Monday, June 29, 2009

Pre-Editing (Or, My Thoughts on Hiring Freelance Developmental Editors Pre-Submission)

I got this note the other day:
Hi there,

I am a first time writer and I just finished my first novel. In your opinion, should I try and get an editor before I query an agent? I haven't been able to find any advice on that and I read your blog all the time so I figured I would ask. If you have time to respond, please let me know whenever you can!


Dearest XXX, thank you for asking. I've been wanting to write about this for a long time. I'm afraid I have a TON of thoughts about it.

Let me start with an anecdote.

About six months ago, I got to meet an editor hero of mine, who is a big important head of an imprint at a big important company. We got to chatting, and she asked me about some of my favorite projects.

Being my humble modest self (ahem), I started bragging about all my most splendid projects (all of them, naturally). I took some special time on a book I was particularly proud of--one you've heard a bit about here--which I'd acquired after every other house in basically the entire world had passed. I'd seen potential there, and after working carefully with the author on editorial back-and-forth and thoughtful development, we published to mind-blowing awesome reviews. In my prideful, sinning mind, this was an ultimate victory, because I felt like I could see my own personal hand in the book's success in a special way.

My esteemed interlocutor, however, did not *realize* I was bragging! Instead, she said something that shook me from buttons to boots: "Oh wow, you guys edit over there? That's nice--I always used to enjoy editing. We don't have time, so we can only really buy books that are pretty much ready for production."

I was, as I said, pretty shaken. My very smart, wise, and experienced new friend had opened my eyes to an industry trend I'd kinda been ignoring--houses are increasingly not insentivizing their editors to EDIT. Instead, they are supposed to focus on ACQUIRING. I love editing, and realizing that it may not be a crucial or celebrated skill for an acquisition editor to have made me wonder what the future holds for me.

Enough about me and my ego. How does this tie into YOUR life as a writer?
I am not saying the system doesn't suck. I'm just trying to address this very specific question of whether or not you should hire a freelance editor.

Basically, you want your submission to be as clean as possible, at every stage.

"Clean" means both in terms of copy issues (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure) and in terms of content--your structure, composition, ideas, and for fiction plot, characters, and pacing should all be tight as a drum--it's not enough to want to sell your manuscript anymore. You have to imagine that, in a worst case scenario, you might get published without another hand tinkering with anything you've written. (Hopefully this won't be the case--but you should treat your manuscript as if it is.)

Don't let yourself cut any corners at any stage. You should be as clean as possible before submitting to agents, because while some agents are fantastic editors, some of the best agents are very poor editors (different although frequently overlapping skill sets--but don't count on an agent to edit your manuscript). You should also talk seriously to your agent about how clean the manuscript is before the agent submits to editors.

Some pros and cons (all mixed together) of hiring a freelance editor to work on cleaning up your project:

*The expense--they charge a ton. We're looking at hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the person and what kind of editing your book requires. And I know a lot of us aren't exactly rolling in it. You have to figure out on your own the risk/reward scenario fiscally--it's important to remember that working with an outside editor doesn't mean that your project will sell.

*You gotta have the right person working with you, and that's often hard to ascertain in advance. While you, personally, may not be an expert at grammar, or may feel you need a second opinion about pacing or the commercial viability of elements in your story, it's important to remember that you ARE the author, and that ultimately your idea and presence are sacred to what makes your book your book. I mean, I'm NOT one to tell anyone to ignore editorial suggestions (of course I'm not going to tell you that!). But I will tell you that it's important that you work with editors--whether in houses or on a freelance basis--who understand you and who agree with what is fundamental about your book. Yes, you want a clean and commercially viable book--but working with someone who loves to read (and ONLY loves to read) Sophia Kinsella may not be a perfect idea when your writing is designed to appeal to readers of Maeve Binchy.

*An outside set of eyes never, ever hurts. Every person who reads your manuscript will offer you a different kind of reaction, and those reactions (good, bad, ugly) should be both important and interesting to you as an author. Plus, a paid freelance editor will (hopefully) have a lot more to bring to the table in terms of concise, helpful advice than your neighbor Sue Ellen might have.

*The level of cleanliness required in a manuscript these days might be higher than what you're humanly capable of achieving on your own (as I discussed above). Are you up to it on your own? Be honest with yourself about your own abilities. But also don't be scared of your abilities--you may need less help than other people.

