Friday, July 30, 2010

what Editors Know

Recently, I read this line on a chat group I hang with:  An editor who does not charge is not a true editor.  That sort of logic if taken to writing would say that an artist or writer or composer is not a true WHATEVER unless he or she is making money at it; unless and editor is making money at editing, he or she is not a real editor.  This sort of snobbery has existed in NYC book business forever as they pay editors so well (HA!).  I have had many many editors, some who woud place a comma between many many and some who would not, and I have as yet to find one properly compensated by anyone.  I have also operated my own editorial services (Knife Services) from my website, and I charge half or a third of what some editors charge, and lately, the business is slow as molasses.

No one wants to pay for editing services.  To this I can attest.  To qualify that, few want to pay for editing services, but one way or another every author needs a great editor or two or three in order to truly get a MS to sing.

An editor for your work is worth his or her weight in gold, even if he or she edits your work for nothing but the opportunity and "privilege" and charge you nada...for no charge. Despite the line this blog began with, there are capable and surprisingly fine editors among those who do not charge a fee; I know because I have availed myself of some excellent editorial help at no charge over the years.  These people are my early readers.  People I have cultivated a strong friendship with as a result of our making great books together, people who wind up in my acknowledgment pages.

It may upset some pricey editors (some priced at ten dollars a page if you can imagine it) to hear such talk from a professional writer and published author, but I have relied all my life and career on people who have a sixth sense about what works and what does not work in a manuscript, items you want OUT before the MS goes to press or release to Kindle or Smashwords or wherever you are publishing nowadays.

My Children of Salem, my highest grossing Kindle title, was put through the grist mill by two editors in particular who suffered and struggled with me like Jonah and the Whale until we GOT it.  My work in progress, Titanic 2012 has had the tremendous help of two editors in particular who have wrestled that one to the mat where they MAKE me wring out rather than ring out the right words and save me countless embarrssing moments as well as point out plot weaknesses and sags. They are simultaneously copyeditors and developmental editors these folks.

I go back as far as 1965 or 6 working with my Wells High School managing editor on the school newspaper for editorial advice, and damn but she was good with langauge and writing; one lesson she taught me then stayed with me all my writing career - Acitve over Passive. I get cudos for making my work "compelling, fast-paced, a page-turning roller-coaster ride" etc. etc. due in great part to my editorial board -- and now that I am a writer turned publisher putting out Original to Kindle titles, I rely even more on my early readers, my editorial board. They have recently truly impressed me, digging damn deep to make the work the best it can be to the point it is no longer about me but the novel itself that comes first.  Of course, it helps that the publishing industry has long, long ago beat the living ego out of me.

My apologies to those who consider themselves legitimate editors because they charge a fee, whether fair or exorbitant, but sorry as I am, I must say that there are people who are not just willing to be early readers for an author but who become invaluable editors an author can and does TRUST, often just as much as he trusts an editor within a publishing house or with a logo.  I love editors, love them all, and feel they all deserve a raise but the practice of authors cultivating two, three, four early readers is not likely to stop but increase as we go to press as Indie author-publishers.  Certainly been the case with me, but then I had always cultivated early readers.  By the same token, over the years, I have learned a great deal from my contacts with all editors, those who were paid--even if poorly by the publsihing house--and those who have graced me with thier help out of the goodness of heart and understanding and unfettered desire to be a part of the process of creation.

Sneak peek of Children of Salem and/or Titanic 2012 is available at

Thanks so much for coming by and do leave a comment, good, bad, ugly, indifferent but leave some word....

Robert W. Walker (Rob to my friends)


carl brookins said...

Rob, I get your point. (I usually do)but I disagree somewhat. Readers, beta, alpha or rho are not the same as editors nor do they fulfill the same function for you. I admit sometimes you can't tell the difference, but that may be the author's ms. prob. not the reader's.

As a professional in some fields, although I do a lot of pro bono work, I have a basic expectation of payment for my expertise. Likewise, I expect to pay the expert editors I employ. Doing the business of authoring in a business-like way has many more upsides than down.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Interesting post, Rob. I tend to feel like when I pay for an editor's services--which they well-deserve, I likely have their undivided attention.

Not to say you always get what you pay for, but....

Debra St. John said...

Rob, you are so right. A good editor is worth his/her weight in gold. I am so very, very fortunate to have a good one.

Still can't wait for the Titanic book!

Dory said...

Rob, I have to agree with Carl re: Reader vs Editor. Readers sometimes allow their prefs to intrude w/in their comments.

