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Old 07-16-2010, 02:11 PM   #1
DMcCunney
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How to Measure the Value of Editors

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2010...ue-of-editors/
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Old 07-16-2010, 04:52 PM   #2
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I think good editing is incredibly valuable.

Bad editing starts at worthless and quickly drops to negative values.

Being able to tell the difference is priceless.
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Old 07-16-2010, 05:41 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemurion View Post
I think good editing is incredibly valuable.

Bad editing starts at worthless and quickly drops to negative values.

Being able to tell the difference is priceless.
Every selling professional writer I know talks about the value of a good editor, and how editing can take a good book and make it a great one. The best example was a story told by a new author with a first novel being published, who said "The first thing John (his editor) said was 'You have to make up your mind what story you're telling.'" And indeed, that was the problem. The manuscript lacked drive and focus because he hadn't clearly decided what story he was telling. Once he did, and concentrated on it, a far better book emerged.

Even established pros benefit, because a good editor will see things the author is too close to the story to notice, like "You can drop the first chapter, because everything you set up in it is either retold later in the book or should be", or "I don't believe character X would behave as described in chapter Y, everything you've said about the character so far makes it an unlikely thing for her to do."

Everyone dreads getting the revision letter after the editor has seen the first draft, but after the initial qualms have subsided, the reaction is generally "She's right. I need to fix this."

The problems I see today are two fold: first, the Internet and advances in technology make publishing your own stuff relatively easy, and an awful lot of folks don't see why they might need an editor for their deathless prose. They might not, but the readers sure will... Second, too many publishers are cutting back on editing. I knew one editor whose boss explicitly questioned why she bothered with extensive line edits, as the glory was in acquisitions.

The purpose of an editor is to make a good book better, and to keep a bad book from being published. Both are utterly necessary, and both are increasingly less done.
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Old 07-16-2010, 06:57 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DMcCunney View Post
Every selling professional writer I know talks about the value of a good editor, and how editing can take a good book and make it a great one. The best example was a story told by a new author with a first novel being published, who said "The first thing John (his editor) said was 'You have to make up your mind what story you're telling.'" And indeed, that was the problem. The manuscript lacked drive and focus because he hadn't clearly decided what story he was telling. Once he did, and concentrated on it, a far better book emerged.

Even established pros benefit, because a good editor will see things the author is too close to the story to notice, like "You can drop the first chapter, because everything you set up in it is either retold later in the book or should be", or "I don't believe character X would behave as described in chapter Y, everything you've said about the character so far makes it an unlikely thing for her to do."

Everyone dreads getting the revision letter after the editor has seen the first draft, but after the initial qualms have subsided, the reaction is generally "She's right. I need to fix this."

The problems I see today are two fold: first, the Internet and advances in technology make publishing your own stuff relatively easy, and an awful lot of folks don't see why they might need an editor for their deathless prose. They might not, but the readers sure will... Second, too many publishers are cutting back on editing. I knew one editor whose boss explicitly questioned why she bothered with extensive line edits, as the glory was in acquisitions.

The purpose of an editor is to make a good book better, and to keep a bad book from being published. Both are utterly necessary, and both and increasing less done.
______
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QFT.

I agree completely.

I'm making my living editing fiction at the moment, and I've written those letters. I've got both reactions, too.

However, I have seen disasters that were made worse by bad editors - especially those who advertise their services to unpublished writers.

(For the record, I'm not being paid by the writers whose work I'm editing).
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Old 07-17-2010, 07:16 AM   #5
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I think we can think of authors who once they had several best salers under their belt, either started to not listen to their editor, or the editor stopped making suggestions and the quality of the books suffered.
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Old 07-17-2010, 10:56 AM   #6
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(For the record, I'm not being paid by the writers whose work I'm editing).
Lemurion, I agree with your statement about bad editors but I disagree with your including the nonpayment disclaimer. The implication is that if an editor works for free, the editor will be a better editor. I've been a freelance editor for 26 years and very well paid for my efforts. I'm sure that in all those years there are a handful of clients who think my work terrible, but I wouldn't be able to continue a successful paid career as an editor over the course of those years if most of my clients didn't think I was a good to great editor.

