Here’s the thing about independent editors…

…it may not always work out the way you’d hoped. What do I mean? Let’s say you have a great story partially written, and your agent or your writer’s group suggest that hiring an indie editor would really kick it up a notch. So you spend some serious bucks and, voila! everyone is thrilled with the partial. Your agent sells your book, and you’re in Tra La Land.

So you go back to your indie editor and work with them on completing the rest of your manuscript, the agent and indie editor, and you are thrilled with the outcome. And then the editor comes back with your developmental edits, and leaves you muttering, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?? I thought my book was perfect.”

Here’s the thing about indie editors; their job is to spiff up the story you give them. Their concern isn’t making sure you have a marketable story with a large audience, your platform, your promotion plan, and selling lots of books. They can only work within the parameters for which they’ve been hired. The result can put you at odds with the editor who bought your book and who most assuredly has her eye  on the business end of publishing AND the artistic part.

This is the main reason I dislike buying partially written manuscripts. I do, of course, but I know the sample chapters in the book proposal have been massaged so that they sing. I’m never quite sure what the finished product will be, and I always cross my fingers and hope for the best.

This is also why I don’t get all gooey in the knees when someone mentions in their query letter that they worked with an indie editor. With that usually comes the belief that their work is a cut above and needs no editing – and that isn’t always the case. The manuscript may be very well executed and has a lovely voice, and excellent pacing, but it’s off the tracks from what the publisher’s editor wants, hence requested rewrites.

For example, an editor friend of mine bought a book she thought was going to focus on a horse trainer’s experience with working autistic kids and how working with the horses brought about big changes in the kids. Cool book, right? The partial she read was great, so she bought the book. What my friend ended up getting was the trainer’s biography – which isn’t what the agent had pitched to her. So the author was taken aback when my friend delivered her developmental edits that included massive rewrites…even though the author had worked with an indie editor.

“But my indie editor and agent loved the book as is,” replied the author.

My friend tried to make things clearer. “True, it’s a well-written story with great development and pacing, but that isn’t what was pitched to me.”

Of course, the indie editor had no way of knowing how the book was going to be pitched – all she knew was that she needed to help refine the book sitting in front of her. As for the agent, it’s something a lot of editors see – the agent is excited about selling the book. It’s not their job to think like an editor because they can’t. We’re all different. And the most important part is that the agent hasn’t seen the final product either because they sold the book based on a partial. What she thought she was selling and what my friend thought she was buying were different from the final product. Hello, rewrites.

So you can see how it’s easy for the left hand to not know what the right hand is doing. No one is at fault. The point of this post is not to place your entire end-all be-all on your indie editor. Just because you paid for her services doesn’t mean it’s bullet-proof. And yes, it may mean that your publisher’s editor may ask you to do rewrites in order to fit her vision of what she knows she can sell because she bought it based on a solid pitch. For instance, had the agent pitched my friend the horse trainer’s biography, my friend would have passed on the project.

Take a deep breath and understand that nothing is in cement until the book is actually printed up and out the door. Until then, all bets are off, and you may have to go back to the inkwell. It’s all a part of this madness we call publishing.

6 Responses to Here’s the thing about independent editors…

  1. Laura says:

    Bravo! Great reality check. Thanks, Miss Lynn! LT

  2. stephanieberget says:

    Very interesting and insightful. Thank you for the information.

  3. Robert Binghardi says:

    As an ediitorial specialist, revisionist, and memoirist, I need to take some exception with the aforementioned essay. Whilst you are correct in the statement that while the editorialized version of the manuscript is altered from the originalized and discussed format, the new product may in and of itself represent a masterpiece that neither the agent, editor, publicist never expected. Therefore, surprises such as these should be greeted with affability not disdain.

  4. Robert, of course it’s possible working with an indie editor could elevate the work beyond everyone’s hopes and dreams, and had that been a part of this discussion, I would have mentioned this possibility. My purpose with this post was to help writers understand the thought processes when things go less than expected.

  5. Lynn,
    I just clicked on query and it only mentions nonfiction queries. Do you not work with fiction at all?
    P.S. Thanks for this article. I had all but hired an indie editor. So, does this mean that we should revise, re-write AND edit, edit, edit ourselves?

  6. Yes, we are a nonfiction publisher – if you look at our website, the About Us page states the kinds of books we publish.

    As for hiring an indie editor, that’s a decision only you can make. I think writers should know how to self-edit. But if you feel you need further developmental work, then they can be a wonderful tool that can bring about a great result.

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