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About Writing Right: The Blog

BOOK EDITOR COSTS

People often ask me how much a professional book editor costs. The answer is simple: I don't know. Or, more precisely, I can't say. Numerous variables go into book editing, and no two editors are alike or think, work, or charge the same. So, after thinking this one through for a while, here's what I've come up with.

 

Unfortunately, there's no pat answer to what hiring a professional book editor will cost. What an editor charges to edit a book-length manuscript depends upon several factors, including what type of editing you want done. Is it simple copy editing or more complicated line editing? Is it complete structural editing or is it complex substantive editing?

 

Knowing that most inexperienced authors aren't sure what types of editing they require—and knowing from experience that virtually all of their works could benefit from a combination of all four edits plus proofreading at the end of the process—I'll presume the question is how much does a comprehensive edit cost. Knowing from experience that one newbie author's work is very similar in its literary shortcomings to another, I'll focus my answer on an editor who can do it all. Here, then, is the bottom line of what you can expect to pay, based upon an editor's qualifications: Read More 

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HOW OFTEN I EDIT

I heard from a new author at a writer's forum the other day. He wanted to know how often I edit my writing. This one was like shooting ducks in a barrel, although I'm sure it wasn't the answer he had anticipated:

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Good question. Weird answer. Are you ready for it? Sitting down? Seat belts fastened? Wait for it … wait for it …

 

I edit my work continuously. By that I mean I write a certain amount—maybe a few thousand words or maybe a few hundred. Then, I go back to check out what I've written and make whatever obvious corrections/improvements are necessary. I continue that way until I'm finished creating for that writing session, at which point I go back to the beginning of that day's work and read through it, start to finish, editing again as I go.

 

When I've finished that, I take a break. This is a very important step in writing as well as editing. The human brain can assimilate only so much at a time. By taking a break from the work, I'm actually resetting my brain's attention span back to 100 percent availability.

 

How long of a break do I suggest? That varies. New writers or inexperienced scribes should probably take anywhere from a day or two to a week before returning to the scene of their crimes. Experienced writers can do so a lot sooner. I have trained myself so that, once I walk away from something I've written, I can be refreshed and ready to go again in as little time as it takes to get up and grab a cup of coffee. Seriously. Read More 

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FINDING YOUR LITERARY VOICE

If someone came up to you and asked why literary voice seems more important for narrators in fiction than in nonfiction, how would you respond? Could you respond? I can, and I recently did. Here's what I said.

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You know, I had to think about how to answer this one for a couple of days. Why? First, because your use of the word "seems" implies that this is your personal observation and not empirical fact, which of course is true. Second, if voice does actually seem more important for narrators in novels than in other literary forms—not only to you but to everyone—that tells me there are a lot of poor writers in this world. And I know that to be true from my own observations.

 

Sadly.

 

I say this because good writers—great writers—don't turn their literary voices off and on at will. Great writers have only one literary voice, and it's strong, consistent, and commanding. It draws the reader in and ensnares him. It mesmerizes and delights. It fascinates and enlightens. So, why shouldn't a writer use that same strong voice in all forms of writing, from memoir to history, romance to literary, biography to self-help? In fact, in whatever he writes?
 

Answers? Anybody? Anybody?  Read More 

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IS AMAZON A PUBLSHER?

Someone wrote in to ask the other day what at first seemed a simple question. It was more complex in the end, though. Here's what I said to "Is choosing a publisher such as Amazon Prime Publishing worth it for an author or not?" Here's my response:

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First, Amazon Prime Publishing is not a publishing house in the traditional sense of the phrase. It neither publishes nor promotes books the way a conventional house does. Nor does it place your book with an independent or chain bookstore. Instead, you (the author) are the publisher pulling the strings normally reserved to a conventional publisher. Amazon (and all self-publishing aggregators such as Lulu, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and Draft 2 Digital) merely set up a system whereby you do all the pre-press work yourself, and then they act as printers to produce either a hard copy or a digital version of your book. That's something all printers and even many copy centers can do—at least theoretically.

 

Where publishing aggregators differ from conventional printers is in having a limited means of book distribution. Amazon peddles the books it produces for you right on their site. Ditto B&N and Lulu. Others join forces with various outlets to offer your book for sale to visitors to those outlets, such as Apple through its Apple store. Read More 

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AGENT BENEFITS

A "new writer" asked online if it's better to hire a literary agent or work directly with publishers. Not an unreasonable question. This is what I said.

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Hmm. Methinks you don't understand the workings of the publishing industry, and you certainly don't understand the mechanics of literary agents. Here's the real low-down.

 

For starters, far more authors, writers, and wannabes exist than literary agents--possibly fiftty times more or greater. In real estate jargon, that puts literary agents in a seller's market. They hold all the keys and the power, and they know it. You can't walk into an agent's office (or email inbox) and announce that you'd like to hire him or her. Uh-uh. Just don't happen. Read More 

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DO YOU NEED OUTSIDE EDITING?

Someone asked a question that's often asked and rarelu answered correctly.It was "Should an author hire an outside editor before sending a novel off to a publisher or agent?" This was my response.

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Okay, here's the deal. Maybe yes and maybe no, but probably.

