Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, October 5, 2009

Should You Pay Someone to Edit Your Work?

Only if you need to.

I really think it's a good idea for authors get some sort of editorial feedback on their manuscript and/or query letter from someone they trust before trying to find an agent. That could be a significant other, a critique partner, a friend, a mortal enemy... someone. The advice should be positive, useful, strike you with the occasional, "Why didn't I see that?!" moment, and, perhaps most importantly, should be consistent with your vision for the project. In other words, the critiquer shouldn't simply be telling you how they would have written it.

On the other hand, if you don't have someone you can show your work to and you need feedback or if you would like some input from someone who has worked in the business: by all means, consider a freelance editor. There are some wildly talented editors out there who can really help authors with their manuscripts for a fee.

However, before you mortgage the farm to pay a freelance editor, keep the following in mind:

1) Don't spend any amount of money you can't afford to lose. If it feels like too much money it is definitely too much money. Feedback is helpful, but not at the expense of funds that could be better used elsewhere. If you can spare it and it won't hurt a whit, go for it. Otherwise: there are plenty of free ways to get good feedback.

2) Check the editor's credentials. Find out what their experience is, who they've worked with in the past, and whether the amount they are charging is commensurate with their experience. Do your research and only work with an editor with whom you are completely comfortable.

3) Bear in mind that the mere fact that you've worked with an editor is not going to boost your chances with an agent (or at least, not with me). A few agents I have been on panels with feel that it is a benefit if an author has worked with an editor. Me? Not so much. I assume an author received feedback and edited accordingly to make it better. I don't think you get a bonus because you paid for it.

4) Agents don't care about typos. Copyediting is not really very necessary prior to submitting to agents. Barring a learning disability, your own grammar and spell-check-assisted spelling skills should be sufficient to ensure that your manuscript has only the occasional typo, which an agent will not worry about.

5) Do not let an editor submit to agents on your behalf. I occasionally get submissions directly from paid editors who submit for their clients. This is a really, really bad idea. I want to hear directly from the author I'm potentially going to be working with. If you're going to engage an editor, do so only for manuscript feedback. You should be handling the rest on your own.

6) Know what you're paying for. Make sure you have a very clear understanding of what you're paying for and what you're getting up front. Make sure you and the editor have a clear understanding about what you hope to get out of the edit. And make sure you're communicating well.

7) Watch out for scams. There are quite a few unscrupulous fake agents and fake editors out there. Google the person you're thinking of working with, and, again, check their credentials. Beware of anyone overpromsing what they can really deliver.

8) There's no magic bullet. Keep your expectations in check. The editor is helping you with your manuscript: it's up to you to make the changes, and their help is no guarantee that your project will find representation or publication. The goal is to help you improve your manuscript, but the rest is ultimately up to you.


Basically: Do your research, keep your eyes open, but don't be overly paranoid either. There are freelance editors out there who provide a valuable service, and assuming you find the right match their feedback can be a real help as you keep on plugging away toward representation.






114 comments:

Nikole Hahn said...

Thank you! This is good to know. I've often seen things advertised, but our budget does not allow for me to do more than I am doing now.

Margaret Yang said...

A friend showed me her work both before and after she worked with a book doctor. Everything original and interesting had been removed. In the quest to make it salable, it had become bland.

Remember, if everyone finds it acceptable, no one finds it exciting.

That novel never sold. My friend would have been better served by a critique group or beta readers, I think.

Anonymous said...

Good advice. Unfortunately I'm a swedish writer and agents are non-existant in Sweden. Or next to it. Anyway, my editor is doing a good job and I trust her. She is also my coach. In fact I started by payiong her. Now she's paying me. Fair isn't it?

John said...

Useful tips. I've done my own editing, MS Word doesn't understand Proper English vs. American English spelling on some things, and their grammar check is often confused by tense. I do my best to determine if it's right or if I am. Not only are there scam artists posing as editors, but publishers as well, and had I found that checklist on good and bad earlier, I may have avoided them.

My problem right now, is the genre I'm submitting for is not known to publish my gender, and my actual name too closely resembles another well known author. I have narrowed down nom de plumes (psuedonyms) for each genre I intend to write for(Romance,Scifi,Crime, other).
Though I have self-published works on Amazon, convincing people to buy my on-demand books is frustrating.

I have used an unbiased proof reader for an original draft and used their suggestions, almost like an editor I suppose, but not verbatim use of their idea.

Budget is an issue, I'm a bottom rung employee in construction, I can't afford top dollar for help. I have to rely on my own skills as a writer to prove my material is worthy.

I follow you on twitter because you were suggested, for people like me, looking to publish, as one of 25 good follows.

Thanks

John Ross Harvey

Bane of Anubis said...

Rule 1: applicable to all facets (and the mantra of gamblers, methinks).

Rule 4: very good to know -- particularly given my proclivity to forget the occasional preposition no matter how many times I reread the stupid thing.

Thanks!

T. Anne said...

I've considered this deeply. It can be quite expen$ive. I suppose if self publishing was my goal it would be necessary but I'm still on the fence. I wouldn't mind a source of great editors to choose from if anyone knows of some reputable people.

John Ross Harvey said...

My last comment was from gmail account which differs from blogger account, for reasons I know not. Why I cannot use a gmail for blogger by google is beyond me.

John Ross Harvey

you can now link my blogger site

Tina Spear said...

I'm glad to hear that the occasional typo won't hurt - I'm always horrified when I find one just after I've submitted a partial.

Terry said...

Good post. Check the credentials is probably the most important of your points.

I know of self-published authors who are charging new writers to edit their work. One guy, who joined my critique group,asked me to look over part of his manuscript after he paid the so-called editor. It was a hotchpotch of constant repetitions of the same story, no less.

The interesting points he glided over, never developed. It took me three hours to write a critique of two chapters. It was an exercise in extreme diplomacy as well as constructive criticism. This, after he paid rather dearly for editing.

Supposedly the editor wasn't just copy editing either. Buyer beware.

BellaCatanna said...

I ended up getting an editor for my first novel and it cost me $1,500. The editor came highly recommended from a friend. The only catch was that this editor had only worked on non-fiction before. I got my edits, loves them and then ran my book through a critique group and learned the hard truth: the book was all telling, no showing, riddled with passive sentences, filled with plot holes, but the grammar was okay, sparkling even for the most part.

