It’s like a stab through the heart. Just when you thought it was safe to plunge into the publishing waters, your literary masterpiece—the great work you’ve slaved over for months—becomes shark bait. In a conscientious effort to produce a polished manuscript, you’ve become a victim of fraud. Editing fraud.
How did it happen? The scenario usually goes something like this:
You revise and proof your book until your eyes glaze over. Your first readers—friends and relatives—hardly unbiased, praise it. But deep inside is a small niggling of doubt. Something doesn’t feel right, but you can’t quite put a finger on it. You need a professional opinion. To avoid submitting “sloppy copy” to an agent or publisher—or embarrassing yourself with a self-published blooper—you take the next step: Hiring a private editor who will help polish and perfect your work. You Google “private” or “independent” editors. Hundreds of names pop up. You narrow your search to the classifieds of writing magazines. Not so many. You shotgun emails to a bunch who advertise cheap rates and promise—no, guarantee—your publishing success. Responses pour in. You jump at the cheapest with the quickest turn-around. Because, after all, how hard can it be to give your 400-page magnum opus a quick read-through, fix your typos, and offer a few tweaks? Many weeks later, after much delay, unhelpful suggestions, and a significant outlay of cash, the process stalls. Your emails go unanswered. Like a thief in the night, the so-called editor has cashed in and slithered away. You’re worse off than when you started. And you’re kicking yourself for being the world’s biggest doofus.
Like any business, publishing has its share of scammers. How can you protect yourself?
1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s been said a million times but suckers still fall for perceived bargains. Editors advertising “Cheap rates!” or “Quick turnaround!” or “Publication Guaranteed!” are yanking your chain.
2. Don’t fall for ego stroking. Beware of editors who flatter you with outrageous praise, comparing your book and style to best-selling authors. We all love to hear compliments about our work, but smooth talk and sucking up are only tactics to lure you in and take your cash.
3. Talk about the work first. A legitimate editor is more interested in what your book is about, the intended audience, word count, and your skill level. Before taking you on, an editor should ask to see a sample of your writing, or a synopsis and a few chapters. No professional editor wants to waste time and energy working with amateur writers who lack basic grammar, punctuation, and sentence construction skills. No matter how much money is involved.
4. You get what you pay for. The going rate for a professional private editor is currently about $40 – 50 per hour. (Copy editors generally charge per page.) After reviewing the details of your project, the editor will give you a rough estimate of the amount of time involved. You might be required to upfront some cash as a “retainer,” as you would when hiring an attorney. Some editors work with clients on a pay-as-you go plan, with installments payable at intervals. You should be allowed to terminate the working relationship at any time. This assures that you will never exceed your budget.
5. Check out references and edited books. Ask the editor to provide links to edited book samples. Or ask for a satisfied client’s contact info in order to verify and discuss their editing experience.
Not all private editors are out to take advantage of you. But how do you find the good guys? Your best bet is through a professional writing organization like the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) which publishes a Freelance Editors directory. LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) also categorizes freelance editors and posts their endorsements. Check out names on Preditors and Editors (www.pred-ed.com) for fraud activity and general bad-mouthing. And you can’t beat writing listserv groups for word of mouth contact info.
Before you entrust your masterpiece to a stranger, do your homework. Use reliable sources, name check, and ask for references. Stop the sharks from taking a chomp out of your wallet.
Jacqueline Horsfall is the author of over 20 books, a college-level writing instructor, and a 15-year freelance editor (not of the shark variety). Visit her booklist at http://amazon.com/author/jacquelinehorsfallbooks