In the past I've edited pro bono.
Reason: I may have come across a midlist writer - already published-who is attempting to 'add' a bit of another genre into their WIP...
Usually it's just a question of tweaking.

You talk about writers who try to publish before a book is ready.

Today it's so easy to do. Vanity press consortiums hold contests of self published works. Participants PAY to enter. Their names and works are posted on the promoter's website. The writers drag the brag and 'award' to their web site.

None of these 'awards' are recognized by any traditional publisher in the industry.
It is a legal scam IMO.

The winners 'pay' for stickers to put on their books to help sell to unsuspecting readers on Amazon.

Most of these writers don't know the difference between a 4th grade English teacher's grammar 'fix' and a developmental/substantive vet....Most have never heard of the latter.

I don't see the problem improving anytime soon....But I do see a lot of writers turning readers 'off' and ending up on a "DO NOT READ" list. sigh

Lillie Ammann said...

I charge for editing because that's how I make my living. However, I advocate that every author have early readers as well.

One of my clients has a group of readers with a variety of knowledge. One lives in the locale where the books are set and helps ensure geographic accuracy. Some can verify the historical facts in novels set in the past. Others are just avid readers of historical novels who give their reactions from a reader's perspective. All the comments from the early readers come to me rather than to the author, and I advise him on which suggestions to accept because a few will argue over whether there should be a comma between many many. :-)

I have critiqued other writers' work at no charge and vice versa. However, I don't edit complete manuscripts for free. I think there is a difference between an early reader and an editor.

Lillie Ammann
A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

Rob Walker said...

I just take issue with blanket statements like the one I began with, that anyone not charging, anyone doing pro bono? anyone doing it because they LOVE it is not an astute editor. I draw on one fellow who is fantastic with technical stuff....I say stuff to emphasize I am all thumbs with technical sciences and applied science yet I have futuristic scenes in some of my works like Titnaic 2012. I also have historical chapters, alternate theories of the Legends grown up around the ship. My one techie editor is fantastic, and my other chief editor is fantastic. I know that you guys who edit and speaking to me that paid editors are better have no idea of the detailed job I get from my early readers. If my current success and paycheck keeps evovling, I may well pay these friends but I am likely to be turned down should I make the attempt. Sometimes it is more about the work than anything else, and I have been extremely fortunate in this.
You might care to know that I had not paid a cent to have Children of Salem worked over because all who worked on it did so because they felt it a book that they one wanted to read, two got as involved in as myself, and three felt a sense of pride in being a part of it, and it must've paid off as the book is on Kindle alongside 44 other titles and it has sold 104 copies without a single return in the past four weeks, and as such has beaten out my modern day medical examiner titles begun with Killer Instinct (NYC edited). Not one complaint or return since being placed up months ago.

I wrote this blog to encourage people who want to get involved in ebook publsihing to trust their instincts; if they love editing as they read, a lot of ebook authors NEED their help. It was not meant to cut into any "honest" editor's workload and I am sure it will not, but it does say that money is not always the only or the best motivation, and frankly, all editors I have known save a few truly love their work, paid well or not. If pay was the initial motive for "legit" editors who have degrees in English, Linguistics or Publishing no one would go into the field. Carl...have ye ever agreed with anything I've ever uttered? I can't recall


Lillie Ammann said...


If my comment came across as saying anyone who edits for love and not money isn't a real editor, I apologize. I wasn't saying that all. I was just explaining that, although I love editing, I'd get mighty hungry - which probably ins't a bad idea for a little while until I lose the extra weight I'm carrying :-) - if I didn't charge for it. Also the authors I work with tend to be people who have stories to tell but who aren't excellent writers. They need a lot more help than someone like you.

I don't think our ideas are very far apart.

Lillie Ammann
A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

Rob Walker said...

Lillie -- not at all; you are entitled to anything you can get as an editor and I know as most of my clients for Knife Services - well it requires a complete book autopsy as I call it and I charge under NYC rates but I do charge. I can't say what my no-charge readers actually say bout working on my books cause I would come off like completely arrogant....and I'd have a Scarlet letter round my neck as well as scarlet face....but they find it a privilege to work on my books...Their word, not mine.
But you cannot put bread on the table that way, so they do this as a matter of being a part of something larger than .... etc....and it is a respite from pain, suffering in some cases, and boredome in others....and in at least one case, her working on my book may well have saved her life if I can go by what one early reader says. Have had similar remarks by elderly students in my classes. I can only imagine....