for the Shakespeare anthology? Yup, another three edits. On a short story.

Editors can make or break your book and career. Bow before them and sing hallelujah!

If you decide to self-pub, you’ll have to find an editor on your own. It’s a jungle out there. Prepare to weed through Those Who Are Not Worthy, and trust me, they’re waiting in the shadows to take your money and give you a piss-poor job in return.

You can’t even tell if an editor is good by what they charge. Paying more doesn’t mean you’ll get more. Hell, I’m underpriced. I should be charging way more than I do, but being an author, I know not all writers can afford a huge outlay of cash up front. Some, maybe even most of them, won’t make back their investment until several titles are released, if then.

You heard right: publishing, for better or worse, is not as lucrative as it once was. Even as Amazon handed out the tools to help authors put their work in front of readers, so many poured in to take advantage of it that individual sales are weak at best except for those fortunate few. KDP/KU, depending on who you talk to, either helps or hurts. If you’re someone like me, who doesn’t enjoy sky-high sales, all those borrows, paid to the author at a really cut rate, hurt.

The point is, in a packed market like this, the smallest things can relegate your book to the bottom of the pile. I never buy a title with a badly-written, badly-edited blurb. I figure the story will suck, too.

You need to hire an editor! Here’s how you do it.

First things first: ask your fellow authors. Most of you belong to writer groups of one kind or another. Put the question out there, and you will get names. Next step? Contact an editor. If they don’t ask for a sample, consider it a red flag. An edited sample will tell you what they look for and how they work. It also tells the editor what kind of writer you are. Not all editors and writers can work together. The sample is vital to indicating whether or not a professional relationship is possible.

Want references? Ask for them! Freelance editors just starting out may only have a couple names, but you can go to Amazon to “read inside” to check their work. Warning: do not base your decision wholly on the end result; not all authors follow their editor’s suggestions.

Test two or three possible editors. Choose the one you like best. Get a quote on turnaround time and price. Send them your book. You’ll know soon enough if this is the editor for you. If it is, hang on to them! If it isn’t, keep looking.

Do not hire an editor because you recognize their pen name or they’ve sold a lot of books. Not all writers can edit.  Vet this person who is going to rip your manuscript apart and hopefully put it back together so sparkly, it will make you beam with happiness.


About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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22 Responses to Editors: what are they worth?

  1. Jaycee Edward says:

    Helena’s and my experience with DSP editors has been wonderful. I thought we submitted a pretty clean manuscript, but in three rounds of editing, they’ve noticed things we didn’t even consider. Then we had the proofreading copy. So, basically, it’s been gone through four times AFTER we thought it was ready.

    Sending you the sample of my own novel last year was eyeopening to say the least. I can vouche that you’re an excellent editor.

    A word of caution to new authors, if you get your 500 word sample back with 158 comments and a note that says, “You aren’t ready for me yet,” don’t curl up and die like you’re going to want to, and don’t scream at the editor and tell them they’re full of shit. Close the doc and go see a movie or do something fun to take your mind off their stinging words. The next day open it back up and look at every single comment and realize what a pain in the ass it was for this person to have to do this, knowing there would be no money in it for them. Now, shoot them an email thanking them – yes, thanking them – because someday you’re going to look back at the piece of crap you sent them and think, “Thank you for not letting me put this out there.” Oh, and maybe offer to send them a few bucks for their efforts so at least they can buy themselves the drink they probably needed after going through your “baby.”

    As for what they’re worth? I know one that’s priceless. ;o)

    • 🙂

      I hate telling an author they aren’t ready for me yet, but my life is only so long. Heh. You have a great attitude! You were willing to see the truth, decide not to hire the hit man after all, and learn. I wish all writers were like you.

      • I was never mad at you. I knew you were telling me the truth. I really wanted to unfriend you so I’d never have to face you again, but I am SO glad I didn’t do that. 😀 This is the lesson I’m trying to teach my granddaughter right now. That sometimes what seems like “the worst thing EVER” (said like a teenager) is really a HUGE blessing in disguise. I’ve learned so much from you – from your blog posts and FB posts. I’ve made notecards with all your tips and I printed out your two blog posts about Writers Writing Badly. I’m still not great, but I can see some of my own mistakes now. It makes me sad to see someone get dinged in reviews for the editing (or lack of) because it’s the one thing that’s totally avoidable.

        • And hey, I’m probably not even that good. 🙂 I know there are better editors than me out there. I work with some of them at DSP.

          You make a good point about looking for good in a bad situation. That’s a hard one to learn, but it’s so much better if you can face such situations squarely and honestly. Learning experience.

          That flash fiction piece you wrote for the blog about the homeless guys? Not only a good story, but well written, too.

