At the San Francisco Writers Conference, there was a small herd of freelance editors on offer—you could meet with one that handled your genre and he or she would give you feedback on, say, the first page of your manuscript. I did meet with one, though I didn’t have a page to show her. Mostly I was curious. I practiced my pitch on her (she liked the idea for my book, said it sounded very unique, not like anything she’d heard before) and asked her what genre she thought it might be, based on the description. (The seeming consensus over the whole of the weekend, with my asking various editors about genre, is that K-Pro is paranormal and/or fantasy but maybe not kissy enough for romance, and so: paranormal women’s lit or fantasy women’s lit . . . If there is such a thing.)
All right, but here’s the thing. When, if ever, is it worth it to shell out hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on a freelance editor?
The agents seemed to think it a good idea to have a freelance editor help you polish your manuscript and get it ready for submission. And of course the freelance (or “developmental”) editors think you should hire them! For nonfiction books, they can help organize the information, even help research the points, check facts, sort the end notes and citations. And for fiction they’ll help you suss out your plot and point out where your characters aren’t quite right or something.
Now I’ve worked as a development editor . . . Though that was for textbooks, which is a bit different. (Well, it’s nonfiction, anyway.) But let’s just say I’m pretty confident in my abilities to write relatively clearly and spell and punctuate properly most of the time. And yet I’m also aware that every writer is a bit myopic by nature when it comes to his or her own work, so there is definite value in having other eyes look over it. But how much is it worth?
Maybe if one of these editors could guarantee that an agent would sign me . . . Or if s/he had a fabulous track record of authors who’d gone on to be published . . .
But in any other case, I think that I could use beta readers and test readers to the same effect, and for a lot less money! I have done, in fact. And even Guy Kawasaki said in his keynote that you should “tap the crowd.” (But still hire a good copyeditor—which is somewhat different from a developmental editor.)
So I don’t know. The way the conference suggests things be done is: you write it, the freelance editor helps you rewrite it, then you send it to an agent who (if he or she signs you) will suggest even more edits, and if that agent gets publishers interested, the publishing house editors will probably want more edits . . . It’s just mind-spinning, to be told it should be perfect when you submit it, but then it will have to somehow be made “more perfect” as things go along.
Nowadays some agents offer “consulting” services similar to freelance editing, but only to clients they don’t sign (in order to avoid conflict of interest). I guess with all the changes to the industry, everyone is trying to keep their jobs by remaining valid in some way. Publishers can only afford to put out books that will sell lots of copies, preferably with minimal marketing and publicity, which cuts a lot of writers out of the equation; a mid-list author is now just lost money and wasted time to the publishing houses. This is why so many of them—and also so many agents—want authors to have already built up their fan bases before they’ll even consider taking them on.
But that’s another discussion for another day. As it is, I can’t afford to hire a freelance editor, so I’ll have to continue to rely on my fellow authors and friends to read my drafts and offer advice. On the whole, they’ve done right by me—and they’re a very supportive clan to boot! And they don’t usually cost me anything but a free copy of the finished product. So thanks, guys (& gals) for that.