In defense of editors

So, I talked earlier about the whole notion of paying percentages.

I want to mention one last thing about it, and that’s the notion that everyone other than the author provides “day labor.” What do I mean by “day labor”?

This post by Dean Wesley Smith is instructive:

Everyone who reads my blog knows how I feel about giving a percentage of any kind of your property for day labor. (Like giving the gardener a percentage of your house for trimming a hedge.)

Oh, the word “day laborers.” It’s implied that you could go down to the street corner and hire anyone to do precisely the same job. And it may be true that some of the people in publishing do work that is noncreative and fungible. But…all of them? Really? Getting your book edited is like getting your hedge trimmed?

Let’s be more specific. You think that a good substantive editor can’t act as a true creative partner?

Look, I get that some editors are crap–I don’t have the longevity that Kris and Dean do, but I do keep my ear to the ground, and I have friends who gossip. I know that there are editors who don’t edit. I know there are editors who edit badly. I know there are editors who suggest changes just so they can feel like they did something.

But I also know there are editors who can work with an author, not against her, to help produce the best book possible. (I had one.) I know that there are editors who are so magical, authors will take paycuts to work with her. (I don’t know this personally, but based on available evidence, I’d be willing to bet good money that Angela James is one.)

Many editors, in fact, edit late at night or on the weekends. They edit when they’re visiting their families over Christmas (personal experience again here). They do so carefully, methodically, and with an eye toward helping the author write the best book she can manage. I’m kind of offended on behalf of some of the amazing editors out there—people who are vastly underpaid and underappreciated. I get that I’m supposed to disrespect traditional publishing at this point, but I can’t stomach talking like that about people who spend 60-80 hours a week making almost nothing, while living in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.

They do that because they really, truly believe in making amazing books. That just makes me angry.

You can talk about authors being underpaid, but editors are underpaid, too–and the very first person I could see myself paying a (time-limited) percent to is an amazing editor. These people may be attached to a business model that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, but that’s no reason to denigrate what they do.

And maybe I’m just showing my colors here. Because here’s the other thing—I am okay with not maximizing my income. It’s totally fine with me if I make a little less money, if that means I’m paying someone enough that they can earn a living wage. I don’t need all my business deals to cut the other party to the bone. I don’t want to screw anyone. Just because I won’t be the frog doesn’t mean I have to be the monkey.

I’m being very careful with how I spend money now, because I don’t know how much I’m going to make. But if I start making reasonable profits, I don’t mind sharing them with the people who are most vital to my success. Maybe that’s crappy business sense, but whatever. I didn’t take this step so that I could replicate the things that most bug me about the industry.

Okay. Rant over.

12 thoughts on “In defense of editors

  1. I have nothing but respect for my editors. All three of them work ridiculously hard to push me to make my books better. I know they care about me and my book and I also know they work long hours and put a great deal of energy into giving me edits that take into account things like my voice and the overall flow of the story. It’s far more complicated than a lot of people assume to edit well and it behooves an author to really pause to listen and weigh what her editors are saying.

    A real working relationship between author and editor is something special and something worth all the time and effort (and yes, costs)

  2. Amen! With the abundance of publishing houses out there right now, having a good editorial staff is one of the biggest thing that attracts authors to submit there. Of course money is number one, but if your editors are awesome words gets around through the author community rather quickly.

    On the flip side, if your editors suck that word gets around as well. We author’s aren’t dumb, we can see when you half ass our work. That’s not to say a MS that looks like it’s bleeding always indicates a good edit, but if I get an MS back and there are only token changes, I know my editor was watching Supernatural and doing her nails while editing my book.

    So yes, I’d rather give a bigger % of my profit to an editor that rocks than a smaller % to an editor that should consider a career change. 😉

    Good editors=worth their weight in gold

  3. My cousin works as an editor in addition to being a published author (he edited while trying to get published). It is an amazingly hard job but he’s always gotten lots of appreciation from the authors he works with. But I have heard people make similarly comments as what you’re talking about.

    I’m forwarding this blog post to him, it’s really good. A good editor is priceless.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. A good editor is more than window dressing! And certainly more than an interchangeable cog in the publishing machine. Chemistry between author and editor matters. Editorial eye and experience matters.

  5. I’ve never had a truly bad experience with an editor, but I’ve had strong creative differences. I respect the work they do, but no percentage. Editors at publishing houses are paid a salary. Yes, I value the input that helped some of my books be better, but I’m the writer. Authors get little enough, so I don’t agree with this POV. That’s not a slam on editors, or the work they do. This is business.

