Semi-Professional Editing

I’ve been thinking a lot about editing lately. I’m an editor for Flying Island Press and I’ve been doing some self-publishing (though not everyone agrees that that’s what I’m doing) which, best case scenario, involves no small amount of red-lining. The critics of self-publishing point out that there’s a lot of sub-par product out there. They assume, and in large part are probably right, that that’s because they aren’t professionally edited, as they would be if they were published “professionally”. It’s certainly not because authors are unaware of the need to have good eyes and skills applied to their work. One of the things that I hear again and again from my fellow creators is, “I know I need an editor, but those don’t come cheap.” So, we do the best we can and put our stuff out there.

I’m curious about a couple of things from my writer peeps. Have you used an editor for your fiction? If so, who and how much did they charge? Were they “pros”? Setting aside the raw definition of that word, I’ll define it to mean “someone who does it for a living”. Were they “semi-pros”, defined by me as “someone who charges a below market rate”? And if you did, how long did it take you to make back your investment?

If you decided not to use an editor and it was because of the perceived cost, how much would you be willing to spend? What is it “worth” to have someone look at your work if it will, to a degree, ensure a better product? I ask, in part, because I know there are people out there, in our community that are semi-pro/pro editors and I’m sure they’d like to know. I know two personally, Jenny Melzer and Allison Duncan. (Semi-pro is not an indication of quality or rate, but is based on the notion that I don’t think this is their primary source of income. No judgment on them.) I have no idea what their client base looks like, so I don’t know if the semi-pro, self-publishing authors out there are using them.

I do know that at present Allison’s rates are beyond my budget. Jenny’s are closer to the mark, but I haven’t sent her anything, yet. I’m just not sure I can justify paying her either. I’m actually kicking around the idea of forming a group to give us another, inexpensive option. But would someone, who charges less, be perceived by you as lacking in the necessary skills to justify any outlay? Is a semi-pro someone I can trust my manuscript to? What do you think?

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12 comments

  1. You are absolutely right that much of the stuff that is self-published is sub-par and in bad need of an editor. I wish more authors made it a priority to spend money on having at least a second set of eyes look at their work.

    I do editing on a freelance basis and have done it for almost 20 years. I have worked for small publishers as well as individual authors. I’m what you would define as a semi-pro because my fees range from $25-$40 per hour – well below market rate. Of course, I edit my husband Keith’s work for free (@edgizmo on Twitter), but at the $25 rate, an author can usually have a first-pass edit of a 50,000-word novel done for around $500 or so. Subsequent passes take quite a bit less time, so often come in for much less money. The total outlay can be less than $1,000 for the whole package: a couple general editing passes plus proofreading.

    I’m biased, of course, but any writer who puts his work out for public consumption can’t afford not to have an editor. Why would one want to put out work that is not the best it can be? If people are selling a house, would they not have it spiffed up so as to get top dollar? Professional stagers can help homeowners realize many times the cost of their services. Why then not spiff up a writing product using an editor who can help it be the best it can be?

    There are authors I simply won’t ever read (or listen to) again because their need of an editor was so dire. For a layout of $1,000, they could have made back that investment many times over in increased readership.

    If more self-published authors made it a priority to invest in a good editor, perhaps self-publishing could shake off its reputation for shoddy workmanship.

  2. Julayne (cool name!),

    The problem is, most authors I know taking this approach simply don’t have between five hundred and a thousand dollars to spend. Thus the “I know I need an editor, but those don’t come cheap.”. Your skills are most certainly worth what your charge, but you’ve priced yourself out of a certain market at least.

    Let’s just say that as a self published author, I sell 150 copies a month of my e-pub. If I sell it at the sweet spot of $2.99, I’ll make a hair over $2. In order to pay back my investment in your services I’d half to invest a quarter of my years earnings. That’s significant, more so if I don’t sell that many (150/month is pretty darn good for up and coming self published blokes like myself), or charge the current hot price of $.99 (which ups the number of sales needed to over a year’s worth. It’s just not feasible.

    You say “they could have made back that investment many times over” and I’m just not certain that that’s true. So I’m looking for an editor who, like me, is looking to get a start and is willing to edit at a cheaper rate. Will their services be as complete as yours? No. But it is an improvement over just the author and some beta readers. Does that make sense?

  3. I understand where you’re coming from on affordability, but I’ve found that one can always afford priorities, especially if one makes a plan to save for it. I have saved to buy many things that I otherwise couldn’t afford because those things were priorities.

    I’m guessing that if an auto mechanic told you it would cost $1,000 to fix the transmission on a suddenly non-running car, you’d find the money to do it because it’s a priority. I’m also guessing you probably wouldn’t say, “I know I need a mechanic, but those don’t come cheap.”

