Finding an editor

Dear Miss Snark,

I’ve read about all of the scams—agents who recommend editors, then take part of the fee, agents who charge fees, the Predators and Editors site, and so on. I’m very grateful to your blog in particular for bringing all of these to light. As a newbie, and trying not to be a nitwit, one could easily assume from all these warnings that there is no such thing as a legitimate freelance fiction editor.

I have a manuscript. It’s been through several drafts, it’s been through my lovely critique group, and they’ve put their collective pens to it. However, they’re also amateurs. In my other life as a technical writer, I know the value of a good editor. An editor is a goddesslike person who can, with her insightful pen, help me see things that I’m otherwise blind to, and turn a decent manuscript into a truly amazing one. I don’t think this manuscript is ready for prime time yet. I’d really like a professional fiction editor.

I know good editing must exist, and like any other service, it costs money. So do music lessons or dance classes or art classes or any other attempt to make an artist better. But how do I find one (short of a Google search and trusting my luck) without being preyed upon?

Trying not to be a nitwit

Here: Editorial Freelancers Association
and here: Words Into Print

and I'll bet the comments column produces some suggestions too


Anonymous said...

I used to do freelance editing - mainly for fair-sized publishers, but I did a couple of books for writers who wanted a hand with taking their manuscripts to the next level.

No decent freelance editor will be offended if you ask her for a list of the books she's edited. Some people put these lists right on their websites; me, I was never organised enough to have a website, but I had the list ready to send to any writer who asked. (One particularly paranoid writer actually phoned two of the publishers to make sure I wasn't making up my list, which I wouldn't necessarily recommend, but there you go.)

This list isn't just to reassure you that the editor knows what she's doing; it's also so you can decide whether this is the right editor for you. I did fiction, with a focus on mystery/thriller, lit fic and women's fiction, and my list of books showed that clearly. If you had a heavily technical non-fiction manuscript and you read my list, you'd have known right away that I was not the editor for you. Every genre demands slightly different skills, and you want an editor who has the right ones for you. Ideally, you want someone who's edited at least, say, six or seven published books in your genre.

You also need to decide what you want. Different editors offer different levels of editing. I offered three main things: a detailed report, somewhere around five to ten pages, listing the main things that could be done to improve the book and giving suggestions on how to do them; a copy-edit, just to tidy up punctutation, grammar and any awkward sentences; or a full structural edit that dealt with basically everything. The detailed report wasn't all that expensive; the full structural edit was; the copy-edit was somewhere in between.

Anonymous said...

Try www.editfirst.ca, I knew her before she went freelance. She's honest, professional, and meticulous.


Dave Kuzminski said...

The reason that a list of credentials would be checked is simple. Too many scams have provided lists as well. The list is useless unless it is verified.

Writers should always verify who they're dealing with is legitimate and always keep their ears open to any news that a legitimate business has shifted over to the dark side. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

Anonymous said...

If you write in the CBA market, check out the web site www.thechristianpen.com. This is a cooperative's site which details the credentials of many Christian editors & proofreaders.


Dick Margulis said...

I edit quite a bit of fiction for authors who plan to publish their books independently (self-publishing as opposed to vanity publishing), and I also work with authors who are going the traditional publishing route.

In the latter case, I generally edit only the few chapters that they will submit if a partial is requested. I don't feel the author should be on the hook for the cost of editing the whole book; that's the publisher's responsibility.

If the edited sample is compelling enough to attract an agent and subsequently a publisher, then the fact that the remainder of the book has not been thoroughly edited beforehand should not be a hindrance.

Of course, my role in these cases is to help polish a gem, not to enrobe horse apples in chocolate. I don't think an ethical editor's job is to hornswoggle publishers.

More on the relationship between authors and editors at http://writingshow.com/?p=206

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Read this to find out how to pick a good freelance editor.

Anonymous said...

Instead of getting an editor, I took Darcy Pattison's novel revision workshop. It is for MG and YA though. You have to have a novel done, and the further along, the more you'll get from the workshop. The plus to this is that now I can apply everything I learned to my next project instead of just having someone fix my first one. I've heard Donald Maass' workshops are great for adult fiction writers who have a novel done too. I certainly like his books.

Anonymous said...

There are some excellent editors who will not take advantage, but you have to research. I met one here, on the comment page, who is like the patron saint of editors of Great Britan.

