Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Editor

Oh, hello there, friends. It’s been a while. I thought it was time for me to (finally) bring back my blog now that I have a whole new facet of publishing to talk about – editing!

To clarify, I am an independent editor who works directly with authors, not an editor who acquires for a publisher. This means that the way I find clients isn’t too different from when I used to receive query letters as an agent. I ask for sample pages, publishing goals, and ask some general questions up front to determine if the author and I are a good editorial match. More than just ensuring I have expertise in their genre, I try to learn more about the book itself and what the author’s vision for it might be.

This, I’ve noticed, is when I tend to lose authors. Some have ghosted me completely at the prospect of having to answer questions about their book and publishing goals. Others have replied in a vague way that reads as a cross between “how dare you?” and “omg what are you even saying to me right now?” This has become enough of a trend that I felt the need to dust off this blog and talk about what I wish more writers asked themselves before reaching out to professional editors.

Question 1 – “What do I want from a freelance editor?”

Knowing what you want from a freelance editor should be your first step in deciding to actually hire one. Knowing whether you need to hire one now is a different, but related, question. For instance, if you finally finished your first draft and you already know the exact chapters you need to go back and delete, or which plot holes you skipped while drafting, it is too soon to hire an editor. Do not spend money to be told what you already know. Beta readers and critique partners are excellent resources for early drafts. Use them.

Once you have a draft you’ve taken as far as you can take it yourself, think about your publication goals. If you are planning to self-publish, hiring a professional editor should absolutely be on your to-do list. Be aware that developmental editing (sometimes called content editing) and copyediting (sometimes called proofreading or line editing) are two different things, and may require you to hire two different people. Developmental edits should be completed before hiring a copyeditor. Basically, a developmental editor is going to get your manuscript looking like a novel, and a copyeditor is going to help you turn that novel into a polished, publishable book.

If you are planning to query agents and go the traditional route, hiring a professional editor is not always necessary, but you might still have plenty of reasons for wanting one. If you have not started querying agents, but you know you want to, a query critique or partial critique is likely the better option for you over a full manuscript edit. That said, I typically work with agented or querying authors on full manuscripts more often than I work with self-published authors, but in those cases, I am very rarely am I working on their first drafts.

Question 2 – “Do I know the average cost for hiring professional editors?”

This, perhaps unsurprisingly, is what leads to many writers to disappear from my inbox forever. And, folks, if I do say so myself, it is not because I overcharge. I’m very much in keeping with industry standards and am sometimes on the lower end for professionals with a similar experience level. So when I see a writer run away when they’re reminded they are hiring a professional, and not just teaming up with a beta reader, I get it, but also not really. This is a business relationship and there are plenty of resources online to prepare you for the general ballpark that can be expected for the services you’re requesting. (This blog post will be one of them.)

Freelance editors will base their fees on a variety of factors. Length of the novel is a major one, but not the only one. A 60K-word YA contemporary, for example, may not take as long to read as a 100K-word adult sci-fi, but the time I put into approaching complicated plot issues or the number of conversations I have with the author throughout the process could easily be the same for both novels. So, overall scope of the work and type of editorial service are absolutely kept in mind too. That said, size matters. (You heard me.) Longer novels will cost more than shorter ones, which I why stress the importance of reaching out to editors only after your own revisions are complete. It will save you money and ensure you are getting the most beneficial feedback for your money.

So, what dollar amount should you expect? Again, it depends, but I’ll give you a fairly wide ballpark figure for an average developmental edit for a novel: $1,800 – $4,000. If that made you reel back a little, better to get that out of the way now and not when an editor is expecting an answer from you. Could full manuscript services cost less? Of course. Could some cost more? Absolutely. The thing to keep in mind – so you don’t Kool-Aid Man out of an editor’s inbox and leave them hanging – is that it is far more likely a full manuscript service is going to be four-digits, not three. But the other thing to remember is that most fees aren’t due all at once, and payment splits can make an unexpected number feel far less scary.

Question 3 – “Am I prepared to receive professional feedback on my work?”

I went to a lot of writing conferences when I was an agent. Almost every author who’d sign up for a pitch session with me would say some version of “be brutal; I can take it!” I hear things like this from writers reaching out for editorial services too sometimes. Reassuring me that I don’t need to hold back. Writers, trust me, I never need that reassurance. If you are paying for my expertise, I am going to give it to you. That does not mean the same thing as “being brutal” though – not even a little bit – and I’ve noticed that the writers who do equate honesty with brutality are more often the ones unprepared for professional-level feedback.