The lesson I learned is that I sought out an editor before the book was ready. I had only completed the first or second draft of the book and I hadn't really learned some basic rules of writing a novel that I needed in place before taking the editor route.

My suggestions to writers considering the editor route, may sure you have exhausted other avenues first. Find a critique group with a mixed background. My current group has literary and genre writers, published and unpublished. Find some beta readers you can trust. There are a great deals of blogging writers out here with various strengths who are blogging and sharing information and writing tips, find the best tips and apply them to your novel. Go through a few drafts of your novel before you even consider an editor.

Shannon Ryan said...

Thanks for the advice.

My wife is a sweetheart and gives my work the fine-tooth, but even between the two of us I occasionally find typos after I send stuff out. Now I can sleep nights.

Kat Sheridan said...

I'm very fortuante that a woman I first met as a writer has now set up her own editing business, and bless her, gives deep discounts to friends in her critique group. I'd never be able to afford her otherwise. It's not inexpensive, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for (so long as you do the research first to make sure it's not a scam). Her help was invaluable, especially when I first started. With one editing pass, she taught me so much about how NOT to make errors.

T. Anne, I'd love to recommend her to you, but won't use Nathan's blog for advertising. Check reputable writing magazines, check with friends, ask at some of the bigger online writer hangouts. Plus remember, this is a business expense. Tax write-off.

Kristi said...

While I understand that some people may want the input of an experienced editor, I thought I'd give another benefit of critique groups. You learn just as much, sometimes more, by critiquing the work of others as you do having your own work critiqued. Critique groups are free and you get feedback from multiple people rather than one editor. I also use other trusted beta readers for grammar, etc. Since I write for children, I found my main critique group through SCBWI and it's been the best thing I've done to further my writing - just an idea for people that haven't tried that avenue yet.

Marilyn Peake said...

That was an excellent post for two reasons: 1.) Feedback on query letters and manuscripts can be extremely helpful and 2.) Writers who are serious about writing usually work incredibly hard and have such huge dreams, it’s easy for them to get ripped off as newbies by handing over money to people without proper credentials. There are so many ethical, qualified people and writers’ groups that offer editing services, it’s up to the author to evaluate credentials and choose the most qualified. So far, I haven’t used editing services prior to submission, but I think a qualified editor could be invaluable for an objective evaluation of a manuscript.

I recently had my short story, BRIGHT MOON- -fantasy genre, about an infant faerie taken in by a peasant family in modern-day China- -accepted for publication on the blog you had recommended in your own blog last month: the GLASS CASES blog run by editor Sarah LaPolla. She suggested I leave out the first three paragraphs in my short story, and start it instead with the fourth paragraph. Her advice was spot-on. Leaving out the first three paragraphs tightened up the story, allowed it to begin with the real action of the story, and made it better. She seems to have a good eye for editing. I'm looking forward to having my short story published on her blog!

Thermocline said...

#6 made me smile.

I paid an editor for a Manuscript Evaluation and thought I would be getting a report about the nuts and bolts of my novel. Instead, I received one that covered overarching issues that needed to be addressed. This frustrated me because I needed more specific and detailed help, not some Big Picture Examination.

Turns out, after I stewed about it for two weeks, I realized she was right. There were some big changes that needed to be made and a slew of words to be hacked out. I wasn't ready for the fine tuning yet.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

I often speak to groups of writers about what to look for in an editor. The reality is, unless you understand the rules of grammar, usage, and punctuation yourself, there’s no way to know if your editor is any good. It’s important to learn that stuff—it’s all part of the craft of writing. Otherwise, you’re just a storyteller.

Marilyn Peake said...

Terry said:
"I know of self-published authors who are charging new writers to edit their work. One guy, who joined my critique group,asked me to look over part of his manuscript after he paid the so-called editor. It was a hotchpotch of constant repetitions of the same story, no less."

There are also self-published and small press authors with no track record of real best-seller status charging large sums of money for book promotion services. (Sometimes they refer to themselves as having "best-seller" books, but that might only mean that their book reached "best-seller" status for one hour or one day in one genre on an online bookstore site. To explain, that means that, for that particular hour or day, their book sold more copies than any other book in that particular genre on that site. So, for example, if no other books were sold in that genre and someone bought one copy of your book in that hour or on that day, you’re a "best-seller". If another book then sold 1,000,000 copies the very next day, you’re both "best-sellers", but hardly with the same sales record!) As a newbie, I handed over money to several book promotion businesses, finding out later that they were using other authors’ money primarily to promote their own books. Oh, the days of being a newbie author can be very, very difficult! That’s not to say, by the way, that all self-published and small press authors can’t provide great editing or book promotion sevices. You have to look at the quality of their work to see what they’re capable of. Also, some authors will promote other authors’ work for free. I’ve sent my small press paperbacks to science fiction/fantasy conventions with authors wanting additional books to sell at their display tables, and that’s been a wonderful experience.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting on this topic, Nathan.

I found an editor I would love to work with, but cannot afford...yet.
That is tough on me because I feel my work is almost there and now it is on hold while I see what else I can do. I am aware that I am a newbie writer and that some things are showing that shouldn't.

So, in the meantime, I am (really a basket case thing) writing another novel! And the first thing I think is oh boy, if I could use that same editor on this project too.

The thing with chasing down the credentials is that they are hard to find.

There are a lot of "specialty" editors that just want to do what they think is popular (word count/ action-action-action). That worries me. Also, there are some that can't write at all but say they can. Not a good sign.

One of the other things is that we all hear that the agent-writer and the editor-writer relationship is so chummy. But some editors are not about becoming your new best friend
while others are so your new best friend that you may feel great having them in your life and that may be what you are paying for.

Anyway, there seems to be a lot of slippery slope out there.

Critique groups are essential for a lot of us and pull us through or forward anyway.

The thing is, when I DO get my hands on that $5,000. to edit my book, and when I can afford it, holy moley, will I do it? I don't know. $1200. would really be more up my alley and I can't dig up any credentials on that price range of help either.

It would be way cool if there was a writer site about different levels of cost and expertise for writers in need of editing -especially developmental editing help.

Marilyn Peake said...

