Thursday, January 31, 2013

Introducing the "Find an Editor" section


To hire, or not to hire, a professional editor?  Here's what Emily Suess has to say about it in her Steps in Self-Publishing post on She Writes:
Your book must be edited by a professional editor. Preferably one who specializes in fiction if you're writing a novel, or non-fiction, if you're writing a self-help or how-to book. In an ideal world, you'll spend most of your money here. Editing and proofing are needed at a couple of different stages. This isn't a once-and-done endeavor. You might need to go through either or both types of editing more than once to ensure that your book is truly ready for publication. Substantive and developmental editing deal with the big-picture questions. Does everything in the book support the overall goal? Is the content engaging for the reader? Are things like plot, character development and dialogue the best they can be? 
Copy editing or proofreading are for getting the details just right. In this phase, your editor will help you deal with word choice, grammar, punctuation, typos and spelling errors. If you skip this, people will notice. Often after substantial revisions are made, another proofread is necessary to clean up any straggling errors.

Despite the word "must" in the first sentence above, I was initially still torn, for the following reasons:
  1. I don't mean to sound like a cheap skate, but it can be costly 
  2. I felt the "free editing" deck had been stacked in my favor:
    1. My mother is an English teacher who forbid me to watch The Dukes of Hazzard specifically because of the bad grammar (quit laughing - this was my favorite show, to the extent that I cried and begged to change my name to Daisy)  
    2. Not surprisingly, I grew up on Scrabble and the homonym game "Teakettle" rather than Barbie and dress-up
    3. I joined up to trade manuscripts with folks who have been professionally edited, so I presumed their lessons learned would trickle down
  3. There are editing resources galore available for the taking 
  4. And finally, I have read poorly edited books and loved them
To deal with this conundrum, I took advantage of free sample editing and let the feedback be my guide.   Suffice to say, this experiment led me to decide once and for all that yes, I would pay for professional editing.  Both copies of my first chapter looked like a stuck pig had bled upon them.  Which was exactly what I was looking for.

Please see the new stand-alone page of this blog, entitled, "Find an Editor".  Here you will find two different mark-ups of chunks of my first chapter, along with the names and contact info of the two editors who produced them.

Both of these editors are excellent, in my opinion.  They were punctual, easy to work with, professional, reasonably priced, and...most importantly...great editors.  I encourage my readers to reach out if they are looking for editing help.  Please feel free to use my samples to decide who is more "you".  And please let me know if you are an editor and would like a sample of your work featured on the page.

Friends, what are your thoughts about professional editing?  Absolute must?  Or can an English teacher friend suffice? 

9 comments:

  1. A critique group will catch a lot of the micro problems (grammar, punctuation, word usage) and some story problems (lapses in logic, character reactions that don't ring true, convoluted action).

    What they don't catch are macro issues: story structure, long-term continuity issues (the green-eyed character in Chapter 3 having blue eyes in Chapter 35), disappearing subplots, and so on.

    A good critique group won't replace an editor, but it will help you come up with a cleaner manuscript with fewer little problems. A developmental editor can then focus better on the "big picture," and you may be able to get away without also needing a proofreader (especially with your background). Your MS may end up looking like the pig that bleeds on it had only a few paper cuts and not a sucking chest wound.

    A good resource for finding critique groups in Southern California is at Victory Crayne's website: http://www.crayne.com/critique-groups.htm.

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    1. Haha Lance, that's funny. I actually had the opposite thought about critique groups. I thought they were good for "gut reactions" (such as, I love this part, I get bored here, I don't understand why this character would do this, what ever happened to that guy? etc.) but NOT as much good for micro problems.

      But we agree on the fact that a critique group can bring you a long way. My manuscript went through my best friend for about ten zillion drafts (God bless you, Sara McBride...yes, the same Sara McBride with the questions about publishing...) Then I sent a few chapters to a few critique groups to get a vibe for how it would be received. And finally to my Mom, who is two inches away from a professional editor but still biased (I am her baby girl, after all...)

      I have actually heard opposite views about what makes a manuscript look more stuck-pig-ish. Some say, "I loved your book as is, so I found very little to edit." Others say, "the more I like your book, the more I have to work with and the more butchered it ends up. I don't know what to do with a bad book." Personally, I like having my manuscript returned with blood and body parts on it. I am not obliged to take every suggestion, but I can pick and choose the ones I do want to keep. So my book and my voice are preserved, but I still get a ton of ideas for making it better. It's the best of both worlds in my opinion.

      Thanks for the critique group suggestion. I would really like to establish one here as well. I think it's WAY more fun to critique books in a genre that matches one's own (as opposed to being forced to critique something you would never have chosen to read, just to get a critique of your own manuscript in return). So I think it would work here. I just haven't thought about exactly how to implement it. Maybe yet another stand-alone page (I think Blogger has a limit to how many you can have...)

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    2. A group's success at ferreting out the micro issues is, I think, directly related to the number of English teachers in the group. Mine has three, so I'm covered.

      There are a lot of online crit groups out there. But one thing I've come to appreciate with my meatspace group is listening to the selections being read out loud. It's one thing to sit and edit/crit someone's pages in the comfort of your own lair, but it's a whole 'nother thing to hear it read. That really highlights the awkward bits.