  2. Thank you. *blushes and squees*

  3. Helena Stone says:

    I have, much to my surprise, discovered I quite like the editing process. Yes, I do occasionally received comments and think WTF, you’ve got to be joking. Almost always walking away from the document and the comments for about 24 hours leads to me realizing that at the very least I should consider the suggestions.

    I’ve no been through a full editing process with two different publishers and while the approaches were somewhat different, I enjoyed it both times and I have no doubts both the stories and the writing were better in the end.

    If I ever decide to self-publish I will most definitely find myself an editor. Since I also want my writing to pay for itself, that moment may be sometime off, but that’s okay.

    Thank you for a very clear post about editing. From personal (reading) experience I’d say there’s quite a few authors out there who could do with taking your words to heart. I’ve got a feeling that may not happen anytime soon.

    • If they don’t get a good editor, their sales will suffer. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part. I’ve seen tons of “lousy editing” remarks in Amazon reviews, yet the book still sells. But how many more copies could they have sold with editing?

  4. wendytaft says:

    I am going to make this an ask the editor question: If an editor provides feedback that says, “you have a great story, but need to work on the point of view.”…are they just being nice???

    • If I said something like that, I’d be more specific and highlight an example in the text: “This is head-hopping, which tends to confuse readers. In each scene, decide who has the stronger voice and then stick to that character’s PoV all the way through. If you need to switch to another character, create a scene or chapter break.”

      I am assuming head-hopping is what the editor is referring to. 🙂 “You have a great story” is meant to take the sting out of the inevitable “but” that follows. 🙂 So were they being nice? Sure. Editors are never mean intentionally, but it can sometimes be difficult to offer suggestions to the author in a way that doesn’t hurt. Writers are artists. Editors get this, and we do walk softly when we make suggestions.

  5. wulfginn says:

    Reblogged this on Wulf F Godgluck and commented:
    A very Important point Theo made please take a read he is a exceptional experienced editor well in my opinion that is.

  6. Amen, Theo.

    I know that the copy of Gilded Scarab that I sent Dreamspinner was clean – it had been beta’d and read over by crit groups and thoroughly shaken up to make sure it was as clean as I could get it. Of course, it was more difficult for me as I had to write it in US English, rather than my native British version, but all of those sets of eyes were American and looking out for Britishisms creeping in. And yes, DSP’s three thorough edits still found things that needed correction, including the odd Britishism that had escaped everyone. Until that edit, I didn’t realise I had a thing about autonomous body parts (“His hands lifted…” for example, as if they were separate entities from their owner). I had places where (mercifully, short) exposition could be turned into little scenes, and in at least one place the pacing needed to be tightened. All after extensive beta-ing and reading.

    Editors are gold.

    • I just finished reading the first book of a series that had an interesting story, but as much as I’d like to pick up the next couple books to see what happens, I won’t. Why? Because the editing was not thorough enough. The character’s eyes (it was told in first person, present tense) were always tracing something: “My eyes traced his tears.”

      Eyes don’t function on their own. “I” should have traced his tears. And the repetition of “traced,” often used incorrectly, started making me clench my teeth by the end. It was used a lot in the last few chapters.

      I admit I’m over-sensitive to editing issues, but I would have caught this. Any good editor should have. The author gave credit to someone, but apparently, she wasn’t skilled enough.

  7. A.M.B. says:

    Great advice. I’m sure you’re an excellent editor. I still remember a post you wrote about some of the errors you’ve seen while editing. I’ve learned a lot from you!

  8. A good editor is GOLDEN. I had no idea what I was doing when I submitted my first manuscript. I sent it out to 9 agents (haha – like I said, clueless) and 30 publishers. I got rejected by everyone except one. They must have been having a slow day OR they were feeling incredibly charitable because once I got back my first round of blood-red edits, I wanted to cry. They told me, “You really need to write in POV”. Needless to say, I had to Google that one since I had no idea what it was.
    The real eye opener though, was the same publisher rejecting my 5th book. They wrote me, “We’d love to offer you a contract, but frankly, after tolerating your POV issues through round after round of edits on four different books, we think you just don’t get it and fear you never will.”
    OUCH! But honestly, it was the best thing I could have ever heard. I sat down, pulled out every round of the previous four books and studied them and studied them until I got it. Now, it comes to me like breathing, but back then, it was a tidal wave of blech. Editors are incredibly important and because I self-pub, even more so.

    • When someone’s confused about PoV, I generally haul out the idea of imagining PoV as a camera. Whoever has the camera has the PoV. In first person, only one character has PoV. In third person limited, maybe two or three characters pass that camera back and forth; whoever has it is the PoV character. I do not recommend the camera be passed to every character in the story; omniscient is a bitch to write correctly (and editing it is HARD), but if you must, visualizing PoV as a camera passing from one person to another should help.

  9. I enjoyed your post! So many authors seem to think that because they can self-publish, they can also self-edit, and as you pointed out, not all writers can edit. I’ll definitely be reading more of your blog.

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