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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Do You Need to Hire an Editor?

Another article from the archives:

Choose the right editor: 7 tips

The term “editor” has several meanings in the book business. The “in-house” editors at publishing companies--the ones who decide what manuscripts to publish--don’t do a lot of literal “editing” these days. According to agent Jenny Bent, the amount of hands-on work they do, “varies wildly from editor to editor…because many editors simply don't have the time or desire to actually edit.”

By the time it lands on an editor’s desk, a manuscript needs to be close to print-ready. Agents can help, but they don’t have much time for nitty-gritty text-honing either, so most won’t look at manuscripts that aren’t carefully proofed and edited.

The majority of writers learn to edit themselves with the help of a beta reader or two, but if you can afford it, hiring an independent editor is the best way to give your work an extra polish. You’ll can find good editing services advertised through magazines like Writers Digest and Poets and Writers, the Funds For Writers newsletter http://www.fundsforwriters.com/, or Freelance Writing International, services@fwointl.com. A really impressive editor I’ve recently met is Victoria Mixon http://victoriamixon.com/ (she sometimes offers freebies of first paragraphs or hooks.) I even take on the occasional editing project myself.

But I turn down more clients than I take on, because I don’t feel comfortable working on projects I don’t feel will earn back my fees. Too many newbies hire editors when what they really need is a few basic writing classes and some knowledge of the industry.

Of course, if price is no object, you can hire an editor as your personal writing teacher. A number now offer “writing coaching” services. But most professional writers learn their craft through workshops, extensive reading, critique groups, and years of trial and error.

The writers who benefit most from a freelance editor’s work are:

1) Self-publishers. I urge ALL self publishers to hire an independent editor before going to press. The “editing” most POD publishers offer isn’t much more than a spell-check.

2) Experts whose primary field is not the written word. This includes self-help books by psychologists or medical professionals, specialty cookbooks, local history, etc.

3) Memoirists who have a unique, marketable tale to tell, but are not planning a career in writing. (These people may require a ghostwriter rather than an editor.)

4) Writers who have been requested by an interested agent or publisher to give the book a polish. Many agents will ask a writer to hire an independent editor at this stage.

5) Novelists who have polished their work in workshops and critique groups, but after many rejections, can’t pinpoint what is keeping them in the slush pile.

If you decide to hire an editor, do some research and be clear in your goals. The standard pay scale for editorial services is posted by the Editorial and Freelancers Association at http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.html. Plan to spend from five hundred to several thousand dollars for a book-length manuscript.

Choose carefully. You don’t want just any out-of-work English major. Check Writer Beware for in-depth advice: http://www.sfwa.org/beware/bookdoctors.html. The Edit Ink scam of the late ’90s bilked thousands. Here are some warning signs:

1) Extravagant praise and promises. Anybody who guarantees you a place on the best-seller list is either crooked or delusional.

2) Claims that all publishers require a professionally edited ms. Not true. It’s also not true that an edit will get you a read. The Wylie Merrick agency recently blogged, “Just received a query from a writer who stated that his PROFESSIONALLY EDITED book weighed in over 150,000 words. . . Ask for a refund.”

3) An agent or publisher who recommends their own editing services or gives a specific referral. Beware conflicts of interest. Edit Ink scammed writers by giving agents kickbacks for referrals.

4) One-size-fits-all. You need a specialist in your genre. I can’t picture sex with elves without laughing, and torture scenes make me retch. You do NOT want my help with your dark fantasy or horror novel.

5) Direct solicitation. Scam editors purchase mailing lists from writing magazine subscriber lists. Beware.

6) Sales pressure. “Limited time offers” are rarely good deals.

7) No client list on their website. You should be able to get a list of clients and a sample of the editor’s work on request.

There are many kinds of edits, priced differently, so be aware of what you need.
Manuscript evaluation: A broad overall assessment of the book.
Content editing: Help with structure and style.
Line editing: Reworking text at the sentence level.
Copy editing: Attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation and continuity.
Proofreading: Checking for typos and other minor problems.

