Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Editor Is Your Friend. No, Really: Part 2.

Last time here, we talked about what a good editor does for your work. But, it must be said, there are a lot of people out there claiming to be editors, book doctors, editorial consultants, writing coaches, et al. Not all of them will be very good at it. Some of them can hurt you.

So how do you know the good ones from the not-so-good?
First of all, let's deal with the truly nefarious, because they're easier to cull--and spot.

You probably want to avoid--or at least QUESTION--any editor or editorial consultant if he/she:

1. Has a Web site full of writing, syntax, spelling, punctuation, usage errors--or just plain wrong information about the business.
This should be obvious; it's not. Now, one or two typos, or a formatting problem--that, ANYBODY can have. We're talking about rampant errors--such as an "about" page that has a dozen or more typos or misspellings on it, and/or recycled "myths" about the publishing industry, blindly repeated. Usually when or if you point such things out to a good editor, they'll thank you and take pains to correct them. If you write a note to an editor about any of these things and he/she gets snarky, however...walk away. Quickly.  

2. Has been listed on one of the "warning" sites (Writer Beware, Absolute Write Water Cooler, etc.) as questionable--under ANY name or incarnation. 
Crooks or scam artists--in this business as in many others--will often get "busted" under one name, go underground for awhile, and then resurface as a whole new name, business, or enterprise. Some of them will even claim to have "gone straight" and be "legit" in a new partnership...only to have it revealed, upon further research, that they've merely formed a partnership with ANOTHER scam artist and are trying to "con" a whole new generation of writers who haven't heard the horror stories they've left behind them. Don't be fooled by it. Google their names and do a little research. It'll be time well-spent.

3. Makes any guarantees about whether, where, or when your writing will sell.
Yes, I know there are professional book doctors out there who have LOTS of contacts, some of them very high-profile, in the publishing and/or other media industries. That being said, however, not even THEY can "guarantee" that your work will sell at all, much less that it will sell in ____ months or ____ years. Note that this is also different from saying your work will be publishable in ____ months or ____ years. THAT, a professional may be able to tell you. Whether anyone will actually decide to PAY you for that publishable work, however, is something no editor can vouch for unless he or she...

4.  Also owns a publishing company, "manuscript showcase" site, or "literary agency."
...which is another BIG FAT RED FLAG.

This is not to say that you should refuse, out-of-hand, the chance of getting your book edited by people who are also publishers--if those two services are separate enterprises. But, in truth, it's danged hard to run ONE of these businesses, let alone BOTH of them, and keep them both separate and high-quality. See the first rule about "warnings" above--many scammers do this kind of thing, offering "editorial and book publishing service" packages that, in truth, are nothing  more than what you can do yourself as a self-publisher, with a little elbow grease. 

And it goes without saying--or it should--that it's damnably hard to be both an objective editor of work AND a literary agent representing that type of work. Very few people can do it; I'd be tempted to say no one can, actually, except there's probably one or two noble souls out there who manage it. So I won't say it's "impossible." It's just...highly unlikely. 

In short, you'll do yourself a favor if you keep the editing, agenting, and publishing aspects of your work SEPARATE and maintain the integrity of each. It's the best way to save yourself time, money, and heartache.

5. Gives any indication that he/she is "above" whatever you're writing or tries to manipulate it in any way.
This is a more subtle element, but it does happen. You're in a creative writing class, or a writers' workshop, where Ms. Incredibly Big Name Famous Editor is on hand to read and possibly consider (gasp!) taking on manuscripts to "nurture." Needless to say, your hopes are dancin' on the ceiling...until you meet this editor, and she looks at your work with a vaguely pained smile on her face and damns it with faint praise--or just comes right out and damns it. No writer's willing to take that kind of abuse, though, right? 

Think again.

The world is full of newbies who worship at the feet of Big Names. Newbies who will do anything the Big Name tells them to do. And in the process they take fresh, sometimes wonderful, work--albeit in a raw state--and beat all the freshness out of it. By the time they're done, the book might be salable...somewhere. But more often than not, it's not, because the Big Name didn't get what they were trying to do in the first place, and didn't have the humility to say, "Yanno, honey, this isn't my cup of tea. You might want someone more comfortable with the kind of story you write to take this on." So in the process, the Big Name made them over in the image she's most comfortable with...and they'll sound like no one but a derivative clone of Herself.

Don't misunderstand this; a good editor WILL change your work. A good, ethical editor may ask you to make changes that you think will "gut" the thing; in that case, a little dialogue is in order. But the kind of "editing" we're talking about above doesn't involve dialogue. It involves a condescending, dictatorial relationship in which Big Name says "Jump," and the only acceptable reply is, "How high?" THAT does not a good creative partnership make, and sometimes it takes years to recover from that kind of treatment--both for your self-esteem AND your voice. So don't succumb to that temptation. The best and most talented people in any industry--by and large--are also the nicest and most down-to-earth.  Keep that in mind every time you hand your work to ANYONE,  no matter what his/her reputation in the business might be. Life's too short to waste it trying to kiss up to prima donnas.

Lots of information here, we know. But it helps to know how to avoid the editorial "weeds" right away, so you can find the editors and writing professionals who will help your "garden grow" the way it should. Next time, we'll talk about what a GOOD writing professional looks like--from professional behavior to fee schedules, and much more in between.

Stay tuned!


Marcy Dyer said...

Great post!

Patty said...

Very informative, Janny. :)