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Observations on Choosing an Editor

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by BWFoster78, May 18, 2015.

  1. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Pauline,

    I can only go from my experience, but, if I had to choose between the two, I would pick the structural over the copy.

    Truthfully, the things that a copy editor provides are the things that I think require the least expertise. If you've worked for a long time trying to hone your craft (as you definitely have!), you're probably pretty good at effectively communicating what is happening in your book (and you are!).

    I firmly believe that the hardest thing for a writer is to see the story through the eyes of the reader. Therefore, I think that we don't necessarily convey a) what we think we're conveying or b) what we need to be conveying.

    I can only go by my experience, but my editor helped me see what I was actually writing and what I needed to be writing.

    I had several beta readers for my book, including several aspiring authors. Ankari's suggestions, in particular, added a tremendous amount to my book.

    But, at the end of the day, the draft after picking up all those comments still absolutely sucked. Completely. No question. I look back on it today and am still trying to figure out how I or my beta readers didn't see that.

    Maybe your beta readers are different than mine, but most of them simply aren't trained to understand what is needed to make a novel truly work.

    Thanks.

    Brian
     
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I don't necessarily disagree with this. Since I'm moving forward on the learning curve, I'll obviously learn less from subsequent editors as I did from my first ones. Extrapolating, I'd have to think that one day I'll know enough to be able to produce marketable material without help.

    I think, however, that I'll still probably end up employing editors at that point for the following reasons:

    1. It seems like WoT went off the rails in the middle. How much better would it have been if there would have been a strong editor saying, "Dude, cut that!" As soon as I get to the point where I think I know everything, I think my quality will start going the opposite direction.

    2. If I can produce marketable material on my own, then the market is probably responding to my efforts. It will probably be worth it on a time vs money basis to have someone else do the editing.
     
  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Some of the idea of the democratization of all things provided by the internet is a bit of a myth, and I think contributes towards a "race to the bottom" in both the writing field and other fields.

    At the end of the day it really depends on your ambition and your goals. If you have limited goals and ambitions, you can choose to use second rate (or worse) resources.

    On the self pub side the field is getting crowded and standing out is harder. On both sides the widespread availability of the word processor has created a deluge of manuscripts that can get sent out with a couple of clicks. The signal to noise ratio is worse than ever.

    You can see a similar trend in photography now. With the advent of digital cameras people think they can make a buck in the field and the market is swamped with, frankly. really poor work.

    I have written some stuff that was beta grouped and critiqued and tuned up pretty well that was published by traditional publishers and I was amazed just how much better my work was after it was properly edited. I was stunned at the improvement that was made.

    So it really depends on how seriously you take your work.

    Let me finish with an analogy from the field of law. If you have a small claims court case, it is just fine to get a few of your buds to tell you what they think about the evidence, read some articles on the internet and read the rules of court and have a crack at it.

    If you have a case that might be significant, say millions of dollars, or even maybe $50,000, do you really think you should run it by a few of your buds, read the rules of court, cruise the internet and go argue it? Really?

    If your publication and its quality is important to you, you should do everything within your means to make your work as great as it can be. And maybe even a bit more. ;-)


    I should also point out that the suggestion that the only way writers learned their craft was from editors "back in the day" is a myth. Many of the great writers I know, and have read about, got help from other writers and worked their butt off to get their work ready to be submitted to a publisher including hiring freelance editors. Just look at, for instance, Hemmingway, who had several writing instructors and mentors. The internet has made it easier to find some like minded folks, but the process has not changed that much.
     
  4. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    I wouldn't argue with you on one point: a good editor can work wonders, there's no doubt about it. And if you're lucky enough to find one who understands your genre and respects your writing and is experienced and is concerned with improving the writing and not merely making it more marketable, then all power to you. That's the perfect scenario.

    Most people don't have that option. Most editors are not quite that perfect. There are horror stories about editors who want to change the fundamentals of a work, like the gender or age or race of the protagonist, or lop off 30% of it. They're not all making stunning improvements.

