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THE PAYING FOR EDITING – SELF-PUBLISHING CONUNDRUM

October 3, 2012

            I was at the racetrack last night and ran across one of our writer’s group members. After talking a bit about the race things inevitably turned to writing. The subject became paying for an editor. He was convinced the way to get ahead was to pay for a good quality editor.

            I told him like I’ve told you before on this site that I consider paying for editing, if not in these exact words, amounts to self-publishing. As far as I’m concerned, any publisher worth their salt is going to have their own qualified and highly capable editors. If you have to buy your own up front, that’s self-publishing. On the other hand, if you’re going to pay big bucks to edit your work just to impress a decent publisher, only to turn it in to them and have them re-edit your work all over again, you’ve thrown that money down the toilet. I say that because despite you spending all that money to make the book perfect, the publisher is not buying it for being perfect, they’re buying it because they think they can sell it as a marketable story. What’s the difference? A marketable story can be full of flaws, but have a killer plot, characters and a cooperative author, where a perfectly edited story that sucks from an author that won’t listen won’t sell squat.

            To me, many if not most people that look for editors for hire are not patient enough to read at writer’s groups (they may be too shy). I make an exception for those that may not have access to one for physical or logistic reasons. There are many great editors out there and they need to make a living. I know of several attached to our group. However, I also know that with a bit of patience, perseverance and a bit of effort, you can learn your chops, find others of like mind (if you live in a town big enough) and at least make your manuscript presentable enough to submit to agents or publishers.

            Here’s another point. I’m a realist. I am thinking of self-publishing (yeah, I said those words) one of my icky bug novels. However, I’m only going for electronic self-publishing. No garage full of books, no overhead, no publishing fees. Very little startup cost. My outlay is going to be the ISBN fee, the epub fee and the artwork. The tricky part is the final line edit. Since I cannot edit my own work (remember forest through the trees?), I need someone else to do it for me. My mentor, Carol suggested a pro editor.

            The problem is that the price versus my very likely profit, if any, is not worth the risk. I figure I’d have to lay out approximately $1,200 minimum for editing, publishing and artwork (if I do the artwork myself or hire a very cheap graphic artist). Say, that all works out. I put the book out there for the magic price of $2.99. What are the chances I actually sell that many books, from an unknown author? What are the chances I sell that many books in the icky bug genre, especially from an unknown author with little to no professional marketing, just word of mouth and whatever I can whip up?

            You do the math and consider that when you think about hiring an editor. In that $1200 I threw out there, I’m figuring 90% of that cost is editing. I’m going to do my own artwork. However, if you want fancy artwork, you could add as much as $5,000 or more to that cost. $6,200 and still end up with maybe $200 in sales. Now we’re -$6,000. I’ve seen quotes of $800 to $5,000 or more for editing. Are you prepared to spend that kind of money to maybe get $200 in sales? Maybe you’ll do better, maybe not. Are you a mind reader? Can you predict the market? That’s what publishers do all the time. They’re gamblers, They gamble on you. If you fail they absorb all those costs. The difference is that those costs come out of the huge profits they make on their other authors that they make huge profits on. They can afford to take risks once in a while. You or I can’t afford it. At least I can’t. Do the math.

            I’m not here to depress you, just to give you a dose of reality. Before you dig deep in your pocketbook for an editor, do what you can through other methods, write the best, most marketable story you can, and let a good publisher do the rest. Don’t try to do it for them!

            On the other hand, if your intent is to write a family history, a small-run bio, or other limited-run non-fiction piece, self-publishing is probably the best way to go. If you’re still hell-bent on taking the risks, there are plenty of high-quality editors out there. I know a great publisher and some great editors!

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2012 2:58 am

    Right on the head, Fred, I agree with everything you’ve said since I’ve had a lot of experience with different phases of self-publishing, including the ebook world. I suspect there’s very little money to be made with ebooks, and only a few succeed who have worked their fool heads off, learning then working to promote their works. I would never have self-published if hadn’t inherited a 17th part of my sister’s small fortune. My wife suggested I get an illustrator for my children’s books with the money, but first publish my autobiography, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era.” It’s been a good run and I still get a small royalty every two months, mostly from ebooks, but I’m back into the music world where I’m devoting many hours a day practicing my trombone. But the offshoot of being a published author is that I get a change to give inspirational talks to young students, mostly seventh and eighth graders, many who have already given up on school. I can tell when I get through to a few, and that’s worth the time I spent learning to become a writer.

