Friday, January 21, 2011

Am I an Idiot?


Working with a Freelance Editor
By Rebecca Forster
January. We begin anew. We slough off our baggage and leave the past behind. Except when we don’t.  Which brings us to the topic of freelance editors.

I have dragged mine into every New Year, every new project,* every new puddle of angst where I wallow in the knowledge that I will never write a decent book again. I have done this for 26 years. My freelance editor’s name is Jenny Jensen**. To her credit, she does not roll her eyes as she takes me by the scruff of the neck, shakes off the muck and and points me back to the computer. I use her because she is in my corner. I also use her because I sell more often when I do.

That fact alone should be enough for me to never question my association with Jenny, yet I do. I want to know why, after all these years, can’t I edit myself? Haven’t I learned anything from her?  I had to know.  Am I an author idiot?

Thankfully, the answer was no and Jenny had a couple of good reasons why I wasn’t:
Writing is a fast and furious process when it is going well. Grammar and spelling are not top of mind when an author is ‘in the zone’; words and ideas must flow freely.

Self-editing is prone to ‘blindness’. The author often sees no difference between her intent and the typed words.  A good editor understands and respects the author’s words and voice while cleaning up the grammatical flaws that set the signals – signals that allow the reader to effortlessly navigate the story.

Some writers see punctuation as a bother.  A well-punctuated manuscript will catch the eye of a publisher and so will one that is not punctuated well. Only one will sell.

Finally, some people are writers and others are editors. Like a writer with an instinct for story, an editor has an instinct for a pause, a rolling stop and when to quit. She knows when creativity and inspiration becomes awkward and interferes with story.
Knowing why I use a freelance editor usually leads to the question…

Can Only Rich Writers Afford a Freelance Editor?
Anyone who has been writing as long as I have can tell you that writing is not the road to riches. Most of us write while holding down other jobs and dealing with families. Some write for the pure love of it; most write in the hopes of making it their profession. So, how can the expense of a freelance editor be justified?

First an author must understand that books are business. New York publishers have bottom lines to meet, independently published authors want to sell their books, online retailers want to turn a profit. The way to determine if it is worth spending money on a freelance editor is to first define your writing objective.

If you want to attract an agent, a New York publisher or stand out in the indie market then, in my opinion, an editorial eye is a necessity. Prices range from the ridiculously cheap to the astronomically expensive.  Some projects only need grammatical assistance and others continuity or story editing. Story editing is more expensive but, in my case, is critical. I write thrillers that rely on a trail of clues and red herrings and I cannot assess the effectiveness of the webs I weave on my own.

In this roiling market, those who offer the cleanest, most professional product will be noticed. In the e-book market, those who present a flawed product will be called on the carpet instantly and very publicly. That is the worst kind of publicity and hard to recover from.

How Do I Work with a Freelance Editor?
The same way you work with a New York editor attached to a publisher. You respect one another’s expertise and perspective. You have discussions, not confrontations.  You understand that while this is your book, her work is also held out to public scrutiny.


The Author:
Do not forward your first draft. Make it the best it can be before offering it for critique.
When the editor returns her comments/changes read them, set them aside and come back to them in 24 hours.
Look at your edited work with an objective eye. The editor is the first reader. If she questions something so will the person who buys your book.
Pay your bills, say your thank yous. Even if you don’t like editorial suggestions, the work has been done. This is a small community- and getting smaller all the time considering the internet - and an author’s reputation is easily damaged.
Ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense, talk it out. Most freelance editors offer a certain number of follow-ups. Be succinct. Be focused.
Do not expect continuity editing if you have paid strictly for grammar/spelling edits.

The Editor:
Should be respectful of your work and have no genre preferences.
Should exhibit that she understands your ‘voice’.
Should clearly state their fees up front and be specific about what the service entails.
Should have an acceptable turn around time.

Bottom line, if you can afford it, freelance editing makes all the difference in your final product. If you can’t spend the money find the next best thing: a middle school English teacher to help out, a wonderful book on grammar or a friend who will be read your manuscript and be honest.

Rest assured, you are not an author idiot if you can’t self-edit. You are a writer. Other (wonderful) people are (thankfully) editors. Together, we make books that people want to read.

*23 traditionally published books, 2 indie e-books, 1 script in development.

**Jenny resides at http://www.e-bookeditor.com. Note the wonderful example on her home page of what a difference in punctuation can make.


Rebecca's website:  http://www.rebeccaforster.com