Do editors still edit?

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Marc Joan

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Aug 26, 2014
I read something interesting on the BBC News website [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-29205286 ], describing how Golding's Lord of the Flies, after rejection by 10 publishers and an agent, was saved by an editor at Faber who suggested very significant alterations and reworkings. That was an eye-opener for me, as I had always thought of editors as having little input other than asking for the manuscript to be shorter. I wonder how many great books have been radically improved by editors, and whether editors ever get any recognition for this? Also, do editors still edit as in Golding's day, or in these high-pressured, cost-cutting days do they simply reject anything that needs the kind of rewrite required for Lord of the Flies?
 
This is a big can of worms :) Really, a six-pack.

Editors are essential to a writer. And yes, even in this goddamn digital age, great editors with old-fashioned beliefs about supporting and believing in and championing their author do still exist.

However... their influence has been and is being eroded all the time.

Can an editor who “believes” in an author (against all apparent odds) force a publishing company to do a fine job for them?

Well, I haven’t seen it happen recently. But yes, I have indeed seen it happen. The quasi-legendary Judith Regan of HarperCollins NY was one such. She could make elephants dance to her tune.

I wish there were more of her ilk...
 
So, from Pete's comment, I would draw the following wild surmises. It seems that a great book is likely to be the result of a good writer and a good editor. In commercial terms, it's rather like a collaboration or a joint venture. This suggests that the great danger of self-publishing is that you may be cutting off the potentially valuable input of one partner. Of course, self-publishers can get round this by hiring a freelance editor; but will a freelance editor give the writer the same value as an editor who is really committed to the writer's work? I doubt it; because the freelancer is just being paid by the hour or by the job, and doesn't care whether the book ends up selling or not. It follows that self-publishing authors would be better off finding editors who like and believe in their work enough to take some or all of their fees in royalties from future sales, as said freelancers would then be motivated to really add value. So perhaps we need a secure site where self-publishing authors looking for committed editors can post their work, and freelance editors can look at the work and, if they so wish, make offers to the authors regarding the terms of a joint venture under which the authors' work could be further developed. Does this sound nuts? Apologies if I am being incoherent and / or brainless, I am (as a newcomer to this whole scribbling thing) just trying to figure out how things work and how to get my writing out there....
In any case, I do like the prospect of taking books forward as a collaboration between interested parties - so much more practical and realistic than trying to do everything oneself. Any editors out there who want to talk...??
 
Depends on the freelance editor. I know several. Some, I wouldn't give you a plug nickel for. But one I know edits for several well-known self-pubbed authors, and for authors published with well-known romance publishers, and she does a phenomenal job. And I disagree with your statement that the freelance editor doesn't care whether or not the book sells. He/she wouldn't have an editing business without referrals, so it's in their best interests to do a good job and care whether the book sells. If the book does well, his/her reputation will be attached to that success. If they do a half-assed job and/or the author hates their working relationship with that editor, who do you think will use them eventually? No one.
 
Based on my experience alone, I would have said that the ONLY thing editors do these days is dismiss everything they see out of hand.

Well that’s very true, and in fact I was musing about this on the bus yesterday.

A publisher once said to me, with a slightly-too-smug smile on his face, “You know, we’re really in the rejection business. We find reasons not to publish manuscripts.”

And it was true. Traditional publishing became too complacent, I believe. It had a tendency to sit on its laurels, and expect great talent to float in the window.

There are a lot of problems with this approach (although it did work for a century or more). One of them is that it puts you hopelessly out of touch with your real market...readers.

I think many younger publishers today are free from this conceit, but it still lingers in parts.