    Self-pubbers also have the financial aspect to consider, because a decent editor costs an arm and a leg. Do you mortgage the house to pay for an editor who might not actually be that perfect? And who is only one opinion anyway? For most self-pubbers, beta readers and critique groups will fulfil most of the functions of an editor, at a much lower cost and with the advantage of multiple opinions.

    But I do take issue with the idea that using an editor correlates with being serious about your work. You can be deadly serious about it, and still not want to put yourself in debt to pay for an editor. Self-pubbing means publishing your own work *as a business* and that means making hard-nosed financial decisions. Paying (or not paying) for an editor is just one of them, and deciding the cost is prohibitive doesn't make an author any less serious about their work.
     
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  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I just want to respond to this one statement.

    If I had beta readers that I thought were doing "the same job" as an editor, I would ask them to stop. And, I don't mean that I wouldn't trust the work they were doing - for the moment that's a different question. But I would just never be okay with somebody putting in $800-2,000 dollars worth of work for me without finding some way to pay them.
     
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    We are actually getting close to agreeing!

    I honestly don't think luck has that much to do with it. I have been researching editors for some time and have narrowed it down to two I want to work with. I have spoken to authors they have worked with, and looked at the success their work has had. Too many people blame luck for bad choices. An editor is like any professional service, with some work you can do a pretty good job of screening them.


    Everybody has the financial aspect to consider, the hopeful traditional author or the self pub.

    But I don't suggest that you go into unreasonable debt for this, or any other business venture. But let me quote myself:

    (bold added).

    I am saying that editing is not an area where I think one should cheap out. There are other promotional or improvement areas that can use a hack and slash or a complete ignore (trailer videos for instance have virtually no value). But editing for any author ads a great deal of value. What I suggest is that people get the best editing that they can afford, and if they really want to go for it in writing, perhaps even stretch a little to get it.

    When you are making business decisions on hiring an editor I am suggesting it is good value for money. No mortgage required.

    But it does come down to how serious you are about writing and the investment you want to make. If you have $3000 in your discretionary budget, do you throw $2000 to upgrade your editor and take a cheaper vacation? Or do you go "all in" and stay home? These are hard choices for anyone, but level of commitment and goals are important to even discussing these issues.

    Conversations are held on different levels. Some people are ultra serious and focused, some are having fun and writing or self pubbing is a hobby, some still arn't sure. I confess my advice tends to be geared towards the more serious writer. I don't think less of people who are not driven to make a living in writing, I just think I, and many other people have less to offer them because their needs are so much less.
     
  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    This topic is interesting to me because I keep seeing the same three things come up that writers pay for:

    1. Editing
    2. Covers
    3. Marketing

    In the grand scheme of things, I wonder if editing is even the biggest thing that people should be paying for. Sure, I think it'll help it shine and clean up a lot of things a writer simply can't find, but is it worth paying your biggest amount of your budget on? I guess it depends on how long your work is. Since my work is on the shorter side, I could probably pay an editor 100 dollars or so for quality work (I saw a pro writer offering editing for around that for shorter pieces below the 10,000 word range). I assume BW's work is in the "epic" range, so of course it's going to be more than that.

    So for someone like me that writes shorter stuff, I wonder: is it worth paying for an editor every time? Do people pay editors before they submit short stories to various markets? If they do, I've never heard of that. I just always assumed that if someone submitted something to Daily Science Fiction for example, the editors might suggest some changes but you wouldn't pay for them.

    I personally think a big chunk of money might be better served going toward either covers or marketing. You can have the cleanest product on Earth, but marketing is that part of the process that no one ever seems to have one definitive answer about. And covers are that weird tangible that no one can ever figure out. Everyone has little nit-picky things that they like or don't like about covers. But there's a whole art to that as well.

    However, I do lean more towards the opinion of paying for an editor if your work is super long. I have a novel I've been working on for about three years altogether off and on that could certainly benefit from that.