Vegas Linda Lou said:
"The reality is, unless you understand the rules of grammar, usage, and punctuation yourself, there’s no way to know if your editor is any good. It’s important to learn that stuff—it’s all part of the craft of writing."

I agree with you. There are small press and self-published books that are amazing, with impeccable grammar and sentences that practically sing. But, without understanding the rules of grammar, usage, and punctuation, it would be impossible to recognize who’s really good and capable of providing good editing services. The same for submitting short stories to anthologies – it’s only helpful to submit your short stories to anthologies that have really good editors.

The Screaming Guppy said...

I have mixed feelings about my experience with an editing company.

I researched a number of online companies and settled on that gave me a great sample critique/edit and was extremely professional. There was also a great deal of positive feedback on the website, and the editor assigned to me had a great deal of experience based on her bios – and checked out when I research the books she’d written.

Overall, I learned a great deal about some of the things I needed work on a sentence level. She made a great deal of cuts, a large part of which I agreed with. She caught a number of small issues – such as a time of day shift I didn’t account for, for example – and made suggestions where clarification was needed.

On the other hand, the work was sloppy as hell. I expected – as I was told and specifically requested – that I would be getting a line edit in addition to the suggestions/commentary. I think the editor made more typos that she fixed, and it just got worse further along in the manuscript. She was even typing in the wrong name for my character, over and over. She also made the comment “the last half of the book needs to move more quickly” and started hacking two to three paragraphs at a time and condensing them to one typo filled sentence.

In the end, I complained to the head of the company about the situation. I was offered a partial refund and a second edit with a different editor. I passed on the refund, and accepted the offer to have a new editor do a second line edit to try and clean up the mess – as in, the extra typos the first editor created. While the line edit was appreciated, it took the second editor three weeks longer than promised to complete the task. And I still caught typos she missed. Now we all no perfect isn’t possible, but for a paying customer it better be darn close.

So, do I regret the money I spent? Despite the frustrations, I’ll still say yes. As Nathan said, the biggest factor was that I was able to afford it without any hardship financially, so what I did gain from the process made the investment worth it as a whole. And I ended up doing more revisions, so I might have sent in too early of a draft anyway to expect a typo free finished product. But on the other hand, maybe I wouldn’t have got to my current draft, which I’m very happy with and almost ready to query, without this experience. Who knows? In the end, I’m happy with where I am with the manuscript now and the knowledge I gained from the experience.

Phew. Sorry, that was a novella. :)

Thanks for the post, Nathan.

Eric Shonkwiler said...

Completely unrelated question if you have a moment:

What sort of etiquette is there for making contact with an agent's assistant? Should a writer query an assistant in the same manner that they would an agent? Should they attempt to form a less professional rapport, so that the assistant will smile when they pass the query to their boss?

Phyllis said...

"The advice should be positive, useful, strike you with the occasional, "Why didn't I see that?!" moment, and, perhaps most importantly, should be consistent with your vision for the project."

I beta read occasionally, and this sentence was an excellent reminder of what I should achieve.

I think it's most important that you know what you are getting. In my experience, writers love edits. Whenever I suggest a quick fix, the writer jumps on it immediately. But when I point out structural problems - a passive hero, a sequence of scenes that doesn't make a plot - the writer often either disagrees openly, or ignores the advice.

The trouble is if you ask for an edit, that's what you are going to get even if it won't make the book publishable because bigger issues have been ignored. Try beta readers and critique groups first. Maybe, you won't need an editor after all. For an editor to be useful to you, you need to identify the problem clearly and determine that it is indeed an editor who can be most beneficial.

Anonymous said...

I would hate to see some boiler plate slice and dice editing of a writer like Thomas Pynchon - and I find him extremely hard to read. But his voice is so unique - the world would not be the same without him.

I think that an editor must know how to hold up a writer's voice and care for it - or pass on a project.

Anyway, I was impressed by editors who asked(free of charge) to read a WIP first before even deciding to take on a project. (i.e., can this work be helped by editing and is it a work the editor will be happy or proud to be associated with -in that associations work both ways?)

J.J. Bennett said...

Good advice! Thanks Nathan.

julieduck said...

By all means, go with a stable of beta readers instead. From this, you can pull the ones you jive with best, and get on with it. If you're broke to begin with, don't make yourself and your book more broke by paying a book doctor!

Wilkie said...

Great advice. It's interesting to hear an agent's perspective on this.

Terry said...

Marilyn Peake said: "There are also self-published and small press authors with no track record of real best-seller status charging large sums of money for book promotion services."

Not to double up on quotes, Marilyn, but I haven't heard of that - yet. More scams.

I'm not sure what the "editor" I mentioned said her credentials were. I sometimes think aspiring novelists are perceived as chumps, a veritable cottage industry unto ourselves, to sell myriad, and often spurious, services.

I felt bad for the guy, whose work I mentioned, because, as I see it, he had been taken. His idea was good, he just didn't yet know even the basics of how to put a fictional story together.

So many people think if they pay for something it must be good. That "editor" didn't do him any favors.

annerallen said...

I do freelance editing on occasion, and I am so happy to read all of Nathan's great advice here. Most people who want to hire me are nowhere near ready for an edit. As a number of commenters say here: first learn to write. Take courses and join critique groups. Learn the nuts and bolts. Write and rewrite. Then, if something isn't coming together, or you can't get a nibble on your query after many tries, or you'd just like to give it a final polish (and if you're self-publishing, you MUST ) look for a good editor. (And if any of them promise you publication--run. It's a scam.)

Rogue Novelist said...

My experience with three different editors working their miracles on two of my manuscripts was a disaster. Their credentials were excellent but their actual editing work was Non sequitur.

But, we all need skills of others to have our stories reach higher levels. It isn't words alone that do that, but rather how you combine them in outlook, opinions, details, delivery and original perspectives that brings your tale to life. Go beat your drum and ask for help.

KayKayBe said...

Nathan, do you have anything that you'd suggest asking an editor before we sign a check? How can you tell if someone is qualified.
And, I know a writer who paid to have the first thirty pages or so edited--to see what types of 'sins' she was committing, so she could check the rest of her MS herself for them. I thought it a good plan.

Dick Margulis said...

Okay, let me respond from one editor's point of view.

