Thursday, July 28, 2011

Are Editorial Services Worth Your Dollars? by Lisa Adams

We were discussing the volatile issue of whether would-be authors spend money wisely if they hire a freelance editor to review and/or edit their material before they submit to either a publisher or agent. This is a double-edged sword because just as some writers cannot write very well and need the assistance; so some purported editors and/or manuscript reviewers do not know enough about either the English language or the business of publishing to effectively edit or review anyone's manuscript.

So how can you tell whether (a) you need an editor and/or (b) the editor/manuscript reviewer you have chosen is "good?"

First, if you have the language skills and knowledge of the publishing industry such that you can edit your own material effectively, by all means do. It is still a good idea to allow a second and third set of eyes who know nothing about the story to read it, too. That's your call.

If you are like most writers, however, you understand the necessity of having at least one good line edit before you submit anything for professional review. Why? The best analogy we can offer is if you have a legal problem, who would you rather have represent you in court, a law student or an attorney with trial experience in the type of case you have? In the case of an author, look at the agent or editor as the judge; the manuscript as your case; and the editor/reviewer as the attorney. It should not take too much imagination to understand that you want your manuscript presented in the best light possible, whether accepted or not.

Bad grammar, poor plots, misspelling, and other typical problems defeat that purpose. If you go to court and represent yourself, and you are not an attorney, your case has a higher likelihood of turning out badly for you. After all, you don't know how to present evidence and testimony; and no judge on the planet will allow you to just ramble on and on. If you have an experienced attorney, on the other hand, you swing the scales back to a more balanced chance you may win. Likewise, the best way to get your manuscript noticed, to a degree, is to have a professional with experience in the industry look at it first, yes, for a fee.

Many experienced manuscript editors have done so for a living, often with a publishing company. They have insight into the universe you want to enter. Some have even been published by the so-called "big houses." Why wouldn't you want to hear what they have to say? And then, why would you expect to pay any less than you would for a similarly-experienced professional?

This is what we are having trouble understanding: why would a professional editor be entitled to any less respect and ability to request proportionate fees than, say, a lawyer or doctor? The education is every bit as valid and the experience hard won.When we started out, we would expect to pay at least $1000.00 for a good three-round line edit. That is still a fair price although it has gone up a few hundred dollars. If the average manuscript takes a day or two to read through and make certain corrections/observations; and that person is dedicating all of their working time to accomplish this task, why shouldn't he or she be compensated appropriately and proportionately?

It belittles the editor to say they are not worth the money; or that their fee is "predatory." You're not buying a home, you are creating a better product so you stand a better chance of being commercially published. Will your editor get a "cut" if you are accepted by an agent or large publishing house? Does that person receive your royalties? No, they will not; and they do not. So set your egos aside and try to be objective about what you are trying to do: sell a product. That's it. That's what it all boils down to.

Now it's another story altogether if the editor is horrible, has no credentials, and charges lots of money for basically doing nothing. That is where you, the writer, should carry out what is called "due diligence."

Ask for, and check, the editor's references. Be proactive with your work product. After all, you wouldn't hire a criminal defense lawyer to do a social security claim would you? Once again, why would editors be treated any differently. Some great editors majored in English and have doctorates in that subject. They, too, are good choices as editors.

The best advice we can give is carefully seek out the editor for your manuscript; and then, be prepared to pay for their experience. It's not a racket, it's a business and you, the professional author, should treat it as a business relationship and nothing more. Do your part and make sure you are getting what you pay for.


  1. Right now I have been using a team of inexpensive editors because I'm producing too much material and $1K a pop would kill me. I'd only do that if I had written something over 85K and could guarantee the MS would generate enough of a return for that investment. I'm not quite there yet.

  2. That is excellent input and thank you. The question of returns is important with regard to this issue. So if we understand each other, the volume of material you generate also factors into whether you get an editor or, in your case, a team of less expensive editors. You have a very practical and business-like approach that hopefully will serve as a good example to our readers.