Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Stupendous good sense here from Rachelle Gardner. I cannot exaggerate how much I agree with everything she says in this article. Please read it.

Let me highlight some bits for you:
"Using a freelance editor can be a great idea - if you use it as a learning experience." [Her bold, but I'd have bolded it, too.]

"It can be very helpful for an editor to give you an evaluation of your first few chapters, so that you can then rework the entire manuscript according to what you learned. It's a terrific learning experience and can help you grow as a writer. It's almost like having a writing tutor."
I couldn't agree more - and it's exactly what I do with manuscript appraisals for Pen2Publication: I work up detailed edits, with comments and explanations, for a section of the book, so that the writer can see the problems and rectify them elsewhere, and not make the same mistakes in the future. Good editing is not about spelling and punctuation but about all the much more fundamental aspects of being a writer.

Rachelle says:
"Many agents and editors are uncomfortable with writers having too much outside editorial help prior to being contracted, because it can mask a writer's true abilities. I'd hate to get you a 3-book contract with a publisher based on that stellar first book, only to find out that you had a ton of help with it and are not able to deliver that quality of book a second time."
This is the point about getting any kind of help before submitting your work: it needs to be your work, not someone else's, and if you do not understand the suggested changes so clearly that you can implement them yourself, then this is going to bode ill for the future.

There is absolutely no shame in hiring an editor, consultant or tutor, as long as you a) choose the right one and b) more importantly, learn from it and use it properly, as a way of curing your weaknesses, not covering them up.

(Unfortunately, I cannot at the moment take on any new clients for Pen2Publication, as I'm fully booked till June. Meanwhile, I am prepared to run a very small number of Submission Spotlights. If you're interested in putting a piece of your submission up for public scrutiny, please email me at writingtutor@hotmail.co.uk. It doesn't cost anything, but you must be prepared for honest reactions from total strangers. Please see the label "Submission Spotlights" on the list on the right before contacting me. The rules for these Spotlights are here.)


Arlee Bird said...

When the time comes I may consider doing just this.

By the way:
I’d like to invite you and your readers to join us in a blogging challenge for the month of April. Check it out at Blogging From A to Z


Dan Holloway said...

Very good advice, Nicola and, a fortiori, Rachelle. And beyond doing a purely cosmetic on a writer's weaknesses, the problem of hiring an editor to give youa working over too soon is that you don't learn form your mistakes, don't make the most of the natural lerning process, and - I guess most important of all - the process of finding your voice.

I would have said the time to seek and editor is where you're confident in your voice (if you're not, you will not be robust enough to retain it in the face of critiquing, often just going along with evertything you're told, simply because you're told), but you are having problems in getting it to the surface of your prose - a bit like an archaeological dig - hire an editor when you know something's there and you want technical help uncovering it.

As you know, I was thinking very hard about editorial advice on my last work, before I took it "on tour" with a series of live readings - I was rather paranoid about how the rhythm of the text would work when performed. In the end I spoke to people from the music industry, and performance poets, and I think the advice I got was extremely helpful - which amplifies the point you made about choosing the right editor. If you have specific questions, choose someone who specialises - I can see it's good to have a regular editor you turn to (though dangerous - you may find their voice sliding in if you listen to the same person over too many years) because you trust them. On the other hand, you may need different editors for different projects, or even different aspects of the same project, I guess.

Glynis Peters said...

I had read the post by Rachelle, and it was uplifting to say the least. It is a must read.
I want to know if MY work is good enough, so am not hiring an editor.

Go away google said...

Being a freelance children’s editor (who occasionally takes individual clients referred on from Nicola, and is not fully booked for April – end plug) I’m always interested in posts about what people think of the profession. I’ve seen some US threads in particular that make out we’re all charlatans.

The Rachelle Gardner post is really good in that it puts a finger on the limitations of freelance editorial services in a much more sensible way. Providing some spark is there I probably can ‘fix’ a lacklustre manuscript to the extent that it stands a chance of publication, but it’s not something I’m keen to do, for the reasons cited in Nicola’s and Rachelle’s posts.