Be honest with yourself about what you’re prepared to handle. Doing research on what editing is and what type of feedback to expect is a good start. Using beta readers and critique partners first is also a good way to prepare yourself. I take a gentle approach with new writers, and sometimes I still get replies that make me wonder if they understood what being edited would entail. Something else that can become very obvious very quickly is when a writer has no intention of revising, and therefore weren’t prepared to respond to actual feedback. Sometimes this is because writers convince themselves they should hire an editor just so they can say they hired one in their query letters. So as a former agent, let me say right now – this is a waste of everyone’s time, and you absolutely do not need to do this.

Hire an editor only if you are ready and willing to put in the work of revision. If you are looking for a quick “this is fine,” you are probably going to be disappointed in, or bewildered by, the editorial process. But if you are looking for a “this is fine, but this part isn’t yet, so let’s move some stuff around or approach it from a different angle so that it all makes sense the way you want it to,” then yes, please come aboard!

Some post-scripts (since it’s been a minute):

Please use proper channels to contact me for editorial services! See the Next Chapter Editorial website to connect professionally: https://www.nextchapteredits.com/

If you are a new reader and are curious about why I left agenting, you can read about it here: 2019: A Decade in Agenting. I am determined to bring this blog back at least semi-regularly, with a stronger focus on editing and craft, so please subscribe if you are not already so you don’t miss any of my (probably sporadic) posts.

One of the reasons blogging was the first thing to fall to the wayside during my career transition is that it can be just as time-consuming as writing an editorial letter, but not something I get paid for. I plan on keeping this old school and not turning it into a paid newsletter, but I added a “Buy Me Coffee” link in the sidebar and would appreciate the occasional show of encouragement. Thanks. ūüôā

2019: A Decade in Agenting

This little blog has slowly become a place where, once a year, I offer query stats. I didn’t know that 2018 would be my last year of A Year in Queries. And I really didn’t know at the time that 2019 would be my last full year of being a literary agent after nearly a decade.

It’s still slightly surreal to say out loud, but it’s true. My big 2019 news is that I have left Bradford Literary and my career as a literary agent. Starting in 2020, I’ll be offering freelance editorial services with my new venture, Next Chapter Editorial. I’m also going to continue teaching writing workshops, and focus on my own writing again (!). There will be more details – and an actual website – for my editorial services soon. Stay tuned!

If you came here for query stats or a hope that this post would be my announcement that I’m opening back up to queries, I’m sorry. You can cross me off your lists, but I hope you add a different Bradford Literary agent in my place! The support I’ve received from my BLA colleagues has been overwhelming, and I feel so lucky to have worked with these amazing women.

I’m not going to get too into my feelings about not being an agent anymore because I truly wouldn’t even know where to start. This was a decision that was both painfully obvious and managed to take me by surprise.

We read articles about burn-out and the importance of self-care all the time. They make us feel “seen” right before we keep scrolling to the next thing. The part of work/life balance that gets talked about less is what happens after you find it. When the anxiety and stress of trying to achieve that balance is no longer the thing occupying 90% your brain.

For me, not being totally consumed by work allowed me to view it as a job again, and not experience it the way I had been: as my identity.¬†::cue “Going Through the Motions” from Buffy::

Here’s what I know about me – I’m a good editor. I genuinely love teaching, advising, and problem-solving. These are the parts of being an agent where I’m confident and happy, but they are only a fraction of what makes a good agent.

Here’s what else I know – I might be a good writer. I don’t know this for sure yet, but I know I used to be pretty OK, so I’m looking forward to finding out if I still am in 2020.

Thinking like an agent isn’t going to be something I easily turn off and I hope I never do. I’m looking forward to taking it with me to my next adventure, and using that perspective and experience to help writers in new ways.

More from me soon, either here or Twitter or elsewhere (but let’s be real… probably Twitter). Thanks, everyone, for an amazing, bittersweet, and inspiring year. And if any of you need to bring this advice into 2020 with you, remember:

2018: A Year in Queries

Two things I really wanted to be true in 2018 are what I had hoped for at the end of 2017¬†– to blog more and to not let the bastards get me down. And, well, I think I let them get me. I remain optimistic for 2019, but I’m going in cautiously and knowing how to use my time better, even if it means saying no more (something I forgot how to do in 2018).

I’m ending 2018 the way I like ending every year (well, at least since 2011) – letting writers take a peak behind the query curtain. My “Year in Queries” posts are always met with dread and fascination, but my hope is always to de-mystify the process while offering encouragement. So, let’s get to it!

