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Literary Editors

Literary Editors
Dashjianta's opinion on Everything that starts with L ... written on 19.03.2002
Advantages: Using a literary editor can make a big difference.
Takes time and money.

Click here for original posting
This reprint is "as is" with no editorial changes

I've been working on and off on a novel for what must a year now and it has now, finally, reached the stage where it can be considered near complete. The end needs some work (mainly because I've had to chop the story in two due to its length) and there are one or two bits I'm not 100% happy with. (I never am though..:) But all in all, I have a servicible manuscript.

When I first started writing, 6 or 7 years ago, my next step would have been to make up a query letter, print out a few sample chapters and send it off to every publisher I could find who published work in my genre. NOT a good idea.

A better idea is to find a literary agent (prefferably agents) and submit to them according to their guidlines. The more agents you try, the more likely of finding one you can work with. Literary agents, however, get a lot of submissions, so a first draft isn't all that likely to impress. So, before doing that, a through going over of the manuscript is in order. Unfortunately I hate going over my own work.

That's where the literary editor comes in. And so, earlier this month, I set about hunting for some.

--What does an editor do?--

That was the first question I needed an answer too. My initial idea of an editor: They take your manuscript, fix spelling and grammar errors and send it back. And that is exactly what a basic editor will give you.

A good editor, on the other hand, will offer a much wider range of services.

Proofreading: The most basic option. Spelling, puntuation and formatting correction.

Copyediting: As above but includes grammar correction, full formatting, word usage and a look at the over all tone of the work.

Substansive/Line-by-line: Everything is overhauled with this method. As well as the basic corrections the structure of the work is examined, inconsitances in narravtive voice are fixed and illogical statements weedled out.

Critique: Some editors will also give you a critique of the work. This does not offer any editing as such, rather it focuses on the content of the work and points out plot inconsistances, character flaws and anything else that will cause the manuscript to fail. (critiquing is also a service available seperate from editing entirely)

--Reasons I Rejected Most Editors--

There are a lot of editors out there and before even beginning to look closely at them, you really need to make a shortlist. I did all my research on the internet, so any editor not easily found online was ruled out without my ever having heard of them. Here are the other reasons for rejection. Editors take note! (as if..:)

1) The website. If I go to a website and can't read the text because of an over fussy background or find the page littered with errors I won't even bother seeing what that editor has to offer.

2) Lack of information. Any site that says "I edit stuff, send me your manuscript" isn't going to get my attention. The same goes for any eidtor who has no list of credentials or experience. If an editor can't offer you this much, how will you know you can even begin to trust them?

3) No examples. If I cannot see how the editor works, how do I know if the editing they do is worth my time? For all I know the type of editing they do is useless to me. I am extremely fussy about what may and may not be changed with my work. If I don't know what's going to be changed, I'm not going to trust an editor enough to give them any money. At the very least the editor needs to show samples of their work. Better still are sample edits on the writers own work. Free is good, but I WOULD be willing to pay a reasonable fee for such a sample.

4) No e-mail contact. If I cannot make first contact through e-mail I'm not interested. If the editor is UK based this isn't that big of a problem, but a lot of editor's are US based, which means postage isn't cheap and I'm a skinflint.

5) Restricted payment methods. When an editor has done enough to gain my interest, it's rather disappointing to find there is no accomadtion for credit card payment. Any non UK editor asking for cheques is ruling me out without trying. If you're looking for an editor check the payment methods offered before you do anything else.

6) Payment set on a "per hour" basis. Personally I find this very off-putting. I have no idea how long it takes to edit work. Please don't say you charge per hour then ask me to send in a manuscript plus cheque for the correct amount. If you are going to charge per hour, at the very least asses the manuscript first and give me a MAXIMUM fee you will charge.

7) Broken links. It goes without saying that a broken link gives a bad impression. How can you trust an editor to work on your manuscript when they don't take enough time to make sure their own website works.

--Shortlisting the shortlist--

With all the editors narrowed down using the above reasoning, it's time to narrow that shortlist down even further. Here's where the writer has to decide exactly what they want out of the service.

1) Interaction. How much direct input do you want on the editing process. If you want to be able to get updates on progress, comment on changes or make suggestions based on comments recieved, you'll be wanting an editor or company that offerd a direct contact service, where the writer will be able to talk to the editor through e-mail or on the phone. (DO NOT use this communication to constantly bug the editor.) If, on the other hand, you're happy to hand the manuscript over and leave the editor to get on with it, then a large impersonal company will be just as useful to you as a small company or individual.

2) Services offered. Check what type of manuscripts the editor deals with. There is no point sending a fantasy work to a thesis editor. Also check to see if the editor can forward to someone more appropriate.

3) References. Okay, this was in the first list too, but I'll say it again. Check the editors references and experience, but this time use it to rank your shortlist in order of preference. Experienced editors are going to be better - they've had more practice after all.

