Monday, August 12, 2013

My Editing Policy

I first began editing books for authors over a decade ago. The acknowledgments section for the first book I edited professionally read as follows:

I've always been, uh, weird when it comes to the written word. Editing is actually hard for me because I do it naturally and tend to overdo it. For the manuscript mentioned above, the author ended up hiring me after I met him at a book signing (not even kidding: I literally only went to his table because it was Halloween time and he had candy on the desk). We somehow struck up a conversation that led to details regarding his current website designer putting typos into his site and how annoying that was. He kept in touch because he wanted me to do his website, and eventually he sent me his book so I could read the material I was helping to promote. I read it, and he asked if I'd seen any errors. I told him I'd seen a ton, and when he wanted to know what they were, I replied, "Um, you wanted me to keep track?" He then offered me $100 or $5 per error--whichever was more--if I'd read it again. I accepted. And found over 400 errors. I was afraid he'd think I was just being extra nitpicky because I wanted money, so I divided the errors into degrees of severity and only charged him for the top tier (which had just over 20, I think). He was kind of blown away.

My detail-oriented ridiculousness has continued to this day. My fiction agent said my manuscript was the cleanest she'd ever seen in a submission. My nonfiction agent said it had been a pleasure to read something so polished. It's not that I don't make mistakes once in a while. I just always seem to catch them in a first read-through.

I find it kind of funny that Dr. Lott also wrote me a recommendation letter in which he said the following:
Should I ever be so folly-stricken as to be bringing a manuscript to print, I would immediately seek Miss Decker's services.
Apparently he isn't the only one. After reading my book reviews, seeing my writing advice, or glimpsing a critique I've issued for someone else, people often flood my inbox with editing requests. It's surprising how often they believe I will be happy to edit their first draft manuscript for free. It's also surprising how often they are willing to pay me but not willing to understand when I won't take a job. So I figured I'd make a little public statement about my editing policy.

1. Time is WAY more important to me than money. If you want to hire me to edit your book, I have to feel like it's worth my while. That means that if you try to hire me but I decide you aren't ready for editing of the caliber I would dish out, I will turn down your project. (This is honestly to save my time and your money, not because I want to be nasty.)

2. I am not a developmental editor. I hate reading books that are in their early stages of development, and this is largely because I am a disgusting perfectionist and I will eat your book alive. It will be time-consuming for me and I won't like it. Therefore, if you want to hire me to edit your book, it needs to be so close to perfect in your opinion that if you were of a self-publishing mind you could self-publish it tomorrow with no qualms. I don't want to work with something unless you think I'll just be catching a few typos and making a few comments. (It's very likely I'll be catching more than a few writing mistakes and crapping on your story rather mercilessly even then, but I want to know you've done EVERYTHING that is in your power to do.)

3. Unless there are exceptional circumstances (most of them related to you being one of my friends), I absolutely do not read books that aren't finished. That should go hand in hand with the above, since you're unlikely to have a polished draft if you're not even done writing yet, but honestly if you're trying to feel out whether the book is "working" yet, you need to find a beta reader, not a professional editor. Don't get me wrong; I can beta read the hell out of a book. I just prefer not to. Especially if I've never spoken to you before.

4. The nitty-gritty: I usually work for $30 an hour. I'm freelance, so if it bothers you that I'm that expensive but come with no guarantee of quality through an editing company, you can negotiate a flat fee with me to read your first ten pages, on which I will offer comments that you can use to determine whether I'm worth paying for more. I might also decline your project at that time if I think you're not ready. I prefer to work with writing that is going to be sent for evaluation (to agents or publishing markets) or for publication (if someone is self-publishing or already has a publishing contract). That's the level of quality I dish out, so if your writing isn't publishing-worthy, I will tell you.

5. My critique partners get an exception on all of the above. People who have read for me will usually get some degree of reciprocity, though sometimes I'm still mean to them and tell them to clean up their act before they show me anything else. I still ask them to show me polished products, though I have actually read first drafts for a few of my friends who didn't have anyone else to ask. If you have edited for me, or want to, I may offer editing to you as a thank you.

6. I am ruthless when it comes to typos, misused homophones, and punctuation. I am a little more lenient when it comes to word use and sentence structure, but I'm still pretty evil while allowing some interpretation for personal preference. I am not interested in overcorrections like "don't start your sentences with coordinating conjunctions" or "don't split infinitives" or "no sentence fragments"; I think natural style is part of language's evolution and unnecessary pedantry impedes comprehension instead of streamlining it. And if your story is ready for this kind of analysis, I may point out plot elements to tell you what they made me think or if I saw what your foreshadowing was doing; I may explain what I think are good and bad choices in your narration and character development; I may comment on or critique trope use or clichés; I may complain about your pacing; and I may talk back to your characters. My comments can be pretty in-depth and comprehensive, and you're doing well if the majority of my comments are just me sharing my thoughts rather than telling you what you should not do.

That's it for now. Back to the book I'm editing (for the same client highlighted above, for whom I've been chewing up words and spitting them out since 2000).

No comments:

Post a Comment