Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Proofing, editing, ghosting or book doctoring? How to tell which one's for you?

I found out early in my writing career that some editors call themselves “book doctors” so they can charge hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of dollars more than someone who classifies himself (or herself) as a content editor.

I found this out because I was royally screwed. Not just once. It took me three times before I caught on to their game.

I’m not saying everyone who calls herself (or himself) a book doctor is unscrupulous. But much of the time the only difference between “book doctoring” and “content editing” is the price, unless you need help with plot, characters, dialogue or creating a scene. For that, you need more than proof reading or even content editing ~ you need someone who knows how to help you develop the skills to finish the manuscript, or you choose to pay a ghost writer to fix the problems for you.

After writing and editing professionally for more than thirty years I finally know how to explain the difference between all the categories of “writer’s aides,” and what you should, and shouldn’t, have to pay for them.

Having been a Bureau Editor as well as a writer for large news organizations including Media General Communications Inc., Sunbelt Newspapers, and Amazon’s former self-publishing division, BookSurge, I have edited and improved thousands of manuscripts, continuously switching back-and-forth between Associated Press style for news and Chicago style for book publishers.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that all writers need to know exactly what they want someone to do for them and how to go about finding a person they can work with and trust. There are plenty of us to choose from that do a good job for our clients without causing them to hock the family jewels or mortgage their house.

Everyone needs an editor before they submit to a publisher or self-publish a book. I’ve been an author and editor for more than thirty years and I wouldn’t think of letting a book go out without my trusty editor going through it with her red-line first. This Blog is different. It’s coming straight from me to you. Why? Because it’s supposed to be a conversation, not a lesson, so I hope you’ll take part.

Get everything in writing. If an editor (or book doctor) is hesitant to send you a simple contract spelling out what each of you expects from the other, think of that as a huge red flag. I do know some perfectly legitimate editors and writing coaches who use email confirmation of details, like prices and delivery dates, and that’s OK too because at least it’s written proof. And it’s not just writers who get shafted by the lack of a contract. As an editor, I’ve shot myself in the foot low-balling a price more than once because I forgot to specify “double-space type” or “must be in 12-point type.” 

You see, if an editor bases a price on page count, and the copy comes in a font he (or she) needs a magnifying glass to read and has no white space between the lines, that editor is as screwed as the writer who pays an editor by the hour and can’t tell whether they’re editing the manuscript or watching daytime TV.

Know exactly what you’re asking for. If it’s a quick read-through to check for errors, you need a proof reader. If you want changes made to sentence structure, noun-to-verb-tense and similar content changes to “smooth” the work out, you need a content editor. If you’re asking for help with plot, scene-setting, dialogue and narrative, you’re asking for manuscript development. Sometimes someone who does this type of work calls himself (or herself) a coach. Others use the words “book doctor,” or “professional critique,” while still others call themselves by a variety of names, including just plain “editor” when actually they do a lot more than edit.

To sum it up: Hiring an editor or coach is like going to the grocery store. Never go in hungry or without a list.

* Please put Penny Lane in your news feed and send me your email so I can add you to my “specials” list. From time to time I drop my manuscript coaching and editing rate as a payback for help I’ve received along the way. If you want your name in that hat be sure I know who you are and how to find you!

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