Thursday, September 4, 2014

Are Freelance Editors Worth The Money

A common feature we see in query letters is when the author tells us he or she has gone out and had the story "professionally edited." In other words, the author has gone out and paid someone to either completely edit the project, or to have provided an extensive content edit from someone often called a "Book Doctor." But the real question is whether or not this type of service is worth the money.

Let's first consider the cost. In many cases, the rate will be somewhere around $2.00 a page and can even go up from there depending on the type of service the freelance editor is providing for the author. If, for example, you took care of the changes and then sent it back for a second read, that cost could go up even more. Yes, this can be a pretty hefty expense considering many manuscripts will hit around 300+ pages for a smaller 75,000 K word count project. Again, the question is whether or not this type of service is worth the money.

The first thing I would have to consider is the knowledge the author has of three things: story development, the publishing process, and the most important one - grammar! Now much of this can be learned over time, but if the author is really missing out on these skills, it might be worth the approach.

The second thing to consider is the publishing approach the author is taking. If he or she is going through traditional routes, this staff will already be in place to help. The agent will likely help with some of the plot development and guidance for the direction the story should take to be published. The publisher will also have a huge staff with more plot development and certainly line and copy editing assistance. This is all part of the "package price" included in the advance, the commission and the royalties. If, however, the author wants to take the self-publishing approach, he or she will need to pay someone on the outside to do this. In this case, it is a trade off.

I think there is another issue that many authors simply do not consider when they start hiring these freelance editors to do this work for them. What are the qualifications of the editor? This summer, when I was at both the PNWA and the RWA conferences, there were a ton of "editors" advertising and enticing authors to use there services. They had fantastic displays, amazing presentations and sales talks, but I kept asking myself, what are their real skills? Sure, they often told of how many authors they have assisted in the past, or how long they have been in business, but I kept coming back to thinking about their training in the business. I did casually meet one of the authors and after talking with her (and a little bit of my own research) I found out that she had only published two books in her entire life, these two books were over ten years ago after winning a contest, but now, she was a book doctor guiding authors. I should also note her day job was that of an accountant.

Don't get me wrong. There are some good freelance editors out there. There are authors who really do need the services of these people. But, personally, this is not a service that every author needs to be spending his or her cash on. These are skills that are already at your finger tips that you can learn and do on your own. Consider...

  • Use your grammar and spell checker appropriately This is a big one. Most people only passively use their grammar checkers. They wait for the infamous wiggly line to tell them the screwed up. You have to do two things. The first is the change the settings on the grammar checker to GRAMMAR AND STYLE. The second is to put that cursor on the first word of Chapter 1 and then click on the CHECK SPELLING AND GRAMMAR button to truly find the majority of the mistakes.
  • Get yourself a great writing reference tool This goes hand in hand with the grammar checker. When the computer finds "mistakes" these may or may not be wrong. Often, the grammar checker says something such as "This may be a fragment, consider revising." This is when you turn to a grammar book, learn what you did and determine if it is indeed a mistake. My recommendation is A WRITER'S REFERENCE by Hacker and Sommers. This covers EVERYTHING.
  • Get yourself a great critique group to assist These cannot simply be good friends, but people who are critical thinkers. These are the people who will assist you with the content issues, character and plot development. 
  • Learn the business and don't rush Yes, I am saying this again. The business takes time and learning how to write is not something that happens overnight. Attend conferences, read blogs, read books, talk to other authors. I don't care how you do it but take the time to learn the business. 
  • Research and dissect stories to understand WHY they do what they do Read, read, read! This is research for you. Take the time to figure out what the authors are doing with their stories to make them so good. Don't look at the surface level of things such as the hero being totally hot. Look to the levels of use of dialogue tags, when they insert introspection and so forth. 
If you haven't figured this out, having that outside editor is really something that is really on a case by case basis. Use it only if you need it, not because someone told you it was something you had to do to be a successful writer.

No comments:

Post a Comment