The Big Editing Services Scam

This morning I decided to do a little fun research about the cost of hiring an editor.  Now this is in no way a scientifically based study, I googled and picked one at random, to check out her rates and qualifications.

She charges £17 – £22 per 1000 words.  Multiply that by the number of words in your novel and you’ll get a final cost.  Multiply this final cost by how many books you write per year and you’ll get a yearly cost.

She has some qualifications (allegedly).  A PhD in English Lit, BA in English and an MPhil in medieval studies.  All good qualifications, although I fail to see how a degree in medieval studies makes her qualified to comment on my space operas..!

The job of editor is multi layered.  They have to find your structural errors – spelling, punctuation, grammar, tense, continuity errors, passive voice and all the other structural mistakes we all make when we write.  On top of that, they give their opinions on the other, more abstract areas of your writing, which generally consists of comments about your characters, the environments, situations and the action within the story; whether they like it or not is basically what this part of the job means.  Okay that is simplifying it somewhat, but in essence that what it is.

The structural errors are things we can all learn to correct ourselves.  We don’t need an editor to find our spelling mistakes, wrong tenses, bad punctuation (or none at all), and faulty grammar.  You can google and learn how to punctuate your dialogue correctly, you can learn about the correct use of tenses and you can easily brush up on your grammar.  There are millions upon millions of articles about passive voice versus active voice and it doesn’t take long to find out what a dangling modifier is nor how many adverbs are too many adverbs.

You don’t need to pay someone to do this for you.  You can do it yourself easily, by researching and buying a few books on writing basics. If you pay someone to do this stuff for you, you are either too lazy to do it yourself or you have far more money than sense.  Good for you, whatever blows your skirt up.  Most of us don’t have that kind of money and we’re made to feel unworthy as writers for not shelling out hundreds and thousands of pounds to have someone do it for us.  I once had a gal on facebook tell me she charged “up to 1500” for editing.  Although she didn’t say whether that was pounds or dollars, it’s still a lot.  When I told her I couldn’t afford it, she then posted on her page, naming me by name, that I obviously didn’t value my own work highly enough and that if I did, I would pay.  Those who know me well enough won’t need me to explain how I reacted to that..!

As for the more abstract areas of writing, this is where I have the biggest problem with editors.  No matter what qualifications you have, your opinion as to my characters’ depth (or lack thereof), my story arc, the realism of my narrative or the enjoyment to be gained from reading my work is of no more value than anyone else’s.  This is not something that a degree in English can teach, it is felt by each individual reader.  Some will like it, others will not.

All authors out there feeling bad because they can’t afford an editor, stop feeling bad.  Buy books on punctuation and grammar.  Research the internet about these basic building blocks of writing, all the info is there by the truck load for you to read.  Once you’ve corrected the spellings, punctuation and so on, get family and friends to read it and ask them intelligent questions.  Are the characters believable? Are any characters superfluous to the story? Does the story flow? Are the environments realistic enough?  Is the action right for the story?  Their answers to theses type of questions, rather than just “did you like it?”  will tell you what (if anything) needs to be tweaked, added or taken away.

This gal may be very good at her job, she may be a total fraud.  The thing is, you could be paying her thousands of pounds for a job you can do yourself, with a little time devoted to learning the basics.  People think that because someone calls themselves an editor, that what they say about your book is gospel and you’ll be bound to fail if you don’t apply their recommendations.  This is bollocks.  All they do is give their opinion, which is no more valid than anyone else’s.

Don’t shell out your life savings or remortgage your condo to hire someone to do something you can do yourself.

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6 comments

  1. I agree with much you say, however sometimes it takes a fresh eye to see things you might have seen plainly yourself if you had not read it so many times and know what you meant. I have often read something I wrote after a considerable span of time and see things I can’t imagine how I let stand.. or read a passage out loud and stumble over sudden changes of tense or missing punctuation…. So there is some benefit to having a critical “uninitiated” eye reading a piece. Having said that however I have to admit that I am reluctant to hand my work over to an editor. I would have to really trust that person. It is not that I can’t take criticism… I am willing to listen to it all… but when it comes to creative work sometimes a dangling participle says it better than the gramatically correct version… the artist is the judge of that and then the readers… who will ultimately love (or hate) your work warts and all. It is a fine line… I get annoyed when reading a book filled with senseless errors.. they jump out at me and interupt the flow of the narrative… a few are forgivable… but too many and I lose interest… so the case for an author to ferret these out either themselves or with help is strong and as you have said there are many avenues for that without throwing money at it.

    1. Hi there and thank you for commenting. I agree and I read my work aloud too. It helps so much to hear things that need tweaking that you miss reading silently. I also leave time after writing before I edit and I leave time between edits so that it fades enough for me to see it with relatively fresh eyes. I read to my mum too and she will always speak up if something doesn’t sound right or if she spots a continuity error or some other problem.

  2. I feel good editors are worth their weight in gold. As Beverlee pointed out, they bring a fresh perspective to an author’s writing. This includes things I just don’t “see” after hours and hours of looking at the same words, but a good editor will also question my assumptions. This includes assumptions I didn’t even know I made. I value my critique partners, but they see only slices of my writing. I can accept or reject what an editor says, but a good editor will ultimately make my book better and that’s what I want.

    If you are self publishing, readers will let you know about grammatical errors and they won’t be happy.

    1. Hi Trillium and welcome. Some editors may indeed be excellent at their job, however, I feel that they are in the minority these days with so many advertising themselves and trying to make a fast buck. At the end of the day if you simply haven’t got the money, it doesn’t matter how wonderful they are. You can’t get blood out of a stone unfortunately. I live alone and have all the household bills to pay, car to run, utilities etc, all on £80 per week. I simply don’t have any spare money to spend on what might very well turn out to be a waste of time. Things like expensive editors are a luxury only rich writers can afford.

  3. The authors in my article thought they could do it themselves, too. Thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know. I get verb tenses marked up by my editor, and I’m still not sure why. It’s not my area of expertise. I re-wrote the first four chapters of my novel because my editor saw what no one else told me, including hundreds who read it online as it posted as a free serial: it was boring! If you don’t think you need an editor, think again. Readers are paying attention. http://suzanlauder.merytonpress.com/how-three-authors-dropped-the-ball/

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