Traditional publishing means less work?

Yesterday I wrote about paying for an editor to look over your manuscript before submitting it. The post has had about eighty or ninety views so far and the comments showed that people were divided over the issue.

What interested me was that a couple of commenters said hiring an editor was a good idea if you intended to self-publish. The implication being that if you intended to go traditional, you didn’t have to.


I mean, seriously, what’s the difference between self-publishing and submitting to an agent or publisher in terms of the quality of your submission? I know what you’re thinking. An agent isn’t the general public. They’ll see the potential in your work and help you polish it. If you submit to an agent you don’t need to hire an editor because the agent will help you polish your work, which will get it to an editor in a publishing house who will polish it some more. By the time it reaches John Q. Public it will be all shiny and perfect and you won’t have had to spend a penny on editorial services.

So now I ask, so what?

Agents do not want to have to spend their time polishing your work before submitting it to publishers. Editors do not want to have to spend their time polishing your work before sending it to print. They do all this because people don’t bring them perfect work. And let’s face it, as others pointed out yesterday, almost every single book that gets traditionally published still has errors. That’s with being polished by countless people over a couple of years.

I know nothing is ever perfect, but surely your work should be as perfect as you can make it before submitting it to an agent? If that includes hiring an editor, so be it. If nothing else, you will be making lives easier everywhere you go. It could be what clinches the deal for you.

If you would hire an editor before self-publishing, then I really think you should hire one before submitting to an agent. For all intents and purposes, both represent the same thing – your work is being seen by someone who has the power to help you earn money from it. Personally I don’t intend to ever hire an editor, whether I self-publish or go the traditional route. Which is why I will probably set my work aside for several weeks between edits and this will happen several times before I am satisfied that it’s as good as it can be. The criteria for achieving perfection should be the same regardless of which route you intend to take.

In the end, for me it’s about how much respect you want from the people who pick up your book. Do you want to be seen as someone who requires the services of an editorial team, or as someone who brings their absolute best to the table in the first place? I know which I would prefer.

About Mhairi Simpson

Writer, dreamer. Magic, dragons, pink mice, cake. Come say hi!
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31 Responses to Traditional publishing means less work?

  1. Walter says:

    Also, there is always the fact that the merits of your work might not be sufficient to make an agent or publisher overlook errors and problems within the writing. Editing is YOUR job as a writer, no matter what route you take. If you don’t have it edited by a pro, then at least have it beta read by someone with a good head for grammar, spelling and punctuation.

    • Yes, this is probably a good time to point out that I would get (ask politely) a number of people to read it through for me in order to pick up things that I’d missed. Not hiring an editor doesn’t mean no editing. Mutual read-throughs could almost be currency among writers.

  2. I’ve been flipflopping on whether or not I want to hire an editor before I submit. Part of me wants to get it as good as I can with the help of my critters and then send it out because I just want to be done with it already, but the other part of me is screaming “THIS IS A BAD IDEA!” Especially since I didn’t study writing or English in college, and know I don’t have the same strengths that many people do.

    Of course I might just give it to my husband, who did study English in college and is the scariest person I can imagine reading my work. If I can get through his edits then I will have no fear sending the MS off to agents and publishers ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Sounds like a good plan. If it helps, I didn’t study English at university-level. Grammar stuff was covered up until the age of eleven, or thereabouts. Your husband sounds like a good bet ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Sonia M. says:

    I am definitely not a grammar expert. I have this fear that I’m going to miss all kinds of obvious mistakes and people are just going to shake their heads when they read. I know I’m not that bad, but the fear sneaks in there…not enough to shell out for an editor yet though ๐Ÿ™‚ . At the moment, my plan is to first polish my stuff until I’m satisified. After that, I seek the help of a critique partner or group. Susan Meier is teaching an online course on self-editing in April. I think it’s through the Romance Writers Assoc or some such. I don’t have the link off hand. When I find it, I’ll post.

  4. Scott Roche says:

    In some ways hiring an editor before you send it to agents/publishers might make more sense, but I’m not sure. Let me think this through.

