Monday, June 27, 2011

To edit or not to edit?

I've reached a crucial point in the efforts of Book 1...or Part 1, whichever ends up happening.  It's the point where I have to decide whether or not to shell out hundreds or even thousands of bucks for professional editing services, and if I do, to whom.  And...I don't know what I'm going to do. 

The first, and probably roughest, hurdle to cross over is the fact that the words "editing" and "editor" mean very different things to different people.  By and large, the terms "line editing" and "proofreading" seem to have pretty well standardized in meaning throughout the industry.  Line editing is the process of going through line by line (hence the name) and identifying all the spelling errors and (my personal bane) comma errors.  Frankly, I don't know how they can do that one...I can look at a comma for dozens of minutes, taking it out and reading the sentence, then putting it back in and reading the sentence.  Often the two readings have somewhat different results, but I have a hard time going from that to any judgment of "right" or "wrong."  Ah, editor I ain't. 

Proofreading, meanwhile,, well, it's also going through the manuscript line by line.  The difference between this and line editing was explained on one editor's page as a matter of sequence.  Specifically, line editing happens before submission to a publisher, and proofreading happens after a publisher typesets the work.  That said, an editor I spoke with last night said very clearly that she had a two-step process in which she line edits the work and then has a proofreader look it over, so...well, I don't really get it.  But then again, I'm not sure I need to in this case.  Proofreading, line editing, both mechanical in nature, gotcha.

Over and above all that mechanical stuff, though, there's another level of editing.  This one gets really muddled really quickly, because different editors a) call it different things, b) differentiate levels of service differently, c) maintain different scopes of service, and d) bring different intrinsic levels of value to the table on the service.  I'm talking about what some call manuscript analysis, some call structural editing, and some call market evaluation.  At its core, it's that "Oh, this book will do well," or, "Hey, this book is crap," assessment that everybody needs to hear.  The differentiation in scope and levels of service happen mostly in the editors' answers to the inevitable next question: "What do I do about it?"

Looked at from a different perspective, I like some books and don't like others.  That much is pretty clear from my previous somewhat-opinionated blog posts, right?  Never once, though, have I counted misspellings or comma errors, despite my surety that they existed, in my analysis.  Yes, I know agents and publishers count those things, if for no other reason than to identify the level of professionalism in the author.  But I don't, and I'm the one who bought the book.  Instead, I consider the flow of the story, the characterization, and the dialog...all the stuff that a manuscript analysis by whatever name the editor of choice uses should highlight.

Sounds great, doesn't it?  All I have to do is send the manuscript in to an editor, who will send it back in X weeks with Y red marks (or, better, Word's Tracked Changes), and once I fix those I'll be publishable.  Right?

Hold on there.  Keep in mind what I've pointed out before that much of what makes a book great, or a character likeable or readable, is intrinsic to the reader.  While the perfect editor will give me the opinion of the "audience of choice," which in my case is the massive public out there, pobody's nerfect.  Just a couple of months ago a friend and fellow author had to fire her editor.  It wasn't the mechanical stuff, but rather issues with voice, that got between them.  My friend, by the way, is a bit more advanced of an author than I am.  If you will look back through my earlier blog posts you'll realize that just a few months ago I didn't really know what an author's voice was, and I'm still not sure I can define mine.  How, then, do I protect something from the editor's red pen when I can't really grasp on to it in the first place?

There's one other itsy bitsy concern that I almost hate to trouble anyone with, by the way: money.  Editing is f'in' expensive, to put it plainly.  I'm not saying they don't earn their money, now.  I know, from my document editing efforts at work, how taxing it can be to bend yourself over a manuscript and really examine not just every word for spelling and spacing but also every phrase and every sentence for proper, use, of a. comma, or whatever! punctuation is used.  No, I think they're earning every penny they make.  Which is part of the reason I'm approaching the matter cautiously...they are all priced different.  There's one friend I've made on Facebook who does freelance editing, and was advertised as "really cheap."  Cool, I like really long as I'm getting something good.  The other friend who was talking about her was saying somewhere around $300 to $400 for my manuscript, which is about 1/10 what a more seasoned editor would charge for 74K words.  That's really cheap.  But when I got the actual quote, I found out that the other friend was working with her on a short story, while mine's a novel...apples and, well, IBMs.  My quote came in at nearly $600.  Now I know that's not a whole lot more than, say, $300, when compared to, say, $3000, but it was bigger enough to make me say "Yeow."  My second book is longer, and if it's a proportional thing, that's over $600 for of $1200.  Cheaper, indeed, than $5K or $6K for other editors for both parts, but expensive enough now that it's no longer in my mental "cheap" range.  Do you know what I mean?  "Cheap" is relative not just to other pricing of similar products, but also the size of my checking account.  If I were examining a Bentley that sold for $500,000, for example, and you showed me a Mercedes that only cost $50,000, I wouldn't say, "Oh, wow, that's cheap.  I'll take two!"

In any event, editing services are expensive enough that I invariably come circling back to the question of whether I really need them in the first place.  I really am a pretty solid writer, mechanically speaking.  I'm not perfect, certainly, but I think I'm good enough after a revision or two that a prospective agent or publisher isn't going to be turned off by errors.  What I need help on, really, is the manuscript analysis, a task that some of my friends have already indicated a willingness to do for free (or, at least, for the cost of a mention in the Acknowledgements and a free copy of the book).  But then you get back to the question of what they bring to the friends are really dang smart, but have any of them ever actually published a book?  Have any of them participated in the publication of a best seller?  No, and no.  But is that experience worth one to a few thousand dollars to me?  Eeeee, I dunno.  I'm gonna have to think on that one a little more.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, you should think on it. It's a big step, and I understand the prices are definitely something to think about.