    I would also encourage authors to look beyond the current book. Sure, you may sell only 150 copies of this one, but once the next one is out, you’ll have a better chance of selling more copies of it (as well as even more copies of the first one) if the writing is the best you can make it. Soon it snowballs, and that’s when the investment pays for itself.

  4. This will be one of the harder nuts to crack for self-publishing. Sometimes it gets lost in the dialogue that when a publisher picks an author that means they are *investing* a lot in that author: editing services, design services, marketing/p.r. services. It can be hard to self-publish and do all that on your own.

    On the other hand, this new model of self-publishing to widely-available markets has given writers a great deal of freedom. And, well, we all know how people do with new-found freedom because we were all teenagers once. Rhetorically speaking, there are authors out there right now crashing their publishing cars into reading trees.

    At some point the readers (consumers) will find a way to navigate the new paradigm. When that happens it probably will be a case of “can’t afford not to” hire editing services.

    All that being said, I can’t afford to hire an editor either. At pretty much any price.

    1. I’m hoping to be ready with an editor before the audiences find a way to “navigate the new paradigm”. I want as few fender benders as possible. 😉

      But I see what you’re saying I think. Personally I think if I were someone with editing chops or artistic chops who wasn’t doing it “as a day job” I’d be looking to partner with self publishing authors, offering my services as cheaply as I felt i could get away with. I think this rising tide can lift more than just the authors.

  5. There’s an easy answer to the issue of whether you will get good service from an editor – as the editor to adopt the model that Red Adept reviews uses. She’ll do a sample edit and price quote up front and you’ll know whether it’s the type of thing that’s worth paying for. Although I can definitely see the argument that editors may not be able to afford the time to do samples for free, I would be shocked if over the next couple years we don’t see more and more editors focused on indies doing something like this. Then, the author can decide if the editor works for this specific book and whether the price is worth it.

    Another thing that bears pointing out is that a first pass of editing will be very different for a book that has been through several beta readers and maybe run by a couple of fellow authors than it will be for that first draft on which the virtual ink is not yet dry. It is absolutely critical to find a couple people who can give you general feedback. So your book should never wind up getting to an editor if it has significant problems. That’s not to say an editor still won’t say, “you know, these plot points simply don’t hold together for me.” But at that point, once you have feedback from others as well, you may decide that one person’s opinion on this – even an editor is not enough to make you change. And a good editor of course, will tell you in detail why things don’t work.

    1. Yeah I know an editor that does that too. And when I’m ready to user her services I’m going to make as sure as I can that her first pass on my works is like a second pass on someone else’s.

  6. I am going to be publishing my second written novel at the end of the year, if I stay on track. When it comes to editing, I’ve decided to approach it from a financial standpoint with a cost-benefit analysis. After all, my goal is to become a professional freelance author. To do that I need to be a businessman first.

    It will cost more than I will probably make on this first novel to hire a quality editor. ($500 – $1000). The income I get from my readership levels will likely not sustain this kind of outgoing cashflow. Especially since I’ve already budgeted money elsewhere for a lawyer’s services and resources to put together a book trailer. Therefore I’ll forgo the editing on this first edition of the novel.

    I suppose it helps that I’m meticulous about my spelling and having things look right. I can do my own _basic_ copy editing.

    For someone who is prone to writing run-on sentences and blowing through typos and homophones, and their goal is not business but to see their book in print, it may be worth it for them to spend for an editor right off the bat.

    But for me it’s different. I look at Amanda Hocking and realize the editing on her books is atrocious. Yet the value of the storytelling and the hard work she’s done is clearly evident, at least according to the people who made her a millionaire this previous year. So when I start getting enough income from my readers that will sustain hiring an editor and allow me to still profit off of my efforts, then I’ll hire one.

    But not before. That’s how I’m doing it, at least. 🙂

    1. Yeah, the costs/benefits analysis is what prevented me from engaging an editor on Ginnie Dare. I’m doing the best I can with beta readers and my own skills.

      I think what you’re doing is wise.

  7. Interesting. I’ve been editing for a friend and find that I really enjoy the work. I have absolutely no credentials, though, so I have no idea how I’d break into the editing market. I’ll be watching this conversation, as I find it interesting from a completely different angle.

    If you can’t afford the $25-$40/hr range, though, what would you be able to afford? Would you be able to afford min wage or is that still too much? If you could afford it, would the assumption be that the editor must be crap if the cost is that low, and so you wouldn’t pay it anyway?

    1. I’m thinking that I could personally pay somewhere in the $200-$300 range and I’d take what that would get me. For me I’d have to know the person’s skill set well enough to know how much that would benefit.

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