    If you send your edited ‘script to an agent/publisher that certainly won’t hurt your chances of them picking up what you’re putting down. It’s not something you would use as a selling point “Oh by the way, I had this edited already, so you don’t have to.”, but as someone that has to read a slush pile weekly (I’m part of a small publisher) it wouldn’t hurt my feelings to receive copy that’s not rife with typos, grammatical errors, and plot holes you could drive a Hummer through.

    However, this gets back to cost/benefits. You spend $200-$400 of your own money and it’s very likely (I’d wager almost guaranteed) to go through an editing process anyway. It would hopefully be a less painful process than the edit you pay for in terms of the arduousness of it. But you’d still have to go through it. Hopefully though you’d stand a larger chance of recouping your cost since you’d sell more copies, even if it is at a lower percentage.

    I still think you’d be better off just polishing it as best you can for free. I mean heck don’t publishers frequently (or at least often) buy novels/pitches that are completely unfinished, much less un-edited? But if you want it done and you can afford it, then I’d say go for it.

    I know I plan on hiring a pro once I’m reasonable sure I can not only recoup the cost, but get it down to less than 5% of sales revenue.

    • One could argue that by the time you are successful enough to achieve that cost/benefit ratio, you would have edited your manuscripts often enough that you could continue doing it yourself. Personally I’m so hung up on typos that I would edit my manuscript a number of times before even sending it to an editor, on the grounds that I was too embarrassed to let anyone see my work in a state less than perfect…

      (edited by author)

  5. If we can’t count on the publishers to provide proper editing, then that diminishes their value-add even more. I paid for an editor and wouldn’t even think of distributing my work without one.

    However, if we writers are expected to hire an editor before submitting to the publishers, shouldn’t they pay us back if it’s a story they want to publish?

    This is a business, folks. The publishers are supposed to be providing services to distribute the content in the best manner possible. If they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, then they sure as hell shouldn’t get a percentage of the sweat, blood and tears content producers put into their work.

    Otherwise, we should look to hiring independent artists, editors, and graphics folk and keep more of the pie instead of the pathetic advances and tiny percentage most of us receive.

    • I wasn’t suggesting it become the norm, simply that it should be one’s best work which is presented to anyone who you expect to give you money for it, whether or not that requires an editor.

      • Understood. I guess what make me grumpy about the whole topic is that, as pointed out, books are put into the marketplace with loads of errors as it is. Which makes me wonder if the publishers have ever done their jobs properly.

        Having gone through the process, I know it’s very difficult to find every misspelling, every punctuation mistake, and etc. But the publishers are supposed to be the gate keepers to the content, or at least have been. Therefore such slips should be an anomaly rather than the norm.

        Considering it’s so difficult just to get through the slushpile based on a query, I’m not really certain an indie edit is going to help a writer to make contact with the big presses. Just my 2 cents.

      • Everyone’s two cents are welcomed, that’s why comments are enabled ๐Ÿ™‚ Your point about indie edits leads to the question, why does anyone bother paying an editor at all? If they wouldn’t produce a work fit for consideration by a publisher, why would said work be fit for consideration by readers? At least, by the numbers of readers which, let’s be honest, we all hope to attract.

        Please bear in mind I’m not trying to be deliberately argumentative, just want to get all sides of the argument out in the open.

  6. Every time I’ve read about why authors get less royalties and why books are so expensive (compared to self-publishing), someone says it’s to pay for all the work that goes into it, specifically editors. . . So, if I understand you right, I have to take less money through traditional publishing because I’m paying for an editor, and then I have to pay my own editor in addition?

    I mean, that’s the best-case scenario. That assumes that I can sell the story after I’ve already paid out for an editor. The worst-case scenario is that I pay money for an editor, then still can’t sell the book.

    If the worst case is that I pay and don’t get paid, but the best case is that I pay twice and make less money, how is this a good thing at all?

