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Novel writers - do you use editing services prior to submission?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Dec 9, 2011.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I'm curious about this because I am working on a novel. My sales to date have all been short stories, and I edit those myself before submitting them. I have been on the editorial board of an academic journal (quite different from fiction, of course), and I am also an editor for a small fiction market, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on editing the novel myself and putting it in good shape before submitting. I am curious, however, as to what the standard practice is, and what other novel writers recommend.
  2. I don't know that there would be a standard practice, especially among unpublished writers. I'm unpublished as yet but I'm also planning to e-publish myself when I'm ready, which means getting cover and map art made and having at least one professional freelance editor go over the novel, and paying for that out-of-pocket.

    An unpublished writer who's going the traditional route probably isn't going to bother with a pro editor, because the publishing houses (as I understand it) wouldn't be expecting you to. They'll know that it's unedited, and take that into account. (Again, that's how I understand it. I could be completely off-base here; I'm still entirely new to the industry.)
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Thanks, Benjamin. That is how I thought it would work as well, but with cutbacks in traditional publishing houses, I didn't know if there was more of an expectation that authors (particularly first-time authors) would be approaching the agent or publisher with a fully edited work.

    Of course, I'm going to make sure it is in the best condition I can put it in prior to submission.
  4. Dreamhand

    Dreamhand Troubadour

    I recommend checking out Episode 186 of Dead Robots' Society. They interview Lynn O’Dell of Red Adept Publishing and discuss this very topic. Also Episode 191 features an interview with Lynne M. Thomas, the new editor of Apex Magazine and they address some of those issues there as well.

    From what I gathered from these interviews, the expense of hiring an editor as not as much as I thought and the benefit to the quality of your finished work can be dramatic. I'm definitely going to pursue this once my projects are completed.
  5. Larkin

    Larkin Scribe

    Not paid services, no. I am fortunate to be in a literary community, and as such have never lacked for editing services performed for free -- I've also performed the favor myself. I've had a few non-SF works published (poems and short stories), and I have had friends who are god editors glance those over before submission. If I weren't in academia, however, I might use a paid editor -- the old maxim says that you can be too close to your writing to edit it effectively on your own, and I've found that to be true in my case. I'd be sure to make sure said editor wasn't a dummy or a hack, however.

    My longer works are mainly screenplays, not novels, which is another story, as the market operates quite differently. With regards to the novels I have written (3 that weren't total dreck), none of them are in marketable condition at the moment. I wrote the fantasy novel in college, about a decade ago; I need to make another trip to the place where my historical novel is set before I'm entirely comfortable with its verisimilitude; the action novel sits near-finished until I can figure out a way of unboxing the hero, who's caught in a situation he can't convincingly maneuver his way out of. So I'm not "there yet" when it comes to the novels -- but when I am, I certainly won't be the only person to look them over.
  6. Shadoe

    Shadoe Sage

    Sending out something that's never had another set of eyes on it to a publisher is just... dangerous. Publishers (at least the ones I used to hang with) expect a nearly-done manuscript by the time it gets to them. Anything with typos and spelling errors usually gets tossed. Anything with poor editing for word usage and such usually gets tossed. At least, that was the expectation at the big publishing houses. Smaller presses might have been less particular.

    At the very least, have another writer do a markup. It doesn't have to be a paid service (so many of those are just scams anyway), but someone who can recognize good and bad.
  7. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Absolutely, have someone else look at it first… do this for everything, in fact, not just novels. Whether or not you pay someone to is up to you. (My rates are very good. ;) )
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  8. Interesting comments.

    I haven't sent anything but short stories out in quite a long time. I've self published my recent novel; and better believe, I *did* have that second set of eyes there. ;)

    But for a submission to a publisher? I don't think I'd bother. On the other hand - and bear with me a sec! - that's talking about me, and what's right for me might not be right for someone else.

    When I was in college in the early 90s, I had one prof who insisted that we produce technically perfect work. For every spelling, grammar, or punctuation error we had on a paper, we lost one grade - that is, an A became an A-, a B+ became a B, etc.

    If you spelled two words wrong and left out a period, your B paper became a C. Needless to say, there were quite a lot of Fs on the first papers turned in. But something interesting happened. We all got remarkably good at self correcting - proofing our own work. It's a skill that I've worked hard to retain. My first drafts don't include very many of what I consider "basic proofreading errors". I've had entire chapters that I pounded out at 1500 words per hour come up with zero proofreading errors.

    Where I find an editor useful is in taking good prose and helping to refine it to be better. I want someone who can tell me that in this scene, I didn't quite convey the emotions I was shooting for, or that this character could use a little more depth. I also sometimes still overuse certain words (if I get tired, you'll see certain words show up twice, two sentences back to back), and it's nice to have someone help spot those sorts of problems. I find developmental editing of this sort to be marvelously helpful.

    But I also believe that's a very large chunk of what you're paying a publisher for, in the first place. I can already reach over half the market they can reach on my own. I can do so at almost no expense. I can charge less per copy and earn more per copy on my own. So - aside from reaching more of the market, editing is one of the best things a publisher does for most writers (barring some six-figure advance that results in solid promotion efforts being made).