I'm curious about one thing in the DICK MARGULIS comment...is there a difference between self-publishing and vanity? I've always been told they are one in the same.

Dick Margulis said...

Replying to Ryan Field:

The vanity presses do what they can to obfuscate the difference, for example by appropriating "POD" to stand for "publish on demand" instead of "print on demand." The latter is simply a digital printing technology that any publisher can use when only a few copies are needed.

However, in true self-publishing, the author takes on the publishing role. This includes assuming the financial risk of printing and marketing the book, getting the book professionally edited and designed, bringing in whatever professional marketing assistance is needed, negotiating a distribution deal (if the book is headed for the retail distribution chain), contracting with wholesalers, etc. The who shebang, in other words.

This is not for everyone, obviously, because of the risk involved. But someone who has a good chance at selling books (more often the case with nonfiction than with fiction), self-publishing can be more lucrative than what you would get from royalties.

With vanity publishing, you're just throwing money at a company that is going to do as little as possible for you. It's a fool's game.

There is a legitimate use for vanity publishing. For example, if you just want a neatly printed family history to distribute at your next reunion and never intended to sell the book in the first place, these companies can save you a lot of work.

Otherwise, either get published the traditional way or buy your own block of ISBNs and become an independent publisher yourself. Don't quit your day job, though.

Anonymous said...

Just to add: as a rule, I think hiring an editor for your book should be a once-off thing. If you look over the editor's corrections and suggestions, you should be able to get a fair idea of the main mistakes you make and how to fix them. Then you can do it yourself the next time.

I had no problem with the writer phoning publishers to check up on me, but one of the publishers thought it was sort of weird.

If you do want to check on the freelancer but don't necessarily want to phone the publisher, check the acknowledgement pages of the books on her list. I'm right there in most of the ones I've edited. If the editor isn't mentioned, then you could always move on to phoning the publisher (not all authors mention their editors), but if she is, there's your confirmation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dick. Sounds futile either way, but I see the difference.

Ski said...

This thread alone was worth the price of admission to the blog. Those who write and don't make regular visits here are missing a great opportunity. Thanks everyone.


Anonymous said...

Another thing to try is asking published authors who they might know or recommend. Surprisingly, there are some very successful writers I know of who actually got their start via a freelance editor. While some authors might not want to "come out of the closet" and admit they got assistance to make their break, others have no problem, quite simply because they understand that a good editor can make a good book awesome. (Insert proper cliche here for fitting analysis.)

But be careful. The world is populated with plenty of people advertising their editorial services. Many mistake copy editing for real editing. They are not interchangeable. Proper punctuation does not a book make. And you pay for what you get. A good editor can cost close to a thousand bucks for an entire manuscript. And the good freelance editor is not the soccer mom hanging out her shingle, because she reads lots and lots. (She'll be the one charging a buck a page, you know, the one who always got an A in English.) The high-end editors have a traceable history with the big NY houses, and can give you specific recognizable names of who they've edited while working for those NY publishers, AND can direct you to references, actual contacts of who they've edited (as opposed to the scam sites who might list a big name author, with no verifiable way to contact them to see if they're really telling the truth.)

Also, a good freelance editor isn't going to just take on someone because they want their money. They have reputations. If your writing sucks, chances are, they'll turn you down. (They're going to want samples before they get started.)

As far as only getting a partial (first three chapters) edited, that is a decision the writer needs to examine. A good partial might get your foot in the door, but for a new fiction writer, you need to have an entire manuscript these days. And if the rest of the manuscript doesn't live up to the first three chapters, chances are you'll be rejected.

And one more thing. Just because you use one once, does not mean you should learn it all and not have to do it again. This should be true for such things as using too many descriptors, starting sentences with prepositional phrases, that sort of thing. But when it comes to the overall structure of a story, it might take several manuscripts before you get the hang of it. (Of course, if you sell that first book, your new editor will be taking over, and will direct you there.)

My two cents.
Anonymously yours,
Devoted gin-toting Snarkling, with several books under her belt, who would've been published much sooner in life if Miss Snark's blog had appeared years and years earlier.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Anonymous #3 wrote: A good editor can cost close to a thousand bucks for an entire manuscript.

This freelance editor with 22 years' experience replies: Depends on the size of the manuscript and how heavy an editing job it is. I've charged $5,000 for some projects.

Anonymous said...

Publisher's Marketplace lists freelance editors

Sharon Maas said...

"Anonymous #3 wrote: A good editor can cost close to a thousand bucks for an entire manuscript.