*Then again, don't trust yourself at all. Writers are notoriously bad about judging themselves--bad writers tend to think they're awesome, and terrific writers tend to think they're terrible. So get a second opinion about whether your manuscript needs outside help from someone who will give it to you straight.

*Now, a great way to get around an expensive professional edit is to work with a crit group. Not every crit group works out perfectly, but in the best case scenarios, writers can find another very kindred soul or two with whom to slap the silly out of their respective works before things go to an agent for submission. Just because someone isn't a publishing professional doesn't mean they can't help you awesomely. Just remember they need reciprocal incentive--you have to offer to take their project as seriously as they do yours.

*Don't be ashamed of hiring an outside editor. This is no longer a pride issue--it's not about your fitness as an author. It's more about the woefully understaffed and underfunded state of the union as it is at this moment in time. So if you are considering hiring an outside set of eyes, don't get hung up on all that.

*Remember that in most cases, you can't submit to the same editor (or, before that, agent) twice. That means that, again, you MUST be honest with yourself. If you are the kind of author who needs outside professional help, try to figure that out BEFORE your agent submits your manuscript to every editor in history. Many agents start out with small, exclusive submissions so that if the general editorial feeling is that the manuscript needs more work, the author and agent can go back and try again before using up all their submissions options. So in many cases, you'll have time to consider and reconsider.

You probably want a more concrete answer--yes or no? Honestly, I want to say that it depends on you. Some people are simply more able to self-edit, or have more friends who are able to give more (free) incisive criticism. Some people have more time for self-development. If you have some cash to burn, are in a rush, and are pretty sure you need outside help, a professional editor may be the easiest way to go.

I hope this helped--let me know if there's anything I can flesh out for you.

I come back to one point--I am not claiming the system doesn't suck. It sucks in lots of ways. But together let's try to pass around proactive advice/strategies.


Stephen Parrish said...

Great post, thanks. I find the trend unfortunate---that editors, despite the title, no longer edit. Someone who merely acquires a product for resale without developing or enhancing it is better known as a "broker."

As for hiring a freelance editor, have you goggled around for one of those? It's a jungle out there, with prices all over the map and no way to tell whether your money will be well spent.

Sandra Patterson said...

Terrific post, Moonrat. Very useful.

Rick Daley said...

This was awesome, thank you!

Being Beth said...

This is a most welcome and timely post. Thank you.

Lori Van Hoesen said...

Thanks for this!

WendyCinNYC said...

Thanks for this informative post, Moonie. I think many authors struggle with this topic.

Whirlochre said...

Very informative.

For myself, the bottom line is that whatever assistance you take on board on the rocky road to agenthood, your material, in whatever form it ends up, will always be "pre-published"

My preference is for seeing if I can cross that hurdle alone, trusting that, should I get lucky, editors will inevitably be needed to render my material into fullest fictional fluff — rather than amassing all manner of lemmings to a communal clifftop leap into oblivion. (I know lemmings don't actually do this, but in the world of imagery, they do).

magolla said...

Personally, I think it's a waste of money to hire an editor. Paying someone to 'fix' your work doesn't teach you anything. PLUS their tweaks change 'your' work/voice/style into 'ours'.

It isn't as if they are buying your work, they aren't, so why would you want someone else to tamper with your product?

That isn't to say a crit group or beta readers aren't needed, they are. Both non-writers and writing buddies will help you along the path without charging you. I found out first hand that my brain seems to abhor, 'to, the, -ed' in the 'clean' version of my current MS. The eye tends to overlook those little things. Beta readers spot them.

Save your money and learn how to write a great book the 'hard way'. In the long run, it will pay off.

'cause what are you going to do if a publishing house buys your book and request the whole last section to be rewritten?
--send it to a freelance editor?

Don't think so.

Aimee K. Maher said...

I've edited my own novels at least ten times and paid myself in Crispy-Creams. It's a lot of work, but that's okay, because it's what I have to do.

I don't know on what planet I'd hire someone to fix my books. If I have to do that, it means I'm not doing my job well enough and I better figure it out.

Chris Eldin said...

I'm wondering if I should pay my beta readers...

