Saturday, December 4, 2010

The value of freelance editing - by Terry Burns

Here’s a question that a lot of people might relate to. I was asked:

“Following a careful look at your information I hope to submit my work to you in the near future. I have just a bit of tidying up to do first. But I am unclear about formal editing. To hire a freelance editor is quite costly and I am a bit reluctant to take on that expense until I have some indication that my work is saleable. So my question is: Do you want formal editing before a work is presented to you or can that come after?”

I’d have to say first and foremost that it depends on what shape the book is in. Editors are looking for books that are in a shape that they are ready to publish as they don’t have editorial staff to do a lot of work on them anymore. Agents are looking for books that they can present that are as ready to go as they can possibly be, and while we can do some work on them we don’t have time or staff to do that editing either.

We receive hundreds of books a month and most are good books. That means a good book is simply not good enough. To make the cut a book has to be exceptional. If you send a book that needs a lot of formal editing chances are it will be upstaged by the people that have done the work, or had the work done, to make their book reach that exceptional level.

But say you decide to just submit it and see if it is good enough, and it turns out it isn’t. What have you lost, right? Actually what you lose is probably burning a bridge that a book that was truly ready might have crossed. Now that avenue is probably closed to you. Yes it can be expensive to get some editing done, but what is the cost of spending hours upon untold hours writing the book only to not get it published? Agents and editors keep logs of what has been submitted and do not like to see projects resubmitted after it has been turned down without getting advance permission to resubmit.

So the short answer is, what does your manuscript need to make it truly ready, to allow it to rise to that exceptional level and stand out from all the good books being submitted? That’s a question you have to answer for yourself. Can you get a guarantee that your book is saleable before you invest in it? I can’t even guarantee that the books I choose to represent are saleable. I believe they are or I wouldn’t take them on, but there just aren’t any guarantees.

If an author decides they do need editing the next question is can I recommend someone to do it? The short answer is no. Recommending someone makes it look like I have a vested interest whether it be editing, a publicist, or any other writing related services which is the hallmark of some less than reputable agencies. It would probably get me thrown out of the AAR (Association of Author Representatives) which monitors such activities. I can and do keep a list of potential editors on my website, and do remove any editor from that list if I get reports of any questionable activity on their part, but recommend, no.

Even the ladies that work with me as editorial assistants can and do editing on the side but I never refer people to them, just list them along with others doing freelance editing.


Lance Albury said...

I've struggled with this conundrum over the years and concluded that hiring an editor just wouldn't be prudent for an unpublished writer.

Yes, we want to submit as close to perfect work as possible, but in such a subjective industry it's just too expensive. Let's face it: you give a manuscript to ten different editors, you'll get ten different opinions. And there are too many variables that can kill your chances with an agent that editing will not necessarily catch. Before you know it, you've exhausted your potential advance.

Also, my fear is no matter how perfect the manuscript, an editor would feel obligated to change something so their fee is validated.

I believe the best attack is to find inexpensive avenues of expertise: a published author, paid critiques, agent and editor blogs, contests, craft books, critique groups, etc.

A true, teachable writer will eventually bring their manuscript up to proper standards.

Terry Burns said...

Can't argue with that. Any author that has the means to get the job done without paying an editor is ahead of the game. The point is, whatever it takes, submitting a manuscript that is not good enough to stand out from all of the other good manuscripts that are being submitted is a waste of the author's time and might be burning a bridge that a manuscript that is unique, well written and well formatted might cross.

Timothy Fish said...

What I hate about this is that there are a lot of authors out there that won't get published even if they have a good editor go through their work. For those authors, it is just throwing good money after bad. But there are other authors out there that was on the verge of being accepted and editing might be that thing that puts them over the top. One doesn't want to discourage those authors, but there are a bunch of authors out there who need something more than just an editor.

writer jim said...

I paid few freelance editors $50 each to do a sample of their editing. One of them proved to be the best by far. So I continued with her.

I think most aspiring writers could benifit greatly by sending an identical piece of writing to several editors; and then compare the edits. It should teach you a lot very quickly.
I expect many of them would do a few pages for free. In fact, they offered to do it free for me. But I wanted a little more than just a couple pages of samples, so I wanted to pay to be fair.