Thursday, November 09, 2006

Editors, Editors, Editors

Rejecter - one tiny defense here --last week at Backspace tghe agents told us the LIKED when we hired an editor because implied that the MS might be cleaner than if we hadn't, meaning less work for YOU. And also, they liked that we had invested our own moolah in our work. I know nothing of which editor or the quality of the work presented -- just sharing some info that was bandied about last week in NY. Perhaps the writer was at Backspace? Was YOUR boss there?????

My boss was not there, but many reputable agents were from the looks of the webpage. I can only guess what they were referring to in terms of editors, but I would assume they mean reputable editors and no people like Edit Ink. I suggest you ask on Kristin Nelson's blog, as she was at the conference.

EDIT: There was a change and she was not present. Don't bother her about the conference.


Kim Stagliano said...

Kristin wasn't there, last minute change -- but the list was impressive and the day was really informative. I'm guessing in a few years you'll be there? :)


Anonymous said...

I don't really know what agents prefer, but I imagine they'd be more impressed if you handed them a fairly clean manuscript that hadn't required the services of an editor.

(In other words, take the time to learn the nuts and bolts of writing.)

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, my impression is that an agent or assistant can tell if an MS has promise pretty quickly with or without the services of an editor. I'm a little puzzled that people think you can write well without a soid grasp of style and grammar, any more than you can play the piano well without technique. But lots of people seem to think that.

Catja (green_knight) said...

Who would I rather work with - a writer who got there under their own steam (with the help of friends and betareaders without whom few manuscripts happen) or one who invested a lot of cash in writing skills because they were lacking them?

Other than the freelance editor, I can't see a winner in this game, but a lot of losers.

Dave said...

"I'm a little puzzled that people think you can write well without a soid grasp of style and grammar, any more than you can play the piano well without technique."

That's a snotty attitude about writing.

I took ten years of lessons on piano, pipe organ, electric organ and keyboards and I can tell you that I've met people who PLAY concert work with no lessons at all.

And I know at least a dozen night club players who make fine livings and have never had lessons in their lives. They aren't classical musicians but they make a great living in bars and nightclubs.

I suspect that writing is the same way for many people.

One more thought - I chose engineering because I am naturally talented in advanced mathematics and engineering paid my high college bills while music didn't. So don't ask why I'm not a musician.

threepenny said...

I can speak to this from the editors' perspective. Good editing boosts clients from OK storytelling to good storytelling. They don't hire me to fix their grammar. They bring me in for substantive and/or developmental editing -- to help them add a romantic sublot, solve a character problem, use narrative voice better, or figure out why the story loses steam at the climax.

And what they get for their investment is a predictable turnaround, thorough editing, and a constructive opinion from beyond their circle of friends, former professors and workshop members.

I said this in an earlier post, but it bears repeating: reputable freelance editors serve a real function for their clients, just like freelance designers, photographers, business coaches, facilitators, etc.

Gerb said...

I'm sorry, Dave, I disagree.

That's not snotty at all. And I don't believe lessons were mentioned in anonymous's post. The musicians you reference can play concert level work or make a living in a nightclub because they understand technique. This sort of thing comes naturally to some people, lessons or no, just as some writers seem to have an innate understanding and feel for good writing.

Writers really do need to understand their craft to pull it off with any finesse. Even those who break the rules creatively understand what rules they are breaking. It has nothing to do with being snotty. It just is.

The Unpretentious Writer said...

Your blog seems to attract very antagonisticly phrased questions.

verif = eviud (an evil squid)

Anonymous said...

A freelance editor can provide the same services as a good writers group or a good betareader. Yes an editor costs money; in my case, for various personal reasons, spending the money on an editor I really like for some structural feedback is more convenient than those other options at this time and place in my life. I don't see what the problem is or why this seems to be such an emotional issue for some. A writer using an editor for objective feedback is not by definition unfamiliar with "the nuts and bolts of writing".

Cathy Writes Romance said...

The goal is to attract an agent and sell your manuscript.

It behooves all aspiring authors to learn the nuts and bolts of the craft, and never assume you know them all.

Professional writers use freelance editors all the time. The next time you read a book, look at the acknowledgements. Google some of the names mentioned, and you'll find out those people are freelance editors.

Hi, Dave! (waving)

BuffySquirrel said...

I'm halfway through The Eyre Affair (and likely to stop there) and I'd like proof that Jasper Fforde understood POV while he was busy 'creatively' violating it.

It's perfectly possible to acquire rules of spelling and grammar just by extensive reading and usage, just as it's possible to learn to play a musical instrument through imitation and practice. But just as it's vital to play the right notes in the right order, it's vital to have the right words in the right order. I don't care how the writer gets there, but get there they must!

It's not my job as the reader to be eternally fixing their grammar and trying to guess what word they were aiming for, any more than it's my job when listening to music to work out what that note should have been, and where it ought to have been played to produce the right effect.

Termagant 2 said...

Ms. Rejecter, your comment makes one more phrase I must slash from my query letter. In future, I won't divulge who read my novel, liked it, hated it, thought it might serve well as birdcage liner material, or what have you.

Seriously--why does editing or its lack even matter? What's important is the finished product. Were I an editor or agent, the last thing I would care about is how you got from Blank Page One to Finished MS.


