I was invited by author Judi McCoy to speak to her workshop of aspiring authors on the Wednesday of RT. Also on the panel were editor Kate Duffy of Kensington Publishing and agent Scott Eagan of Greyhaus. Kate Duffy fielded quite a few of the questions directed toward editing (dude, she’s been editing almost as long as I’ve been alive, she knows her shit.) But one of the questions I ended up answering.

Do you require submissions to be professionally edited?

My answer: No.

One thing I’ve learned about editing is that it’s subjective. You’re going to have critique partners, beta readers and yes, editors, who have different opinions on the different aspects of your manuscript. No two editors edit exactly alike, we all have an eye for different things, have different pet peeves (I really hate the repeated use of stood there/sat there because I think it’s undescriptive and makes the writing sound simple. Hate it.) and different ideas on how your plot, characters, story should go. Ultimately, it’s the editor who contracts the book who you’re going to want to and in some cases have to listen to. If you end up with a professional editing service who savages your plot and slices and dices your words, what good is that going to do you? You’ve just paid someone to tell you your books sucks. Ew.

What does this mean for professional editing services? It means you should save your money. Most professional editing services charge an obscene–yes I said obscene–amount of money. Some don’t do much more than what a good copy editor will do–and if you get a contract with a publisher, they’ll have someone they employ who knows house style and can clean up the product at the end of the process.

If you’re unsure about plot, characters or story, a good critique partner or beta reader can give you insight or help–and you don’t have to pay them anything, other than doing the same for a critique partner.

The last problem in epublishing/small press is that you could potentially pay a professional editing service $300 and up (I’ve heard stories of a $1000 or more for a novel length book. Ouch.)–and you will not make that back in royalties with many epublishing companies.

When might you want to consider a professional editing service? As editors, Kate and I both agreed we don’t need a technically perfect submission to contract it. We realize that there will be typos, wrong punctuation/capitalization/spelling. So if you’re looking to pay a professional editing service to get it perfect, don’t bother.

On the other hand, if your “final” draft (this means not your first, second or third, but maybe your sixth or tenth) is still pretty rough because your basic grasp of grammar and technical issues is pretty bad, and you can’t find a good test reader who can help you clean stuff up, then you might want to consider an inexpensive editing service. Really inexpensive. And you’re going to want one that maybe you can learn from so that you don’t have to keep paying on each manuscript, but can learn to self-edit (a really invaluable thing to be able to do if you want to make writing a career). But again, exhaust your other options first, before paying.

Kate asked the aspiring author who’d asked the question, “What did you get out of the professional service you used?” The answer, (paraphrased) “A few typos corrected and a lot less money than I started with.”

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