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Losely related with my latest question: Should one invest in a professional editor before querying?

I've finished - not without sweat - my second draft. While I'm satisfied with the overall result, I can't shake the feeling that something is not quite right with my novel. Maybe it came out a little childish, maybe there are useless repetitions of themes, or maybe, again, some characters are shallow.

As the author, I feel like I'm a little shortsighted right now. I can't point out the flaws exactly, or how to fix them; moreover, I'm not sure if they are actual flaws or they are perceived flaws.

This bias is one reason why I'm skeptical of going into a third, lone draft. The other reason is that I've worked almost nonstop on the novel in the last year, and I'm starting to get sick of reading the same scenes.

Of course, I'm no way special and I suppose the same could be said for a lot of author in my situation.

So, would it be a good idea to call a professional editor after the second draft?

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    I'd say this is the point to call in beta readers. And congratulations! – Cyn Sep 2 at 14:35
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    I agree with Cyn, find qualified beta readers. I've also posted an answer on your previous question. Perhaps you need a break if you're sick of it already because, even if you got accepted now, you have a long editing road ahead. My agents made me do three drafts before submission. For publication, I've drafted twice from professional developmental edits, I'm now going again on a copy edit, and I still have a proofread to go. You're probably looking at a dozen drafts before publication! Congrats on finishing though - many writers don't finish. – GGx Sep 2 at 15:20
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    Thanks to both of you. I've got a pair of non-professional betas, but I'll consider calling expert ones and taking a break. – Liquid Sep 2 at 17:09
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+75

At this point you need one of two things, either time or someone you trust to tell you the truth.

The problem with most beta readers is that they are friends or acquaintances and they don't want to upset you or jeopardize your relationship. I recently did a beta read for a friend and basically told her she had to start over. I was on tenterhooks after I delivered this message, because I feared I might have wrecked the friendship. (I hadn't, thank goodness.) But the risk is very real, and we have a natural inclination to encourage our friends, which can be fatal to effective critique.

So does that mean a professional editor would be a better alternative? Not necessarily. There is an entire industry devoted to flattering aspiring authors. There are a lot of them, so it is a lucrative field. Professional editors no doubt do a good job making good manuscripts better. But what about making bad manuscripts good? Only a very few exceptional editors are capable of that. But doing so involves telling an aspiring author that they have wasted months of effort and have to start over. That is not likely to go well, and it is likely to be bad for business. Not only will that author not come back, but they may badmouth you to their friends.

Fundamentally, an editor's business depends on people being happy with their services and telling them their book is crap is not a good way to make them happy.

And, frankly, most aspiring authors are never going to be able to produce a novel that is not crap. They just don't have it in them. The industry that exists to serve these people, from editors to writing teachers to conferences simply isn't going to tell these people the truth, which is that they should probably take up macrame instead. There is a built in economic motive for lying to them (err... encouraging them).

Best bet, though this is not easy, is to find another aspiring writer who is a serious as you are and wants a serious critique as much as you do, and make a blood pact to critique with total honesty without sparing feelings in any way.

When you are confident in your overall structure, then consider a professional editor, depending on how confident you are in your own ability to produce clean copy.

6

The ideal recourse, at this phase, is finding some good beta-readers.

Beta-readers are fantastic because they give you a sense of how your novel is working; what's good and what isn't. Beta-readers don't need to be pros, but they do need to be (A) observant and (B) honest. That isn't necessarily easy to find! But, it's way better to get some non-professional feedback first, and improve based on that -- just because non-pro feedback is easier, more accessible, free, and you can reasonably get several of them.

(Getting several points of view is important -- because until you do, it's really hard to tell the difference between a reader/editor who individually doesn't click with this particular book, vs. one who has substantive and constructive feedback.)

You can look for beta-readers on online workshops, on beta-reader or critique-partner swaps, and a bunch of other places online. A local writer's group might work for you even better. The primary criteria, though, is that you need to find people who's opinion you'll respect (I love my mom, but that doesn't mean her opinion on my new secondary-world steampunk adventure is particularly well-considered), even if you won't necessarily agree with it.