  7. Sue says:

    As I see your question, it is really two questions: to pay an editor or not, and to submit your writing to an agent/traditional publisher or self-publish. With the various permutations of these two questions there are four possible outcomes:

    *Pay for editing yourself & pay again in the form of lower income from traditional publishing
    *Pay for editing yourself & take your professionally polished work to market yourself
    *Not pay for editing yourself but pay instead in the form of lower income from traditional publishing
    *Not pay for editing yourself and then take it to market yourself

    If you have your heart set on getting an agent and are lucky enough to catch the eye of a traditional publisher AND don’t mind lower potential earnings AND don’t want to be responsible for marketing your own work then I would say keep doing whatever it is you are doing. Bear in mind, that even if you do get lucky and land a contract with a major publisher, unless you are an ‘A’ list client you’re still going to have to do a lot of the marketing yourself. So, why earn a lower percentage on your hard work (you are basically paying in perpetuity) for the privilege of them editing your work, when you could have paid an editor once up front?

    And, while I realize these comments are entered relatively quickly and are not the same as editing a manuscript, I find that you yourself make the case for having someone else, in addition to yourself, go through your words. Whether you pay for that service is up to you. I am finding in life, that you get what you pay for.

    “Personally Iโ€™m so hung up on typos that I wouldl edit my manuscript a number of times…”

    • Thanks for pointing out the mistake. I’m fairly sure I mentioned that I didn’t intend to be the only person who revised my work before sending it out into the big wide world. I’m just not in favour of paying someone else to do what I, my critique partner and probably at least a couple of writer friends can do between us.

  8. I can only tell you my experience. I got picked up by Ace Books after I had my manuscript edited by an independent editor. Why did I did I lay down a nice chunk of change for that? I wanted to make THE best first impression I could on the editor.
    Did I/Will I ever do it again for the other five books they have contracted me for? No, pretty unlikely.
    Do I think that was the ONLY reason they decided to go with me? Not at all. I had a web presence and a damn good agent. So to me, it was just part of the package.
    I feel I got my money’s worth out of getting the editor involved, and now I am working with the contracted editors in house.
    I have been indie published, dipping my toe in self-publishing, and now working with two of the big six. I’m learning about the pluses and minuses of all of those. You’re not just paying for editors with the NYC houses, and you are also paying for the marketing, the people who present your books to the store buyers, pay for you to get on the front page of the ibook store, or to get in the massmarket tower at B&N. Also quite a chunk goes on their New York rents I would imagine (I foresee a near future where the Big Six make some changes there).
    As far as editing goes. Do the sums. Consider what your goals are, and make sure to find a GOOD editor to spend your money on if you decide to go that way.

  9. If I’m reading this right, then what I’m getting here is the concept that in order for you to send out your manuscript, it needs to be edited first?

    Is this beyond the traditional 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th) draft editing? If so, I’m calling bullshit.

    As of right now, I’m paying an editor to review my work, and present to me the reasons why certain changes would be beneficial to my work. If I agree, I make the change. If I do not, I adjust what needs adjusting (spelling, basic grammar) and then I self-publish the work.

    Any one can use a decent word processing program to spell check and grammar check their document. The basics. Worst case, you grab a dictionary and check things manually if your spell check keeps telling you to replace Tolstoy with tampon. It’s common sense.

    If you’re so worried that an editor would think poorly of you for sending in a manuscript that needs editing, then you need to rethink the reason why you’re sending the manuscript in, in the first place. It’s like cleaning your house before a Maid Service comes over to clean.

    “It does not make sense. Lookit the silly monkey!”

    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned about the professional appearance of your work, and that you shouldn’t do the basics, but don’t needlessly obsess about the work you’ve done.

    They are Editors for a reason. If you decide to use them, let them work their magic for you.

    • What if you aren’t worried about spelling and grammar and things that spellcheck might catch? I’m personally worried about pacing and plot holes that other writers who are still in the editing phases might miss, but that a professional editor would catch? Do you think it would still be worthless to pay someone to look it over for “big picture” things before trying to go the regular route and get an agent/editor/publisher?

      (I realize I could ask the same to many of the people who replied, but yours is the last one I read ๐Ÿ™‚ )

      • I think an editor is a completely worthwhile expense. I question editing (excessively) before sending to an editor a it somewhat defeats the purpose of their work. Not completely, but in part.

