Do I have to PAY people to read this??
When you’re a writer looking for an editor, and you really don’t have much cash to throw around, it can be hard to know where to invest your money. As vital as editing is to the publication process, it is a big outlay for authors, whether they’re self-publishing or hoping to be taken under the wing of a traditional publishing house.
Let’s imagine that you’ve been saving like mad, not smoking, not drinking, giving the takeaways a hard pass, and now you have round about $500-$800 to invest in the business of launching your novel into the wild. How do you get the best out of your money?
If you’re laughing at the idea of having as much as $300 saved, let alone the range casually referred to above, then scroll down to ‘Join the Borg’ and read from there. I’m covering a range of options.
“Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys” (PPGM)
Yep, this section is about the cost of professional editing.
I think most of us have heard the phrase before in one context or another. The gist is that a very low service cost is a warning sign of an inept operator with low-quality goods and limited expertise. In many areas of life, it’s a sage warning: if something is being offered suspiciously cheap, you’d be wise to ask some searching questions about how this retail price is even possible.
However, PPGM is also a phrase often used by relatively pricey operators to dismiss the quality or expertise of an operator who happens to have a more competitive pricing schedule. It’s all too often a tool applied by the experienced to disparage those who are new to the editing game, so take this phrase with a pinch of salt. There are a number of reasons why an editor isn’t charging as much as you’d expect:
- They might be very good but also very new. It’s common for people with a specialist skill set to charge a lower price until they have sufficient clients to benefit from word-of-mouth advertising. Essentially, the low price is to thank you for your leap of faith. It’s not necessarily a sign that they have no idea what they’re doing.
- They have no idea how much their time is worth. Their pricing is a sign of ludicrous modesty, not ineptitude.
- they offer a model with a much longer turnaround than is typical for a lower price (so that they can overlap jobs without compromising attention and quality to individual projects)
- they’re using their life-long writing and reading experience to supplement their income, and therefore might not have spent the many, many hours required to research what their competition is charging and position themselves accordingly.
Where might you begin your search for an editor? Here are some options:
- Reedsy.com for premium services; all these editors have experience in a traditional publishing house, or they are former best-selling authors. They have proven experience as successful editors, and if you have any problems with working with one of the subscribed editors, you can contact Reedsy for arbitration support. The downside is that their pricing (about $1,000+ for 60k words or more) may make your wallet weep.
- Recommendations from friends/acquaintances through Facebook groups or other social media platforms; this is a good bet as you can ask your friends what they got for their money, what the editor was like to work with, and so on. You might never have seen that editor’s name anywhere, ever, but that can be a sign that the editor has enough word-of-mouth business to make spending on advertising unnecessary.
- Check out the group resources and files if you belong to online writing clubs. ERWA has a list of artists, editors and format experts, for example: https://www.erotica-readers.com/author-services/
- Writers and Artists’ Yearbook: lots of editors pay to advertise their services
- Google ‘editing services’
Don’t dismiss anyone on a casual PPGM basis; for example, there are some very good editors on Fiverr who are finding their way into the market, who don’t happen to have publishing house experience under their belt, or who are doing this part-time having given a lot of voluntary time to editing to successful effect.
Found some likely candidates? Right. I’m going to go through this process like it’s a fishing expedition.
Stage 1: throwing out the hook
- Some editors feature a fixed pricing schedule on their websites, but most simply invite you to contact them for details. Because this can slow down the go-compare process quite considerably, it’s useful to have a template email for enquiries, telling them:
- The novel length, and length of first chapter
- What kind of edit you’re hoping for (overview critique—developmental edit—or copy-editing, or both)
- The written language of the novel (UK/Aus/Canadian/US), and whether it’s your first language. This is more important than it sounds; you don’t want someone Anglicising your American punctuation, and vice versa. I feel particular sympathy for Canadian writers, who must get mangled from every direction other than from fellow Canadian editors.
- What time scale you’re hoping to work on. If you’re not in a hurry, then it’s worth mentioning that you’d be interested in hearing about any arrangements that can be met where you’re happy to wait longer than the average for the return of your MS in return for a lower cost. Just as a heads-up, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a full edit back in less than seven weeks on a long turnaround basis. Brace yourself for a nine- or twelve-week offer if you want your costs to come down considerably.
