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Writer, Beware!

September 16, 2010

I’m getting in a number of submissions where the query letter tells me the author has worked with a freelance editor (or several)  to help polish their material.  The quality of those submissions has varied widely.  Several were polished, professional, and clearly showed the work of a good editor.  Others were a mess.   One thing is becoming clear to me.  There are predators out there.    Some of the people who told me how fabulous their editors said their work was were clearly being sold a bill of goods.

So, if you’re going to hire a freelance editor, check for credentials.  See if they’ve previously worked as an editor in publishing or have published books of their own.  Check them out on writers’ websites.  (SFWA’s Writer Beware is a must read for any author.)  Google them.

Then, a final word of advice.  It’s probably better not to mention that you’ve hired a freelance editor in your query letter, to me at least. And maybe to any agent or editor.  It raises the question in my mind about what your next book is going to look like without professional help.  Just how much help did you get from that editor?  Did you learn enough to repeat the good results without the editor on the next book?  How much of what I see on the page is the writer’s and how much is the editor’s?

You can see why that might raise issues in my mind, when  a simple and unadorned query letter wouldn’t raise any flags.  The work would speak for itself.

The exception to this advice is if the freelance editor is a friend of the editor or agent you are submitting to.  If I know the person, it’s a plus, not a minus, for me since I can call them up and ask frank questions.  But if you were hard to work with (Some writers just hate being edited), it might not be a plus for you.

So, my advice, which is worth what all free advice is worth, is to check out any freelance editor you plan to use thoroughly before you hire them.  And to keep the fact that you used that editor out of your query letter.  I’d be the last person to say hiring someone to help polish your prose is a bad idea.  I’ve done book doctoring myself.  Just make SURE you check the credentials of anybody you hire.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Keith Yatsuhashi permalink
    September 16, 2010 4:26 pm

    GREAT advice. I found mine through Don Maas. Figured he’d only work with quality people!

  2. September 16, 2010 6:27 pm

    Thanks for the advice. I’ve always wondered about professional editing services. I’ve never used one. I do have beta readers and critique partners that I LOVE working with though.

  3. September 16, 2010 6:33 pm

    Excellent advice! I’m really enjoying your blog – so much so, that I’m creating a permalink to it on my own (little) writer’s blog. Thanks for taking the time to write such informative entries!

  4. September 16, 2010 10:07 pm

    I must echo the responses of others. Your advice and insight into the literary world is refreshing and promising. I have learned more reading this blog than I have with 7 months of reading others.

  5. Cindi permalink
    September 20, 2010 4:41 pm

    Great advice. I am a freelance editor, and I have to admit my heart fell when I read the headline. I was afraid the advice was going to diminish us all, but Denise Little offers sound advice once again. Indeed, the predators are all over the place and so many writers are taken in. I would back up the advice and say definitely don’t settle for just one source for any reference. Make sure you read in more than one place that the editor you are thinking about hiring is worth the money. LinkedIn might be another good place to check. The watchdog Web sites are great, too, including AbsoluteWrite and others.

    • Denise Little permalink*
      September 20, 2010 5:53 pm

      Hiring a good freelance editor is a great idea. The post was inspired because I got a piece of drek that some freelance editor had told some poor writer was a masterpiece. I’m pretty sure the thing was just put through spellcheck. But if it was actually edited, that writer needs money back. And it’s criminal to tell some beginning writer he or she is a genius when the book isn’t even publishable yet. I also stand by my theory that the use of an editor isn’t a good thing to mention in a query letter. Using an editor–great if the editor’s a good one. Admitting it to the person you’re trying to sell it to–probably not a good idea.

  6. Mandy permalink
    September 20, 2010 8:58 pm

    Great advice to look thoroughly. Never believe someone who praises your work.

    But, I must say, that it’s not always the editor’s fault if the manuscript was sent a mess. All an editor can do is advise to change here or there, depending on what he or she was hired for. There is only that much an editor is able to do, many authors think they can write well enough and ignore some of the editor’s advice.
    Just imagine how the manuscript looked like when the editor got it on the table.

  7. September 21, 2010 3:59 pm

    Hi, excellent advice – caveat emptor and all that. And an excellent blog. I was researching the very same subject for a blog post when your name, and blog post, popped up. If, as and when I publish a post I’ll be certain to link to your blog post. Your advice will certainly carry a lot more weight than mine.
    And, just to let you know, I’ve put up a link to your blog on my blog in the Literary Agents’ Blogs sidebar. Regards, Haarlson Phillipps.

  8. September 26, 2010 9:26 pm

    I’m a freelance editor too, like Cindi, and I gasped when I saw the headline as well. I was pleased, however, that you gave good sound advice. I had an author approach me recently that paid over $7000 and the editor had rewritten large chunks of their novel and removed nearly all of the voice, making it the novel that the editor wished he had written, instead of making suggestions to improve the author’s work. They didn’t track their changes either, so the author was forced to look at it word for word, taking time and thought away from revisions. As a fellow writer, I know how limited money and time is, so it’s a shame that this author was taken in.

    I’d like to add that authors should look at Predators and Editors to check on the background of freelance editors. Don’t be afraid to ask for CV’s, ask to talk to a selection of former clients, and even ask for quotes from several freelance editors and pick the one you think you will best work with. Don’t be afraid to turn an editor down if something about them irks you, or makes you wary.

    Thanks for the excellent post, Denise!

    • Denise Little permalink*
      September 27, 2010 2:37 am

      Another big thing–ask for published writers who are clients, especially if they became published after a stint under the editor’s pen.


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