    • October 4, 2012 3:45 am

      Felix,

      Always good to hear from you! Yeah, lots of expenses with little return unless the book really takes off. I’m glad you are getting something back. I assume you did the math. Have you seen any black yet?

      It sounds really gratifying that you reach those kids whenever you do. I really enjoyed that short time I was in your big band back in 68/69. That was a great time and I’ll always remember it even if you don’t remember me from back then! I don’t blame you. I only played on one song but was there for a lot of rehearsals and that one concert. Ah, the memories!

      Fred

  2. October 3, 2012 7:59 am

    Great article, Fred, and I have to say I agree with you 100%.

    • October 4, 2012 3:47 am

      Fiona,

      Welcome to my web site and thanks so much for the comments. Yeah, when you do the math, it’s not exactly a rosy picture, is it?

      Still, for certain purposes, paying for editing is a perfect fit, I just don’t think it’s the right move for fiction.

      Fred

  3. October 3, 2012 8:00 am

    Great article, Fred, and I have to say I agree 100% with what you’re saying here.

  4. October 4, 2012 6:45 am

    Nope. Don’t agree at all. I doubt that a manuscript that’s full of errors is going to get an agent’s attention. Agents aren’t just looking for storytellers; they’re looking for writers–people who’ve studied the craft of writing. That’s not to say that commercially successful books can’t be total shit, but I still think any manuscript should be professionally edited before being submitted. I believe “pristine” is the word I’ve heard agents use at writers’ conferences. P.S. The more the writer knows about the craft, the lower the editing costs will be. It may be wiser for a writer to invest in a writing coach to learn how to write better in the first place!

    • October 5, 2012 12:50 am

      Linda, I agree that you shouldn’t be shopping around a half-assed MS, but I don’t think pristine is necessary. I’ve heard that pristine comment before also, and I don’t think that’s realistic.

      Tight and the best it can be are certainly true and as a writer, you certainly need to learn the craft, have the story edited by someone if not more than one someone and beta read by several people before you start submitting, but paying hundreds if not a thousand or more for a professional edit is going too far, especially for shopping around a new and unproven MS. In my opinion anyway.

      Networking, writer’s groups etc. are the way to go before you fork out huge bucks on a risk like that unless you are isolated, don’t have the time (or patience) or have a lot of money. I’m not a big fan of not having the patience, though.

      You shouldn’t be shopping a story you wrote in the first place if you haven’t taken the time to learn the craft well enough to complete and polish a story.

      Woohoo! A great discussion!

      Thanks so much for your take on this!

      Fred

  5. October 4, 2012 8:08 am

    I enjoyed reading this. I’m almost finished a book translation and am researching all possible ways of getting it out there as a real book (not an e-book). Thanks for your wisdom on self-publishing.

    • October 5, 2012 12:51 am

      Patricia,

      Thank you for the comments. I wish you the best of luck on your project!

      Fred

  6. Ann Marquez permalink
    November 12, 2012 4:02 am

    Hate to disagree, but far too many writers skimp (or completely skip) this most vital stage. I would never dream of editing my own work, whether a proposal or a complete manuscript. Working with a “qualified” editor is a must. And I do mean “qualified.” There are far too many so called editors taking advantage of first time authors. Others genuinely believe they are qualified to edit, but are not. I’m not willing to overpay, but whether or not I enjoy a return on this investment, I take pride in my “official” work and always consider the money well spent.

    • November 12, 2012 3:18 pm

      Annie,

      Thanks for the comments. If you are going to self-publish, you don’t have any choice but to pay for an editor. However, if you are going to go for a regular publisher, you should let them do the editing, NOT pay for it first, then let them use their own in-house editors to do it all over again.

      That’s basically what I’m talking about here.

      Nice to see you back!

      Fred

      • Ann Marquez permalink
        November 13, 2012 5:24 am

        Gotcha 😉 But I’d still need to hire an editor for my manuscript and for submissions to a traditional publisher. I make too many mistakes. Heck I even use an editor for my pitches, query letters and I wish I could afford to hire one for my blogs. 😀

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