Your other option is, as you suggest, hiring an editor. Specifically, you'll be looking for a freelancer who does developmental editing.

Developmental editing can be really fantastic, but, it has several serious problems.

One is, you need to find a good editor -- and it's really hard to tell, at this stage, what editors are good for you personally and for your particular work. Writing is so individual, and so are editing styles -- and, telling for yourself which out of hundreds of freelancers will work out well is really hard. Look for substantial recommendations before even considering this.

Second, there is a certain bar below which good editorial advice will be "I'm sorry, but I would reject this out of hand, this is nowhere approaching publishable." They can tell you why, but in that situation, the most constructive advice they can offer will be along the lines of: "Perhaps you could rewrite this entirely, here are some pointers for how it could be better."

This might, in fact, be extraordinarily helpful to you. And you might choose to rewrite, or you might stow the draft away in your trunk, and go work on something else.

Just understand that you very might well be paying, not for "Here's how to fix your book," but rather "Go work on something else." That's way better than spending years polishing something fundamentally flawed -- but you really need to go in knowing that's an option.

(This, actually, is another reason that beta-readers are so valuable -- you'll have a much better idea of where your current draft is at, whether it's at "needs fixing" or "needs a complete overhaul." And then you're much better poised to make the decision on paying an editor.)


Generally speaking, unless you are self publishing, the assumption is that you don't pay for editing. You want to reach a point where you can spot issues and fix problems by yourself. Not to perfection -- but yes to the point where somebody will be willing to buy your MS, and edit it themselves.

If you're so uncertain about this manuscript, that might be your own insecurity (totally normal! Writers are an anxious lot!). Or it might be that you yourself do need to level up your craft and your editing skills. The problem with hiring a freelance editor is that you'll be spending a lot, for... only a modicum of actually improving your own skills and abilities. Only one person's opinion -- and not even a person who particularly clicked with your story to begin with, or necessarily thinks it has potential.

Beta-readers (if you can find them!) give you a much better general sense of where you stand. And, generally, getting into a group where other people are beta-reading your work, and you're beta-reading theirs, is a fantastic way to improve your writing in every way.

5

As a comics writer, my experience is particular to that format. I had hired a professional editor who did pretty much nothing for me - he wanted to 'brainstorm' over a phone conversation (an option which did not fit my way of working) and offered only vague advice which turned out to be of dubious merit.

However, I later hired another editor who was completely the opposite. She went through my script line by line, noting places where I had strayed from comic script format (i.e. showing two actions simultaneously in a single panel, or having someone nod or blink which are gestures which don't translate easily into a comic page). She also was sensitive to places where the dialogue was awkward, or potentially offensive (one scene involving a disabled character I had resisted her advice, but once I saw the artwork realised she was right after all, and made a change). I consider her a vital part of the team and credit her along with everyone else.

I've felt less need to have her edit later editions, largely because I feel like I've learned enough from her, but I'm a better comic scripter for my experience of working with her and I think hiring a professional editor can greatly improve a work.

5

I wouldn't do it, speaking from experience. I paid for an edit long ago, on my first completed novel, and my editor did not do anything I couldn't have done with spellcheck and Grammarly (both free).

As far as story analysis, it was uninspired, it said it was a good story, flowed well, and had no major issues. It was then rejected by 40 agents.

If you have money to pay for something and can emotionally tolerate the fact that you might be totally wasting a few hundred dollars, I would suggest some of the OTHER help you need: Getting a query letter written, getting a synopsis written, or getting JUST your first 10 pages edited and critiqued. (There are also more advanced versions of Grammarly available for pay, I'm not sure what they do, but that might be an investment.)

On the business end of writing, the traditional route is to query agents with a query letter, and often the FIRST ten pages of your story. Some may ask for a synopsis (1 or 2 pages, single spaced but full 1-inch margins). If the agent likes what she reads, she may request more; but ultimately you trust her to find and negotiate with a publisher.

