Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Warning: Objects in Mirror May Be Less Self-Editing Than They Appear

After editing my manuscript multiple times, I sent it to a professional editor for a final polish. In my submission letters to editors and/or agents, should I mention that I have had my ms professionally edited? Of course, the ms must stand or fall on its own, and I don't expect that mentioning a professional editor will give the ms any special advantage, but are editors/agents interested in knowing that a writer has gone the extra mile to make his/her ms the best it can be?
No. Don't say anything about this... unless you plan not to send your next novel to a freelance editor, and to surprise your publisher with a less-polished-than-the-first-one manuscript. Then we would like some warning.


Anonymous said...

I've actually been tinkering with this idea myself and am wondering where to find freelance editors. Have any suggestions? Thank you for posting this question/answer. It really is a fantastic one!

Anonymous said...

This is definitely one of those things that should NEVER be mentioned in a query.

Ashley Girardi said...

I feel like there's the mistaken impression here that *everything* changes once you get that coveted first book contract. You don't suddenly get a key to the writer's toolbox because a publisher pays money for your work.

If you can't edit this manuscript on your own then there's no reason to think that you'll be able to edit the next one either. Are you going to hire a freelancer for every book you write for the entirety of your career? You certainly aren't going to get any better at revising and editing your work if you outsource it to someone else and never practice.

It seems to me that hiring a freelance editor is a very bad idea for an aspiring author of fiction. If you're writing nonfiction or memoir or something where craft is second to the information or story being conveyed then by all means have the actual *writing* part tightened up by a professional.

If you want a career as a novelist then it might be wiser to take a step back and focus on the actual craft of writing without publication as the immediate goal. Write, revise and repeat until you are the professional, no outside consult necessary.


Anonymous said...

Ashley, well said.

The only reason to hire an editor would be if the writer's only goal was to see their book "in print", and intended to use a vanity publisher.

Tough Love said...

There's nothing wrong with using freelance editors, as long as they further the project and you learn from their suggestions. Writing and editing are very different activities; needing editorial help does not mean you're a bad writer.
But god, no, don't tell publishers about it. It's not that they mind you using freelancers, but all that really matters to them is your writing. You need that cover letter space to talk about your story, not the writing process.

Ashley Girardi said...

Tough Love,

I agree with you that needing editorial help doesn't equal "bad writer". However, hiring a freelancer can present a catch-22 situation for a new author.

Scenario 1: You don't include in query letter that you had your manuscript professionally edited. It's accepted based on the quality (quality that you couldn't attain on your own). When you submit the next book to the editor at your publishing house, they'll be in for a very unpleasant surprise at the lowered quality of second book vs. first one. This equals unhappy publisher.

Scenario 2: You include in your cover letter that the manuscript was independently edited. Publisher doesn't buy it because they want career writers who are able to work with revisions on their own without outside help. This equals unhappy writer.

A caveat: If the sort of editing you're talking about is a writer getting a revision letter from a freelancer and applying changes to their manuscript as they see fit (in the same vein as feedback from a critique group) then it's part of a learning process and perfectly fine. The problems come up when serious editing (not just correcting typos or small errors) is done to a manuscript that a writer couldn't do on her own.

btw, I saw your recent post on reddit the other day. The online writing world is so incestuous! I know you do freelancing on the side so I hope I'm not stepping on your toes.

JS said...

People who are looking for freelance editors would do well to find them through the Editorial Freelancers Association website. You can list your job for free.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Ashley Girardi... I don't think using an editor makes you dependent on editors for the rest of your life, nor do I think it means you have no skills as a writer.

Especially if you don't have a critique group, a second set of eyes can really make you focus on specifics you wouldn't have considered before.

I've had one book sold and edited by a big house -- what I learned about THAT book's edits, I took with me and continue to use in the books I'm writing now.

Just because you're unsure how to edit in the beginning, doesn't mean you'll always be that green. Editor help makes you THINK about things differently. Which means you write differently from the very first draft. It's called learning...

Tough Love said...

Ashley, my fellow Redditor ;),

I see where you’re coming from, but I think what you see as a catch-22 is something that freaks writers out, but doesn’t actually matter to editors.

Scenario 1: If it works for you the first time, why not use the same freelancer again? You might need less help the second time around, and if you need the same level, who cares? On the other hand, if you choose not to and your subsequent submissions are of lower quality (because of that or for any other reason), you won’t have an unhappy publisher, just a disinterested one. We see lame submissions from published authors all the time; that’s no career-killer.

Scenario 2: No publisher would reject a manuscript because it’s been edited by someone else. As long as they like what’s been done (and they can’t tell who did what, anyway), it just doesn’t matter. The only reason I don’t like to see “this manuscript’s been professionally edited” in a cover letter is that it looks naïve. It doesn’t stop me from considering it; it’s just not something that’s going to get me excited.

Like Anonymous said, getting an MS edited by a (good) freelancer is a great learning opportunity. Whatever works!

Anonymous said...

Cynthia Leitich Smith has a list of trusted critiquers connected to the children's/YA book community here- http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/for_writers/writers_reading_list/perspiration2.html

Jaime said...

I was the one who asked this question, and I appreciate the answer, and all the comments.

Quite honestly, I never looked at the question from the standpoint that many of you have pointed out. I have published shorter fiction that has won awards, so I never thought of it in terms of an agent/editor questioning my ability to edit my own work. I'm quite capable of doing that.

The particular editor that I mentioned in the question isn't one who edits the technical aspects of writing (grammar, language use, etc), but rather looks for continuity/inconsistency issues. And since I had a large piece of fiction, I wanted a second pair of eyes to look it over in case I had missed anything.

Case in point, in my novel, I have the medieval equivalent of "A train leaves Chicago traveling east at 22 mph. Three days later, another train leaves Chicago traveling east at 45 mph. How long until the second train catches up to the first?" I read it over two dozen times, and somehow, I still miscalculated the time difference. But the editor caught it. She also caught a very odd, particular inconsistency in the use of color and clothing with one of my characters. It's the little details that matter.

Yes, I probably should be able to do all this myself (maybe next time I can draw up a flowchart). But a second pair of eyes comes in handy. And I most definitely plan to use her services again on my next novel.

But I won't be mentioning it in my cover letters.

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