First, great post, Nathan. I agree with everything you said. I try to discourage novelists from spending wads of money to have me edit their work. And I always encourage them to find a critique group instead. I don't need to exploit starving young novelists to make my living, thanks.

But some persist. What I push for is that they have me help them polish a few chapters (maybe thirty pages). The publisher should foot the bill for editing the whole book. And self-publishing fiction is hardly ever a good idea.

Your point about a few typos being okay is good to know. But some writers can't get to "few" by themselves. For them, I think editors can provide a valuable service.

The other help someone like me can provide is some basic coaching to a writer who has never really had a decent critique before. And this kind of quick review can be cheap or free.

One other tip for you writers out there who are thinking about finding an editor: ask anyone you contact to do a sample edit of a couple of pages. Some will get huffy and refuse, I guess. But of the one who comply, you can quickly judge whose editing style is most useful to you and most consistent with what you're looking for.

Marsha Sigman said...

I want to do it on my own and submit the undiluted brilliance that is...me.

Also I am poor.

Dick Margulis said...

"... of the one who comply..." Sheesh! I hate it when I make a typo in a post touting my editing. Make that "of the ones who comply."

Anonymous said...

If you're gonna be a pro writer, you should be able to self-edit your own work! Sheesh. Ridiculous! I could see wanting to get storytelling feedback--a pro editor's take on the actual plot, premise, characters, etc. But line/copyediting? The writer should have that totally under control on their own.

Arik Durfee said...

Oh, the perks of being married to an aspiring author who also majored in English!

My wife is a brutal editor (more than once she's told me that an idea I'm excited about is "just stupid" or "doesn't make any sense"). But, man, I don't know what I'd do without her help and suggestions.

Laura Martone said...

I'm with Marsha - I am poor; therefore, I rely on myself for grammar/spelling issues and some terrific beta readers for the bigger problems (plot, character, too much description, etc.). For now, I think I'll be okay without an editor... but if it comes to that, I really appreciate having this list of tips, Nathan.

Thanks, too, to Marilyn - as always, your additional info is equally helpful!

Steph Damore said...

Ha Laura, I was going to say the same thing (poor comment and all) - so I guess I'll just say "ditto to Laura's comment."

Marilyn Peake said...

Thanks, Laura. I'm so glad to hear that. I feel passionately about books, writing and publishing, and never know if I’m blabbing on and on too much. : )

lotusgirl said...

Fantastic advice, as usual. It's nice to know that the occasional typo slides under the radar when agents are reading. I get stressed about that kind of thing.

Suzann said...

I'm a multi-published writer (fiction and non)who works part-time as a freelance editor. I don't charge nearly $5000 for a 70K-90K manuscript. (Which doesn't mean I'm cheap).

The biggest problems with clients' manuscripts I've evaluated/edited are passive writing, globs of back-story and what I term assumptive actions, i.e., describing a character's every move from, say, switching off a vehicle's ignition to grabbing a purse, unlatching the seat-belt, and opening/shutting the car door to striding a sidewalk to ringing the doorbell.

Loads of those and a general tell-passive voice is killer.

Copy/line editing is done along with editing for story; the latter is why my revision notes sent to a client average 40 pages.

May I add, clients need to know what they want from a freelance editor. Human grammar-checking/typo-catching? Or evaluation for story, plot, POV, characterization, natural dialogue, continuity, et al.?

If all the above, which mimic stages a contracted book undergoes during the publishing process, then that constitutes many, many labor-intensive hours! Or it darn well better.

Editing isn't a matter of conforming a novel to the status quo, but as Elmore Leonard famously says, "Cutting the parts people don't read." And enhancing the parts and the unique voice in those they do!

Scott said...

Excellent post, Suzann. Thanks.

I'm tough on my assumptives, although I will keep a "he/she reached out and" now and again to punch up a dramatic moment.

Very helpful stuff.

Anonymous said...

I have dyslexia and have been known for getting some words mixed up resulting in that old "close but no cigar" and sometimes *way* off.

I don't know what I would do without the laughter that causes between my husband and myself. He roots them out and finds them endearing.

I learn and grow and appreciate the help. It is the story I am trying to put out and I don't want those words tripping over everything.

My crit group helps too, but they are less amused by my mistakes and more invested in my storyline.I find that help comes from many sources.

A writer takes (this one anyway) a village.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Now, if she can FISH/HUNT and edit... hey, done deal! (even let her pilot my boat - use my guns, yes, I clean the critters)!

Haste yee back ;-)

The Screaming Guppy said...

Gosh, typo in my comment too.

I don't regret using the editor.

Some of us writers just don't have a keen eye when it comes to line editing, and I'll be the first to admit it's a weakness of mine that I strive to improve on.

Granted, a manuscript I query will have many more passes of editing that my comment did. :)

Courtney said...

I concur wholeheartedly.

While I find that another set of eyes can be very helpful at times, the help usually comes from someone who is excited about my work--or at least invested in my life.

Besides, why would anyone pay for an editor when they could simply bribe one with donuts? (Kidding, kidding).

JDuncan said...

Perhaps it's just me, but something about paying a large chunk of money for editing smacks a bit of laziness. As Nathan said, a few typos are no big deal. The book will run through a copyeditor anyway in the publication process. An editor at the publishing house will suggest revisions which could be small or huge depending.

If you want to pay for what essentially a good crit partner can/should do, and you have that kind of money to spend (wish I did), then by all means. Personally I'd want an editor who was familiar with my genre. While not necessary for good editing, if I'm going to pay, I want someone who might see things because they are familiar with what's going on currently in my genre. I'd want mostly big picture things like plot holes, pacing, character development, and so on. If you feel the need to pay for line edits, I think the money would be better invested in a couple of english courses at the local college.

None of these things are something I think any writer needs to pay for. They can be learned. It takes time and patience. Hiring an editor is not a short cut to making that ms what it needs to be. A writer should be able to handle a lot of this stuff. It's not rocket science. It's not easy either, but the materials and people to teach you how to accomplish what an editor does are out there and mostly for free. Take advantage of it. Use the money for other things like taking in a conference or three.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

In case it helps, I offer a list of established children's-YA book doctors/freelance editors/writing coaches here: http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/for_writers/writers_reading_list/perspiration2.html

alybee said...