Remember that sometimes old sayings are true, especially this one: You get what you pay for.
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Old 07-17-2010, 11:21 AM   #7
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I think we can think of authors who once they had several best salers under their belt, either started to not listen to their editor, or the editor stopped making suggestions and the quality of the books suffered.
Tom Clancy and the cement mixer subplot.
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Old 07-17-2010, 11:21 AM   #8
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Lemurion, I agree with your statement about bad editors but I disagree with your including the nonpayment disclaimer. The implication is that if an editor works for free, the editor will be a better editor.
I think he meant he is paid by the publishers, rather than being a "book doctor" for hire.
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Old 07-17-2010, 11:49 AM   #9
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I think we can think of authors who once they had several best salers under their belt, either started to not listen to their editor, or the editor stopped making suggestions and the quality of the books suffered.
<*cough*>Tom Clancy<*cough*>...

The question is whether the sales also dropped. Unfortunately, probably not.
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Old 07-17-2010, 12:05 PM   #10
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Lemurion, I agree with your statement about bad editors but I disagree with your including the nonpayment disclaimer.
He said he wasn't getting paid by the author. But since he also said he makes his living editing fiction, someone is paying him, and it's presumably a publisher.

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The implication is that if an editor works for free, the editor will be a better editor. I've been a freelance editor for 26 years and very well paid for my efforts. I'm sure that in all those years there are a handful of clients who think my work terrible, but I wouldn't be able to continue a successful paid career as an editor over the course of those years if most of my clients didn't think I was a good to great editor.

Remember that sometimes old sayings are true, especially this one: You get what you pay for.
And the costs are part of the problem. Publishers are cutting back on editing tasks like copy editing and proofreading to save a few bucks on the title. Writers who really should use the services of a book doctor balk at paying. I know some people who are book doctors among other things. They're former editors at major publishers who are now freelance writers and editors. They have a variable scale of fees depending upon what the client needs. But they provide professional services, charge professional rates, and the implicit assumption on both sides is that the end result will be a book the client will have a better chance at selling to a major publisher. The average self-publisher probably wouldn't spend the money.

Why do your clients use your services?
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Old 07-17-2010, 12:25 PM   #11
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QFT.

I agree completely.

I'm making my living editing fiction at the moment, and I've written those letters. I've got both reactions, too.

However, I have seen disasters that were made worse by bad editors - especially those who advertise their services to unpublished writers.

(For the record, I'm not being paid by the writers whose work I'm editing).
Oh, there's a lot of charlatans and snake oil in the publishing game. Start with "vanity" presses, proceed through people like agents who charge a reading fee and "publishers" whose business model is to charge you for the various services that are part of publishing your book, and who make money whether or not your book actually sells, and stir in book doctors of dubious provenance.

If someone tried to get me to pay them for editing assistance, I'd want to see a sample client list. Who else used you for help? What books have actually been published by a major publisher because you worked on them? What is your background, and what makes you qualified to be an editor?

And for a lot of folks, admitting they could use the help may be the biggest barrier to seeking it. I used to peek in on various writers forums, and it became clear quickly that what the majority of posters wanted wasn't actual advice. They wanted to be told how great their writing was, and reacted badly to any suggestions for improvement.

