Finding an Agent
Should I Pay for Pro Editing before Submitting?
There’s a more important question: are you ready to submit your work? Are you now writing on a professional level? In other words, if your work was mixed with that of ten pros whose work is in the bookstores today, would the one reading the pages be able to select yours as the one written by an as yet unpublished writer? In fact, let’s take a step further. As an unpublished writer you have no fan base, which means no one is seeking your name on the cover of a book. Nor will anyone see your name and say, “I’ve seen that before. Let’s see what the writing is like.” What that means is that unless you get great reviews, and the people in the stores begin recommending your work, the publisher, having spent tens of thousands of dollars bringing the work to market, will lose money on you. So you can’t be “just as good as.” They have plenty of just as good writers. The new writer needs to be, “Oh my God, this is great.” So can you pass that test? Because you’re about to get into a beauty contest with one thousand or more contestants. And there is only one winner. The average acquiring editor rejects from one to ten thousand new writer submissions for every one selected. And some of those you’re trying to beat have been actively working on their skills for a decade or more. Let me make it even harder: they open the query and look at what you’ve sent. Assuming your blurb motivates them to look at the writing sample—or request one—they start reading on page one. They continue reading till they find what they view as a structural/writing problem, a line that bores them, or read a line that confuses. If they find one of those, or reach page five without feeling they must read more, that ends your audition. Literally, over ninety percent of all submissions are rejected well before the end of the first page. I don’t say this to discourage you, because it’s what we all face, and if you write well you can win, because the vast majority of those who are submitting have never cracked a book on technique, never taken a course or attended a workshop, and are still using the general skill called writing that we learn in first grade. As for hiring an editor: editors find problems. They don’t take nonprofessional work and make it publishable. If they could do that, they would be writing and selling their own work and making a lot more money. So, if that editor says, “This section is passive,” or, “You need to tighten up the prose in this paragraph,” will you know what to do? What I’m really saying is that if you haven’t dug into both the writing and the business side of the profession you’re probably not ready. You won’t provide a scene goal unless you know there is such a thing and what it does for you. You won’t answer the three reader’s questions unless you know what a reader wants to know quickly, on entering a scene. I’m a bug on this, admittedly, but with that kind of competition we can’t afford to get into the game unless we’re ready to play with the pros, on their terms. And we don’t get the tricks of the fiction-writing trade by reading fiction any more then we become a chef by eating in a fine restaurant. You have a completed novel. So we know you have the desire, dedication and perseverance. And while talent might be nice, lots of people who are called no talent hacks make sales. So the trick is to prepare yourself as well as you can, and jump to the head of the line. On the other hand, if you are writing on a professional level, don’t bother hiring the editor. Unless that editor is experienced with your genre and knows the norms and what editors on that genre like to see, it’s a waste of money. Just have your favorite Grammar Nazi go over it and give their blessings. Editors expect an occasional human error.
HJakes, thanks for the feedback. I've actually just got a critique back on my first fifty from a published author who works in the same genre, and the feedback was exactly what I needed. Recently, I've also joined an online critique group. I had looked in my area before didn't have much luck finding a group that I was a good fit for. I'm glad I did find a source for feedback though, I've been working on improving my writing (and reading many on-writing books) and it's great to see how successful or unsuccessful I've been about applying those lessons.
Jay, I appreciate what you're saying. In fact, it's that intimidating climate which is making me so cautious about getting my work into the best shape possible before submitting. You're absolutely right about what a daunting task it is to make a proper showing in such a competitive business. I don't take it as being discouraging -- I take it as being realistic. I'm a fan of realistic.
With the first novel I wrote, I made a lot of mistakes. Especially when it came to the business side of publishing and the technical aspect of writing. I didn't understand that much about the craft of writing, and that ended up biting me. Because that lack of experience showed in the pages that I sent to agents. When I finally did get an unbiased opinion on my work, people talked about "exposition" or "purpose" and I just scratched my head. That brought me into the journey I've been on for the past several years, which has been a goal to improve my craft and be the best writer I can be. I don't know if I'll ever reach it, but I'm not going to give up. It's one of those finish lines that seems to keep moving past the next hill.
I don't mind you being a bug about it all, and I'm glad to have you share your experience with me.
Thanks to you both! After I posted this, I realized that what I really needed was a solid critique (which some editors do offer as a service). I wanted an unbiased opinion on what I could improve on, and what I should sustain -- not necessarily a line edit or a book doctor. I'll keep working away over here, and hopefully, I'll be able to report back with a success story in the somewhat-near future.
I've worked out a method (after maybe 20 years) and found a final editing process that I'm comfortable with, in terms of really letting it go. And, for me, it's that feeling of letting it go, letting readers have it, and taking the praise or criticisms on the review boards. It's what I do, and maybe it'll help someone.
Knowing the craft is critical. I work a piece until I'm positive I've done my best. I read it aloud and make changes. I usually submit it to someone smart, a reader, and all I expect from them is whether or not they enjoyed it and what jumped out at them (good or bad). I take comments from avid-reader friends seriously and unreliably, while respecting their desire for me to succeed. Suggestions and comments considered, I print it out and read it aloud again. I'll bet I read my work out loud at least five times after I've gotten it into the best shape possible. Finally, when I can't make changes without struggling and over thinking to the point of analysis paralysis, I send it to my editor. I'm always happy get it back with comments and corrections/suggestions. I always use an editor. I've proven to myself that I cannot see some of the problems anymore, nor can I expect reader friends to catch all of them. The objectivity of a good editor is priceless, although we all want the best for a price we can afford. I fix, change, and read aloud once more, and will always find something.
Only after I can't work on it anymore without feeling foolish or that I might be straddling the sanity/insanity line, do I consider it finished (it' never really finish, it's abandoned) and publish it, or send it to my agent if I think he might be able to take it on. If I decide to publish it, I get excited about working on the cover. It's an artistic endeavor in which, after all that right-brain editing, I get to use my left brain for a very visual medium. It's a kind of reward. It won't be long before I begin working on the first draft of the next piece. I write the first draft in a stream of consciousness mode, allowing myself to write crap and moving on in order to keep the flow going. Straight through, no editing. I'll take brief notes so I remember to fix, but I try to keep the excitement level of the new work, the material that will spring from my mind, often surprising me. Once finished, I dread the start of the editing and shaping, until I reach a good draft (the 10th, 20th?) in which I can see the final shape. With that draft, I start the process described above.
It works for me.