There are some wonderful on-line genre specific critique groups that are free and provide a variety of perspectives. This is a great resource to many writers. Also some groups have beta readers that provide solid feedback to a writer. My policy when someone asks me to beta read is that I will read up to 30 page and provide feedback/review/critique and return it to them. If we both feel that we are a good fit then we can proceed further. This way no one feels stuck. And even then I think a writer should have a couple of readers. Each person will catch something different but when everyone catches the same thing then you know you have an issue to address with your story.

Alicia R. said...

This is great, thank you for sharing. I've been pondering this very thing for months.

stacy said...

I think it's also important to distinguish between the varying levels of editing that an editor might do. Many people here are confusing copyediting with line editing with developmental editing, and each level of editing will have a different cost and require different chops:

Developmental editing looks at the characterization, plot, pacing, worldbuilding, all that kind of stuff--big-picture stuff. Very rarely would an editor point out typos at this stage because it'll probably all change. (Exceptions to this, at least for me, are when someone is consistently misusing or downright abusing a part of speech or punctuation, such as ellipses.)

Line editing looks deeper at the craft of sentences and paragraphs, but might not catch every "typo" because the understanding is still that it could all change.

Copyediting and proofreading look only for grammar, punctuation, typos, and that sort of thing. You really are unlikely to need this kind of editing prior to submissions unless you're dyslexic (and I mean this seriously--I've worked with an author who is dyslexic and he told great stories, but needed help with certain things because he just didn't see those typos, and that's fine). And even then if you can get a trusted friend who is good at English to look at it first before hiring an editor, you'll save yourself some money.

Thanks for this post, Nathan. I think a lot of times people who are new to publishing just don't know where to start--they might not even have heard of writing groups. I always prefer to work with writers who have done as much as they can before coming to me, so that they feel they have gotten their money's worth--and sometimes (probably most of the time) they end up not needing me. And that's definitely okay.

Darin said...

I have done research on various online editors and have often wondered whether I should go that way. I have opted not to thus far as my critique group and a few other readers have been providing me with excellent suggestions, producing many "why didn't I think of that?" moments. Perhaps having an editor take a careful look at my first chapter might be of benefit though. Thanks for yet again posting on such a timely topic!

L. V. Gaudet said...

Thanks Nathan.

Lately I have been inundated with emails on Facebook offering services including editing services, publication help, and book cover art.

I know now, from reading your blog, that publishers use their own art departments, and buying cover art would only apply if I were self publishing.

It's good to learn about some of the other writers services being touted and how necessary (or not) they are.

Donna Hole said...

Thanks Nathan for the timely and excellent post. Very much appreciated.

I am now very happy I went with a critique group instead of an editor.

..........dhole

Thomas Burchfield said...

As a freelance editor myself, it is my understanding that some publishers, especially the smaller ones, are having writer and editors arrange and pay for their own editing, so watch out for that. I prefer to work with actual companies than individuals. I have heard at least one agent say that there are an increasing number of publishers that won't accept a manuscript until it is "perfect" meaning sans all typos and other errors to save them the costs of having to do in-house editing.

Regan Leigh said...

This is a VERY informative post and discussion. I'm currently in the scary land of editing and betas. Thanks, Nathan!

MG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Laura Martone said...

LOL, Steph D.! Great minds think alike, right?

And you're welcome, Marilyn. I don't think you blabber at all... given your many informative comments, I can tell how passionate you are about books, writing, publishing, AND research - and there's nothing wrong with that. *wink*

Nathan Bransford said...

(re: deleted comment)

Sorry, I'm not going to allow advertisements for editorial services here.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks for looking out for us, Nathan!

Rick Daley said...

I imagine that most pay-for editors charge an up-front fee or a flat rate based on word count. Too bad you can't agree on a rate after they are done to ensure quality work. Although the danger there might be someone hacking a good work to pieces if they bill per change made.

Nick said...

Personally I would never pay someone to critique my works, but I have the benefit of having many friends who enjoy writing, a handful of whom are fellow would-be authors, and so we often critique one another's work. Generally we get together every Saturday night, and any meetings beyond that are a bit impromptu, usually because we're either bored and in the mood for it, or someone's just completed a segment they want critiqued, etc. Mind, I only let them critique when I'm done the whole thing, as I don't like anyone reading my work until I feel it's sufficiently finished enough to be presentable...and now I'm rambling. Nasty habit of doing that.

Anywho, very handy advice, I would imagine, for those who do use or are considering using such a service.

MG said...

(Sorry Nathan! Didn't think... How's this:)

I am a freelance editor and with a particular reputable service. We all have published books (not self-published) to our credit, some of us (like me ) are authors in our own right, most of us specialize in certain genres, and ALL of us must pass stringent editing test to even be considered to join our editing network.

Check EFA rate guidelines here: http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php

And always check Preditors and Editors to find if the service or editor is legitimate: http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/
Freelance editors CAN provide a valuable service, but they are not all the same… I agree: do your research, get a sample edit done, compare quotes, and chat with your potential editor to see is she/he is a good fit for you.

Richard Mabry said...

Nathan,
Good advice--do your homework, know what you're paying for. There are some very good independent editors out there. But caution is advisable.
Back when an editor was considering my first two books (in the days when the earth's crust was cooling and editors would look at unagented submissions), he suggested I work with a specific "book doctor," intimating that a contract awaited me after these revisions. I did as he recommended, paying a pretty hefty sum. After the revisions, the editor turned down the submissions. However, I did pick up a few pointers from the book doctor--just paid dearly for them.

Stephanie said...

Hey Nathan-
That was such valuable info, I'm tweeting it!
Thank you for the guidelines. It was super helpful.
Stephanie

Dick Margulis said...

@Rick Daley

Rick, just to be clear, yes, an editor might have a flat charge (for a critique, say) or a per page rate (based on looking at some pages before quoting a rate in my case, although I know some editors just have a standard rate). But you should never pay an editor per "correction" or other change.

There may be some confusion on this point if you've ever gone all the way to publication with anything, because the typesetter may have a charge per author's alteration (AA) after the work is set in type and proofread. That's not an editing charge, though.

If any editor talks about charging you per change, run away fast. You don't want to provide an incentive for a hack job, as you say.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

and thank you for mentioning how important it is to find someone who shares your vision!