So, from Pete's comment, I would draw the following wild surmises. It seems that a great book is likely to be the result of a good writer and a good editor. In commercial terms, it's rather like a collaboration or a joint venture. This suggests that the great danger of self-publishing is that you may be cutting off the potentially valuable input of one partner. Of course, self-publishers can get round this by hiring a freelance editor; but will a freelance editor give the writer the same value as an editor who is really committed to the writer's work? I doubt it; because the freelancer is just being paid by the hour or by the job, and doesn't care whether the book ends up selling or not. It follows that self-publishing authors would be better off finding editors who like and believe in their work enough to take some or all of their fees in royalties from future sales, as said freelancers would then be motivated to really add value. So perhaps we need a secure site where self-publishing authors looking for committed editors can post their work, and freelance editors can look at the work and, if they so wish, make offers to the authors regarding the terms of a joint venture under which the authors' work could be further developed. Does this sound nuts? Apologies if I am being incoherent and / or brainless, I am (as a newcomer to this whole scribbling thing) just trying to figure out how things work and how to get my writing out there....
In any case, I do like the prospect of taking books forward as a collaboration between interested parties - so much more practical and realistic than trying to do everything oneself. Any editors out there who want to talk...??

Sorry to quote the above entire post, but it raises several good points. Yes, self-published authors are at a real disadvantage here. No, paying a freelance editor by the hour isn’t likely to evolve the same sort of symbiotic/creative relationship. You are more likely to get a decent line-edit, less likely to get a real partner. And as far as a website linking editors with writers... I’m amazed there isn’t one already... is there...?
 
.... And as far as a website linking editors with writers... I’m amazed there isn’t one already... is there...?

Er ...[feeling silly]...so you're saying that Litopia has bona fide editors on board as well as unwashed wannabe writers such as moi? Or is recruiting such paragons the aspiration rather than current reality? Sorry if the questions are dumb, my intent is to understand, not to annoy.....
 
The only dumb question is the one that isn't asked. :) Experiences are going to differ, depending on lots of things, especially genre. When I answer questions, it's only romance published in the USA I'm usually speaking about because that's what I write. In matters like this, where the question really spans all genres and both sides of the pond, I'd defer to Peter's expertise. He's been in this business a long time. :)

In the "old" Litopia there were editors as members. Not sure if they're back yet, or if they plan to be.
 
Well, we never set out to be an introduction service for editors/writers. But if it could be done well, I'd consider it.

I do get approached from time to time by “editorial consultancies” and the like, but have never felt comfortable promoting them to our members.

The thing is, with the “traditional” publishing model, the author is not the customer. The editor is paid by the publisher, not the author. This gives them some distance. It also means that editors tend to specialise, i.e. sci-fi or romance, etc.(*) With a freelance, you’re more like to get a Jill-of-all-trades.

I’ll give it some thought. It would be very easy to do this kind of thing badly... and quite hard to do well...

(*) One of the amazing benefits of this system was (still is, a bit) that new authors could easily find themselves being edited by someone who had edited one of the classic authors of the C20th. What an experience!
 
I guess it depends on the editor. When I edit a novel, the quality of the written work dictates the type of editing required. I've had a few novels that only required a page or two of notes and others that required extensive effort. That effort may go as deep as teaching an inexperienced author the tools required or a work may require a restructuring of the manuscript or I might be tasked with pointing out weaknesses to an experience author where they believe none exist, etc.

And yes, even big publishing house editors still do work with authors in the fashion described in the OP. A couple novels that I edited had significant revisions before they were published.

Smiles
Bob

PS: At the moment, I'm not taking on any new freelance editing jobs. My available time is limited and I do want to commit any free time to work on my novel.
 
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Thanks for the input, Bob. Do you think that there are any good freelance editors who would accept payment in the form of a share of future royalties, rather than upfront cash? I ask because, as outlined above, this risk-sharing model could align the interests of author and editor - a collaboration to the benefit of both?
 
There are all sorts of personalities out there that do freelance editing. There are those who need to bill to pay the bills. Others may be willing to gamble on a percent of royalties like an agent. I have accepted a percent of royalties as a payment form but I'm not sure if others would.

A freelance editor is somewhat like an agent. I like to get a preview, usually the first chapter and a middle chapter and a back cover blurb, to determine how much effort will be expended to complete the process. I may reject a novel and recommend a writer's site, schooling, or writing books for works that don't meet a certain level of competence. I may reject a novel if I think it doesn't need any further editing and recommend they start peddling it to agents. In some cases, where the story has merit but the writing needs a lot of work, I will offer to work for a flat fee, no matter how long it takes.