Maprilynne said...

I personally think that if you cannot write a good enough novel on your own and then an agent sells your book to a publisher and it is marvelous, but only because of the editor, and they want a three book contract, then what? Do you have to keep paying a freelance editor before it gets to your contracted editor? Or do you expect them to be happy with a second and third manuscript that is nowhere near as good as the first was. That doesn't seem fair.
I don't think there's really an opinion in there . . . but a thought.:)

Anonymous said...

maprilynne, I disagree with your vision of where using an editor will take you, because I disagree with your premise that an editor can make bad writing good (at least that is what I think your premise is, based on your conclusion). Perhaps a superficial analogy to explain my point of view would be--the writer designs the garment, the editor performs the final fittings. The writer still has done the essential creative and structural work, and the editor can help tighten things up. Or--good writing is a gorgeous face, and editing is a good make-up artist. You have to be gorgeous to begin with for the result to be stunning, and someone gorgeous would still be gorgeous without help, but can still get some zing from professional assistance.

The Rejecter said...

Termagant 2,

I would just slash that it was edited unless it was edited by a college professor of literature or writing or a famous author. We ASSUME the manuscript you're sending us is edited and polished to shine - either by you or with the help of another person, we don't care. That's what the acknowledgements section is for.

threepenny said...

Anonymous 1:16, nice analogy. Some additional thoughts on what freelance editors do.

Over half my clients self-publish niche nonfiction and local interest novels. If they don't hire an editor, the book doesn't get an outside edit, period. Right now I have a client who got a critique from an editor the Gersh Agency likes, and hired me to help him implement it because he recently started a business and doesn't have time to figure the whole thing out himself.

Writers who plan to query agents come to me either for help with a specific issue, or just as often, say, "I can't see it objectively anymore. Tell me what else I need to revise, and how." Never: "Turn it into a finished manuscript."

A freelance editor is an accessory to the process, not a miracle worker. The stigma comes from 1) the image of the virtuoso writer eking out a masterpiece in solitude, and 2) the misconception that freelance editors make a wage exploiting writers' dreams. The writers I work with are savvy. It's their money on the line, and they're attuned to what they're getting and why they're spending it in the first place.

writtenwyrdd said...

Just a thought, gang, but whether or not you get an editor, they don't write or re-write your work. That's WRITING and that's your job. They offer observations, suggestions, and opinions. What you do with them is up to you.

Maya said...

To use a cliche, when I eat sausage, I reaallly don't want to know how it was made. I want the finished product on my plate without the messy details.

I suspect agents feel the same way. When I critique query letters, I always slash the lengthy paragraphs that list the critique groups, the writers' groups and the affiliations.

The finished product is what matters.

Termagant 2 said...

Copied verbatim from the web site of Word Serve Literary Agency (to whom I will not be submitting anytime soon 'cause money is supposed to come to the author, not the other way around):

"...THEN you should find the $500 to $1,500 it will take to have the manuscript professionally edited. Not copyedited; content and copy edited. Some choices as to editors for novels are listed below. Each has their own expertise and experience (and pricing structures), so ask how many books in your genre they have edited, tell them the length of your work (in words), and ask for a firm price and what you will get for that price."

This sort of thing is probably why authors mention that their book's been professionally edited. Sheesh. What are we supposed to make of contradictory advice? Just do what suits us authors, of course...agencies will just have to go the distance & accept what we send you as our best efforts. Yanno?


threepenny said...

To mention or not to mention? Agonize what to add in your bio after writing a great mini-synopsis of your plot. As Rejecter says, "I don't hate you. I just hate your query letter."

Here's a good article on writing your letter:

Regarding this thread, its relevant point is: The less you have to say, the more space you have for your mini-synopsis. Always a plus.

Simonbun said...


Yeah, Jasper Fforde definitely needed an editor for Eyre Affair. The POV glitches were particularly egregious. But the rest of the series is much better written. Really. Somewhere in the second book he learned how to do it. I just discovered those books too. :) The dreadful puns made it all worthwhile. And The Well of Lost Plots was terrific.

Word Verification--sbufedsp--Buf's fed up? How apropos...

BuffySquirrel said...

Thanks, Simon :). I'm currently salving my wounds with Neverwhere.

Anonymous said...

Well, if the writer's post is any indication of the writer's skill at spelling and grammar, he's better off hiring an editor to make sure that his story isn't marred by poor punctuation, grammar and spelling.

meta-speculator said...

I'm commenting from the perspective of a writer who employed an independent editor and was very happy with the result. I therefore agree with what "threepenny" has been saying.

Nobody close to me---friends, family---could give me truly objective (i.e., harsh) criticism. And in writers groups, everyone has a personal agenda; their books are always more important than yours. I hired an independent editor because I craved an objective perspective on my work.

I got what I wanted. Of course, I chose a good editor (maybe therefore I was lucky). And I went almost overnight from form rejections to multiple offers.

I'm happy to give the name of the editor, if anyone's interested, and if it's appropriate in this forum. But I'd like my general point understood: you can do very well by an independent editor if you shop carefully and if you're reasonably close to being able to write a salable manuscript.

There are, of course, wannabe writers who will likely never make it, no matter what kind of help they get.