I'm finding that increasingly important as I work with my publisher!

John said...

clearly some of the figures being thrown are way...way...out of my league of funds. $5000, $1200, and this is US money I suspect not CDN funds. I have trouble getting $100 to raise for an entry fee in a book award competition. If there were these groups available to me in Toronto, I'd like to know how to find them. For now I'll edit myself, I don't have that kind of budget, besides many books I've read have typos, I always spot them.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I'm noticing a recurring error confusing proofreading with copyediting. Copyediting is more than just correcting spelling and grammar. If all you're worried about is your spelling and your misplaced modifiers, hire a proofreader. They're cheaper.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, What if the agent that you really want to represent your first book has offered the name of a specific editor and asked you to resubmit the manuscript at a later date? I know this may frequently fall into the scam category, but in this case, both the editor and agent are reputable.

I'm halfway through the process and thus far very happy. It isn't cheap, but then again, I could also be spending the money on writing classes, conferences, etc. I'm viewing this as my class for the year and I have the bonus of a private teacher.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Even if they're reputable I think it's fair to ask if the agent receives any financial consideration for recommending the editor. But if everything's on the up and up and they're reputable I'm sure it's fine. I know some very good freelance editors who I would recommend in a heartbeat, and I wouldn't receive a kickback from the editor or anything like that.

Rhyanna said...

I am unemployed, no income, trying to break into the writing field. Although I haven't found a Literary Agent or a publisher, I do have several completed manuscripts.(I write Romance, sci-fi/paranormal/time travel, historical as well as written a few , Teen/Tween/Young Adult, short stories, children's stories,
So finding an editor that won't charge an arm and a leg, and $1-$5 per page is way too much for me.
I'd love to find someone who is willing to work with me and free won't hurt, but I realize they have bills to pay and food to eat as well.
So thanks for posting this, its is helpful. So I will keep writing, checking my own grammar, spelling, several times before sending it out via email as snail mail is beyond my capabilities at this time.

writer jim said...

Nathan:

I pay an editor $23 hr. She definitely helps improve my writing, mostly by rearranging words and shortening it. I trust her to charge me for the actual time she spends. Doesn't this sound like a fair deal to a writer?

wendy said...

Thanks for these comments, Nathan. Interesting and helpful.

I had my ms assessed (not edited) by an Australian writer whose work I've admired for years - Sally Ogders. She pretty much confirmed what I thought: the main character is endearing, but fantasy of the nature I'd written of was not really compatible with an Australian setting. She even had an issue with a castle I'd set on Australian soil. But I loved the way she made her criticisms so gentle and constructive. That's very hard to do of another person's work. She also claimed - all things considered - to have loved the story. This sentiment was echoed by online reviewers during the decade I've worked on the ms.

And yet...

Whirlochre said...

I can't see the point in doing this. Better to hire cheerleaders to usher the manuscript/query to your chosen agent's door. And what a bad idea that is...

Orit said...

An agent referred me to an editor to spruce up the novel. Thinking he was referred by the (legit) agent, I thought, great! I spent a few thousand dollars, even though my instincts told me "no!".

In the end I ended up rewriting the whole thing--but not because of his comments. He helped me discover some new points and problems, but that could have easily been done with a manuscript evaluation. Instead, he nitpicked a failed draft.

I felt like he was a money hound. So I would recommend a manuscript evaluation before shelling out sooo much money.

In the end, I never went back to this agent.

Thanks, Nathan, for giving it to us straight!

Tomer said...

> your own grammar and spell-check-
> assisted spelling skills should be
> sufficient to ensur

You might want to take a look at Spell Check Anywhere (SpellCheckAnywhere.Com). It is a terrific spell checker that works in all programs, including blogs, and has an optional grammar check.

Samantha Tonge said...

I can't tell you how much a freelance editor helped me see my book with fresh eyes - he worked with me on the submission package and made it so much stronger - it was like a penny dropping, every time he pointed out something that could be vastly improved.

Nathan is right, though, it has to be someone you trust. I knew this guy from a writing forum i frequent, plus someone recommended him as an editor.

Wordy Birdie said...

The thing is that many of us are not just copyeditors and/or proofreaders, we are developmental editors, and that’s a very valuable service for many writers—both unpublished and published (yes, I work with published authors, too). Critique groups are great, and I suggest to each and every client that they join one. I am a (published) author and I have a trusted crit group, too. But unless your critique group members are more experienced writers, they may not be the best judge of your work. And they may not be impartial.

Many of my clients have written novels with great ideas, exquisite language use, and/or a compelling plot with believable characters, but they might never have heard of Point of View or ‘show, don't tell.’ They confuse words like sight/site, waste/waist, etc. and their grammar checker won't pick that up. They might slightly misjudge their target audience (children’s books are my specialty), and need help refocusing it. They may not understand that "he declared proudly" is not better writing that "he said". Sometimes there’s no character arc at all, or it’s a picture book with problematic verse and I teach them about meter and end-rhymes. The list goes on and on.

So, I ‘m not just an editor but a writing teacher, and although it may cost a $1200, or $2500 or more (depending on the word count), I work very, very hard for every penny; I have not had an unsatisfied client in all the time I’ve been doing it—which I know because of the glowing feedback forms clients send directly to my network coordinator. Sometimes when a MS is at a very early stage in its development and/or the writer is very new to the process, I suggest a full edit of one or two chapters—this allows them to apply all they learn to their MS without the major expense. And that’s called having a moral code. (There ARE scammers out there. Always Check Preditors & Editors).

And fairly often, clients who have never had a request for partials or fulls get them after our editing process, and every now and then, a client gets an editing contract. Do they think it was worth it? What do you think?

Jill Edmondson said...

In the early life of the MS there was no way I would have paid for an editor. There is no guarantee, there are a lot of scams out there, and as you said`money you can`t afford to lose`.

I got very lucky and got a contract for my first novel (which will be released next month!) relatively quickly. The publisher took care of editing, and I am glad I didn`t spend money unnecessarily.

Cheers, Jill
www.jilledmondson.blogspot.com

Kathleen Harries said...

Hi Nathan

Re rule no 5: "Do not let an editor submit to agents on your behalf."

Do you think it’s always a total no-no?

