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My thoughts on a first manuscript and an editor

Last updated on February 11, 2012

Recently a friend of mine — who is both and editor and a writer — published a piece on her blog about the need for every author to have a good editor.  I have also seen a lot of Tweets from a variety of editors-for-hire whose sales tactic seems to be to imply I’m an incompetent writer who, for a suitable sum of money, they can rescue from literary oblivion.

I’m not sold on either point.  I am going to be unpopular here and say that I know too many editors who don’t ask one simple question… “what are you trying to do?”

Allow me to be gauche and talk about my current novel, “The Sauder Diaries – By Any Other Name“.   I had two different editors-to-be (who I paid for a 1 chapter test review) tell me that I had serious issues with the first book.  One problem was my stylistic item of having the characters use certain “familiar phrases” such as “hello”, “good morning” in their native language was “not how people really talked” and was a “fatal literary mistake.”

Ok. They may be right … I’ll leave that to my readers to answer. But what neither of them did was say “What you’re doing here is really different… why is it important?”.

I get the idea that a story is like a rough-hewn statue of marble. It’s got potential, and the editor is there to polish it to the detail we ultimately call art. But the attitude I read in sales pitches and have directly encountered is “I don’t like your statue’s chest shape, it is not what I call a classic bust, so you must allow me to change the measurements entirely.  If you argue with me, you are DOOOOOOMED”.

The other thing I will point out is an issue of economics. Per my blog post about “The Five Buck Book“, no indie author is in a position to spend $1000 on an editor when — at best — the book can be expected to make $1200. Among other things, we’ve got to pay for a cover artist who wants $300 – $600. A good cover is is important to the buying decision for a reader looking at a new author.

I don’t expect editors to give their time and talent away.  One editor I know charges a mere $1.75 per page per pass.  That’s still $780 for two passes of developmental edits.  Most editors I read Tweets from say that Certain Doom can only be avoided with a minimum of two copy-editing passes followed by one developmental edit.

So, I pay the editor $1000, I pay the artist $450, I pay $200 in advertising and self-promotion fees on websites and I make -$450 and I decide not to publish at all.  Or, more likely, I drop the one largely optional item on that list … the editor.

Do I think an editor is important? Yes.
Do I think that a good editor with the right attitude can be a tremendous help to a new author? Very Yes.
Do I think it is hard for a new indie writer to justify in terms of intangible cost-benefit analysis? Unfortunately, yes.

My solution was to look to my social network. I know two professional technical writers, one English lit/grammar major, and a communications major. That is my beta reader/ editor team. They are all friends, so I know that some editors will immediately tell me I can’t trust them to be honest.

Why not? Their bosses IRL do. Who the heck am I (or anyone else) to say they can’t bring those pro chops to my project, just because they know me? Please don’t insinuate that a professional technical writer with 20 years experience as a team editor is somehow inferior to you because they are my friend. I’m sorry, that won’t win my business.  Particularly if I note from your Twitter profile you just got out of University and had not been born when the English major went to University.

Just so its said, if by the time I am writing my second series of books my sales are supporting a $1000 editing job and a $600 cover-art job, then for sure, I’ll be getting a hot word-cutter to take a look at what I do.  Right now, however, if I opt indie, I can’t afford it.  Which is, in part, why I went shopping for a hungry small-press publisher for my first published project.

I think every project needs an editor. I also think that it is more important for that first book to be published than to sit moldering for want of the budget to get an editor. That’s my bottom line.

Published inAuthor SpaceMy Own BossThe Sauder Diaries


  1. Enjoyed your post Michel…and certainly agree, the costs are similar over here in the UK, unaffordable for indie writers like me! Thankfully got a daughter who helped get the book cover sorted, but that’s about it, the rest is up to me! Like I’ve said before I know my book isn’t perfect, wish I’d known all I know now when I put it on Kindle, but hey, it’s out there now! Best wishes with yours!

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