Maybe freelance editors suck…because they’re freelance?
(Another post meant mainly for writers…)
I know, it’s a ridiculous title. And hey, freelance folk: I don’t think you suck as people, or even necessarily as editors. It’s more of an impersonal thing…as if you were appliances.
Okay, I couldn’t resist it but that was rude and also not to the point. Sorry. What I actually think: there are probably bunches of well-intentioned and competent freelance editors. But even if an author knows for certain that both of these things are true of a particular editor…it still may be a mistake to hire that editor. Especially for a beginning author or one with a fragile ego. The more emotionally fragile you allow yourself to be, the more damage the wrong editor can do.
Okay, enough bold-face for now. I posted some stuff yesterday about my experiences with editors. Then I got involved in a discussion over at The Passive Voice, and it led to an epiphany (or a clarification of my own thoughts, anyway) that I don’t think is well-expressed in yesterday’s post.
I’ll try to do this clearly, in bullet points:
- Working to strengthen a story for people who enjoyed it is probably a lot more useful than following suggestions from someone who didn’t like it. (Not a new thought for me.)
- Editors who are purchasing stories don’t give a lot of feedback when they don’t like what they read.
- The same editors, if working freelance and paid to give feedback, give it for stories they dislike. Every time.
To steal from my argument yesterday:
I actually brought this idea over from software development. I worked with several focus groups, and the pros in that game worked pretty hard to avoid inadvertently asking open-ended questions. People tend to pick low-hanging fruit, and since many changes are always possible (and the less important the changes actually are, the more comfortable people are in suggesting them) it often turns into a waste of time and effort. It gets much worse when multiple people are working together on a project and trying to determine “next steps,” especially if not everybody in the group understands this issue (or finds it advantageous to admit it).
When working with these groups we got better results by watching people attempt to achieve a goal via software than by letting them tell us about button color. So…in fiction I also want to focus on “users” rather than “viewers” as far as is practical. Thus, my focus on readers who enjoy a story.
Thing is, people are a lot messier inside their heads than they generally prefer to let on. If a reader doesn’t like a story, he or she may have no idea what the real reasons are. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t get a list of things to “fix” anyway if you pay for it.
And then there’s the problem that revising a story for a reader who didn’t like it (at the end of the day, we probably ought to remember that all editors are also individual readers) may spoil the thing for people who would have loved it. So…I propose a very dangerous screening mechanism:
- Deal only with individual editors who offer a free sample of their work.
- If you don’t get the sense that an editor actually enjoyed the sample, or felt it to be near-professional in quality, stop dealing with that editor.
- If the editor seems generally positive about your story, and you also got some useful tips or ideas…consider going further with the editor.
There are a couple of problems here. First: I have no idea how well this will work in practice. Second: if your stuff sucks you’ll reliably find sucky editors this way.
So…I still think learning to self-edit is necessary. You need it to cut down on the expense of editing services, to help you evaluate editors, and…well, for fuck’s sake, because you’re a writer and it’s your job.
And frankly I’m not sure I’ll do this myself. I’ve had really good results with beta readers. They bug me, asking when I’ll have more stuff ready, so I doubt they feel exploited. But! Next time I’m looking for an editor I’ll probably try something like the above.
Dealing only with individuals also ought to help avoid predatory editing services & cut down on the scams somewhat. Not perfect…but it’s an idea.
I’m glad I blogged about this yesterday.
Have fun out there.