This is a fantastic post! When I started writing a few years ago, I splurged and paid $200 for an editor to critique a first draft of the first 50 pages of a manuscript. It was the best money ever spent!! Like a condensed mini-course on fiction writing. She gave me all sorts of writerly advice, and if I'm ever published, she's going to be listed in Hero section.

I think though, belonging to a critique group is much, much better (if you are lucky to be surrounded by talented writers). You get to have different opinions, and if there is a consensus about an issue, then you can be sure you have to address it. Plus, it's a lot fun.

Did I say I like this post?

JES said...

How can someone who so clearly not only tries to be but is, in fact, a nice person keep throwing ice water in our faces? :)

My main concern with crit groups is MY problem, something I myself have to get over: I've got a big sprawling non-genre story -- it's hard for me to get my arms around it myself; and in a universe where the trend seems to be the crafting of stories which don't sprawl at all it hardly seems fair to ask others to help me wrestle a monster. Does that make sense? I'm toying with the idea of workshopping a long synopsis rather than the work itself, for just that reason.

Have to confess, I've never considered hiring a pre-editor. That'd be one way to assuage my guilt!

Alexis Grant said...

Thanks for this advice -- Came at a good time for me.

I think one of your most important points here is that hiring and editor doesn't mean you're a bad writer. As a journalist used to newsroom editing, I figured I would hire a freelance editor before trying to sell my manuscript to an agent or publisher. I want feedback from someone who doesn't know me, hasn't heard about my book through the process of writing it (as great as my crit group is), and has an incentive to spend as much time weeding out the problems in my writing as necessary (even though I have to pay to make that happen). So I was shocked to enter this online world of writers hoping to be published and find that some writers are against outside editing! I always remind them: Even the best writers can use an editor to make their work better.

Still, I wondered how much editing my manuscript would get in the hands of the agent and publisher -- and you've answered that question for me. Thanks!

Amanda said...

Great ideas here. I far prefer a good constructive crit group to a professional editor. It helps to have back and forth movement in these things, I think.

Strange to think some editors don't edit as much anymore...

The First Carol said...

Another aspect of hiring an editor is the education it provides. How fast can you learn what you don't know? A lot faster if you're not stumbling around by yourself, and it all may come down to how much you are willing to learn.

I received this lesson from Dennis Stoval at a recent conference, "A manuscript is done when it’s received collaboration and received critical insight on whether the story is well told or not." I guess the key would be finding the best professional insight/education you can buy and making the most of it.

Jeanie W said...

We were discussing this very issue yesterday on twitter (#writechat - Sundays 3-6pm eastern time).

I like your idea about securing an agent first, then deciding with her guidance whether or not to hire an editor. A good agent would probably be better at finding a freelance editor whose style fits a specific manuscript than a newbie writer would.

moonrat said...

Stephen--ooo, great point. Yeah, I would NOT recommend Googling for the right freelance editor if you're in a situation where you need one. I would DEFINITELY only work off of personal recommendations--which you can get from your agent, fellow authors who've had good experiences, online forums, etc. I would also not simply TAKE a recommendation--you're entitled to talk to your prospective candidate, make sure everyone's on the same page, and say no if it doesn't look like the perfect fit, even if they're super nice.

It is definitely a jungle out there, and sadly one full of many dangerous beasts.

Justus M. Bowman said...

"It is definitely a jungle out there, and sadly one full of many dangerous beasts."

Now I'm scared.

Annette Lyon said...

Great post. As both a writer and a freelance editor, I agree. One big thing a lot of first-time writers don't get when they're looking into hiring me is that I can't take a rough draft and edit it into a shining gem in one fell swoop. You can only edit one level at a time, if that makes sense. I've also had people come back and want a second edit on the same work--which I say no to, because I can't give a decent an objective look at something I've already seen.

That said, I have worked with several writers who have been serious about learning WHY certain parts of their books didn't work and and how to fix them--they put their egos aside, put on that thick skin, and let me work with them. And lo and behold, some have gotten contracts.

moonrat said...

Magolla, Aimee--some people will NEVER need (or want) outside editors. I didn't mean for this post to sound like a recommendation--I hope it sounded more like I was addressing all the caveats on both sides of the argument. Personally, although I know many fantastic freelance editors and I also know authors who have been greatly aided by professional editors (including, it turns out, some of my own authors--at least one worked with an outside editor to shape his book after getting several rejections from other houses; and although I don't know what, specifically, was changed, I know that it was in very good shape when it came to me, which may have been one of the reasons I ended up buying it--hard to analyze backwards).

