To Pay or Not to Pay

Book doctors seem to be the hot topic these days. Author Helen Hemphill blogged about it last week on Through the Tollbooth, Moonrat wrote about it a couple weeks ago on Editorial Ass and agent Rachelle Gardner referenced them in this post and in the comments.

But for every experienced freelance editor, plenty more are there to take a writer’s money and give them little in return. It seems like the kind of thing you’d read about in Editors and Predators, yet it seems like a lot of authors are going this route in the endless quest for publication. We pay for books, classes and conferences to help us with our craft. Is hiring a book doctor the next logical step?

If so, how do you find a good editor? Should you pay for a freelance editor before you send your work out? No one is going to promise publication after a good editing. Can a critique group offer the same benefits for a lot less money? Have any of you ever paid for a freelance editor and how did that work out for you?

So many questions! I’m eager to hear your answers!

16 thoughts on “To Pay or Not to Pay

  1. Okay, I write PBs, not novels, but here is my guess. A book doctor or freelance editor can probably be very helpful to a small percentage of people. If your manuscript is already very polished, then they can't add much value. If your work is a total mess, then a few comments aren't going to help much. But if you happen to be in that certain gray zone where you are like 80% there, then I suppose it could be just the thing to get you where you need to be.

  2. The general thought seems to be that if you can't do the editing work yourself you aren't as viable as an author. I attended Killer Nashville last year and sat in on a couple of amazing sessions by Chris Roerden, a professional editor. She also wrote a book called Don't Sabotage Your Submission. I think it would be more beneficial for a writer to purchase a book like that so they would have the experience actually doing the work.

  3. I think professional editors are a great thing as long as the author feels comfortable with the person they're working with. So recommendations are key! Editors have a special gift when it comes to reading and critiquing.

  4. I would think it's different for everybody, but I've had friends who have used editors with good outcomes. I think if I get to the point where my writing just isn't getting where it needs to be, I'll consider it. It's so tough to know because everything is so subjective.

  5. I don't know…I guess I've always thought of it as cheating, but that's pretty silly, isn't it?

    My personal opinion is that a big part of your job as an author is understanding how to revise. I feel like the authors who are in that grey area that would benefit from editorial expertise are probably getting some personalized feedback from agents to help them achieve the same results.

    Just one gal's opinion.

  6. I have paid a published poet that I took a class from (that was amazing) to go over a book in rhyme for me. She did have great suggestions. She also critiqued a poem for me at a local SCBWI meeting. The cost was reasonable otherwise I would not have done it. I think I would only do that if I really trusted that person and knew a lot about her/his editing skills and own published work.

  7. Corey – I agree that if your work is a mess, you need more than a book doctor. I just wonder if a book doctor pays off…

    Myra – I get that same sense that you need to be able to edit yourself.

    PJ – I would have no qualms working with an editor from a publishing house. So if they hired the freelance editor for me to work with, is that any different than me hiring the editor ahead of time? (Well, obviously there's the cost differential!)

    Glam – Everything in this business is subjective. Grrr!!

    LiLa – Now that you mention it, it does seem like cheating! But I know someone considering using a book doctor before sending her manuscript to an agent…hmmm…

  8. I really don't have much to say on this, especially because I write PBs mostly, but the comments are interesting. As Michelle said, I would think it might be different for everyone, depending on their writing, the topic, and the money they're willing to spend.

  9. I would think they could be helpful. If I did it, I'd approach it as if I were paying for a class or a conference. There are no guarantee's, but I'm sure I could learn something from the experience.

    I think being involved in the writing community via conferences, groups and organizations will lend itself to finding a reputable person. You can also look up the history of the person and references to make sure it's a good investment.

    good question

  10. Oh, I have such mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, yes, I believe a good editor is worth the money. On the other hand, many of us writers have…no money. 🙂 And you know I'm a big advocate of multiple revisions and critiques of a manuscript, and multiple editing passes–which are the best thing a writer can get–really, really add up. The editor finds themselves in the position of trying to cram as much feedback–suggestions, examples, explanation–as possible into one read. The writer finds themselves totally overwhelmed with the amount of stuff coming at them from that one read.

    I do believe a good editor is essentially a strong critiquer, preferably one with great grammar and style skill and–the frosting–a real understanding of the market and the biz.

    And you know how I feel about critique groups. My gut is that, for most writers, critiquers (who you “pay” by giving them as good as you want to get) are the best way to start. Take your work as far as you can with your critique group and work with that group to grow their (and your) critiquing skills. If there is no way to make a group work for you, look for another one, one that DOES fit.

    If you get close–if you are getting requests for partials and fulls and compliments from agents and publishers, but no takers, then maybe–if you can afford it–this is the time to look for an editor, especially–as I said–someone who knows the industry and the market. We, as authors, can educate ourselves as much as possible, and still not “get” what's going to hit/get our stuff picked up. This doesn't mean you're looking for someone to add a gimmick to your story or change your hero from a teenage girl to a romantic gargoyle–just cause gargoyles may be the next big thing. 🙂 It means working with someone who really gets the things that Donald Maass and those guys are talking about, who can work with you to bring those extra elements into a well-written, tight manuscript.

    Okay. This has become a post, not a comment. But…you opened the door! Great post and comments from everyone else!

  11. Rena – I think the cost of an editor can be a BIG stumbling block

    Christy – You're right that going through conferences and such is a good way to find a reputable person to work with

    Becky – I think you're right on about when it might be appropriate to enlist help from a freelance editor. Unless of course you are lucky enough to have friends who are master critiquers 🙂

  12. Good questions. I've never paid for an editor, but I do have a phenomenal crit group. Combined with them and my own mad skillz (Just kidding, but really not. I mean, we can all improve ourselves through reading and study), I think I can get the editing done without one. Maybe?

  13. I would much rather ask a trusted (writer) friend to help me polish something than to hire an editor. It's better to have someone who knows you as a person as well as a writer.

    I think a workshop would be a better way to go if you are considering paying for someone's advice.

  14. Having been asked, often, to be a book doctor of sorts, I think Corey Schwartz has a lot of right to say here. There are certain projects where the right editor and manuscript together yield the publishable, the very good.

    There are many where it just doesn't happen.indince

  15. Elana – You're the kind of person people turn to for a critique so I don't think you'll need to pay for an editor!

    Rebecca – No matter who you use, I think trust is one of the the most important elements to consider.

    Beth – I think you would make a fabulous book doctor, especially since you have the experience as a writer and a teacher.

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