In the UK there are a some well established "literary consultancies" (Cornerstones, The Literary Consultancy, Hilary Johnson) which act as ‘scouts’ for agents and have a strong track record of placing authors with agents.

A number of these authors have gone on to gain deals (six figure ones in some cases)!

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this, if you have time.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I haven't read all 80 previous comments, but it behooves writers to remember that editing is subjective. If you choose to use a freelance editor, make sure you click. Not that the editor only gives kudos, but that he or see is in tune to your voice and the message behind your book.

I have used freelance editors (and full disclosure, I am one too) and like the accountability that comes with paying for someone's opinion -- I usually find an editor much more thorough than beta readers or CPs.

Ellen Painter Dollar said...

I once paid an editor who was a good friend of a good friend, and therefore didn't do enough homework on exactly what I would be getting from her--I just figured that my friend was a good person, so this editor must be too, and would give me my money's worth. Well, $750 later, I got my manuscript back with a lot of praise (OK, that was nice), a handful of pretty minor copyedits (things I would probably have fixed on my own eventually) and a recommendation to submit my 30,000+ word manuscript from an unknown writer (me) to the New Yorker, because this editor had read a series of articles they once published on a similar topic. Um, okaaaaayyyy. That's the last time I'll pay someone to review my manuscript. I've gotten much better help and advice just by sending it out and getting feedback from a few people who saw enough potential in it to give me a few words of wisdom.

Karen A. Chase said...

I just went through the process of interviewing freelance editors for a "developmental" editor. The pricing ranged from $550 to $5000, with experience varying wildly, too - and it wasn't the one with the least experience who was the least expensive. I also asked for references. It was the best way to determine the value, and personality of the editor for a fit for me. Ultimately the editor I chose had the best references, the best style that fit my needs, and was still a good value. Above all, I felt she was going to bring years of publishing and editing experience to her evaluation, with the goal to make a more marketable book.

Dick Margulis said...

Okay, time to fess up. All us editors belong to this worldwide cabal, see? And if you've had a bad experience with one editor, you should never ever talk with another one, cuz we're all uniformly evil and incompetent and want to suck you writers dry and cast you aside like crawdad shells or gum wrappers or something cuz that's going to work to our advantage somehow.

Folks, if you've had a bad experience with one editor, including spending more than you should have, you made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Buck up and move on. But don't shoot yourself in the foot. For those of you who really don't need an editor, great! More power to you. For those who do, how does refusing to work with one advance your career exactly?

Wordy Birdie said...

Well said, Dick.

Mira said...

Both your post, Nathan, and the comments are very helpful.

Thanks.

John said...

funny one of these names (KH)reminded me of someone I grew up with. Sadly post-teen hormones and confusion destroyed a long distance friendship.
The stupid things you do when you have nobody close to love.

I'll never know if they forgave me for being a jerk, well that was 21 years ago.

Back to topic, its pretty obvious my current job won't support my writing efforts if editing costs this much. I'll continue writing, I have to, just finding a reputable publisher that believes in me is pretty hard.

Lisa Yarde said...

The suggestions about finding an editor are really on point. I'm working with a freelance editor at the recommendation of a few friends, but I put a lot of thought in to what I hoped to achieve before plunking down a couple hundred dollars. I can tell from the first few edits that I'm getting my money's worth.

Fawn Neun said...

Personally, I think one should be able to do their own copy-edits, but it's great to have feedback on story arch, character development, structure and if you're taking the reader to the place you planned to take them.

I find most of this in a good beta reader.

I think I would consider hiring an editor for a non-fiction book, not sure about a novel. I've ghost written and edited NF before and I like to think I was very helpful.

Jo said...

I have beta readers who read all my manuscripts after first draft and now a very hands-on agent who helps with revision and editing, but I was so nervous about the sequel to my first book (and at the time un-agented) that I used a freelance editor. The experience was well-worth the expense. She had great references, had worked as an agent in a well-regarded NYC agency, and gave me in-depth written notes and suggestions for revision and a line edit. She charged either a flat fee or a per page fee. I opted for the flat fee.

Anonymous said...

The best advise here is too be careful on who you trust. My husband and I advanced $750 toward a $1,500 edit through someone we thought was a professional. When we meet her at a conference, she was an editor for a large house. After seeing her at different events, and out novel being "in consideration" at her house...she eventually said she thought the manuscripted needed professional editting. We saw her at conferences for the following two years. She remembered us and still talked about the novel. We were thrilled. At the last conference we saw, she said she was leaving the publishing house and openning her own business as an editor. She said she believed in our work. Well, we believed in her. Now, a year and half later...no edits, no return money, and we can't find her. It is heartbreaking. So, learn from this blog, and from my story, even if you think you have the research for a private editor...be careful. Please...

Daniel Allen said...

Nathan (or anyone reading this who knows):

You mentioned scams by editors. What are the scams to watch out for? Is there anything other than being out a LOT of money to be aware of?

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Timely advice Nathan.

I’ve had multiple beta readers from the typical family and friends to published authors and grade school teachers (my ms is YA). I’ve used two critique groups and of course my own multiple read throughs (both silently and out loud). I’ve taken big breaks from it and when I returned I found more things, of course.

After all this I still find rejection and so I’m left to the conclusion that I should try a professional editor. I’ve found one that (after research and some discussion) seems to fit well with me. I’m not waiting and saving for the time to begin with her.

After all that, here is my question; If you have tried the beta and critique routes and you simply can’t tell anymore if it will ever sell, are the only solutions the following…

a) Quit on it for good.

b) Take a big break then go back, again.

c) Try a profession editor to show you WHY it wont sell.

Thanks Nathan.

Susan Cross said...

Thanks! I was told I MUST pay an editor but an author told me to send my manuscript to 5 people I trust and use their feedback. With a background writing for magazines, I am used to editing my own work carefully. Any money would probably be too much right now since the magazines are dropping like flies.

Kurt Chambers said...

I did consider it once myself, but I found that a critic group was much more useful. At least that way you can get feedback from a variety of different people. Plus there are plenty of free groups you can join.

Sheri said...

This was so helpful. I was just discussing this very topic with a friend. Thank you for posting it.

BubbleCow said...

