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Finding a Book Editor

July 16, 2015 at 11:28 pm (Uncategorized)

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As The Dark Orchid Express nears its final round of edits, I’ve found myself researching book editors. Ideally, I’d like someone that can provide a solid critique as well as proofreading for anything that I may have missed. I know from my days as a psych major that no matter how careful you are, there’s always something that you’ll miss. It’s just how our brains work. When we’re familiar with the material, we fill in the blanks ourselves and it’s near-impossible to catch everything. Of course, I also know from my experience in creative writing workshops that there’s a layer of subjectivity which is often informed by industry standards. In other words, depending on your genre, what is considered the “right” amount of dialogue, plot development and description may vary wildly. Someone with an MFA from Iowa may be the perfect editor for your coming-of-age tale but will most likely be a poor fit for your sci-fi novel.

So, my first step was to send out some initial inquiries to prospective editing services to make sure that they actually have someone with experience in my genre. Mainly, I was interested in someone that has done speculative fiction but would settle for a general fantasy editor. I received a response from Scribendi this morning. They replied, informing me that they have editors in every specialty, but that they couldn’t possibly know all of the specialties. They assured me that their editors “typically have multiple degrees, 15 years of professional experience and are published in his or her chosen specialization.” They then recommended “Editor EM531.”

This automatically set off an alarm. It seems odd to me that they wouldn’t know their own editors’ specializations, as this is something that would be cited on a resume. Certainly, an editor with fifteen years experience would have accumulated areas of expertise. Furthermore, if they don’t have that information, how can they possibly assign me an editor appropriate to my manuscript? I additionally was concerned by paying approximately $2500 for an editor who is known only as “Editor EM531.” After all, it’s a standard practice for clients to know the name of the person doing the work. Besides, how can the client verify the company’s claim of extensive experience and multiple degrees if they don’t know who they’re working with?

I wrote them back and explained that the nature of the critique could vary based on the editor’s background and therefore this information was essential. Given the cost of the critique portion of the service (roughly $750 for a 1-2 page analysis) it seemed that knowing the editor had experience in my genre was a small request.  So, I asked that they give me the name of an editor that worked in my genre and if they didn’t have someone directly related, provide the name and genre of their closest match. They responded and informed me that they could not “provide the name and personal details of our employees” and that it was best that I look elsewhere. Note that I did not ask for anything that could be considered personal. I asked for the name and specialty only, which is actually substantially less than what’s listed on the typical employee bio on a company’s website.

Out of curiosity, I did a bit of research on Scribendi online. According to GlassDoor, they do hire new and inexperienced freelancers and it’s seen as a good way for newbies to get their feet wet. Some of the editors complained about the lack of transparency as well and, from the sounds of things, most of the jobs that they picked up involved proofreading ESL students’ essays. According to their own ad for employment, they ask for three years of experience and an undergraduate degree although a graduate degree, while not a requirement, is preferred. So, it does seem like there’s a bit of spin in the list of their credentials. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect fifteen years experience. Three years of experience would be more than sufficient for my purposes, as long as the editor has experience in my area. What’s more disconcerting is the secrecy combined with spin.

I’m still waiting to hear back from one of the other services that I contacted. I also have some other avenues that I’m considering looking into, such as posting the job on a freelance site or possibly taking out an ad in P&W. However, I wanted to pass on what I found for other authors going the self-publishing route. In general, I find the following to be good guidelines to bear in mind:

1. Responsiveness: Remember that people tend to be more responsive when trying to make a sale. If they don’t respond promptly (within 48-72 hours) to an inquiry, what reason do you have to expect they’d do so when working on your book?

2. Experience in your genre: not to beat a dead horse, but this really is important. I remember workshopping the first chapter of another project, a fast-paced “new weird” style story, and getting steered towards making it a piece of literary fiction with only the most subtle sprinklings of magical realism. Often, people in one genre don’t realize they have certain biases. If you’re going to spend the money on any kind of developmental editing, you need to know that the person is familiar with your audience.

3. An editor bio: any decent editing service should be able to provide you with a bio that lists the editor’s name, where she got her degree and what sort of prior experience she brings to the table. This doesn’t mean you’re judging the person on the degree but it does help verify that the person has it. You’re spending a lot of money–you are absolutely within your rights to make sure that a service’s editors have what the salesperson claims that they have.

4. Send multiple inquiries. Don’t ever go with the first person or company that answers you. Your book is a big deal and you have to make sure that you’re hiring the best person for the job.

5. Decent pay for their editors: you don’t want (as some of the people on Glassdoor mention) an editor that is having to scrounge and scrape by, getting up in the middle of the night to pick up jobs, just because the service doesn’t pay their editors properly. Remember, if they aren’t making good money on each job that means they don’t have the time to dedicate to your manuscript. They’re going to have to get through it as quickly as possible and move on to the next job in the queue. This isn’t their fault, it’s their employer’s fault, but it does impact the quality of work.

6. If you can, try to get references or scrubbed samples. Don’t accept “confidentiality” as a reason to not provide these things. It’s a standard practice in the business world to provide sample work that has enough identifying details scrubbed out to give potential clients a sense of what they do. It’s also standard to offer incentives for extremely satisfied clients that agree to serve as a reference.

Like most things, these aren’t hard and fast rules and no service will be perfect. Consider each of the above points a red flag. If a service violates one of the guidelines but otherwise seems good, go for it, but beware of anyone that violates most or all of the above.