  6. …Not everyone can trim hedges, either, Courtney.

    Nobody’s calling editors interchangeable, that I’ve seen. When I edit or proofread, I prefer to get flat rate rather than royalties. Contracts are easier, there’s less upkeep, and my pay doesn’t depend on the author’s marketing practices. Still, if someone wants to work on royalties, okay. Some freelance writers prefer charging per word; some per assignment.

    I can envision situations where paying royalties to an editor might be the best business practice for someone. But in general, I do think it’s a bad idea, just for the workload involved.

    The 30% to Amazon is a completely different issue. They’re the retailer. Retailers buy from suppliers and resell at a market price of sometimes as much as 300%. Some suppliers have rules that retailers must follow, which limit what retailers can charge. (Kamelion jewelry’s one example.) Publishing has become a rule-limited supplier, and the rule is that the publisher sets the price.

    Paying a percentage to an editor—even for a 2-year duration—is comparable to giving a percentage of sales revenue to the guy who patches the business’s parking lot. It’s necessary, it helps sales, and not everyone can do a good job. In fact, considering the state of road patches where I live, I think most people can’t do a good job patching asphalt.

    What’s a flat-rate editor’s incentive for doing a good job, you ask? Reputation. When you do a good job, you get repeat business and word-of-mouth. As a freelance writer, it’s not unusual for me to get new clients on client recommendation.

  7. Every author needs an editor. I don’t care if you’ve sold millions of books or just one. And an author who says they don’t need an editor needs a reality check.

    And editor can be an author’s best friend in the writing process.

  8. Hi 🙂

    First, let me say (for kicks and giggles) that publishing houses and large ones, have many lousy editors too. Not all editors in an editing department of a large publisher are experienced or even experienced, not necessarily good. A large publishing house is not a guarantee for a good editing work. I’m stating this as a reader.

    Second, as an editor, I will say that I don’t agree with the percentage payment for editing work, for various reasons. I charge by word or sometimes by the hour (rarely), but I would not accept a royalty payment, as a practice. I’m saying this in general, not considering the aspect that a book might not sell. I might do the work for free or with a very low charge, if I deem it worthy.

    I might (might being the key word 😀 ) agree to one exception. Payment in percentage on sales, until my fee would be covered. So in that case, it would be like installment payments of the fee, well stated and clarified in a contract. But that, in very rare cases.

    I believe on principle, with few exceptions in some cases as above, that an editor should charge fees and not accept percentages on sales. And authors should think very carefully to whom they assign royalties and be extremely careful on reading and signing a contract including royalties, with any party, including agents and large publishers. And no one, no exceptions, should retain royalties rights of an author’s work for life. 🙂

    Thank you for the interesting post 🙂

  9. I just want to note that I have never said that I insisted on paying an editor a percentage. Nor have I said that all editors at major houses are good.

    What I said was this: if the only way I can get the best editor possible is to pay her a percentage, I am willing to do so.

    Ditto my agent. I love my agent. If she would work for an hourly rate, I would pay her an hourly rate, and save a ton of money. As it is, she’s good enough that she can demand more, and she does, and so I pay her a percentage.

    I’m not saying that people HAVE to be paid percentages, or that editors SHOULD be paid percentages, or that everyone should TRY to pay percentages. I’m not saying that any editor that works with me MUST take a percentage.

    I am saying that I don’t fetishize any particular payment structure, and that I prioritize quality–to the point that I’m willing to pay a percent for it.

    This is a post about keeping options open. It is not a post insisting that this is the only way to do things.

  10. I just finished reading Unlocked, and I enjoyed it a lot! I love it that you allowed the hero to have made real mistakes.

    I read the review over at Dear Author, and was surprised to read there that the novella cost 0.99$. I guess the extra cost Amazon charges international customers is really outrageous. (I live in Europe, and paid 3.44$).

    Anyway, good work on the novella! I’m looking forward to the new novel.


  11. As a reader I can tell the difference between self or Indy pub books that have been professionally edited and those that have not. As a professor I spend a lot of time explaining to my students that proofreading and editing are not the same thing at all. And just because someone might be a great editor, it doesn’t mean that she is the best editor of her own work. Brilliant surgeons don’t operate on themselves. A good substantive editor is worth her weight in gold– however you choose to pay that gold.

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