      It's also an education to critique genres that aren't ones you'd otherwise read, and to have people who don't read in your genre critique you. There's no faster way to find a hole in your story or a problem with a character than to have an outsider throw a flag on the play; they don't apply the mental Spackle that readers in the genre will. I think I've become a better critiquer because I've been called on to crit romance and memoir and lit fic.

      I'm not sure a blog engine is the best way to go for an online crit group. A discussion or message board would give you more of the feel of a conversation, which is where the best crit information comes out. I know there are plugins for that for Wordpress, so I'll assume there are similar ones for Blogger. Or if you decide to start up a meatspace group in your area, you could use Meetup to put it together.

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    3. Yep, all good points. I'm still not with you on the critiquing in other genres, unless they are genres I actually like to read (and the writers also like to read my genre...) I think if it's a chore to edit someone's manuscript, because it's a genre that just doesn't interest you, then it's not easy to give it full attention. Also, within one's own genre, you're much more able to catch those pitfalls because you have dealt with them in your own work.

      I agree with you about the online critique group ideas. I have thrown around the idea of attaching a message board (if I can figure out the logistics) but wasn't sure how much traffic it would get. Maybe we're getting to that point.

      I wasn't familiar with meatspace. I'll check it out. And yes, reading out loud makes all the difference.

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    4. Meatspace = the non-cyber world (where people live).

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  2. Great points Lance. Looks like the fire has passed, glad your coming out of the foxhole.

    Kris, dumb question time. How much does an editor charge to critique a work of about 120K words?

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    1. Haha, Rob. You crack me up.

      Not a dumb question at all. Unfortunately, there's not a straight answer.

      Some editors charge flat fees by page or word count, tiered by how much editing you want (full developmental editing, copyediting, proof-reading, all of the above, multiple drafts, etc.) I personally don't trust this approach because this obligates the editor to spend the same amount of time on every word of every manuscript. Authors and books are not all the same. Some need more time than others.

      Other editors charge by the hour. I don't trust this approach either, because it puts me in mind of an auto mechanic taking my car apart and then telling me, whoops, I just found another big problem so it's going to cost twice as much as I originally told you.

      So my favorite kind of editor is the Cyndie Duncan and Susan Hughes kind - one who does a chapter for free, estimates from there how long it will take to do the rest, and quotes a flat fee accordingly. The risk in this scenario is on the editor. You could totally pull a bait-and-switch by giving him/her a beautiful first chapter and then thirty five additional chapters of crap. But if you do this, they'll know, and they can refuse to edit any further until the contract is re-negotiated. Or, they can just "fulfill" the contract by sending back your un-edited manuscript and saying, I'm done. There were no further edits required. So it's in an author's interest not to be the wanker who tries this.

      Personally, if I were to edit your book, here's what I would do: I would edit your first chapter for free to let you see what I intend to do with the rest of the manuscript. I would ask what you're looking for and whether or not my one-chapter edits were in line with that. I would solicit YOUR feedback on what you liked and didn't like that I did. I would estimate how long it will take for me to do a first draft, and also whether or not I would recommend more than one draft based on that first piece. I would quote you a price accordingly, and it would be up to you to decide if my work is worth it.

      What I wouldn't do is ONLY copy-edit or proofread. My reason for this is that if you end up publishing a beautifully copy-edited, proof-read book with a bad story, nobody will care how nice the copy editing is and my name will still be on it as the editor. So I would always offer developmental suggestions as part of the package. Of course, it's up to the author to decide what to take and what to leave, so his/her voice is still retained.

      I have looked into websites like www.self-publishing.com, who offer professional editing for flat fees depending on what you want. I think they're outrageous (for your book it would be something like 5K). If anyone knows of any cheaper options, I'm sure we'd all love to know about them.

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  3. As a professional editor, I like to start with an editorial analysis, for which I read the book carefully and respond with a 15+page, single-spaced report detailing the book's strengths and weaknesses, then give my client a list of suggestions for further editing: developmental editing (structure), line editing (writing style), and/or copy editing (typos, spelling, and grammar howlers). I charge $1200 for the analysis for books under 100K words. For follow-up editing I charge $75 an hour or (for long-term projects) $200 a day. I always give an estimate first, so the client knows an upper limit.

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  4. I totally agree with your comment "Your book must be edited by a professional editor". The world of publishing is very competitive and the few literary agents I've spoken too at writing conferences all seem to agree that a beginning author's investment in professional editing is a valuable one.

    The thing I'd like to recommend is that new authors not rush into editing too soon. I'd suggest revising your manuscript a minimum of three times, and getting it read by a group of Beta readers. When I say Beta readers I’m revering to members of your critique group or a cross section of people you know that read the genre you’re writing. If you don’t have access to a good group of Beta readers I would imagine many of your fellow writers on this site would be willing, and able to provide you with wonderful feedback, and first impressions after reading your novel.

    The most time consuming part of writing a good piece of saleable commercial fiction is developmental editing. This entails tweaking the plot, the structure, the story arc, character development, and all the other details that make a novel entertaining to your reading audience. It is my belief that you will be much better served in taking your time with this step, and getting it as good as you can before entertaining the thought of hiring professional help.

    Editors come in many sizes, at many price points, and with varying experience. Take your time picking an editor and don't be afraid to negotiate on price. Editing like writing is a competitive business.

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