Saturday, October 1, 2011

Finding an Editor Part 1: Don't End Up In the Digital Dustbin

The old saw says “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Well, the same concept goes for writers: a writer who edits himself has a fool for a client.

Since leaping into the indie publishing field, I’ve met a lot of great writers and read (or at least sampled) a lot of indie books. I will guarantee you right now that, with better than 98% accuracy, I can tell you pretty damn quick which of those books were professionally edited and which weren’t.

See, the thing is, you can be a fantastic writer and a terrible editor. And even if you’re a fantastic writer and a pretty good editor, you’re still going to run smack into hidden blind spots and camouflaged pits full of sharpened stakes onto which you will impale yourself and wriggle helplessly. And even if you are a writer who falls into that fraction of a percentage point who is both a fantastic writer and a fantastic editor and you spend hours looking out for your poisonous little darlings, your book is still not going to be as good as it would be if you have independent eyes looking over it.

If you think that’s not true, I can’t help you. But most any writer worth his or her salt knows that a finished story can’t exist in a vacuum. I’ve harped over and over again about the importance of beta readers and editors and proofers. In the halcyon days of publishing, if you were accepted by a publishing house of a magazine or an anthology, you didn’t need to worry too much about dealing with editors. Having your work edited was part of the contract. You shipped your baby off and someone somewhere worked their magic on it. And unless you were a prima donna and apt to get in screaming fights about your art, that was that.

Times have changed. Publishing houses are increasingly getting out of the editing business. Unless you’re incredibly fortunate, it’s terrifically hard to get someone to pay you for an unpolished work. Agents and publishers are looking for professional, ready-to-publish manuscripts. Self-publishing is no way to get around that fact, either. If you want to be a successful writer, either in traditional publishing or indie publishing, you need professional help.

For the indie writer this poses some problems. One, editing is expensive. It’s a job that takes a very high skill level and is time-intensive. Two, all editors are not created equal, and it can seem near impossible to find a good one.

First of all, let’s tackle the money problem. What does editing cost? I would say for a baseline you’re looking at minimum around a penny a word or a couple dollars a standard page or $25 to $60 an hour. (Keep in mind, those measurements are not equivalent to each other, just a baseline from looking at different service packages).   For a full-length novel (a minimum of 55,000 words), you’re looking at around $500 as a base price. Wow, you say to yourself, how many books do I have to sell to recoup that cost? A lot, but at least with a properly edited book, you have a chance to recoup your cost. An unedited book is going to die a quiet and unmourned death. Don’t believe me? Ask any writer who’s selling well. Good editing won’t make a bestseller, but no editing will ensure that you’re consigned to the digital dustbin.

There are ways to lessen your costs. Join writer’s groups, network, make friends. Trade manuscripts with other writers. You can learn a lot about making your work better, and if you’ve been practicing your craft long enough and hard enough and you find compatriots who have a high skill level, you can get a lot of the heavy lifting done before you get to the final editing/proofing stage.

Sometimes you can trade services. Your strengths may be someone else’s weaknesses. You may be a whiz at web design and find an editor who needs a website. Barter when you can. Ask about payment plans. Many editors will take a deposit and collect the balance when the job is finished.

Remember the old Christmas Clubs at the bank? Sock away your spare change in a book fund to pay for editing, proofing, cover design, and formatting. Save up until you’ve got what you need. Put $10 in a jar every time you finish a chapter or hit your weekly goal. As trite as it may sound, it’s an investment in your future. And I do mean that. Every time you work with a good editor, you learn things that you can apply to your writing going forward. A good editor will make you a better writer, and that will carry through your career.

Okay, you’ve accepted the cold, hard fact that you need editing. But bear in mind, a bad editor is just the same as having no editor at all. If you’re going to shell out your hard-earned clams for a professional service, you need to make dead sure you’re getting your money’s worth. In the next post, I’ll go over what makes a good editor (and what makes a bad one) and what makes you a good client. (Hint #1: Always get a sample! Hint #2: You are not James Joyce.)

No comments:

Post a Comment