Some folks decide to self-publish after getting nowhere submitting through the regular channels. Well, maybe there's a reason you didn't get anywhere with major publishers...
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Old 07-17-2010, 02:14 PM   #12
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I think he meant he is paid by the publishers, rather than being a "book doctor" for hire.
Sorry, my mistake. I read it or it registered as he was doing the editing for free. You are correct in the distinction you are making and I was wrong
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Old 07-17-2010, 02:38 PM   #13
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And for a lot of folks, admitting they could use the help may be the biggest barrier to seeking it. I used to peek in on various writers forums, and it became clear quickly that what the majority of posters wanted wasn't actual advice. They wanted to be told how great their writing was, and reacted badly to any suggestions for improvement.
Aside from various things I'm working on for eventual publication, I am a *whispers* fanfic writer. *ducks* Classic TV fanfic, to be exact. Please don't hurt me! Anyway, I'm a bit weird in that field because I write meticulously-researched stories based on shows that just made stuff up whenever they felt like it, and write in the spirit and style of the original show (except less hokey) as opposed to the overwhelming majority of my cohorts who just use canon as a hook to hang their teenage romance story on. But that's another rant entirely. The reason I'm admitting to this at all, knowing the contempt most people feel for my hobby, is the matter of authors' attitudes.

The typical fanfic writer has the mentality of a teenage girl, with or without the physical actuality. Elements of this include writing solely for self-pleasure, intolerance of criticism of any type, ascribing any negative reactions to "jealousy" or "hate", and a belief that it is not the author's job to make the story and its message (if any) understandable, but rather the reader's job to figure it out. The people in question also reject any suggestions for improvement, including the use of a beta-reader, or even a proofreader. (for those unfamiliar with the term, in fanfic a beta-reader ranges from a friend who dares tell you "this just doesn't work" to essentially an amateur editor; I'm lucky enough to have a pro who's slumming as my regular beta) The usual reason given for this refusal to accept any criticism or editing is that the writer does not want someone else spoiling or taking over the story, or that nobody else is qualified to comment on it. They don't want to learn how to write better. They want to be told they are already great. There are entire fanfic sites whose rules explicitly prohibit anything but praise.

This is starting to sound familiar, isn't it? That syndrome is most certainly not exclusive to fanfic writers. Not even to amateur writers. But there is certainly a strong streak of it among one segment of the community of self-published authors. They're the ones whose book is what it is because it's something they want to write, not because it's something anyone else wants to read. When you see someone saying they chose not to go the traditional publishing route because a publisher might change, or demand changes in, something they wrote, that's what you're looking at. It's someone whose goal is to admire their own words on the page, not to sell as many books as possible. In short, they're someone who is trying to be a professional author (and an adult) while functioning under the mentality of a teenage fanfic writer.

I'm led to think of Harry Chapin's song "Mr. Tanner", in which a man whose friends incessantly praise his singing, and push him to turn pro, is crushed when he finds out that he is not as good as his friends have told him. I'm also reminded of a self-published book called "Circle's" which may possibly be the worst science fiction novel ever written. No, I am not exaggerating; read its Amazon reviews. No doubt the author's family and friends praised her writing and told her she should be published. Also, no doubt some unfortunate slushpile reader got through about three pages before he grabbed for the nearest bottle of strong drink (or brain bleach). As I understand it, the author believes the publishing world has rejected her book because it is too good, and its message (a mishmash of UFO conspiracy theories) is too revolutionary or dangerous. The truth, of course -- the truth she will do anything to deny to herself -- is that the book really, really, really sucks. A skilled editor might improve it to merely appallingly bad. However, it's clear that not so much as a proofreader has come between the author and the printed page. Nobody at the vanity press even pointed out that even the title is grammatically incorrect (either that, or she didn't listen). Nobody is such a good writer that their writing can't be improved by some outside input. People who believe otherwise write "Circle's" ... or "A Pickle For the Knowing Ones".

So to everyone out there who thinks they're a writer: If you think you don't need an editor, you're no better than a teenage girl writing bad fanfic. If that's what you want, more power to you ... but don't be surprised when the market, realizing they can get bad fanfic by the terabyte for free, doesn't want to buy your book.
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Old 07-17-2010, 04:38 PM   #14
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Every single one of my books has benefited from helpful editing--some more, some less. I can't imagine publishing a book without an editor. Are the suggestions and requests from my editors always right? No, of course not. I'd say that the editorial comments I've gotten fall into three classes:

1. The editor's right, and the suggested changes are good ones.

2. The editor's right that something's wrong. I don't like the suggestion for fixing it, so I find a better way.

3. Upon careful consideration, discussion, and sometimes argument, I decide the editor's wrong and I decline the suggestion. But the suggestion was still helpful, because it's forced me to think through why I made certain decisions, and now I better understand my own thinking.

