Indie editors

I came across Rachelle Gardner’s blog post by way of that shoe-hoarding Brit author, Nicola Morgan, who prides herself on being more clever and quicker on the dime than her Yank counterpart. But one thing we agree on is how to utilize an independent editor.

Learning tool

If you’re going to pay someone to help you finesse your manuscript, then you should look at it as a private classroom, where you have the undivided attention of your teacher. This is your chance to pick her brains and learn the subtle nuances that make a good story great, good writing great. If you hire someone to simply rewrite your manuscript so that it’s publishable, then you become a huge liability to your agent and, eventually, your publishing editor.

Rachelle said something that really hit home with me:

“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.”

Hoo, it’s that and a bag ‘o chips. There have been a few times when I knew the author had used an independent editor, and this was cause for concern because I had no way of gauging who’s talents were shining through – the author’s or the editor’s.

Big deal, you say. Well, it can really hit home during the editing phase. I remember years ago working on a manuscript that I loved. We needed to do some noodling around to give the arc more impact, and this involved rewrites. The stuff that came back to me was pedestrian. WTH, thinks me. This is a bloated mess. I sent it back with specific crits. They came back again, equally horrendous. Now I’m starting to break a sweat.

It was about that time I found out she’d used an indie editor. Well, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who’d done the writing. Not happy, was I. the beagle was ordered to make copious pitchers of margaritas and order out for Twinkies. We went through with the release of the book because we’d come too far to dump it. She sent us another book – without any editorial input, and this was where I saw the author’s true lack of talent. Instant rejection. She fired back suggesting I have a brain scan. We, ah, have since parted company.

So I get very nervous these days when I find out an author used an indie editor because, as Rachelle says, I have no way of judging the author’s talents, and I’m concerned they won’t be able to execute rewrites. There have been times I contacted the editor to find out how they helped finesse the work. One editor told me she’d practically rewritten the entire manuscript. I passed on the project only because it’s achingly hard to work with an author who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

On the other hand, I appreciate authors who look at the indie editor experience as a teaching tool and go on to become a much better writer. But I admit that I worry about too many cooks in the kitchen. So for those of you working with an indie editor, keep in mind that I bought your work, and I assume this came from your hand, not your editor’s. You better be able to do any rewrites I may request with panache and eloquence. Otherwise the beagle is gonna growl and get all cranky like, and I’ll be forced to mainline chocolate martinis.

9 Responses to Indie editors

  1. CreativeA says:

    Thanks for talking about this. I’ve never used an indie editor, but heard quite a few people talk about them, and I always wondered what the significance was to those in publishing. Great job of pointing out pros and cons!


  2. Cassandra says:

    I can’t imagine an editor rewriting an entire novel! What a shame then that the editor’s (ghost writers?) work has garnered interest but that book will never see publication…

    I give detailed letters to my clients suggesting places they can tighten the writing or rework it for better flow, but it’s up to them to do the revisions. I see editorial work as an opportunity to learn as well, that one-on-one teaching experience as you put it. Even when I do copyediting, I’m finding errors and goofs, not rewriting large portions of text.

    As an agent intern, I’m seeing more and more queriers with the line, “This book has been professionally edited” and while that’s all fine and dandy, these recent blog posts have me wondering if they’ve had an editor like the ones you’ve described who do or one like myself who guides…

  3. Cat says:

    I found Rachelle Gardner via our shoe hoarding friend too. It made purrfect sense to me that one should, as far as possible, clean one’s own fur. Purrhaps the thing to aim for is a brisk editorial brushing to finish with?

  4. Great post, Lynn. To me, a good indie editor will flag up places that he or she thinks need fixing, ask the writer to think long and hard and then expect them to come up with the goods. That way, the revised work is always the writer’s own and no-one else’s.

  5. Gary Smailes says:

    I am the co-founder of BubbleCow, a literary consultancy that offer an independent editing service.
    I must say that in the years I have spent editing, I have NEVER rewritten a client’s work. Don’t get me wrong, I have offered very strong suggestions in the way a certain section should be reworded. I have even suggested a writer changes certain words or sentences, but re-written – never.
    The aim of a good edit is to improve both the writing and the writer. For many writers, it is the first time they have had any kind of professional feedback. A good independent editor can be like a breath of fresh air blowing away all the poor habits. Surely this is good news for publishers?
    A good Independent editor offers a very specific service, and this is advice on the reshaping of the writing. At BubbleCow we try hard to offer an experience that is close as possible to what a writer would receive from a ‘non-independent’ editor. It is true that for many writers this is a learning experience, and a good edit will prompt a writer to write differently..
    Yet is there not a deeper issue at play here?
    The past few years have seen writers taking more control of their careers. It is now common place to see unpublished writers with a huge online following. Options beyond the traditional publishing model are starting to become more viable, especially when social media and self-publishing are combined (though I know Lynn disagrees). I have heard many writers worried at the relativity small royalties they are receiving from the smaller publishers who are unable to guarantee sales beyond the hundreds.
    So I suggest that the use of independent editors is part of a growing trend, which sees writers demanding more from a secretive publishing profession? (I find it ironic to post these words on Lynn’s blog. Her posts are part of the solution not the problem!)