This freelance editor with 22 years' experience replies: Depends on the size of the manuscript and how heavy an editing job it is. I've charged $5,000 for some projects."

Try the UK instead. Hilary Johnson at
http://www.hilaryjohnson.com/ charged me approximately £350 for a full manuscript, did a fantastic job helong me get the ms up to publishing standard, and passed me on to a top-notch agent, who got me a great publishing deal. She has a page for US/Canadian authors.
http://www.literaryconsultancy.co.uk/ in the UK comes well recommended. In the UK, using such services is quite common and legit, and many well- known authors went that route; see for example Hilary's list.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Kiskadee wrote: Hilary Johnson ... charged me approximately £350 for a full manuscript ...

£350 is about US$664. Unless that was for an extremely small manuscript that needed extremely light copyediting, I don't see how Ms. Johnson can live on what she charges. She'd need to work blazingly fast and complete a large number of manuscripts each month.

Sharon Maas said...

It was actually a very long ms - I had to cut it! The Trade Paperback was 530 pages.
I don't know if the charge has increased (this was 1998), but that's what it was back then. She also gets a 3% cut of the agent's commission (paid by the agent), so if she finds a lot of publishable mss I guess she can magages quite well. Quite a axsnfew of those authors on her list wrote bestsellers.

Anonymous said...

i went through murdock editing (http://www.murdockediting.com/index.html), more for a content read than a line edit one, but was very happy with my results and the prices were more than reasonable. she was also a pleasure to work with.

i also agree with the poster that suggetsed keeping this to a one-time thing -- see how it's done, then do it yourself.

Dick Margulis said...

I think there is much you can learn from enduring an edit, but I don't think the writer should fool herself into thinking she can edit herself from that point forward. First, it's a hard thing to do. Second, As Miss Snark says, your job is to write beautifully. If you have all our silly editorial conventions in your head while you are writing, I think that will only interfere with the creative process. Writers should write and then let editors edit. Division of labor is a good thing.

As for the cost of editing, I got a buck a page for checking my classmates' English 111 essays in 1964 [not a typo]. If you want to pay those same rates today, well, perhaps you'll get what you pay for. As Katharine said, if you're a great writer who needs only a quick touch-up, then maybe that's appropriate. Otherwise, I think you should be prepared to pay significantly more.

Sharon Maas said...

There seems to a be a general misunderstanding/confusion as to what is actualy done by such an agency. The one I went to did not do any copyediting. It was a critique, in which she gave me some very substantial advice, leading to a very substantial rewrite. There were structural problems, and on her advice I changed one of the POVs (there were three) from first to third person.
Certainly, copyediting the ms would have taken far longer.

Dick Margulis said...


Thanks for clarifying. Yes, a critique is far different from either copyediting or substantive editing and should cost much less.

I think many writers rely on workshops and writing groups for such critiques, and that's fine, too.

If the manuscript would benefit from actual editing, though, then I think you have to budget more than the nominal amounts you're discussing.

Anonymous said...

I found http://www.jbwb.co.uk/ very helpful. Her comments triggered "The Great Rewrite" in which i completely filleted Run From The Stars and constructed a much better novel along the line of the original plot.

Kristen King, Inkthinker said...

Poke around sites like Absolute Write and other forums to see who's commenting a lot on feedback/critique boards or boards with questions about editing. (A lot of folks who answer questions there know the answers because they're professional editors.) Work your network and ask around. Your local professional organization for writers may be able to make a recommendation, too. Once you find someone who looks like a good prospect, ask for references you can contact and verify, and get a sample edit (which shouldn't cost you anything and should give you a sense of what you can expect from the editor--usually no more than 1000 words or so). Google the potential editor and see what comes up. Don't be afraid to ask questions. And be prepared to consider this a financial investment. You shouldn't have to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for editing, but as Dick and Katharine (and others) have suggested, buck a page ain't gonna cut it. Good luck to you!


Sarah Cypher said...

If you're on a budget, consider that a manuscript critique -- as opposed to a full, down-to-the-bones substantive edit -- can benefit your story, too. A critique is primarly structural, but may also provide some tips on improving your writing, and will run you closer to $500 as opposed to $1500. You will come away with a sense of how to revise the narrative for clarity, what to cut or expand, how to tease out your themes, etc. Also, turnaround for a critique is often much faster than a full edit.

Sarah Cypher