But in the end, I have misgivings about a system that relies on mercenary professionals (however wonderful they are). This is a question that comes up for some individual writers, and the post was intended to help THEM make a decision (since many people have asked me about it). I am NOT trying to be an evangelist for any one way of life.

If you are indeed one of those lucky people who is a talented self-editor, I applaud you :) Your way will be much less rocky.

moonrat said...

JES--in the very wise words of my friend Janet Reid, we always seem to terrify the wrong half of y'all.

If you read and research and care and craft and write, don't worry about all this. Just do what you do. Keep your crit group--and/or keep looking to new crit groups [too]. Trust yourself, remember why you write, and remember that things happen for a reason (my mother always told me that when I was a kid, and I believe her more and more as time goes on).

Publishing is the Glittering Object for some, and one they are eager to get to in a hurry. Others write because they love to write. Others write for money. Your motivations, time frame, readiness, personal ability to self-edit, and genre are all factors in what's right for you.

Sorry about throwing cold water in your face--it was an accident! I was just trying to water the grass.

Jeanie W said...

For those of you who write children's books, Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth is addressing this topic in her posts this week:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm actually fairly good. I've generally only needed fairly light editing, but there are always things that I don't catch no matter how many times I go through something.

Ello said...

People should also consider that if they are hiring an editor, they should try to work with an editor as familiar with their genre as possible. I have a friend who paid over a grand for a freelance editor who was not familiar with YA. She was dubious about alot of the recommendations. She ended up hiring another YA editor and was amazed at the difference in edits. Specifically - dialogue, pacing, sequencing. The YA editor clearly had better incite into what worked for a YA market that the other editor did not know. Having another set of eyes to read is always good, but if you have to pay lots of money for an editor, you should make sure to hire someone who is familiar with your genre.

And Magolla - there is also a growing trend now where agents are recommending their writers to work with an editor to get their MS as clean as possible because of the issue raised by Moonie here. And I think you have a completely wrong view of what an editor does. An editor gives a critique, they don't rewrite your book for you! They do what your critique group would do, except with a professional eye for publishing. Especially if you are hiring an editor who used to be an acquiring editor at a publishing house. They know what editors are looking for far better than your critique group made up of other pre-published writers. So I think it is a bit harsh to say it is a waste of money. Plus - hate to break it to you, but many of those big NYT bestselling authors use freelance editors.

Ello said...

ha ha I spelled insight wrong!!!

Colorado Writer said...

Thank you Moonrat.

Michael Reynolds said...

*An outside set of eyes never, ever hurts. Every person who reads your manuscript will offer you a different kind of reaction, and those reactions (good, bad, ugly) should be both important and interesting to you as an author.

I don't think that's true at all. Especially for newbie writers. You can't write by consensus or as a group. It's helpful to have a really good editor -- a rare creature -- give you some feedback. But everybody and his brother giving you notes? That's Hollywood.

moonrat said...

Michael--au contraire. You don't need to take recommendations from ANYone at all, but Joe-off-the-street's opinion of your book SHOULD be interesting to you. You should be interested in how EVERYONE reacts--people you're not targeting the book to as well as your target market. It's very illuminating. Also, you're going to have to be prepared for a variety of opinions from every direction and prediliction if the book does, indeed, get published.

Dawn VanderMeer said...

Great post. Thank you!

jimnduncan said...

Sad state of affairs when editors don't actually get to edit anymore. Can you even call them editors anymore if all they do is acquire? Anyway, one result of this is the new writers are going to be far more susceptible to tose f'ing scams that want you to pay for editing services because you know 'editors don't edit anymore, so it needs to be just right before we can submit it.' Bleh. Damn economy.

Michael Reynolds said...


I'm on about my 150th book. Despite having some success I ran my latest series by a very experienced agent. She gave me advice that would have dismantled the books.

I ignored her. Submitted it myself, having taken no one's advice. Sold it as a six book series for my asking price.

If I'm not entirely immune to stupid input -- and I almost listened to this person -- how is a newbie with no self-confidence going to stand up?

If you solicit opinions from, say, 100 people, 70 of them are idiots. (In every profession and walk of life.) So you end up with the consensus of idiots. If you're insecure enough to solicit a lot of feedback you're probably going to listen.