 

Sound like a cop out? Here's what I mean. If you're a professionally trained editor as well as an author, and you're extremely good at doing both (as in the best there is), you don't need to hire an outside editor who, in his or her attempt to earn back the thousands of dollars he's charging, would likely make things worse and not better. I've seen that happen personally, not with outside editors but with in-house editors provided by a publisher as standard pre-publication procedure. In my more than 250 books and tens of thousands of short pieces conventionally published over the last five decades, I never used an outside editor.

 

Heresy, you say? Hardly. I'm not only a professionally trained book, magazine, and newspaper editor but also a perfectionist. I taught both writing and editing at the college level numerous times. I help other professional editors out of a jam when they're stumped on how to fix something. I'd be crazy to hire someone to review my own book simply because I can. Read More 

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FIRST AMERICAN CRIME NOVEL

Sitting around the ol' campfire the other night as the temperature hovered just north of zero, the inevitable question arose: Who wrote the first American crime novel? Having spent much of my life in hot pursuit of a response to just that very inquiry, I promptly perked up my ears and spilled out my brains.

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Now, this response isn't 100 percent guaranteed accurate, but all smoking guns seem to point to an author named Charles Brockden Brown for having written the first true American crime novel. Many literary historians consider his 1798 tome, Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker, to be the primary, if not the most exemplary, suspect. According to the Website CrimeReads:

 

"The story is written in a quasi-epistolary form, mostly in letters from its titular hero to the sister of his murdered friend, Waldegrave."

 

The tale concerns a murderer, a murdered man, the murdered man's sister, and a friend of the deceased (our hero) determined to find and bring to justice the blaggard who did the dirty deed for the sister's peace of mind. The plot also involves a great deal of sleepwalking, both on behalf of the murderer and the sleuth on his tail. Sounds promising, doesn't it?

Hold on, though. Before you run out and search for a copy for your next winter's night read, here's an example from the book's very first chapter of what you can expect: Read More 

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LITERARY AGENTS

A writer new to the world of book publishing asked me the other day if an agent does anything beyond finding a publisher for an author-client's book. Even I was surprisecd when I stopped to think about my answser. Here's what I said.

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You mean as if that weren't enough? Actually, a literary agent does quite a bit beyond matching her clients with appropriate publishers. An agent will advise her clients against accepting offers from publishers who are "suspect." That means publishers with a bad reputation or who have created bad experiences for at least some of the authors they sign on. You don't need those types of publishers in your corner. Believe me!

 

Also, an agent will negotiate with reputable, conventional publishers for various contractual rights and percentages. If a publisher initially offers a standard contract at a 12% royalty rate with a $3,000 advance and 25% of all subsidiary rights, a savvy agent may come back and get that boosted to 15% royalties with a $5,000 advance (or more) and 50% of all subsidiary rights. We're talking here about seasoned, ethical, professional agents, not those who shoot from the hip just to make a quick buck. A reputable agent has done her homework, seen what the publisher has offered to other writers, and knows the bargaining power she has. She also knows when and how to use it.

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TYPE OF WORK AGENTS HANDLE

Someone asked the other day what kinds of works literary agents handle--including poetry, screenplays, etc. The answer was obvious. To me. Here's what I told him.

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For openers, keep this in mind: Not all literary agents are alike. That's the first piece of news I'd like to leave you with. The second is that, of the six agents I've had in my life (three great and three barely human), all of them handled both fiction (novels) and nonfiction. In short, literary agents are sales people who specialize in selling book-length manuscripts to conventional, advance-paying publishing houses. Does that mean any and all book-length manuscripts? Well, not quite.

 

The exception is academic, university, and scientific tomes, which are a specialty unto themselves. Also, while some agents handle children's or Young Adult books, not all do. You would need to check out an agent's Website to tell for sure.

 

You see, adult trade book publishers are a specific targeted group. They publish books to the general trade (thus the name) and promote them both online, in brick-and-mortar bookstores, and through the publishers' own distribution network. With that said, it makes sense that agents have a targeted list of the names of trade-book editors and their publishers to whom they regularly pitch their wares. Give them something outside of that trade list, and they're lost. Understandably. Poetry publishers? Uh-uh. University presses" Sorry, no. Academic presses? No, thanks. Theatrical works? Are you kidding me? Screenplays? Get out of here! Read More 

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AUTHOR INPUT IN PUBLISHING

A question arose the other day as to how much "say" an author has in choosing the design elements and marketing opportunities for his or her book. Interesting question--one whose answer depends upon what your definition of the word "is" is. (Thank you very much, Bill Clinton, for your hours spent before the House impeachment investigating committee.)

 

Now, if we're talking about how much input an author has with a publisher, that depends. In my dealings with more than two dozen conventional, advance-paying publishers with whom I've worked over the years, an author has no input on marketing whatsoever above and beyond what he or she decides to do individually. But he does have some input on design and title. By "input" here, I mean just that. The author "puts in" his two cents' worth, and he hopes for the best. Nearly always, though, once a publisher considers that input, he will proceed with the initial suggestions of his in-house prognosticators (marketing, sales, and promotion folks). That sounds unfair, I know. After all, it is your book.

 

But, considering the fact that conventional publishers put up all the production costs and take all the risks in publishing your opus, you have to realistically assume they're going to follow the advice of their own professional staff and personnel who supposedly know what's best for the company. Best design, best title, best typesetting, best editing, best layout, and so forth. In this case, "best" translates to "greatest potential sales." (Read your publishing contract for specifics.) Read More 

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