Fortunately editors don’t get asked to do fixing on that scale very often, at least not by individuals, in part because most people are sensible enough to realise it doesn’t help them in the long term and also because it would be expensive in editor-hours. The only out-and-out breath-of-life fixing I’ve done has been when working in-house on stuff already accepted for publication that has somehow gone wrong.

It’s much more satisfying to provide someone with as many tools as possible for reflecting on and improving their own work. Someone does say in the Rachelle Gardner comments thread that they won’t hire an editor because no one individual is going to look at grammar, big picture structural issues and deep POV issues all together, but I’d say on the contrary, the reason to hire a seasoned professional is that they will look impartially at every aspect of your work – and help you to see it clearly too. As another commenter says “Perhaps the best freelance editors are not the ones who do the work for you, but who know what are the right questions to ask of you.”

Matthew MacNish said...

Hi Nicola, great post and good advice. I can't remember how I found your blog but I have become a follower. Feel free to visit mine and do the same.

I will not be seeking the assistance of editor, at least not until I give up on revising myself. The help of one probably could have speeded the process up though, since I wrote a MS that was at least twice as long as the upper limit for word count of a debut novel.

I've been told by 3 agents who requested full or partials that the voice is good and the premise interesting enough but they just can't seriously consider repping the MS at it's current length. I am going to do my best to edit for length by myself but may seek an editor out someday.

Emma Dawrin said...

I think the term 'editor' covers a variety of possibilities. Is the editor trying to knock your novel into shape, revising your novel for you? In that case you, the writer, may learn nothing, because the editor is writing over what doesn't work in your novel, with their writing. You can't just accept their amendments, because they're theirs, not yours. That kind of revising you need to do yourself.

What's completely different is the editor as trusted reader: as a super-knowledgeable, one-woman writer's circle, if you like. That kind of editor understands what the novel's trying to be on its own terms - what you the writer are trying to do - and helps you to do it better. It's about saying, 'This doesn't work because... and here are some suggestions of what you might do about it... now go away and find YOUR OWN solution.'

In other words, it's as much a teaching process, as what a publisher would regard as an editing process. I know from many friends that the chief value of getting an editorial report is in what they learnt about writing in general... including, perhaps, that this novel is never going to be good enough.

And yes, I agree that a good editor can talk about punctuation, and big structure. Why not? In the reports I write there's always a sectino called 'nitpicks', which is washing windows. There are other sections about the engineering, and the passengers...

Theresa Milstein said...

How many words/pages do you want for the spotlight?

Nicola Morgan said...

Theresa - I have just added an extra sentence to the end of the post, directing you towards the original instructions. I don't blame you for not finding it, since my first suggestion of using the labels would have taken you to 14 posts! Anyway, here's the URL http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2009/06/submission-spotlight.html or click on the link at the end of the post.

Anonymous said...

Nicola, can I ask a barely-related question? I've sometimes considered starting a critiquing service, but am prevented by fear of being accused of plagiarism by my clients.

(Not that I would ever steal their ideas, of course. But looking at certain news stories, it's easy to see that some people are quite quick to believe in the uniqueness of fairly common tropes.)

Do you have any suggestions for addressing that issue? Thanks and sorry for the threadjack.

Simon Whaley said...

As a non-fiction writer, I invested in paying for an editor to look at my novel. I didn't have the confidence that my writing was good enough.

I feel it was money well spent. Firstly, the editor clarified which scenes needed cutting. I'd thought about cutting these scenes, but to have someone else say 'do it - it will make the novel tighter, stronger and pacier' was the shove I needed. It meant that I was thinking along the right lines for the editing process, I just didn't have the confidence to do it.

She also told me that my novel works as a novel, has good dialogue and neatly ties up all the strands of my plot and subplots.

So, overall, I felt this was money well spent. It confirmed what I sort of already knew, but didn't have the guts to do, and it has not given me confidence to send out my text. I just hope the agents and publishers are ready!

DT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DT said...

I used Cornerstones in the UK for British thriller Standpoint. The report didn't pull any punches and asked some searching questions that I - and my fellow developing writers - had not considered. Since then, two publishers requested complete manuscripts although I fell before the final hurdle. A good hired editor will help move your book forward but you've got to be prepared for all the hard work afterwards!


sanjeet said...

I guess most important of all - the process of finding your voice.
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