Would You Let This Man Edit Your Book?

That’s me, before I started worrying about this.

I was terribly disappointed in the first editor I shared the opening chapters of my memoir manuscript with. Her specialty was fiction, but that was okay. Memoirs are written and sold like novels these days.

It was her financial arrangements that grated. When I contacted her, she gave me a reasonable estimate of several hundred dollars for 4 hours of her editing time. I sent her the ms. of My Mother’s Money—and the full amount of her estimate.

The Money Got Funny
She then sent me her edits, which took her half the time of her estimate. I wrote her with my thanks, and asking to return the balance of my money.

It still astonishes me that she said, in essence, “Oh, no. We work together until your money is used up.” But, her edits had been sufficient; there was no reason for us to continue working together.

I’m a professional editor, and I charge only for the amount of time I work on a project. If I quote 4 hours and the job takes me only 2 hours, I charge for 2 hours. It’s not the client’s fault that I overestimated the job.

So my experience with that editor left a sour taste.

Friendly Reviews
When I was struggling with the organization of the manuscript, an accomplished writer friend, who also teaches nonfiction writing, offered to give me tips on structure. During her reading of the manuscript and afterwards, she praised it fulsomely. “Gorgeous writing.” “Magical.” She said she was “savoring” it and “riveted.”

I kept wondering if she’d read the right book.

Who I Really Need to Edit My Book
She also said something I’ve known all along—I need a reader who doesn’t know me.

And I know just who I want that reader cum editor to be.

He’s a well known publishing industry insider, who consults with writers on a freelance basis. His author list makes my eyes tear up—big names with a literary bent. He’s midwifed famous books—New York Times bestsellers.

So, why don’t I engage him without all this hand wringing? He’s expensive, but I’ve got enough dough in my writing account to cover his bill.

It’s just that . . . I think he delivers his edits verbally. Writing as fast as I could, even Skyping and taping his pearls of advice, I’d never get them all down. And I’d be doomed to listen to the tapes over and over, while I hunted for his comment on page 264, paragraph 3, line 5 of my ms.

As a writer, I absorb information best when it’s written, not spoken. To be altogether honest, I’m unclear about his methods. His web site says he gives “tracked changes” edits. But would this require an additional fee?

On the other hand, if he felt my manuscript had potential, he’d have the connections to help me find an agent.

I’ve continued interviewing other memoir editors. The whole process is making me antsy. I’ve decided to make a decision by January 3. I’ve gotta get the ms off my desk and into an expert’s hands.

So tell me: What would you do? Would you let this man edit your book?

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14 thoughts on “Would You Let This Man Edit Your Book?

  1. Lynette, I also had disappointing experiences with not one, but two copyeditors. The first one, I felt she rushed through the chapter I provided her and didn’t push me to clarify points or even delete excess. The second one was too technical and deleted a lot of my metaphors and she took long time to return my first 4 chapters.

    The editor that you are considering sounds good and has the connections. You should follow your gut. Maybe he can make an exception if you indicate that you prefer to have written edits.

  2. Hi Lynette,
    I haven’t had a work edited properly yet but as I move closer to that possibility, I’ve been trying to glean the process so I know what I’ll be getting into!

    I’ve been a beta-reader four times now. By far the best experience was with a writer who provided his beta-readers with a list of three things he was looking for in terms of feedback. Basically he indicated that he wanted our opinions on the flow and engagement of the story. Was the conflict believable? Were the characters interesting? He was straightforward in saying that he appreciated feedback on grammar or usage but that he was going to pay an editor to do a line by line edit. Ours was a role completely related to story.

    I don’t know what to expect with regards to editors – though I know an excellent writer who edits: David Antrobus http://bewritethere.com/ Because of his beautiful writing skill, I would trust his edits – and his honesty in quotes!

    It’s a difficult step in the writing process, isn’t it? Ultimately, I think we all go into it a bit afraid and vulnerable. Oh my answer to your question? No. I wouldn’t let the fellow who did only edits on tape actually edit my finely worded masterpiece…I mean manuscript!

    Hope the process improves for you…because you’re helping me learn too!

  3. Jo-Anne: I appreciate your sharing your own experiences as a beta reader, and well as giving me the advice you did. I think I might go with a different editor, one who actually *writes* her comments on my masterpiece . . . er, I mean my memoir, 😉 and hold phone conversations with me.

    Glad I’m raising questions that can help you, too. What are you working on now?