As a writer, you also need to find a good fit with an editor, so don't pay very much up front. Make a contract that allows either party to withdraw from the enterprise after a certain number of interactions (I recommend three sets of three chapters (could be the first three chapters three times) - around $200 or less). By that point in time, both parties should know the fit - if it fits like a glove, be suspicious, if there are agreements and disagreements, be pleased, if there are only disagreements, run. By then, the editor should be willing to give you a firm quote to complete the task.

Always remember - it is your novel and you have final say but dismissing an editors suggestions without due consideration is questionable. In other words, even if you disagree with a suggestion, file it and review that file more than once. You never know when something that sounds wrong today may become correct tomorrow.

Cautions - billing can increase significantly if there are copious notes or could be less if there are few notes. If the first chapter is filled with notes and comments and the editor continues with the next two chapters, you might be getting ripped off. In my opinion, if a lot of work is need in the first chapter, then a new agreement or a termination of effort is proper. Fees vary from $600 for a 120,000 word novel to $6,000 and more and that's a lot of cash so be wary of those asking for a excessive fees, they may be worth it but are there others out there that can provide the same quality for a lot less?

A long answer for a short question. Sorry.

Smiles
Bob
 
Marc, before you send anything to an editor, I'd strongly suggest asking for a list of their clients and the clients' published books, and then going to Amazon to take a look at the samples available in most of them these days. You want to get a feel for the quality of the editing before spending your time or money, or promising someone future royalties. If the writing isn't good, the editing probably wasn't either. It doesn't even have to be in the same genre you're writing, because an editor looks for the same kinds of issues across the board.

In addition, I'd suggest avoiding an arrangement where you contract for future royalties. There are no guarantees, and neither of you could end up getting paid. Yes, you might need to spend some money up front, but it shouldn't cost you thousands of dollars to have a book edited. I can think of at least ten authors off the top of my head who don't pay that, and their editors do a fabulous job. Ask around from published authors who have freelance editors. They'll be happy to give you an idea of what they pay, as well as refer you to their editors if they're taking on new clients.

I know the woman who runs Red Quill Editing in person. I'm not sure if she's taking on anyone new, but she's been in the business a long time, and she has a proven track record with some huge names in romance. I know she'd be happy to point you in the right direction. You can tell her I gave you the link to her website. Like I said, I know her in person. :)

http://www.redquillediting.net
 
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Tara, thanks so much for this. I will file your Red Quill contact for future reference. I'm not approaching editors at present for two reasons. Firstly, I first need some feedback, any feedback, on what I have done. I have not shown my stories to anybody, not even my wife (for reasons too complex to elucidate here, but suffice it to say my motives are good), and therefore I really don't know if I am producing material that somebody might like, or whether it is utter dross. So before I spend money on an editor, I'd like to know if others think there is anything of potential merit in my writing. Hence my impatient, somewhat desperate, wait for the Litopia Houses to be built. The second reason is that my budget is severely restricted, and the idea that my writing could generate costs before income is a nettle that I have not yet been able to grasp; which is also why I was whining on about the possibility of coming to a cash-free, royalty-sharing arrangement with an editor (but I fully understand and appreciate that, as you point out, this is not necessarily a great arrangement). Thanks again for your help.
 
Tara, thanks so much for this. I will file your Red Quill contact for future reference. I'm not approaching editors at present for two reasons. Firstly, I first need some feedback, any feedback, on what I have done. I have not shown my stories to anybody, not even my wife (for reasons too complex to elucidate here, but suffice it to say my motives are good), and therefore I really don't know if I am producing material that somebody might like, or whether it is utter dross. So before I spend money on an editor, I'd like to know if others think there is anything of potential merit in my writing. Hence my impatient, somewhat desperate, wait for the Litopia Houses to be built. The second reason is that my budget is severely restricted, and the idea that my writing could generate costs before income is a nettle that I have not yet been able to grasp; which is also why I was whining on about the possibility of coming to a cash-free, royalty-sharing arrangement with an editor (but I fully understand and appreciate that, as you point out, this is not necessarily a great arrangement). Thanks again for your help.

Anytime. :)
 
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