    I look at paying for all this stuff like buying a car. If you pay a crapload of money for your car, you expect it to look good, run good, and last for a long time. If you buy a used car, some may be OK if the side is dented, the engine sputters, and they may get three or four years out of it. You have to weigh your options as Pauline is suggesting. Everyone has different priorities when it comes to publishing. I assume if you put 5,000 dollars worth of budget into something, you expect to make that money back (or at least hope to). If you don't have that option, finding alternative ways to get the same thing you want might be just as good. But it's a huge risk.

    Going back to the car analogy, you could take your car to a shop and have them work on the engine and break your bank (but make sure you get excellent quality) or you could take your car to your mechanic friend, who may or may not have the same resources, and take the risk of it not being as well done.

    Publishing is risky. Every element of it is. And sometimes the way we reduce risk is by paying money. Insurance, so to speak. You don't want someone not buying your book for any particular reason. So I believe if BW wants to spend a lot of money on editing to give himself peace of mind, that makes sense.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2015
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  8. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    That's a good summary of it. And the principle is the same, whether it's an author self-publishing and making the decisions for herself, or whether it's a publisher. Quite a few small publishers these days don't bother with editing, they just publish whatever's handed in to them (so I've heard). Or they might go for cheaper cover art. They decide what to spend their money on, just like self-pubbers do.

    When I was working up to self-pubbing my first book, I knew I had to present it professionally. I also knew that the important factor was how it looks on Amazon. I won't be selling in bookstores, so I needed to focus on covers that look good in thumbnail, a good blurb, and a super-polished opening that would draw readers through the Look inside feature. Those were critical.

    Clearly, good cover art was essential, so I paid good money for that. I knew I needed help with tidying up my punctuation, so I paid for proofreading. I got loads of advice on the blurb and the opening chapters from my critique group and beta readers. All of those help directly to sell the books.

    But structural editing? Not so much. Readers don't mind if the pacing is a little lumpy or if the middle isn't as polished as it could be. Once they get caught up in the story, minor deficiencies don't matter much. So I made the decision that structural editing was *less* essential. I got enough feedback in other ways to overcome the worst problems (I hope!), but I didn't feel I could justify the cost of professional editing. Not yet, anyway. Maybe when I've made a bit more money from the royalties I'll consider it.

    That was my decision, and I'm comfortable with it. Brian's made a different decision, and he's comfortable with that. Which is cool. I like that he keeps us all in the loop about his progress so we can think about these things and learn from his experience.Sharing information and ideas is what it's all about.
     
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  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    If I thought that this was all a structural editor does, I wouldn't value them very much either.

    Here's my take on structural editing:

    When I'm on Amazon looking for a book to read, the first thing I look at is whether the author can engage me. If I don't make it past your first few paragraphs, I'm off to the next book. In these days of self publishing, this trait is found a lot less often than I would like.

    I consider this trait to be based on writing technique.

    If the writing is engaging, I buy it and read it.

    When I get to the end, I ask myself, "Did the book connect with me?" That trait is based on the author's storytelling ability.

    If the book turned out not to even be a page turner, I'm highly unlikely to buy anything else from that author.
    If the book is a page turner but didn't connect with me, I may or may not buy from that author again.
    If the book is a page turner and did connect with me, I immediately go out and buy something else from that author, maybe everything else that author has for sale.

    In my mind, the structural editor is the person who helps you learn how to better connect to your reader.
     
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    One thing Pauline mentioned above was making sure your beginning is as awesome as possible. That's something she focused on in addition to having a good cover. Since a great beginning matters a lot to you as well, why not share your beginning with some places (critique partners, readers, the Showcase, whatever) so that you can at least get more than one opinion on what works and what doesn't? I recall you doing a thing on your blog before where you would tell a person if you would continue reading their work based on a short sample. You could be well served by doing the same thing. If you have say 5-10 people tell you the same things (the beginning was awesome or it didn't hook them, etc.) then it might be helpful for you to compare that with what a professional that you are paying is saying. If the opinions are wildly varied, you may have to lean in whatever direction feels best. But if the comments seem to be the same (either good, bad, or in the middle) then you can apply that. This way you get the best of both worlds in some capacity.
     