I always advise listening to the marketplace as to basics like genre, length, etc... But on the story, the style, the essence of the thing, you have to go your own way.

And if you don't know when your own writing is right, or when it has a problem, you're not going to be a writer.

Rebecca Knight said...

Moonrat said, "Sorry about throwing cold water in your face--it was an accident! I was just trying to water the grass."

THANK YOU for this! I didn't know about this trend, but had always run with the idea that I wanted to give my future editor something as close to perfect as I could get it, just in case.

This is a great head's up, and we appreciate the insight.

Also, to contribute to the Michael/Moonrat discussion, I love to get the opinions of as many wonderful Beta Readers as possible. Even if they can't help me edit, they can tell me what they thought as readers. Was the ending satisfying? Am I portraying what I think I'm portraying.

All feedback is an invaluable gift.

Liana Brooks said...

I highly recommend critique groups. But if you want an editor, I know a few of the publishing interns who blog also take editing jobs. It's not cheap, but neither is rent apparently.

Julie Weathers said...

This was a very timely post. Yesterday on Twitter #writechat someone said all new writers need to hire an editor before they submit. I disagreed...a bit.

If you can't write without a professional editor, how do you learn to edit your own work? How do you handle requested changes? What if an agent wants a change and you can't afford to hire your editor or they are too busy or dead to edit?

Thankfully, I have found a marvelous writing group of friends and we all mesh well. I've learned to accept it when someone says my baby is ugly without screaming, "Oh, yeah? Look at that kid of yours without a single hair on her head and she's 22!"

If someone needs an editor to look at the first pages, Barbara Rogan has a get acquainted offer for $50 and it's money well spent. If you feel you need the whole thing edited, she can also do that. She's a former agent, current author, teacher and editor and I can't recommend her enough.

Alyssa said...

WOW--as someone who wants to be an editor, for the edting part of the job, that's pretty chilling to hear!!

Bella Stander said...

Well put! Takeaway, which I just tweeted (note added emphasis): "most people WHO ARE READY TO PUBLISH books do not require a professional editor before they submit to agents." Too many people submit long before their mss are ready.

As Stephen Parrish noted, it IS a jungle out there. And there are many "freelance editors" who have as much experience--and writing chops--as my dog. If you're going to hire a freelancer, demand references and check them out fully.

Teresa said...

Thank You! I belong to a critique group, we are stressing the importance of a 'polished manuscript' to new writers. You have provided so many answers in this one blog, I will share it with our group.

Vacuum Queen said...

But sometimes...a critique group member edits to make it sound more like THEIR story. I don't like that. I almost want an edit job for grammar only, not revisions.

Of course, once I had someone edit for grammar and they wrecked that too. VOICE overrides proper grammar rules at times. Bleh. The whole thing is hard hard hard.

And even more...what if you make major revisions based upon hired editor, only to (never) find out that the publisher you query would've like it the way it was before??? I just would want the comfort of knowing my editor was taking my under its wing. Guess that's a dream.


Carradee said...

@ magnolia: "Personally, I think it's a waste of money to hire an editor. Paying someone to 'fix' your work doesn't teach you anything. PLUS their tweaks change 'your' work/voice/style into 'ours'."

Not if they're any good, they won't. A GOOD editor can fix things while keeping your voice.

Yeah, we're rare. That's why places that actually do hire proofreaders and copyeditors tend to be understaffed. (Or have quality control constantly lax or stressed.)

Will I hire an editor to help me with my novel? Um, no. But NOT because I'M a natural copyeditor. (More grammar and style based; plot and pacing gives me a bit of trouble, possibly because I'm an introvert.)

I'm fortunate. I have so many friends who write and/or read that they often notice budding problems before I do. (Which is training me in recognizing the slight discomfort that means I'm missing something.)

A good copyeditor can fix a place you're weak, teaching you what's wrong and how it's fixed a lot faster than you'd be able to learn it on your own.

Therefore, I think it sums up to what you (want to) afford--would you rather pay up and save time (assuming you actually hire a good copyeditor), or would you rather spend the time for free?

editor out west said...