  6. I’ve hired a freelance copy editor to catch grammatical error my beta reader missed. This person also gave her own opinion of some weak points in the novel and I was able to assess whether or not to fix them myself. I believe I learned a lot in that experience that make me a better writer.

    Just like all readers, editors have different opinions. I think before hiring a freelance editor a book has to be as close to perfect as the author thinks it can be.

  7. Thank you all for the wonderful comments. Welcome, Gary! You mentioned a couple things I wanted to comment on:

    Options beyond the traditional publishing model are starting to become more viable, especially when social media and self-publishing are combined (though I know Lynn disagrees).

    Actually, I don’t disagree at all. I think the sky is the limit when it comes to publishing options, and I respect anyone who decides to publish their own book. The only thing I believe authors must have is a very good understanding about how the business works. Otherwise they’re spending oodles of money and time and will see very little return.

    I have heard many writers worried at the relativity small royalties they are receiving from the smaller publishers who are unable to guarantee sales beyond the hundreds.
    To be fair, there are no guarantees in publishing, most of all sales. I have editor friends who work with large houses whose books failed to sell well, and everyone sat around scratching their heads wondering how that happened.

    The trick to working with a smaller publisher is to know who their distributor is and whether you’ve seen any of their books in a store. Talk to their authors. Look at their lineup. Do they have some big fish? Are those fish repped by good agents?

    So I suggest that the use of independent editors is part of a growing trend, which sees writers demanding more from a secretive publishing profession?

    And I say bravo to this. There shouldn’t be any secrets in publishing. That’s why I blog – to give authors an insider’s view of what we’re thinking and how we work. I welcome authors who have used indie editors because their work is very clean and professional. My only worry comes at the editing phase where I need rewrites and hope the author is up to the challenge.

    Authors should take control of their writing futures, but it can be a fine line as to how far they can push because it’s the publisher who’s taking all the financial risk.

    Cat, you always crack me up into a puuuurfect fit of giggles.

  8. catwoods says:

    *throws box of Twinkies to beagle for helping Lynn through the tough times*

  9. Jason Black says:

    As an indie editor myself (although I prefer “book doctor”) I’m going to echo everything you just said. Great post. Very well articulated.

    I gave a talk at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association members meeting last month about what book doctors do, and my lead-in line is absolutely in agreement with this post:

    A book doctor is like a personal writing coach who can help you take your writing to the next level.

    It’s not a shortcut to publication. Definitely not.

    I like to look at it this way: I’ve heard plenty of agents and other industry types say that generally, someone needs to get through 5 manuscripts, a million words of crap, or whatever their own favorite statistic is, before they start producing work that could be publishable. My job, as a book doctor, is to help you get there after only three manuscripts, say, or only six hundred thousand words, or what have you.

    I constantly fight a battle of public perception against indie editors who offer up line editing services as a magic bullet towards landing an agent or a book deal. There are, unfortunately, editors out there who will happily take your money and line edit your book. If you’re not savvy enough about writing yet to know better, they’ll replace your voice with theirs, and as this article says, basically re-write the book.

    That’s no good, and helps no one. If that’s what an indie editor is offering to do for you, you’re getting robbed. Literally: the person is taking your money, yes, but they’re also robbing you of time that you’ll never get back. You might spend years querying a manuscript that you had “professionally edited,” wondering why you’re still getting rejected. Well, probably because the person cleaned up the surface writing, but didn’t fix the deeper story issues.

    The real value in hiring an independent editor, as Ms. Price suggests, is in taking what amounts to an intensive writing seminar where the curriculum is based on your own work. It’s not theory. It’s not “write a scene at a bus stop with two elements of conflict” writing exercises. It’s concrete, hands on, here is where the story and the writing don’t hold up, and here are some suggestions for fixing it.

    But it’s still up to you to fix it. It’s your story, not mine.

    Anyway, this is getting long so I’ll stop. But thank you for this blog post and for re-enforcing the difference between independent editing that helps you versus that which only robs you blind.

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