Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Viewpoint: Professional Editors Are Not Optional for Top Quality Novels

One of the first outward signs that some of the biggest traditional publishers were changing years ago was when they started pruning editors from their ranks of employees, apparently to cut costs. (This was back in the early '90s before e-publishing was any kind of threat to the bottom line, so it seems unlikely there was any connection there.) Perhaps editors, who once upon a time were the most revered people in publishing houses, became overabundant. But unfortunately, one result of reducing their numbers seemed to be fewer opportunities for mid list and debut authors in these big houses. The big authors still got full editing support, others not so much. Sound familiar? This trend has only accelerated over time.

It's very difficult for a publisher to take on projects that aren't already highly polished if they don't have editing staff to support them. As anyone who's tried to edit their own manuscript knows, it's a HUGE amount of work. There are layers and layers of editing, ranging from spelling, grammar, and punctuation, to tweaks of story arc and character integrity, to full character development and storyline revisions, requiring scene cutting, scene additions, and rewrites of chapters. This applies to the work of almost all writers, no matter how articulate they are. Editing is no place for sissies. Professional editors in publishing houses tend to have spent many years learning to be editors and typically have college degrees in editing or related subjects.

I believe it was a mistake for publishers to cut their editing staffs. It may have lowered their costs, but in the long run it made them less competitive. I also believe there isn't a substitute for quality editing when it comes to developing outstanding novels. So how can we get the editing we need to make our manuscripts topnotch if we don't have a publisher with great editing support?

We can hire editors ourselves, and many of us do exactly that. But most of us can't afford to pay the prices top professional editors charge (and deserve)—easily $2,000 for a 350-page manuscript, often twice that much, especially if the manuscript requires a lot of work. There's also the built-in potential for conflict of interest. An editor you are paying may not be entirely comfortable giving you in-depth, honest criticism and advice on your manuscript (especially if it's not as well-developed as you think it is, an all-too-common occurrence). This is often raised as an obstacle to objective editing by author-paid editors.

It's a complicated topic, but here's my viewpoint: we owe ourselves topnotch professional editing to make our novel the best it can be. If we've taken the manuscript as far as we possibly can, and truly believe in it, but are still not getting a sale to a publisher (or if we intend to publish independently) we need an excellent editor to help us put the final touches on it. 

What's your viewpoint? Do you hire professional editors? Do you think there's a good middle ground? Maybe great crit partners do enough? Or less expensive, less experienced editors who still provide valuable input? Or perhaps if the novel doesn't sell over a period of time, we should simply put it away and move on to a new project?

8 comments:

  1. They are an absolute must for anyone who plans on publishing independently, and for those who want an edge in the traditional submission process. I'm a big believer in using editors. Editors can bring to light things that authors overlook, things that could change the novel's chances dramatically.

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    1. Beautifully said, Heather. I should've just said that in the post! :)

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  2. Linda, I couldn't agree more. I also believe this is a process. Not one editor, not one set of eyes, but many. I think we need a story edit, followed by another story edit, followed by a line edit... and then a second line edit.

    Every time we make changes, we create more opportunities for errors. Consistency errors. One thing changing often impacts something that happened, or will happen, a hundred pages before or after. Every time we make a change, we open ourselves up to grammar and spelling errors.

    I agree... getting rid of the editing department weakens the final product. Not only do we edit...but we edit often, and with many brains involved.

    Thanks for a great commentary on the editing process.

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    1. Many brains indeed, Karlene. They are needed! Thanks for the input.

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  3. I'm all in favor of editors. As writers, we're too close to our work. You need a second pair of eyes to point out your foibles. You can't always depend on spell check. I often make mistakes that others catch. I've been spoiled in that my advisors have edited my works in progress. But now that I'm about to complete my program, I'll be on my own. So critique partners will be key!!! If I had the money, I would hire an editor.

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    1. Ah, congratulations on completing your program, Lin! That is wonderful. Yes, make sure you find great critique partners. It's not easy, but you may already know people from your program you can work well with. Good luck!

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  4. So what would be the best way of finding a competent, reputable editor?
    essay writing

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    1. Hi Scott,
      It's a gamble any time you're paying for an editor, which makes it all the more important that you search for someone with excellent experience in your area of writing. The best way I've found so far is to ask a literary agent at a reputable publisher if they know of independent editors they would recommend to emerging writers. To do that you may need to pitch your work to said agent in order to get their attention. Depending on where you live, there may be freelance editing groups that are certified and/or have good history of editing experience. University English/Creative Writing Departments are a good place to search, too. Not for editors, but for recommendations of qualified editing services.
      You're already ahead of the game, though, because you're smart enough to know everyone, including you, needs a good editor! Best of luck.

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