  11. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Philip,

    I've shared my opening many times, including relatively recently on the Showcase...
     
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Did you feel like you got the answers you wanted or were they all different? I'm just curious because in some ways people who are reading your work as readers are going to have more pure reaction than an editor would.
     
  13. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    That's an interesting take on it, partly because it's quite hard to pin down. What makes a book connect with any particular reader? What makes it a page turner - again, for a particular reader? What makes a book engaging? There are no universal answers to those questions. You could say: ramp up the romance, and it will be more engaging for the young, female portion of your readership (but less engaging for the blokes, maybe). You could say: more fight scenes will make it more of a page turner, but again, you will lose part of your readership who enjoys a slower pace.

    I would say: write the book that you would want to read yourself. If *you* find it engaging and a page-turner, then you can guarantee other people will. They're your audience. A structural editor may help you connect with those readers by making sure your book is consistent, but I wouldn't expect her to work on your writing technique. That's something that comes with time and experience.

    I looked up structural editing definitions, and this seems to be a good summary:

    Essentially, it's whole-book polishing, and improving consistency and flow, cutting out clunky points or moments where the reader might go: wait a minute, what happened to...? The opening is part of that, but it's only a very small part.

    A good beta reader can give you a great deal of this, certainly equivalent to an average structural editor. A good critique group is very effective for knocking opening chapters into shape. The best structural editors are in another league, though.
     
  14. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    Just for future reference .... Elance discourages people from giving "samples" as it is unpaid work. There are always concerns with scams and posts that ask you to do any work in advance are generally to be regarded with caution. Since you would still need to screen everyone out, (from what I've seen on the site) most clients post small jobs (say $10 for 2 chapters) which they might give to three or four people as a prescreening to become eligible towards the larger job.

    Of course, if you found someone that works for you that's great. I just wanted to point out that the people who didn't edit your sample (presumably they sent you examples of previous work or asked you to look at their portfolio?) are actually following the Elance guidelines. So (for future reference) ...it was technically your requirements which violated Elance policies. Sure, some of them might have been lazy but that might not have been the case for everyone.

    Oh and (if you go this route next time) you really don't have to tell everyone individually. Anything the freelancers apply for appears on their list along with other jobs being worked. I can't speak for everyone but I know that I keep a close eye on the ones I've applied to. If someone else gets the job it's not a big deal. You just apply for something else. It's certainly a nice thing to do but I've only seen it happen once.
     
  15. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Catholic Crow,

    Some of the editors made comments in their proposal about the types of things they would edit. My understanding was that approach doesn't break the guidelines? I considered those bids, though they weren't nearly as easy to evaluate as the samples.

    One of the respondents mentioned this.

    I have to say that this feels out of touch with the way freelance editors seem to do business, though. I've visited a lot of their websites, and I can't remember one that doesn't offer a sample edit.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments.

    Brian
     
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Pauline,

    I agree with you that no book connects with all readers. I guarantee that I could find people who would absolutely loathe every book in my personal top 10.

    From a "page-turning" aspect, I've put a lot of thought and time into figuring out which techniques will likely result in my readers finding it engaging. Again, not all readers will find it engaging. I think the important thing is to have a strategy that will capture at least some of them. Otherwise, what are you doing? Depending on luck?

    It's thus far been much more difficult for me to come up with strategies for connecting with the reader. Some things I figured out after my developmental edit:

    My ending sucked.
    My protagonist didn't have enough agency
    The last third of the book turned into a YA romantic drama instead of an epic fantasy

    Those were some of the main things, and fixing them helped my book greatly. Without the editor, I don't think I ever would have seen the flaws.

    I've said this in other threads: I loved my fourth draft. I thought it was good to go and ready to be published.

    Looking back, if I would have been hit on the head and lost all memory of having wrote it, I would have hated that draft then as much as I do now.

    Writing is translating what's in our heads into words. Those words have to create in our readers what exists in our heads. It is almost impossible for us to judge our work because our words remind us of what is already there instead of creating. Of course I loved my 4th draft character because I was viewing him from everything that I intended to write instead of from what I had actually written.