Word of mouth is very important when deciding on a professional editor. Don't be frightened to ask LOADS of questions. After all it is your money and you need to make sure you will be getting value.

I would also add that there is a lot of difference between a reader's report and an in depth line edit. The first will be cheaper but will only give you an general overview. The second, though more expensive, will provide much more detail and specific feedback.

My experience is that writers often pay for a reader's report thinking they are getting a detailed line edit - beware!

Robin Miura said...

Another freelance editor weighing in:
Great advice, Nathan. Like Nathan, I would not recommend hiring an editor to copyedit or proofread unless an agent has told you they love your book but you need help with the mechanics before they sell it (unless you're self-publishing, which is a whole different ball game w/a whole different set of goals and expectations). Having said that, as Nathan pointed out, don't EVER hire an editor who gives a kickback to the person who recommended him/her. That's not a true recommendation; that's a scam. A talented freelance editor can provide a great service if you have been unable to click with a good, constructive writers' or critique group. I don't take on every potential client who comes to me, and I always read at least 30 pages and provide some feedback and have an in-depth phone discussion with the author about expectations and goals for the editing before any money ever changes hands.

For those considering hiring an editor, the Editorial Freelancers Assoc. (www.the-efa.org) has a member directory where you can check out freelancers who have worked with presses and/or authors you admire.

Ricki said...

Agents don't care about typos? Really??

I don't think enough people really understand/care about/take the time to use proper grammar/formatting.

I have critiqued manuscripts of people who have thought they proofread...and, yeah, they hadn't. Or if they had, they needed seriously help because they weren't familiar enough with the rules.

I mean, of course there are going to be typos--that's just an annoying fact. However, make sure you've proofread the hell out of your manuscript before you send it...

...and if you don't really know much about grammar, you might want to consider hiring someone to take a look-see because, chances are, it's a big old grammatical mess.

And agents WILL care about that.

Ricki Schultz
www.rickischultz.com

Nathan Bransford said...

Ricki-

Nope, I really don't care about typos. Rampant errors that aren't actually typos are problematic, but not your run of the mill typo. That's what copyeditors are for.

Ricki said...

That is definitely good to know--it seems like the little buggers always find ways to crop up somewhere!

Ricki Schultz
www.rickischultz.com

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Here are some directories where you can search for professional editors:

Bookbuilders of Boston

Editorial Freelancers Association

Editors' Association of Canada

Northwest Independent Editors Guild

Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK)

Society of Editors (NSW) Inc. (Australia)

Directory of CE-L Freelancers (these are copyeditors from around the world who subscribe to the Copyediting-L e-mail discussion list)

John said...

Can anyone who has used iUniverse please reply. They sound genuine, I've seen their books, Lisa Genova's Still Alice was one of theirs that migrated to Simon & Schuster. They use Harper Collins and other publishers editing professionals, so does anyone here that's used them, think they are a good alternative to us newbies?

Cat_d_Fifth said...

Geez, I wish I'd read this three months and a few hundred dollars ago :-) I just discovered this blog when I recently joined an online writing group, and I have to say, this blog is a treasure trove of information and tips!

In fairness, I did learn a lot from the editor I worked with, and combining that learning with my writing group's critiques and a course I'm taking on writing, I guess I'm a bit more confident now to self-edit before sending my MS to an agent.

Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

A great editor I know gave me this rule of thumb for editing: "Don't touch words until the writing is done!"

I think it's important for a writer to know what she really wants or needs the editor to do. Proofreading? Continuity check? Copyedit? Major evaluation of the whole project?

Give a manuscript that does not yet make sense to a person whose specialty is copyediting, and the result is likely to be a fatigued, frustrated editor and a writer who feels he's been taken.

Mary Beth said...

Having your work edited is essential. There's no getting around that. That said, the editors making the big bucks (editors who are employed by publishing houses, generally) do their jobs quite poorly. Checking credentials doesn't get you anywhere. Stephenie Meyer's editors have edited a lot of stuff, and have done it poorly.

Instead of checking credentials, you should be evaluating the values of each prospective editor. Determine what he or she loves editing. (I am a fiction editor; I can and will do academic writing, but I hate it.) Do not hire a technical editor to edit your fiction. Seriously. This is where people complain of their pieces losing distinctiveness. Voice is something that technical editors simply do not take into account.

All that said, you need to be responsible for the quality of the piece you submit to an editor. The more you hack at it early, the better the editor will be able to help you. If you're relying on him or her to tell you that your plot doesn't make sense, you're wasting the unique skill set that an editor houses.

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Caleb said...

Nathan, thank you for your service. Whenever I can't figure out what to do I search your site until I find an answer. I have one small time publisher who gave me an r&r but what they recommended was paying their editors to help me strengthen my story. It would have been $2 a page or well over $500. I know people who really believe in a book don't charge. If they believe in it they will make their money back in book sales

writersobsession said...

Nathan,

I have been requesting a consultation from an freelance editor but the price stopped me from signing the agreement. $750 for a one hour phone conversation and any furthur communication is $200 each time. Is this a lot of money? I have hit a brick wall with my manuscript. I had one editor from HarperCollins love it and then I submitted it to another editor there in the company and received a "no". So I wanted some help from a very reputable editor I heard speak at a writers conference. Now I don't know if I should just fork over the money or wait. Will this consultation guarantee a publication or even a deal with an agent or is it a waste of money?

Nathan Bransford said...

writerobsession-

1) You gotta do your research and seek out more opinions/quotes. Rates vary greatly - how much it's worth depends on how much you can afford and how good the person it is. Don't pay anything you can't afford to lose.

2) Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to guarantee you publication.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Nathan,

I've published my first novel. I had it looked over my an editor, but I should have hired someone to do copy editing as well. Or, I should have asked that question when hiring the editor. She gave me feedback, made corrections, but didn't go over the novel again after I went back. I am having people tell me they're are finding typos. It makes me feel sick.

Collin Francis said...

I am currently publishing my first book, I need an editor however I was thinking of buying a software, I know nothing bits a human touch but can the software really do a master job. I want to try Whitesmoke, does it worth it.

DOMINO said...

Thanks, I really needed to read this. I've been looking for an editor, I get reviews, that a few of my novels are really good, BUT, I need an editor...soooo, yeah, I'm looking for one I can afford. I loved reading this, it was enlightening,

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