Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Choose your Mechanic carefully

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I offer a very cheap editing service - I'm currently editing a 65,000 word novel for £120 ($200). Two weeks ago, I blogged about why I was finding that editing was much harder than I'd expected it to be.

I shared my blog on Facebook, and it led to an interesting discussion:

"Your rationale is one of the main reasons it is becoming impossible for full-time editors to make the money needed to survive on.

"If you have a car, and your car breaks down, you generally won't take it to the dealership mechanic and complain when the mechanic quotes you for what needs to be done. Yes, the amount of money is substantial and yes, you don't want to pay it, but the car has to be fixed. Even if you do complain, a mechanic isn't likely to charge you a tenth of their quoted price out of sympathy for your budget. They might offer you a 10% discount. Fundamentally, you're the one who bought a car. You know it has to be fixed. You buy car insurance or you save money for a rainy day to keep it well maintained, or you drive a broken-down car. Or, admittedly, you have a friend who is a mechanic, and they help you out.

"When someone writes a manuscript, they must build the cost of editing into the production of that manuscript. They are the ones producing what is, objectively, a voluntary effort which they must expect will cost them money if they want it edited by a professional." (James Baldwin)

You know what. I entirely agree with him.  In fact, here's how I responded:

"I tell my authors that I'm not a professional editor, that I can't work quickly, and that there are only certain types of books I will consider. They know I'm not the best editor they could get. To use your analogy, I'm the neighbour who will tinker with their car in exchange for a bottle of wine. [Obviously I don't drink wine, so in my case it would be a box of chocolates.]

"But so many indie authors decide not to have their work edited at all, and I feel that's bringing down the standard of books in general, and indie books in particular. So I like to be available, as that neighbour, while telling them that there's no substitute for a qualified mechanic."

James's point is very valid. If you want to write a book that's any good at all, you need to factor in the cost of editing. And editing costs money. Like anything else, you get what you pay for. You can expect to spend around £1,000 ($1,500) on a professional edit of a full-length manuscript. Since most indie authors make under £500 from their books, it's clear that you will lose money when you write your book.

I consider that any editing is better than no editing. I paid $600 for an edit of my fourth book, Honeymoon Heist because, although it was being traditionally published, my publishers didn't feel it needed an edit. I disagreed, and I'm glad I went ahead with the private edit. (Partly because I got to spend precious time with my amazing and talented editor who died of cancer less than a year later.) I don't think I have made $600 from the book (I posted my last royalties cheque on Facebook because it was so pitiful that it was funny) but I have no regrets. I would rather put out a good book and lose money than be associated with something substandard.

So the better the editor, the better the resulting book. Remember to factor the cost of your editor into the equation as you write your manuscript.

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