    Why would I want to pay for that myself, when it's supposed to be something they provide for me?

    Again, I think this varies by writer. I don't have trouble creating tight plots. I don't have issues writing decent material, and some of my work has won awards. And I know I create clean copy, even as a rough draft - and I am excellent at paring out the few proofreading-type mistakes I do make. So I know I'm not mailing out junk when I have something "done". Someone with less experience might lack that confidence in their work, and might lack the skills necessary to produce something of submission-ready quality without help. For that person, hiring an editor might be an outstanding idea.

    But I think the goal, at least, should always be to work at building one's own skills to the point where a pre-submission editor is not necessary.
  9. Shadoe

    Shadoe Sage

    I write 12 hours a day, five and sometimes six days a week, in an industry where written procedures absolutely have to be perfect when they hit the street. I'm pretty good at it - at least the other writers who bring me their stuff to edit think so. But I would never, ever say I didn't need another set of eyes on a procedure before it hit the street. I have yet to see a procedure hit my desk that didn't have an error. Claiming a goal of not having a pre-submission editor is, from this writer's point of view, an error trap.
  10. If you're replying to me, I specifically said I *do* get a second set of eyes on something before I publish it myself. I wouldn't want something to "hit the street" without having someone else take a look. Readers want to buy books which are as clean as possible (very rare to achieve perfection, no matter how many editing passes are made, but the goal is to reach for that).

    However, submissions to publishers are not expected to be error free. They're expected to be fairly clean, yes - but anyone can learn to produce that, given some practice. I do not know of a single full time writer who pays an editor go over his or her work before submitting to publishers, and although I am sure some exist - paying for editing before submitting to publisher just doesn't seem to be something most pros do.

    If you really need to pay for editing yourself because your skills are not up to producing professional grade work yet, then it might make sense to use one - if for no other reason than because you can use those lessons to improve your writing quality in future books! =) But the goal, even then, should be working toward having the publisher pay for the editing. (Again, if you are the publisher as well as the writer, then you get to pay for the editing, but it still ought to happen!)
  11. Presumably this is only true if you are going the traditional route: submitting to agents/publishers. If you're self-publishing (specifically e-self-publishing, a la Kindle) then it seems like it'd be reasonable to have at least one professional editor go over your work. That's what I'm planning on doing, anyway.
  12. I agree. I said that, in fact, in the last line you quoted. ;)

    "Again, if you are the publisher as well as the writer, then you get to pay for the editing, but it still ought to happen!"
  13. I... have no real excuse, so I will simply plead that I have two children and insufficient sleep. ;-)
  14. Shadoe

    Shadoe Sage

    You brought up something about the expectation that writers get to a point where they don't need that second set of eyes. I just have never seen anyone capable of producing perfection - it's not a goal people should expect to reach. I wouldn't send anything to a publisher without an outside edit.

    Publishers expect to see perfection. They're not surprised when they are disappointed, but that doesn't mean they'll forgive an author for sending something full of errors. I think each editor has a set number of mistakes they're willing to tolerate. Once a manuscript reaches that number, it gets a rejection letter.

    I've never met a good writer - professional or not - who uses a paid editor. That kinda seems like one of those publishing scams new writers get sucked into.
  15. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Maester

    I'm not ready for an editor, but where do you find these editors, and what do they expect in return for their time? I don't think I am actually that far away with one of my stories though.
  16. Even self-publishing authors? At this point, I'm confident that my WIP will be good enough to publish when I feel I'm done with it, which will be soon (need to do another pass on the last third, plus some rewrite/cleanup of subplots that changed while I was rewriting the last third), but I would think that casual (free) editing by friends/acquaintances can only go so far.

    Professional writers do use paid editors, it's just that they're not paying the editors directly themselves. The editor is part and parcel of the traditional publishing process, and their salary figures into the amount of money that the author does (or doesn't) receive as part of their contract with the publishing company.

    Since I'm not going to be having such an editor look over my work (since I have no intention of going the traditional route), wouldn't it make sense to find a freelance editor to do it?
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I worked with an editor for a short project once and the feedback was invaluable. I would suggest you should get one if you can, even if only for a portion of your work, so you can learn from the experience.
  18. zizban

    zizban Troubadour

    I don't use an editing services prior to submission. I have beta readers who inflict pain on me before I send an MS out.
  19. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    I have readers that provide input, and some mark a few bits of grammar or spelling here and there, but I don't use editing services.

    I'd say your experience is similar to mine. I am and English teacher, so that may = somewhat to being on an editorial board of an academic journal. I also am an editor for a small ezine, although I read more slush than do copyediting.

    If you have crit partners or readers you trust, I believe that should be more than sufficient to get a novel into good shape for submitting to agents/publishers, if that's your goal.

    Just my two cents.
  20. zizban

    zizban Troubadour

    Heard of the slush pile, right? Know what's the difference between slush and edited slush? Nothing.

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