Stage Two: landing
Create a spreadsheet of what each editor says they will charge for editing the manuscript. Also look at non-financial elements such as how they came across on email or messenger. There may be a couple of people you just click with. Once you’ve selected a likely fore-runner, it is reasonable to ask for a sample of their editing, using your first chapter (and this is why the length information is important; don’t expect them to edit a first chapter over 3k for free. That could be up to ten hours of their time, free, while they’re working on incumbent contracts).
Stage Three: Serving or Gutting
It could well be that you’re a good financial fit and you hire the editor. But…
What if you really like how the editor works, but their prices for a full edit, however reasonable, still makes you sob? If you like what they’ve done for you in the sample, then here are some other options to negotiate:
- ask them to quote for content-editing on your first three chapters, and apply those lessons to the rest of your manuscript
- ask them to quote for a developmental overview of the novel, commenting on characterisation, pacing and flow, structure, clarity, psychological consistency and any recurring errors. That should come in at a price in the lower hundreds, rather than mid-to-upper, and you could learn enough from the overview to tighten your novel, and then have it beta-read and proofed.
Join the Borg
Yep, this section is about hive minds and crowd-sourcing your feedback. Writing groups, both live and online, can be worth their weight in gold. You can use Reddit, Facebook, Literotica, Dirty Discourse and a number of social platforms to get a readership going, and to get feedback on your work as it proceeds. ERWA has its own critiquing workshop, Storytime, for this exact purpose.
You’ll get a range of opinions, and it’s useful to know where a lot of feedback overlaps. For example, your dialogue might impress several people, but your opening scene doesn’t appear to have the strong hook that you hoped for. It’s all grist to the mill, as they say, and acquiring a sort of consensus on your strong and weak points can help you see your writing with fresh eyes.
ERWA’s Storytime is one of the friendliest and most constructive places to share your work. However, to get the best out of a hive-mind scenario, here are some gentle caveats:
- Hive minds tend to be a great source of feedback for short stories and novellas, but don’t be disheartened if people don’t want to follow an entire novel this way. It is difficult to keep track of one chapter a week purely because of the longevity and the distraction of life between instalments. However, you can get feedback on particular scenes that have been bugging you. Getting group opinions on first chapters can also be wonderful for assessing the power of your opening hook.
- You would need to invest the time to provide the level and manner of critiquing you’d like to receive yourself. Virtuous circles help everyone (and you might acquire some out-of-group alpha and beta readers along the way)
- Think about what kind of feedback you want, and spend those extra few minutes in a foreword explaining any useful background to the material you’re offering to share, and what sort of critiquing you would appreciate. It is fine to say that you’re not looking for grammar or spelling guidance at this stage, for example.
- Despite claiming to be writers in full command of language, some people still have very little in the way of bedside manner, and seem to enjoy injecting all their life stresses into being abrupt on the internet. Do not let this derail you.
- You do not have to take all the advice given to you. You’re seeking some positive reinforcement and getting a majority vote on tricky sections; you’re not trying to write a story by committee. Thank people for their time and the point they’ve raised that will help you, and then use what’s useful for you.
Close-up and personal
You can use alpha and beta readers to get feedback on the delivery and shape of your novel. Alpha readers are involved throughout composition, giving feedback on a section-/chapter-by-chapter basis. It’s rather like having a free editor who only operates on a developmental-editing basis, but who will apply that level of oversight as your story unfolds.
A beta reader will give you an overview of the whole once completed. There are some paid betas out there (and they will cost considerably less than an editor), but seek them out based on the recommendation of people you trust, and find out in advance how quickly they’ve responded to others. To get the best out of a beta-reader, prepare a list of questions which will answer all and any concerns that you have. Don’t be shy about asking them to tell you about the good bits, too. It’s important to know what to do more of, as well as what needs repairing or adjusting.
All by myself…
Okay, there’s just you. You’ve been burned by toxic feedback in the past, and you have very, very little money indeed. In which case, your priority should be to focus on your story skills, not on your technical writing skills.
With the very little money you do have, borrow books on writing techniques, shaping your novel (within your genre) and which address the structure of your story as a whole. Use this resource for countless borrowings on books about dialogue, characterisation and plot movement.
There are hundreds of websites devoted to grammar rules, and you can get that advice for free, or through your local library or bargain basement books.
Work on your other skills (formatting, covers, blurb-writing, synopsis-writing) in the background to your creative work, and you might be able to arrange a peer swap to have the final product of your work proof-read in fair exchange for some assistance of your own.
So, that’s a fairly full range of options for getting an extra set of eyes on your work from the capacity to shell out cash (and what to look for), to how to make the best of your very, very tiny pennies. I hope you find it helpful.