I've never had a change forced on me by an editor. If I did, that would probably be the end of our working together. My editor's bottom line: "It's your book. It's your funeral." Said with good humor.
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Old 07-17-2010, 04:41 PM   #15
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And for a lot of folks, admitting they could use the help may be the biggest barrier to seeking it. I used to peek in on various writers forums, and it became clear quickly that what the majority of posters wanted wasn't actual advice. They wanted to be told how great their writing was, and reacted badly to any suggestions for improvement.
Aside from various things I'm working on for eventual publication, I am a *whispers* fanfic writer. *ducks* Classic TV fanfic, to be exact. Please don't hurt me! Anyway, I'm a bit weird in that field because I write meticulously-researched stories based on shows that just made stuff up whenever they felt like it, and write in the spirit and style of the original show (except less hokey) as opposed to the overwhelming majority of my cohorts who just use canon as a hook to hang their teenage romance story on. But that's another rant entirely. The reason I'm admitting to this at all, knowing the contempt most people feel for my hobby, is the matter of authors' attitudes.
An old friend is a full time freelance writer and editor. She has books in print, books under contract, and constant OhMyGodDeadlines! pressure. She loves the Leverage TV series, and is dying to write Leverage fanfic. But she has to take herself by the scruff of her neck and give herself a good shake when the urge strikes, because time spent writing Leverage fanfic would be time not spent on the writing that plays the bills. I told her "You need to get a contract to write a Leverage tie-in novel." and she said "From your lips to God's ears..."

Quote:
The typical fanfic writer has the mentality of a teenage girl, with or without the physical actuality. Elements of this include writing solely for self-pleasure, intolerance of criticism of any type, ascribing any negative reactions to "jealousy" or "hate", and a belief that it is not the author's job to make the story and its message (if any) understandable, but rather the reader's job to figure it out. The people in question also reject any suggestions for improvement, including the use of a beta-reader, or even a proofreader. (for those unfamiliar with the term, in fanfic a beta-reader ranges from a friend who dares tell you "this just doesn't work" to essentially an amateur editor; I'm lucky enough to have a pro who's slumming as my regular beta) The usual reason given for this refusal to accept any criticism or editing is that the writer does not want someone else spoiling or taking over the story, or that nobody else is qualified to comment on it. They don't want to learn how to write better. They want to be told they are already great. There are entire fanfic sites whose rules explicitly prohibit anything but praise.
From what I've seen, the attitude is common, widely distributed, and not unique to fanfic.

I read a great comment by a writer pro a while back who recounted scribbling on a napkin in a bar. The young cocktail waitress asked "Do you write on napkins because it doesn't matter?", and he realized with shock that that was exactly why he did it. It was just scribblings on a napkin. It didn't matter. He thought some of his best stuff had been written on napkins.

Writing is intensely personal. You're putting your soul on the page. What happens when you expose it to others? Dealing with rejection is a problem, as it's all too easy to see rejection of your writing as a rejection of you. Some folks simply can't deal with it.

Unfortunately, it's part of the process of getting published and getting paid for it. On the occasions when I tried to comment in writer's forums, I tried to make clear "I am assuming you want to submit your work to someone who will pay you for it. My comments are aimed at aiding that process." I rapidly concluded that most of them weren't interested in submitting and getting paid: they just wanted to post on line and bask in the adulation of other similarly minded souls. Okay, if that's what you want, enjoy. But don't fool yourself into thinking it's meaningful...

