Do you engage in short-cut editing? By this I mean, do you get volunteers to look over your manuscript instead of hiring a more qualified book editor? Do you do hire a professional editor, but talk her into editing just part of the manuscript—you’ll take it from there?
Better—much better—that you save up the money, get an extra job to earn another $500 or $1,000, or borrow from your brother-in-law and hire a qualified editor to edit your entire manuscript.
I’m afraid that I have engaged in short-cut book editing myself. I have attempted to help financially-strapped authors with their troubled manuscripts by editing only a portion of it and instructing them on how to proceed. I have to say, it rarely works out for them or for me.
First, the author with a manuscript in trouble doesn’t understand how to fix the problems or they would have done it already. Even when someone demonstrates where the problems are and how to fix them—even when the editor points out all of the errors in using apostrophes, the proper use of the em dash, what a run-on sentence is and how to repair them, etc., few new authors truly get it. They haven’t developed a good enough eye to catch the errors. If they’re accustomed to writing muddy sentences, they aren’t going to recognize anything wrong with it. In fact, I’ve had authors accuse me of changing their “voice” when I dared tamper with an error-riddled, run-on and/or muddy sentence.
So often, when I have tried to save an author money by instructing them how to rewrite a section or when I have suggested they add an explanation or remove too much explanation, or when I have attempted to help them break a bad writing habit, they can absolutely not handle the assignment. It is beyond them. My instruction does not compute or penetrate.
Obviously, the author who doesn’t write well—who doesn’t quite have a handle on the concept of clear, concise writing that flows; being consistent and telling a good story or appropriately organizing an effective nonfiction book—really shouldn’t be left on his or her own to complete the editing/proofing. This author (in fact pretty much all authors) need the assistance and expertise of a professional editor.
From the editor’s standpoint, short-cut editing can be the kiss of death. Currently, there are a few books out there that are an embarrassment to me. In most cases, the authors approached me. They didn’t like my fees—just couldn’t afford me so they would go without editing.
I couldn’t bear to see these authors produce these books as is—books of some merit, I might add, except for the lack of writing skill. Sooooo, I offered to work within their budget (in some cases ¼ of my fee if I were to edit the entire manuscript). So I’d go to work editing the first 30 or 40 pages or so, showing my suggested changes/corrections, leaving many notes of instruction, urging the importance of following through with this process. The author would be MOST happy to get some professional help at a bargain price. I was happy to be able to help—to point the author in a better direction—to teach him/her something of value to this and other book projects. Yes, we were both happy, until I saw the published book.
In most cases, the instructions were not followed. The inconsistencies raged throughout the pages, mistakes were everywhere. And there was my name proudly displayed as “editor.”
In one case, I did a full edit at full price for an author. His main problem was a habit of seriously muddy writing. It took quite a bit of time to untangle his attempts at communicating his story—a really good story, by the way. Well, after he paid me to edit his book, he went to work rewriting large portions of it, inserting his muddy style into it anew. Yes, there on his acknowledgements page is my name as “editor.”
I have two new policies this year
1. I will only edit complete manuscripts because I cannot trust authors to adopt and adapt my instructions and examples and apply them to the remainder of the manuscript.
2. If the author does any sort of extensive rewriting after my edit, I will insist upon the opportunity to do a final edit OR please do not list me as editor.
If you’ve wondered why your editor charges for the work he or she does and why they have strict rules such as these, perhaps this will help you to understand. We have reputations to uphold. And we don’t need unaware, unskilled authors unknowingly marring them.
If you have a manuscript ready for publication—your next step should NOT be seeking a publisher. Next, find a book editor and ask for a free evaluation and estimate. If you don’t have $500 to $3,000 to pay an editor, find a way to obtain it. Remember, publishing a book should not be a frivolous activity. I’m sure you expect that book to earn you some money. You’re looking at it as a viable business investment, right? Well then, don’t short-change your potential with this project. Do it up right and this means create the best product that you can. Hire a good book editor!