4) Compatiblitly. This is extremely important. There is NO point in contracting an editor you do not like or whose work you do not like. If an editor offers a sample, get one. Pay attention, not just to the sample itself, but also the conversation between yourselves. Make sure you're happy with both things. If you can't get a sample, read the on-line examples and see if you would accpet such editing on you work. If you're iffy still, e-mail them, see what sort of response you get. If at any stage this makes you uncomfortable, cross the name of your list.

5) Trust. Trust is a very subjective thing. If there is ANY doubt in your mind regarding the editor, cross them off your list NOW. This person is going to be changing your work. If there is no trust,t hey are not worth a penny to you.

6) Fee. Whilst you should be aware of the editor's fee from the beginning, this should be the last thing considered when ordering your shortlist. There is no point picking out all the editors who charge less than X amount only to find you hate them all. If a fee is very obviously beyond your budget, then elimanate it. But if you find yourself thinking "If I could break it into X parts, I could afford this" then by all means query the editor about it. You never know, the editor might be willing to accomdate this. And if they can't, then ask yourself how much you want the editor at the top of the list. If your chosen editor really stands out from the rest you might be better off having a little patiance and saving up the fee. Remember how much time and effort went into your work. Is it really worth settling for second best at this stage.

--Talking to the Editor--

This may seem obvious to anyone seeking to speak to an editor but, be polite. You may be working with this person so don't start off on the wrong foot.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. If there is anything you don't understand, ask about it before you commit yourself.

Don't take it the wrong way if the editor tells you no. Not everyone can edit everything. I do think, however, that you should be told why they said no.

If you don't like what the editor did, don't jump on them, just say a polite, thank you, but your editing isn't right for me.

--Evaluting the Editors--

When I had finished all my searching I had come down to a shortlist of just 3. Here are how those three editors performed under the sample edit.

--Lynda Lotman--

Lynda runs, and also works at Sample edits of between one and five pages are offered, depending on the full manuscript length. Lynda does not edit every sample sent to her, so bare that in mind if you choose to send her a sample.

With Lynda being top of my shortlist, she was the first person I sent a manuscript to. When I did so I was anticipating a wait of a week or two before recieving any response, followed by a rejection. (I have less confidence n my work than I should, I think). I was pleasantly surprised, therefor, to recieve a response within a day informing me of when she would be able to work on the sample. Her response was both friendly and personal.

The edited sample arrived shortly after with another friendly and encouraging e-mail. At the same time as I recieved the sample she quoted a fee based on my level of writing. Lynda's fees are set per word and are dependent on the editing needed.

Two versions of the edit were attached to the e-mail - one with tracking and one clean. The standard of editing was very high and there was nothing she had changed which I disagreed with. Every change she made improved the work. In addition she also added some very helpful comments that pointed out flaws in the story consistancy and errors that I had repeated several times during the sample.

Another bonus was Lynda's wanting contact via phone and e-mail, despite it meaning an international phone call for her. When I mentioned potential problems with paying for a full manuscript edit, Lynda was also willing to split up the work to accomadate my finances.

All in all, Lynda offered a very professional and friendly option.

A1 Editing was the second editing service to attract me enough to send in a sample for editing. A1 editing offer a 5 page sample edit plus 15 page minicritique. As with Lynda, fees are determined on a per-client basis, this time based on a per-page amount (1 page=250 words).

Initial contact is with Nicole Bentley, the companies editor in chief. The manuscript is then passed on to an editor appropriate to the style of your manuscript. Again, the e-mail is friendly and personalised.


Scribendi are first and formost a business, as can be seen by the nature of their website. All submissions, including that for the free sample are handled by an online form, which takes the personalising out of the initial contact. Sample edits are offered on single page of text (which can be single spaced).

The sample edit arrived within a day in the form of an edited doc, with edits marked using Word's tracking system. Also in the e-mail was a short comment from the editor "EM103". For me, personaly, this lack of direct communication was somewhat off-putting.

The editing itself was good, but it lacked the helpful comments I had particularly liked with Lynda's sample. In addition some of the changes, although perfectly legitimate, were not for me.

Also be aware that unless you directly request it, you will not necissarily get the same editor for the manuscript as you recieved for the sample edit.

Scribendi charge by the word with the highest fee being 0.9c per word. However, you have to choose which service you require in advance, rather than having the editor recommened the level of editing you need.


Editing is a worthwhile step in the road to publishing. Even a piece of work you consider near perfect can benefit from the attention of the right editor.

Take your time chosing your editor. Narrow the list down until you have a shortlist of editors that you would be comfortable with. Try and get a sample edit if you can - at the very least ensure you've seen an example of the editor's work. Choose a company or indiviual that uses a method that is right for you. Persoanlly, I prefer the personal service Lynda offers over the more businesslike structure of the likes of Scribendi. You, on the other hand, may prefer the opposite.

Most important off all - make sure you TRUST your editor. If you don't trust the editor, you will not trust the changes they make.