When Should an Author Hire an Editor? How to Avoid Scams

First: This week marks the anniversary of that fateful day three years ago when I started this blog...and then promptly lost it. But luckily I found it about four months later, and this blog now gets an average of 12,000 hits a month on its four monthly posts (Slow Blogging rules!) and I have a blog partner, Ruth Harris, who is one of my favorite best-selling authors--someone I'd never have dreamed of meeting three years ago. Plus this blog got the attention of my two publishers, Popcorn Press and MWiDP. Without blogging, I'm sure my five novels would still be languishing in query hell. 

So in honor of this blogiversary, I'm giving away A FREE EBOOK to one lucky commenter--your choice. You can read descriptions of all the books on my book page. Just put your title of choice in the comment thread. All the books are available for Kindle and should all be available for Nook by the end of the week. The winner will be chosen by random.org and announced in next week's post.

Hiring an Editor: When, Who, and How to Avoid Scams

As I said in my last post: Learning to write books is hard. Earning money from books is even harder.

 So questions keep coming up:

Self publishing has been a great boon to freelance book editors. But an awful lot of writers aren’t totally clear about their function. 

When I was doing freelance editing, I was amazed by the people who came to me with over-inflated ideas of what an editor can do. They’d arrive with collections of raw taped interviews, notebooks full of verses and random jottings, or old letters they wanted me to make into a salable book.

There are people who do these things. They’re called ghostwriters. They’re going to cost a lot of money. And unless you’re Justin Bieber, you’ll never make back the money you put into them.

(That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t publish them for yourself. Sometimes a personal or family history can be a fantastic gift to your children and grandchildren—for more see my post on writing memoir.) 

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.” You’ll probably get more editing from some smaller and midsized presses than you will from the Big Six. But there, too things vary wildly from one editor to the next. I’m lucky to have had great editors at all three small presses who have published me.

But no matter what the size of the publishing house, by the time a manuscript lands on an editor’s desk, it needs to be pretty close to print-ready. Agents can help you polish, 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 truth is, the majority of professional writers learn to edit themselves, with the help of a beta reader or two.

Too many newbies hire editors when what they really need is a few basic writing classes and some knowledge of the industry.

I’ve seen some great posts in the blogosphere this week about how a lot of new writers are getting caught up in premature marketing frenzies and fail to learn basic craft. It’s not their fault. Some very successful self-publishers are telling writers “every day your book isn’t for sale you’re losing money.” This true for established authors with an out of print backlist, but it’s very bad advice for a fledgling writer who’s just finished a first novel.  

YA author Natalie Whipple wrote an amazingly candid blogpost a couple of weeks ago about what she wishes she’d done differently in her career. Here’s #4 “I wish I'd spent more time studying the craft. I used to think my natural talent would get me through the gate. I would write stories without much thought to if the plot worked or not, if the characters were real or not, if the world made sense or not. I feel like I squandered my talent for a long time because I relied solely on talent instead of pushing myself to get better."

And Kristen Lamb has been hammering us this week about the importance of honing writing skills before we publish. “We aren’t born knowing three-act structure or how to layer complex characters or how to infuse theme and symbol into a work spanning 60-100,000 words. All of that is learned through struggle.” (Yes. Struggle. She didn’t say “hiring somebody to do the hard work for us.”)      

Agents have been saying the same thing for years: The number one mistake new writers make is trying to publish too early. With the self-publishing revolution, the problem has become much worse.

No amount of editing can fix a book that is seriously flawed or amateurish. I see many self-published writers who blame bad reviews on a hired editor. But I wonder how many are expecting their editors to work miracles with a flawed manuscript.

Of course, if price is no object, you can hire an editor to be your personal writing teacher. Some editors offer “writing coaching” services.

But most professional writers didn’t start out wealthy, so they learned their craft through workshops, extensive reading, critique groups, and years of trial and error.

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

If you decide to hire an editor, do some research and be clear in your goals. You don’t want just any out-of-work English major. If the editor doesn’t have a good knowledge of the publishing industry, your money will be wasted. I’ve seen “professionally edited” manuscripts that are ridiculously long or too short to be considered by a contemporary publisher, or contain song lyrics (prohibitively expensive) or copyrighted characters. You want an editor who knows the business. Preferably somebody who knows what’s selling now and how to write for today’s marketplace.

The best way to find a good editor is by referral from satisfied clients. A lot of self-published authors will sing the praises of their editors, so visit their blogs. Or ask a favorite indie author for a recommendation. The standard pay scale for editorial services is posted by the Editorial and Freelancers Association. Plan to spend from five hundred to several thousand dollars for a book-length manuscript. 

There are also a lot of scammers out there, who just run your book through spellcheck or give you bogus advice. Check Writer Beware for in-depth advice and a list of some hair-raising editing scamsThe Edit Ink scam of the late ’90s bilked thousands. Here are some warning signs: 
There are many kinds of edits, priced differently, so be aware of what you need.
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.

And most of all, don’t hire an editor too soon. Editing is polishing, not re-writing. First you have to put in those 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell says are necessary to learn a craft. That’s a lot of hours. Go write.

What about you, scriveners? Have you used a freelance editor? What kind of experience did you have? Have you ever been scammed by a bogus editor?

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