I recently updated my Critiques page. The more general question of when or if a writer needs a freelance editor feels like the overarching reasons for the changes that I made, so I thought I’d address them in a post. Bear in mind that this mostly addresses the editing of full manuscripts; submission packet critiques obviously are a different situation entirely, but the the principles of utilizing all the resources out there before submitting remains the same.
Sometimes I feel like writers are approaching me too early in the process. While I absolutely love to help new authors to succeed, I’m not sure if my paid services are the best way for me to help someone who can still benefit from the large number of free resources out there for writers. That’s why I keep this blog, after all–to help demystify publishing and to give advice where necessary (in addition to connecting with the children’s lit blogosphere and other personal reasons). Writing groups (consisting of trusted professionals, readers and writers whose feedback will fit the story you want to tell and the market you want to reach) can be a huge resource, as are blogs and Twitter streams of all the editors, agents, and authors out there (and there are a great number of them). The SCBWI is a huge resource both online (email listservs, the SCBWI website, and online writing groups–especially for people who aren’t physically near a good writing group locally) and in person (conferences, local chapter meetings, and writing groups). Local colleges might have a class or two in children’s literature that you can take to improve your knowledge of the genre and to improve writing habits, editing skills, and butt-in-chair practice.
Once those resources have been exhausted, and you’ve done all you can do with your manuscript–you’ve revised it yourself, you’ve workshopped it with your writing group, you’ve had trusted alpha and beta readers (not your mom, spouse, or child unless you know they’ll give you solid feedback when something isn’t working) read it all at once rather than a chapter at a time like with a writing group, and between each stage, you’ve let it sit for a while, so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes yourself–that’s when a freelance editor comes in.
I freely admit my services aren’t always necessary, or even most of the time. The way that the market is currently contracting right now, I can be of most help to writers who have been submitting, but have been getting feedback from editors or agents saying that the book was good, but not great, or that they felt it needed more work that you feel would benefit from a professional editor’s opinion, after exhausting all those free or inexpensive options out there.
There have also been times when I’ve worked with writers who already have agents, whose agents are excited about the book but don’t feel it’s up to publishers’ demanding needs in this competitive acquisition market and want to be sure that the book is fully ready before sending it back to editors who expressed interest.
But the main thing I want to stress is that there are a lot of really great free resources out there to help you before you consider hiring an editor. Sure, it might seem like I’m probably shooting myself in the foot on getting paid work, but I think we’d both be able to benefit more from the experience if you felt like you were truly getting your money’s worth–and for that to happen, hopefully the tips here and on the critique page will help with that.
Once again, I’ll also emphasize that often I can tell in the first three chapters whether a book will garner my attention further and a number of major overall issues. Obviously, I can’t give you full feedback on plot development and characterization, etc., from three chapters, but I usually have a good idea of whether a story is being set up in a way that will make me want to continue reading. My submission packet critique service, many authors have told me, have made a big difference in how they view the rest of their manuscript. So if you’re low on funds and want a professional’s opinion, that is a great way to get a feel for whether my services are right for you. (Note also that if after a three-chapter critique you decide you want me to work on the whole manuscript, that $50 fee from the first critique applies as a discount to the full manuscript.)
In a full manuscript, I get more into the nitty gritty of plot development–whether an ending is earned, whether more foreshadowing is needed, if certain scenes are necessary (and suggestions on possibilities for changes)–pacing, characterization, characters themselves (number of characters, whether certain characters are memorable enough or necessary, etc.), worldbuilding (in the case of genre fiction, this is essential), setting, and all those other things that come together to make a good book. So a freelance editor is definitely useful if you feel like your book just needs that extra something that only an informed, experienced professional opinion can give you.
But consider all your resources when considering a freelancer, so that you truly can know that it’s the right time in the life of your manuscript to get that extra help.