        Write, clean up, send to your editor, and see what you need to and want to change and then let your work be free.

    • Angela Perry says:

      Sorry, David, as a professional editor, I have to disagree with you. I have never met a writer (including myself) who could edit their own work well. And editors do judge the quality of your writing by how many errors you make. While I don’t necessarily advocate for hiring an independent editor, I strongly believe everyone should have at least one other pair of eyes on a book.

      Your comparison to cleaning before a maid service comes over isn’t quite accurate. That assumes you would do the same quality of work that the maid does. I think writing a book and then having it edited is closer to building a house and then having it painted. Editing and writing are two completely different skill sets.

      Just a note: many agents have taken on the job of helping writers edit, but that isn’t their job. You pay them to sell your book. Some real estate agents will make suggestions about how to fix up your house, but they’re real job is to sell the house, not make it pretty. Also, the title “editor” in major publishing houses is becoming a slight misnomer. They will edit the book, but their main job is acquisitions. They look for quality books to acquire. If you want to impress them, put your best foot forward and don’t send substandard work because “it’s their job” to clean it up.

      • Sorry if that’s how my comment came across. I never meant to imply that a writer should or could edit their work on their own. I have a good friend who is my editor and every dollar I spend makes my work that much better. I meant to say that I do not feel that obsessively editing ones own work prior to enlisting the help of an editor is needed. Editors are an invaluable asset to a writer and should be treated as such.

  10. Akoss says:

    Personally I made it a point not to worry about how much money I may or may not get out of getting published one day, only because it takes the enjoyment out of writing for me. I will be thrilled if I get published and readers tell me they enjoy my work and why. That’s my goal. ๐Ÿ™‚
    In the end, it doesn’t matter if someone goes indie publishing or traditional publishing. We all want to present a professional work to readers out there, right? So the means are up to us. Our opinions are different, and our choices are too. Getting published takes a lot of work and or money, no matter how we go at it.

  11. Kaye Peters says:

    Editing scares the hell out of me and I have an English degree. I can edit others no problem, well, with very little problems, some grammatical rules still tie me up. I think for me is that I’m so close to my work that I struggle with trying to be objective with it.

    However, I do my best to edit my work as I go and once again (or several times) when I’m done. I have a writing buddy I can use and my husband is one of the most critical people I’ve met and I mean that in the most loving and gentle way possible.

    There is always that little voice in the back of my head that questions if paying for an editor is worth it on top of everything else I would go through to get the book published. Then, that voice gets a friend when I think about the possibility of not being able to publish the book through traditional means and the voice’s friend suggests self-publishing.

    This is a very interesting post and I’m enjoying the thoughts and opinions that are being shared. They are giving me something to think about. Thanks!

    • You’re welcome. Sharing opinions is what it’s all about ๐Ÿ™‚

    • “my husband is one of the most critical people Iโ€™ve met and I mean that in the most loving and gentle way possible.”

      We should start a “writers with critical husbands – and we mean that in the best way possible” group ๐Ÿ™‚ My hubby is the same, and I plan on him being my last free editor as well!

  12. ~thefox says:

    For your fears read The Artists Way and for your writing read either A.E. Hotchner’s Papa Hemingway or Stephen King’s On Writing. My opinion doesn’t matter. Facts do.

  13. Rebecca Emin says:

    I have always enjoyed the editing process – having a fresh pair of eyes read over my work and make helpful suggestions – it all leads to a better finished product.

    I personally think, for a writer who has not yet have a book published, the odds of finding an agent or publisher are so slim that if you can afford a professional edit it is a worthwhile investment. If not, I would say ask some writer friends to give feedback if you can, or at very least get some friends to beta read for you.

    I did have a professional edit for my first novel. I have just this week agreed a deal for my book with an independent publisher.

    However, I can understand that if someone is signed with a big publishing house for consecutive novels, perhaps a professional edit before submission is not so necessary, as by the nature of the agreement, their in house editor will fill in that gap.


  14. Pingback: Musings of a blog writer… What exactly are we trying to achieve? | Tempering the Steel

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