    – L

  4. Sorry I’m weighing in a week later. This is a toughy, but I’d say there are literally hundreds if not thousands of qualified, competent editors out there. The trick is how to find them. If you really admire this man who write about, you may want to get on the phone with him and grill him on the particulars. Does he mean he won’t write a single thing on the ms itself? I find that hard to take. When I edit my own work, I often go back and see notes I’ve made in the margin and it allows me to ponder if I meant just what I said.
    Will he tape what he says or do you have to? If you want to question what he says about a particular section, and only you have the notes (from transcripts you’ve taped, I suppose), how do you follow through with him? Tell him the page of the ms, read the note he dictated and your wrote down, and then hope he remembers what he meant?
    Can you talk to others who have used his services to see how it worked out for them? I would think testimonials are critical.
    I’d explore others too. Read the acknowledgments in several memoirs you admire and that may have something in common with you. Are editors listed there? THis is a tedious process, but given the money (and time) involved, both in the editing and in the time you’ve put in, it’s just another slog in the slaggy process of publishing.
    Don’t be annoyed with your friend. It’s a HUGE favor to ask of someone, and since you’re not paying her, she really may have other priorities. Besides, as a friend, will she give you truly honest feedback?
    You have cast a wide net in your twitter world. Has anyone responded to this idea who’s actually used someone?
    I know I’m going to face the same issue. Just FYI, you may want to check out Sharon DeBartolo Carmack (google her name). She’s been a long-time contributed to Family Tree Magazine and has written several family history books for others and about her own family and has shepherded others on the way to write their own. She has helped me realize weaknesses in my memoir. She hasn’t done a full out edit (as I’m not done) but really nailed sections that should go, change of voice that didn’t work, etc. She’s quite busy and will be presenting at the AWP Convention next Feb-Mar in Boston.
    Email me and I’ll tell you more.

  5. You’re a gem, Linda, and as always, a font of fabulous information. I agree with you, and will follow the tips you suggested for checking out testimonials. I’ll also check out Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, and email you about the memoir editor I’ve contacted, though, since she’s on a 3-week vacation, it’ll be some time before we can see if we are a good fit.

    Thanks a ton for your comment!

  6. All the suggestions above are great. I find myself in agreement with all of them. I know that when I edit I always reread a manuscript and check to see if my notes are right on a few days later as they seemed to be when I made the annotations. Often I find that I was too personal or too vague or too something and I rework my comments. (I usually edit in Microsoft Track Changes.)
    So, in light of my own experience of editing others, I would have trouble feeling confident in being edited if all I got were spoken words. (I always record my sessions with clients.)
    I will also generally never edit a whole memoir more than twice. So a client sends me a piece and we go through it once and s/he makes changes and sends me the new version say six months later and then I go through it another time. If I feel the piece still needs editing, I send this person to another editor. Often, someone in my stable of writers–but not me. By then, I am too close to the manuscript

  7. Lynette,
    My initial response to your question is NO based upon your list of reservations. A good editor is like a health care provider. I need to trust that my best interest is being served and that my story will have the best possible chance to shine. There are plenty of excellent editors out there and I would be happy to give you a lead on the one(developmental) I am using. She provided me with a detailed summary of her findings, line by line edits and a taped version of our 4.5 hour session ( Skype) then she billed me fairly based upon a predetermined rate after the session. Bottom line for me: I need a partner I trust wholeheartedly to give me honest and constructive feedback at a fair price. Hope this helps. One sage bit of advice from my Dad that rings in my ear “When in doubt, don’t”

  8. Thanks so much for your take on this, Kathy. I’ll be asking for the contact information for your editor! I agree with you, and with your daughter. A friend of mine says, “If it’s not ‘yes,’ it’s ‘no.’ “

  9. Lynette,
    Having watched myself suffer through decisions over a lifetime, often making the the impulsive, expensive, and remorseful choice, my gut says no. What I want to say is yes because you sound hopeful and confident in his advice, but this is one of those times when I can see walking away from one editor who doesn’t give you everything you need (how is verbal only feedback ever everything a writer needs?) freeing you up to find the editor who does and will. You’ve taken the time to write your ms, have it read, critiqued, raked over the coals and now you need someone who will help it shine. I don’t know if I’ll have have the patience to do all this. You’re an inspiration!

  10. I appreciate your candor—and wisdom—Victoria. Yes, most of us writers like to see things on the page. That’s how I absorb information. And, it’s true, I invested so heavily in getting this memoir written that I need an editor who can critique and edit it in a way that’s useful to me. Thanks a ton for your insights. They’ve made up my mind for me.

  11. Ooooh! That’s such a hard one. I wish I could understand why he doesn’t write things down! Have you talked to anyone else who has used him?

  12. Thanks for your comment—and question, Nina. I’m a little confused about his services. Apparently he does use track changes, at some point in the relationship, I’m just not sure when. Do I pay a lot of money for a one-hour consultation, then pay some fee again for the tracked changes? Unclear. (Sigh.) So, I’m interviewing other editors and weighing options. I’ll post the results here—eventually. 😉

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