Moonie, your editor hero’s response makes me sad, but doesn’t surprise me at all. And it makes me damn proud to be an editor at a house with a rigorous in-house editorial process (developmental/substantive edit, copyedit, manuscript proofread, proofread in layout, and spec proof). We hear all the time from our previously pubbed authors that editors in NY rarely edited their manuscripts, and they were embarrassed upon publication by all the errors that were missed, whether they were grammatical or large gaps in their reasoning. I got the best compliment last month from one of my authors (one who’d been published six other times by big NY houses). He said he wished I had been the editor on his other titles, since the others hadn’t given them the critical attention they needed. This, from a best-selling author.

I push my authors because I want their books to do well, and I challenge them so they’ll have no regrets about the final product. And if they disagree with one of my major suggestions and get a negative review, well, at least I know I did what I could for the book (Glad you are doing the same!). In the end it’s the author’s book. (And let’s face it—once authors are signed, many of them have already checked out and don’t want to do any more work. I get it. You’ve spent ten years writing the Great American Novel and now and editor’s asking for more?)

Obviously our (rare) process is a luxury of being a small, independent publisher with a smaller frontlist, but it sure works for us (we know this, having tried other methods) and it’s taken us a long time to get here. And many of us freelance for our previously pubbed authors when they’re working on a new title; we’ve developed good editorial relationships with some authors, so even if they’re new book isn’t a fit for our house, they can still get feedback, at whatever editorial level they require. How a newbie would find an appropriate, reliable editor pre-pub sounds like a daunting task. Craigslist seems about as reliable as Google.

(Annette—So glad you pointed out that you can only do one editorial phase at a time. I don’t care how many times a writer has used his crutch word if he hasn’t developed his characters or, in the case of nonfiction, his argument (though I’ll admit repetition may be a symptom of a larger problem).)

Um, am I completely off topic yet? One of my authors sent me his “final” draft of his novel. He’d already had it copyedited—Track Changes was left on and he hadn’t accepted or rejected the copyeditor’s changes. Some of the edits were good, but some changed the author’s meaning or voice, and most were not to our house style. Not sure how much money the author spent on work that I had to undo…Not to mention that it needed a pretty decent substantive edit, and the author ended up cutting whole paragraphs that he’d paid to have copyedited. Was it worth it to the author to have the earlier editorial work done? No idea. He got four thorough editorial passes for free from my publishing house. Was it worth it to me, the lead editor. No. Though I guess it did give me a bit of job security.

Leticia said...

This is a good post; and yes, it's true. However, what I found interesting is the comment that "you can't submit to the same editor (or agent) twice".

If you are employing an editor on a manuscript development basis, or to edit a MS at all really - then that should never be an issue.

Literary Agents I can understand - but editors?

A good relationship with an editor is collaborative, ongoing, warm, and useful. There is so much to-ing and fro-ing that by the time it's finished it should be as close to perfect as possible.

And, of course, any editor worth his or her salt will always leave that door open for you to return through, if you feel you need it.

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

Very good post, Moonrat. Thanks!

I hired a professional editor for my first novel, not so much because I was determined to get that book published, but more for the learning experience. I figured I could spend a few hundred dollars on classes or a few hundred dollars on an editor. And I chose the editor. Mainly because I'd already taken lots of classes and I needed something hands on, something that would teach me more widely about publishing standards rather than just how to write well.

It was a great experience. Very educational. I think the only risk was that I, perfectionist that I am, became overly reliant on my editor. I felt I couldn't submit anything without her looking at it first. That would have been an expensive habit, one I had to force myself to break. :)

moonrat said...

Leticia--thanks for asking. I didn't realize how vague my wording was until you pointed it out!

I mean that when you are SUBMITTING to a publishing house pre-acquisition, an editor will only consider you once (unless that editor asks for a specific change/rewrite from you pre-acquisition, which is honestly pretty rare). Post-acquisition, I *hope* the editor lets you come back as many times as you need to--my standard is 3-4 rounds with authors, although sometimes there are more.

writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks for the info. I don't really want to drop $3,000 on getting an edit done, so I'll be glad to wait for an agent's opinion on the matter.

I'm sure anyone's writing could benefit from a copacetic editor, but the cost is prohibitive. Editors do earn their pay (probably deserve more) but authors are not so well-heeled either.

Mary Ann de Stefano said...

Great post and interesting comments.