    Maybe you have much better beta readers than me or maybe I happened to find a really good structural editor, but, again just from my personal experience, I didn't find this to be the case.
     
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I think the combination of the two finally pointed me in the right direction as I think I've finally identified exactly what I didn't like about the opening. Now, I just have to fix it.
     
  18. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Yes. It is standard practice for editors vying for a job to provide samples of their work. I wouldn't even consider an editor who didn't.

    The quality of critique partners I currently have varies widely. Most are members of groups I belong to. Some are diligent, honest, and caring when it comes to giving critiques. However, most are either nit-picking (which I don't mind too much) or they seem afraid to dish out the blunt honesty that I ask for. When evaluating their opinions, I consider all of them valid, as long as I feel they're reading carefully. However, I also weigh their opinions according to their experience levels, which is easily identified by their submissions.

    Beta readers are different, for me. If you're a beta reader it's because I respect your opinion and I'm confident you'll be honest. I'm certain you want to help me succeed & you're willing to work to help me get there. I have handful of beta readers, but I'm always trying to add more. My critique groups (live & online) act as a sort of minor league for my beta group. With beta readers I'm less concerned about technical and grammatical issues & more concerned with the impression made by the story and whether or not it conveyed what I wished to convey. Did they like it? What did they expect to happen? What characters did they like/dislike, and why? Things of that nature.

    Editors are professionals who, for my money, have been employed in that capacity for a decade or more by a respected firm, or are currently employed by a firm I've chosen to hire. They are very different from crit partners & beta readers. Their concern should, unlike the others, by a monetary one, where my success as an author should help their business succeed. They should also know more about current market trends, what has been commercially successful in past efforts (writing execution, not story topic), and many other factors that contribute to success. A good firm, or probably even a good freelancer, should be able to provide multiple types of editing....copy/line, developmental, structural, etc. These are people with experience and education geared toward understanding the fine details, the bones and architecture of storytelling. Though good crit partners & readers can certainly improve your work, I'm doubtful if they could provide the level of expertise a good editor can offer.
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2015
  19. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Interesting thread. I've been following it with curiosity. This subject has been one that I've been researching a lot lately because I'm on the fence about hiring a professional editor. I could probably afford one after saving for a couple of months, but the expense would dent our family's finances. Definitely though, I have my work shredded to bits by critique partners, beta readers, and Scribophile (which is awesome).

    The moral question: do I sacrifice my family's income to hire an editor for short fiction that may not sell that well anyway? Or do I polish it to the best of my ability and take the plunge anyway, returning to it with an editor when finances are more stable and after we have moved across the country?

    Not to be a negative Nancy about this subject either, but how great are trade manuscripts edited anyway? Two different works that I read this week seem to have broken a lot of writing rules. The first was a short story with a multitude of run on sentences that had me going back and re-reading over stuff. The second was a genre fiction about two best friends that started out with a prologue written in 3rd person, and the rest of the book switching between first person present and past tenses. It drove me bonkers. Don't writing rules say not to do this? If it's so important, why do trade houses let these books hit the shelves? The writing in the second book was rather repetitive as well and it was hard to get into the story.

    Just saying...I think a lot more stress is put on Indies than probably needs to be. Sure, by all means do what you can to get your manuscript polished to perfection by whatever means you can before publishing. But in the end, if trade houses are putting out crap...why don't they get slammed for it but Indies do? Makes no sense.
     
  20. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Would you buy another work from that author?

    Probably not. I wouldn't. That's how, eventually, the publisher loses for crappy editing.

    Don't make the mistake of saying, "They got away with it. Why can't I?"

    They haven't gotten away with anything. If it's bad, it'll fail.

    Give yourself whatever advantage you can.

    As far as short fiction goes, I probably wouldn't hire an editor for that. I'm confident in my abilities, and my helpers, enough to handle a short piece. It's the novel, in my opinion, that benefits from professional editing. The larger the work, the more complex. The higher the complexity, the greater the need for experienced, professional aid.

    Just my opinion. YMMV.
     
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