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This is starting to sound familiar, isn't it? That syndrome is most certainly not exclusive to fanfic writers. Not even to amateur writers. But there is certainly a strong streak of it among one segment of the community of self-published authors. They're the ones whose book is what it is because it's something they want to write, not because it's something anyone else wants to read. When you see someone saying they chose not to go the traditional publishing route because a publisher might change, or demand changes in, something they wrote, that's what you're looking at. It's someone whose goal is to admire their own words on the page, not to sell as many books as possible. In short, they're someone who is trying to be a professional author (and an adult) while functioning under the mentality of a teenage fanfic writer.
There's a chap on another forum like that at the moment. He's self-published a three volume SF trilogy, and was looking for comments. Unfortunately, the books are based on a nonsense premise, so he's cut himself off at the knees. The problem could have been avoided had he gotten advice early on. The issues he's exploring could make for an interesting story: what if, along with a transplanted organ, you get memories of the person the organ came from? But he's assuming that the memories come with the DNA, and did research that did everything except inform him that it doesn't work that way. Part of the unwritten rules of SF is that you can postulate whatever you like that we don't know, but must get what we do know right. He could have used a different mechanism and avoided the problem, but he was married to his original assumption in a rite that doesn't permit divorce.

It's the sort of thing I'd expect an experienced SF editor to flag and suggest revision of when the manuscript came across the transom. (For that matter, I'd expect a good writing group to jump all over it.) But it requires getting others involved early on. If you wait till the books are complete and out there, it's too late. As far as I can see, he's trying to promote the books and bask in adulation. He's not interested in serious comment.

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I'm also reminded of a self-published book called "Circle's" which may possibly be the worst science fiction novel ever written. No, I am not exaggerating; read its Amazon reviews. No doubt the author's family and friends praised her writing and told her she should be published. Also, no doubt some unfortunate slushpile reader got through about three pages before he grabbed for the nearest bottle of strong drink (or brain bleach).
Strong drink. Probably single-malt.

I used to live across the street from the late George Scithers, first editor of Isaac Asimov's SF magazine, and sat in on a couple of editorial conferences. There was an awful lot of "Oooogh!" and "A rejection slip would be kinder than a letter on this one..." stuff in the slush pile. The late John W. Campbell, long time editor of Astounding (later Analog) SF, once commented that he'd read more bad SF than any man alive. He paid the highest rates, so everyone submitted to him first as a matter of course.

People in publishing have a reputation as drinkers, and I suspect reading slush is one of the stimulants of the drinking reflex.

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As I understand it, the author believes the publishing world has rejected her book because it is too good, and its message (a mishmash of UFO conspiracy theories) is too revolutionary or dangerous. The truth, of course -- the truth she will do anything to deny to herself -- is that the book really, really, really sucks. A skilled editor might improve it to merely appallingly bad. However, it's clear that not so much as a proofreader has come between the author and the printed page. Nobody at the vanity press even pointed out that even the title is grammatically incorrect (either that, or she didn't listen). Nobody is such a good writer that their writing can't be improved by some outside input. People who believe otherwise write "Circle's" ... or "A Pickle For the Knowing Ones".
Even the best. But good writers know that.

At a west coast SF con a while back, there was a panel on how you knew you'd arrived and written a salable work. Other writers on the panel made various comments on how they knew, then the late Harry Stubbs (Hal Clement) said "I still don't know! I get rejected all the time!" The others writers hemmed and hawed and started back tracking a bit, admitting the occasional rejection slip still crossed their transom. If Hal Clement, SFWA Grandmaster, could admit he still got rejected... (I knew Harry. There wasn't a pretentious bone in his body. He still got rejected all the time, and had no qualms about saying so.)

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So to everyone out there who thinks they're a writer: If you think you don't need an editor, you're no better than a teenage girl writing bad fanfic. If that's what you want, more power to you ... but don't be surprised when the market, realizing they can get bad fanfic by the terabyte for free, doesn't want to buy your book.
It's a quandary. There are lots of folks with a vested interest pushing self-publishing as the solution for writers trying to get a book out there. And there are probably instances where self-publishing is the way to go, such as books that appeal to a niche market too small for a regular publisher to address. But for most folks, sorry, but submit and get rejected by someone who might pay you until you break through is still the way to go. Going self-published to avoid the possibility of rejection is an automatic fail.
______
Dennis
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