A good editor can make the difference between a successful book and a dud. Just choose your editor carefully and wait until you have a marketable project before you make the investment.



Blogger Dorothy Ann Segovia said...

Thanks again Anne! As usual, your timely guidance is invaluable to me as I get closer to completing my 1st project.

August 8, 2009 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger Laura Martone said...

Unfortunately, I'm not in a financial position to hire a freelance editor, so I'm hoping that, between my beta readers and my own self-education, I can revise my first novel into a close-to-perfect entity, ready for agents and editors. No matter what, though, I appreciate your advice. Thanks as always!

August 13, 2009 at 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks, Laura. I hear you about the financial stuff. (Arrrggghh.) I think most writers can educate themselves well enough to edit their own work.

There are lots inexpensive resources: books and classes and critique groups (online and off) --and I should have added: agent blogs. People like Nathan and Janet and Kristin and the Bookends agents--too many to name--provide what are basically free editing courses in their archives. It looks as if you're doing all the right things.

August 14, 2009 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

Excellent advice. I would add that if anyone is writing a non-fiction book, they'd really, really be well served to find a really, really, really good editor, one with a green eyeshade . . . and a whip. Here in Los Osos, a recent non-fiction book on the Los Osos Sewer Saga was just published and the perils of not having a fact-checker, copy editor and especially a tough editor at hand are obvious and sadly crippling to its credibility. I'm just sayin' . . .

August 16, 2009 at 6:23 AM  
Blogger Catherine Ryan Hyde said...

Years ago, when I had time to do some editing, I had a suggestion for writers on a budget: I would edit the first ten pages or so, then challenge them to go through the rest of the ms with an eye for finding and correcting the same problems throughout. Not only does it save a fortune, but it puts the writer that much closer to the goal, which of course is to learn to do this work him- or herself.

Great post, Anne, as always. I wish I'd read it a few weeks ago, when an acquaintance asked me the going rate for editing, and I had no idea.

August 16, 2009 at 6:29 AM  
Blogger jonas wunderman said...

some excellent advice there ... thanks :)

August 17, 2009 at 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Victoria Mixon said...

Hi Anne,

Thank you for the recommendation! How very kind of you.

And thank you for this in-depth look into the whole subject of hiring a freelance editor. As publishers' editors move further and further away from their traditional role (particularly after the 2008 layoffs), the burden of editing falls more and more upon the shoulders of the author.

I wanted to comment on a couple of things in your post:

The professionally-edited manuscript of 150,000 words? That might very well have been an excellent editor working with an author who refused to cut their manuscript. It's important to keep in mind that the manuscript belongs to the author, not the editor, and the best editor in the world can't force an author to accept their edits. It's hard luck on the editor to suggest they didn't earn their pay because the author didn't listen to them!

The one-size-fits-all? As uber-editor Alan Rinzler says, a real pro is generally qualified to work in any genre. Part of an editor's toolbox is understanding the specialties of each genre, including the differences between them. I work in mainstream, literary, children's, YA, historical, mystery, romance, adventure, experimental---you name it. There are subjects that I personally find repellent, and I politely decline such projects, but I will look at pretty much anything before making a judgment.

And editing your own work? I'm afraid the truth is even professional editors need editors for their own writing. Toni Morrison, who was a Random House editor for years, was edited by Rinzler. Unpublished authors often don't realize that the pros get edited.

I would also suggest you list Preditors and Editors, http://anotherealm.com/prededitors, along with Writer Beware, as a resource for writers. They do an excellent job of notifying writers of scammers, and are, in fact, currently being sued by such a scammer.

Thank you again!


September 3, 2009 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger annerallen said...

Thanks Victoria! I have plugged Preditors and Editors in several other posts, but it's good to mention them again. They are brave, fierce fighters for us all.

September 3, 2009 at 10:45 AM  

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