These are very important items. The writing in each of these is judged strongly by agents, and in a flash: A few wrong words or typos or lost punctuation marks can drop you in her reject pile. Agents often reject over 95% of all queries, they receive far more offers than they can represent, and they aren't there to teach you anything, or take you under their wing, or coddle you. They are looking for new authors already writing at a publishable level, they aren't schoolteachers nurturing beginners.

I won't recommend any particular service, I haven't seen any of their work, but I have seen several offering these kinds of query/synopsis/first10 services, including former agents and publishing house readers, at what (to me) looks like affordable prices, in the few $100 range. Other than that, use tools. Pay attention to the redline words and figure out how to use Grammarly. Perhaps pay for the Grammarly upgrades to the free version, if they appeal to you. Once they are done, the mechanics are good enough for a publisher-employee to polish.

I also believe learning to write a synopsis of your completed story (learning is free) is also a useful tool in exposing your story structure, it forces you to reveal the key beats, concisely, and understand why they matter. That can also be a tool for doing your own story analysis, seeing where it sags or the pacing is off, and sometimes what you should devote more attention to because it IS an important plot point you couldn't cut or gloss over in the synopsis.

EDIT for OP comment:

OP: In my country there are few agents, and authors are often supposed to contact publishers directly. Regarding Grammarly or other similar services, I'm more concerned about the themes and the general pace rather than grammar mistakes.

You would have to contact publishers with basically the same materials you would contact an agent with, for the same reasons. They can't afford to pay for readers to just read your whole book.

For pacing and themes, a synopsis for yourself is the answer. When you fly in an airplane, you can see patterns in the landscape you cannot see from the ground; that is why they call it the view from "10,000 feet" (2 miles, one kilometer).

A synopsis is 1500 words or less; a hard limit for many agents (and I presume publishers). Like the view from on high, this shrinks your story by a factor of 50x to 100x. So little details are lost, but general patterns become more prominent.

Likewise, either in the process of forming this synopsis or by annotating pages for where important events lie, you can tell if your pacing lags significantly, or is too fast.

I would do this in 5% increments of the page count; chunks 1 to 20.

I personally follow a four-act structure, the 3 act structure with the 2nd Act broken into two equal parts. each act is roughly 25% of the story. Each act has a beginning part, a middle part, and an end part, but these don't have to be equal; but at least 5% each. So I have 12 segments of the story to write.

My first act, segment one, introduces my MC doing something in their normal world, not plot-critical but doing something, and simultaneously introduces the MC, their strength, weakness, and the world setting. This is usually 15% of the story. Segment two introduces the inciting incident, something the MC has to deal with. This is usually 5% of the story. Segment three, the last 5% of Act I, is for escalation of the inciting incident that drives the MC out of their normal world and comfort zone.

You need similar "beats" in your story, turning points. A synopsis should have every significant turning point in your story in some line: a happening, a change, in knowledge or understanding, in plans, in relationships, in motivation, in life or death, whatever. By looking at % marks of where these occur, you reveal pacing. These turning points should not be too close together, or too far apart, and should increase in frequency from beginning, to climax, and then slow to a stop after the finale, when the MC either returns to her normal world or embraces the new normal.

Readers begin a story expecting a slow start and will forgive your introduction, up to about 15% of the story, but once the inciting incident occurs, the warm up walk is over and we start a jog, then a steady run for the end, and a sprint for the finish line. A synopsis with % marks for turning points will help you analyze your pacing.

  • You do make some pretty good points on query letters, syniopsis and agents (even if in my country there are few agents, and authors are often supposed to contact publishers directly). Regarding Grammarly or other similar services, I'm more concerned about the themes and the general pace rather than grammar mistakes. – Liquid Sep 10 at 6:39
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    @Liquid answered in extension to post. – Amadeus Sep 10 at 10:39

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