Several people mentioned that they wouldn't want an editor "fixing" or changing their work. My thoughts:

If you are working with an editor pre-submission, and you want an editor to "fix" your work for you, then you should probably reconsider being a writer.

If your pre-submission editor attempts to "fix" your work -- find another editor. Editors give suggestions, not orders. Of course some suggestions are more strongly worded than others, but the writer should remain in charge of her work.

(I would probably have suggested that Cormac McCarthy use quotation marks, but he has done pretty well without them. Perhaps, with some editor or another, he had to defend his decision to go without. I would say it made him a better writer to be questioned and have to defend his choices.)

In an ideal situation, the writer remains open to suggestions, and the editor provides guidance that helps the writer make more conscious decisions about the work. A good editor doesn't just make marks on the page, she shares knowledge, experience, and increases awareness. There should be give and take, back and forth. the collaboration is at its best when editor and writer are challenging each other.

Robin S. said...

Wow, Moonrat. Good to know.

Anonymous said...

"The level of cleanliness required in a manuscript these days might be higher than what you're humanly capable of achieving on your own. Are you up to it on your own?"

Jesus. If you're not, then don't write! Please! For the love of humanity! If you just like coming up with story ideas but don't have the ability to execute them in commercially viable ms. form, then maybe you could write treatments for Hollywood movies that other people write screenplays from. But if you can't write, what the heck are you wasting your time for?

To even suggest that novels have been accepted by people who can't write is, well...I guess that's genre fiction.

Anonymous said...

As far as an editor changing my ms., pay me, you can do whatever the heck you want with it. And then I'll give you more just like that one. As long as you pay. Widgests off a line, baby...widgets off a line.

Michael Reynolds said...


Preach it brother. Or sister.

Anonymous said...

Anon, 9:48 Funny. It has to be meant as a joke because otherwise it makes no sense. It doesn't work that way.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Moonrat.

I am not knocking freelance editors but I have to say that most of the writers I know who became published in the last three years did not use one. I do know several writers who paid freelance editors who are still not published.

To the poster who justified the high price of an edit because the editor's rent was expensive - that's no basis for excessively high fees.

Gary Smailes said...

As the founder of a company providing external editing we have seen a general trend towards publisher and agents looking for work that has been professionally edit. I suspect that two reasons are driving the trend. The first is that publishers can be selective. They receive so many submissions that they can afford to pick the best. The second reason is that a pre-edited manuscript is just less work for the publisher and agent. I also suspect (a third reason -sorry!) it also demonstrates that a writer is able to work with an editor and produce a better book - something that is not always the case.

Chris Routledge said...

Hack writers (like me) have always known that giving people work to do is a good way of making sure you don't get hired again. People in need of a writer for hire want near as dammit the finished product. If they change it later that should be up to them; they shouldn't have to do it because of the writer's shortcomings. In that respect it's no different from having the decorators in. Interesting to hear the same approach is spreading through mainstream publishing.

Having said that, there have always been three basic requirements for writerly success, any one of which on its own may not be enough: be exceptionally great at writing, have enough money/influence to pay someone who is, or be so famous that nobody cares.

Kelsey said...

I've actually had an editor who was considering my book say to me, "You can write. That's good." I was a bit baffled. Are most of this house's writers not very good writers.

It's a crazy industry: writers who can't write and editors who don't edit.

gabrielle said...

As a freelance editor, I bristle at the word "fix" that's been popping up through these comments. I don't "fix" a book. I help to polish, and clean, and point out weak spots that could be stronger. I collaborate with my authors, I make suggestions and help make their work as competitive in the market as possible.

I have been in the position where a manuscript I've worked on has gone on to be picked up by a major house. It's a great feeling. And it's not that I "fixed" the book for her, it's that I polished it for her technically, and asked the sorts of questions that tightened it up and tied up all the loose ends that the author was too close to it to see.

It's true that large houses rarely edit anymore. There are enough aspiring authors out there and enough of them have had their manuscripts edited, that a publisher can be choosy and take a clean, ready-to-go submission over something that'll require that they spend time and effort cleaning it up. As an author, you definitely want to give yourself the best odds you can.

I think it takes a lot of ego for an editor to say -- or even think -- "Hand your book over to me and I'll fix it," as if it's some broken thing until they get their hands on it. And I think it shows a certain amount of defensiveness in an author if, without ever having worked with an editor, they think that's what editors do. None of the books I work on are ever "broken" when they get to me. They're all pretty awesome, actually. They usually just need some cleaning up and an eye to internal consistency.

