Sunday, April 25, 2010

Technical Topics: Paying an editor

Here you see me hauling advice back from another spot so I can give it twice.

The question was -- 'Should I pay an editor or Book Doctor to go over my manuscript before I submit it?"

"Hell no," says I.

That is the brief answer.
I do not, perhaps, so much excel at 'brief',  but I can do it.
As you see.
The much looonger advice is below the cut,
where it is fairly happy to remain unless this topic grinds your opticals.

There are two kinds of editing you can search out and pay for --
There is substantive editing and there is  copyediting, which is essentially proofreading of a thorough variety.

Copyediting corects stuff like typos, bad grammar, logical inconsistencies, errors in continuity, and factual mistakes.

Copyediting comes into play when you got:

Mary herd a noise in the knight. The hunta instituted a rein of terror. George returned the unicorm to it's place of berth. The teacher scolded Henry and I. Richard VIII's fleet weighlayed Napoleon's army off the cost of Grease.

Closing the window, I crossed teh room. I had bearly took my coat of when Fran called to me through the open window.

Substantive editing is going to talk about the pacing of Chapter Four and how Claude's reaction to Amabel's infidelity seems unrealistic. Substantive editing discusses depth of POV, character development, subplot, and stiffness in dialog.

Thus we got two distinct and different kinds of editing. At the publishing house, these will likely be done by two different people.

Ok.  Writers should be reasonably good at the business of copyediting in the same way a professional chef should be fast at chopping onions. It's scutwork and unpleasant, but clumsiness at onion chopping implies a lazy lack of attention to all the details of cooking.
And it's not that hard to learn.
For Pete's sake.

If you want to pay somebody to do this just ordinary proofreading, there is no harm in it,
though you are paying somebody to do what your publisher will do,
and this is what friends are for, after all.

(If you do not have writing friends who can proofread a manuscript right down to the itch in its scalp, then you need to make more writing friends.)

I have to say, also, that I don't think hiring a copyeditor is going to help you sell a manuscript. 
There are particular cases where it will.  If you are dyslexic and can't 'see' errors on the page, or you are not a native speaker of English, or you are constitutionally incapable of sitting down to the gruntwork of copyediting, or if you have not really mastered the basic structures of grammar,
you maybe should hire a proofreader.
(Though, see what I said about exploiting your friends, above.)

If you can come up with a clean manuscript all on your own, I do not think you have to obsess about a few typos creeping in.  Agents are interested in your use of the language and your story. Minor grammar mistakes and typos aren't going to send them running for the shredder.   Agents and editors are pretty much shock-proof, I should think.
For the average writer, hiring a copyeditor/proofreader isn't going to do any harm, but it's also not going to help any in getting that 'YES!' from an agent.
IMO, as always.

Substantive editing is a whole different netful of kippers.

This is the guts of being a writer.
You have to learn to do this yourself, without trying to hand your problems over to somebody else.

< actual guts, which we will stipulate as being those of a writer and thus identical to 'substantive editing'.

The best way to learn to do substantive editing of your own work is to read widely and with intelligent attention
and write and write and write.

You can also take classes online or at the local college.
You can buy books on writing.
You can join a critique group.
You can put little bits of your WIP on various sites on the web for comment.
You can submit a WIP and see if you get feedback from editors or agents.

These are all cheap ways to do learn.

You can instead hire a tutor -- maybe an English teacher at the local college -- who will go one-on-one with your problems.
You can submit your manuscript to a Book Doctor and study what he gives you back.

You can pay for critiques.

(Try Brenda Novak's auction.  Here.  More than 100 critiques on offer.
And -- being upfront about this, I'm offering critiques.  Also some ARCs of Forbidden Rose.)

(This to the right > is a detail from the cover of  Forbidden which is kinda pretty so I added it at random.)

These tutors and hiring of Book Doctors and buying critiques are expensive ways to learn.

And, quite honestly, the writer still has to do the learning, (which is the hard part,) so it's not like the expensive methods are much easier.


Why is it a bad idea to go to a Book Doctor and have him 'fix' the manuscript for you so you can send it in?

In a wholistic ethical sorta way, it is not a good idea to put your name on something where somebody else did major and important parts of the work.

In a practical sense, you will get caught at this . . .
because the publishing house is going to expect you to do substantive edits on the fly, on short notice, and do them well, during the pre-publication shakeup of the manuscript.

When the editor says --
(a) "This is a Regency Romance. Add a ballroom scene."
(b) "Chapters Twelve to Twenty don't really accomplish anything. Take them out and put some new action in."
(c) "Cut out half the words of Chapter Ten."
(All of which I have been told to do.  (a) Her Ladyship's Companion, (b) Lord and Spymaster, (c) Forbidden Rose.)

You will have maybe ten days to do this.

If you did not actually yourself plot out the action of Chapter Ten, you will not understand why the editor wants it shortened and you will thus not know what to cut and how to go about it.
This will soon be obvious to everyone including the night cleaning crew at the publisher.

(Remember the guy in eighth grade who had his girlfriend 'help him with' his essay on Thomas Jefferson?
Right.  Him.
The teacher knew it wasn't his work.
Your editor is even smarter than your eighth grade teacher, if this were possible.)

Going to a Book Doctor is an expensive way to be taught how to write,
if that is what you want.

Worse, it can lead to the unwise practice of submitting a manuscript that is better work than you are actually capable of doing.

MikeBlyths photo of the Nigerian woman and El Tekelote guts are attrib, noncom, share alike.  Jefferson is from Computerguy.  It looks like he's hugging a hammered dulcimer, but I think that is actually a writing desk.


  1. Anonymous6:50 PM

    I'd love to know how to enter your ARC contest :) And thank you again for another informative post. Editing has become one of my favorite parts of writing. It's when my WIP actually gets to be shiny and pretty.

  2. The auction will open on May 1, I believe.

    The page is at:

    There's also going to be a book giveaway at the Border's site when the book comes out. I can't remember whether that is ARCs or regular books.

    That's here:

  3. I didn't see you listed among the critiques on Brenda's you know your auction #??

  4. Hi Elisa --

    The two critiques and three books should be listed at the URL given in the comment above.

    If they're not there, let me know. The internet is a mysterious and complicated business -- rather like belonging to one of the more trying mystical cults -- and I do not expect to get everything right the first time.

    I think one of the critiques will be listed as a 'one-day' item. I am not sure what that means but suspect it has something to do with being available for only one day, nu?

    The three books will 'finish' at slightly different times so it is really three chances.

    When the auction starts on May 1, I'll put up a posting about it and include live links, (somehow I always picture dancing breakfast sausages,) in that direction which cannot be done in the comments section -- or at least I do not know how to do.

    I will also show off other folks' cool stuff -- like jewelry -- which is almost as emotionally satisfying as offering it myself.

  5. was there under one-day auctions (and not under Author Critiques.) Very cool!

  6. Unrelated to your topic, but.... just saw the 4-and-a-half star fantabulous review of Forbidden Rose in Romantic Times! Congrats! CAN'T WAIT!!

  7. The RT people are so generous. They do such a good job promoting Romance genre.

    I am very pleased with the two FR reviews I've got so far. One in RT and a kinda backhanded one in Publisher's Weekly.

    Did you know that Avril Lavigne (who sings) is going to release a perfume in August named after my book? So thoughtful of her.