Any extra set of eyes looking over your manuscript is great, but an extra set of eyes that belong to a professional who knows the pitfalls and weaknesses that manuscripts often exhibit, is priceless.

Definitely don't just google "editor" and take what you get, though. You want someone you can feel comfortable with, someone who knows your genre, someone who'll work with you and not against you. Most of my work either comes from recommendations from clients, or from writers that I've worked with through a publisher I freelance for, who seek me out with repeat business for their independent projects.

Anonymous said...

What you said about finding an editor who 'only likes to read' reminds me of a line early in AS Byatt's new, wonderful "The Children's Book" in which Frank the minister meets an author who's made him question his faith. He says something like "Readers should not meet writers; they are not intended to!"

Grammatically, you use a parenthetical in there "(hopefully)" that whilst (I'm not British, but I like to throw in a whlist) at library school a brainy fellow student, Monique, told the class in a non-smartypants way: "Saying 'Hopefully' in that usage is incorrect, because it modified the verb, and while intended to mean "With any luck" it makes hopeful whatever the verb may be." Well, that's not a direct quote, 15 years later. Hopefully, it makes some sense would mean "Makes hopeful sense," not that it makes sense, you hope. Whew!

Janine said...

I use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. The Wizard finds lots of errors and makes it cheaper when I do use a human editor since the the copy is cleaner.

talshannon said...

I love you for loving editing. We published a sketch journal by an artist who was not comfortable putting her book together without the help of an editor. It's now one of our best-sellers and has all 4-5 star reviews on Amazon; it would've been a shame for it to be missed by the world because no one took the time to work with a first-time author who just needed a little guidance.

Amanda J. said...

Fantastic post, lots of very useful information! Thanks a bunch!! :)

Speakwrite said...

Terrific post! I do agree that an outside set of eyes never, ever hurts. This set of eyes is what would help you present your best face to the world. I recommend seeking for grammar and writing support and excellent proofreading and editing services as they are key in any writing work. Very useful. Thanks!

Professional grammar editor said...

Great post. Very useful. Thanks

Michael F Stewart said...

I've used Inkslinger Editing - Catherine is very professional and reasonably priced. She's also out of the Iowa Writer's program.

Highly recommended.

Victoria Mixon said...


This is wonderful discussion, and it's incredibly important in the industry these days. It is absolutely true that publishers' editors have very different jobs now than they did when their titles were first coined.

I am one of those freelance editors who make up the jungle out here, and I want everyone to know that a writer should feel CONFIDENT (yes, I mean it) that an editor is good at editing, smart, and kind before they even make contact, much less dish out any money. I don't want to see you guys fall victim to the scammers.

I maintain a blog on the craft of fiction. I want writers to be able to both see me earn my job title and get the benefit of a lot of my knowledge, even if they can't afford me. I keep my rates as low as humanly possible, too, because I know that struggling writers are, well, struggling!

I was also featured as one of five guest-posters on Nathan Bransford's blog a couple of weeks ago, with a piece called "Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Novel, in 1000 Words." (Yes, it really is exactly 1000 words.)


autiej said...

Let me just say that not all editors "charge" a ton! I am a professional freelance book editor, and my rates are VERY low - always from 90 cents to $1 a MS page, regardless of how in-depth an edit is required. I NEVER charge more than that. Why? Because, simply, I am also a writer myself, and I know firsthand that it isn't necessarily the most lucrative activity for many people. I have to charge for my time because I pour a great deal of it into every manuscript I edit, but I have left a trail of very satisfied clients behind me who have told me that I am "worth every penny."

Also, I think it's a misconception that all editors will change your style, voice, tone, etc. I have worked with some writers who wanted me to do nothing beyond basic proofreading, while others have all but begged me to rewrite for them - in fact, one of my clients actually asked me to WRITE two chapters for her (which I eagerly did). It should be a mutually beneficial effort on the part of the author and the editor to make the author's ideas shine, and that is what I strive to do when I take on a book editing project. It isn't MY byline, and I always try to remember that.

This is a VERY good post with a lot of great information about hiring an editor.... and if anyone out there EVER needs a very experienced one with affordable rates, drop me an email at