As always, my annual reminder:

  • I read and respond to every query I receive *except* these:
    • Pre-queries (emails writers sent to ask if they can query).
    • Not addressed to me. (This includes “Dear Sir/Madam” as well as addressed to completely different agents.)
    • Sent as an attachment.
    • Mass queries.
    • Non-Queries. Sometimes I get emails about published books (small press & self-pub) and I don‚Äôt know if it‚Äôs a query or a press release. Specify why you want an agent if your book is already published. Nine times out of ten, you probably need a publicist, not an agent, with these “queries.”

In those 5 categories, I received 364 queries.

This year I decided to take a brief query break in August. While closed, I received 80 queries (which were deleted unread).

Finally, in addition to those 444¬†queries that did not follow the rules, I received 174¬†queries in genres/markets I do not represent. I still answer these, so they’re included in the total stats. I’m also not the *most* strict about these (sub-genres are tricky, after all). For “do not rep” I only use what I specifically list as “no” in my bio. These include:

  • Nonfiction (including memoir)
  • Picture Books/Chapter Books
  • Inspirational/spiritual novels
  • Category romance and/or erotica
  • Screenplays

OK – now for the fun stuff! Let’s talk about the thousands (yes, thousands) of you who followed the rules and queried me with awesome manuscripts in genres I absolutely represent!

Keep in mind, this post refers to queries only – aka, “the slush pile,” aka, “unsolicited submissions.” This does *not* include queries I received as referrals, requests from conferences or online contests, or previous R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit).

January: Total: 824; Requests: 6

*This figure is almost double of what I received in January 2017. I ended up receiving significantly more queries in February and March than last year too. I’m not sure why, but whoa did this set the tone for my shiny new, and longer, response time in 2018! Thank you for your patience, writers!

February: Total: 635; Requests: 6

March: Total: 476; Requests: 2

April: Total: 419; Requests: 2

May: Total: 397; Requests: 6

June: Total: 282; Requests: 2

July: Total: 322; Requests: 1

August: CLOSED (deleted 80 queries)

September: Total: 476; Requests: 6

October: Total: 337; Requests: 3

November: Total: 319; Requests: 4

December: Total: 224; Requests: 6

***

Total Queries in 2018: 4,791

Total Requests from Queries: 44

Total R&Rs Requested in 2018: 16

Most Requested Genres: 

  • Horror (Adult, YA, & MG). My taste in horror is on the literary, character-driven side, meaning more atmospheric/creepy than high-octane slashers (though I’d be open to those too). I love a good haunted house, forbidden parts of town, unique mythologies/local legends that turn out to be true, and an ensemble cast!
  • Contemporary/Realistic (Adult & YA). More often than not, I requested stories that focused on women and girls finding their voice/purpose in a bad situation. While I wasn’t exclusive to female characters, I should also mention that of these requests, these characters were not always white or straight (and usually neither). I hope to find even more intersectionality in my 2019 queries.

What I Wish I Saw More: 

  • Upper MG (think ages 11-13) in all genres. Like with my Adult & YA taste, I lean toward character-driven stories, but I need a page-turning plot no matter what.
  • Humor! Especially in YA, but I want humor EVERYWHERE. Even if you’re writing the most depressing grimdark dystopian nightmare imaginable, surely one of your characters will crack a joke to relieve tension, right? Don’t forget that characters are people. People are funny. People try to be funny. People find absurdity in unexpected places. Put that on the page.
  • More rom-coms like¬†Set It Up¬†and¬†Crazy Rich Asians. (YA or Adult.) I don’t do capital-r Romance, so if your book gets too hot & heavy, you should probably query my fearless leader & Romance expert, Laura Bradford instead. But I still love a good Austen-esque enemies to lovers relationship with complex protagonists who are¬†intellectual equals and have goals outside of the romance itself. Massive bonus points for diverse casts and/or LGBTQ protagonists.

Total New Clients Signed in 2018: 4 РSierra Godfrey (WF); Sarah Janian (MG sci-fi); Rimma Ojougboh (YA literary); Natalya Lobanova (Adult/Illustrated)

***

Now, let’s put those stats into perspective!

In 2018 (minus December), I received 4,791 queries. But keep in mind, of those queries, 618 of them did not follow the rules. A more realistic figure of how many queries I received is, therefore, 4,173.

It cannot be overstated how grateful I am to the 4,000+ of you (!) who put in the time, effort, and professionalism necessary to query. It’s often impossible to personally respond to each query (hence, form rejections), let alone take on more than a few new clients per year. But you are seen and appreciated.

It also can’t be overstated that agents want you to succeed! Rejections aren’t personal. You’ve probably seen this often enough in form rejections, and maybe it sounds trite at this point, but another agent really will have a different perspective on your query. What’s true for me might not be true for someone else, and the workload I can or can’t handle in a given month might be just what another agent has been hoping to add to their own list. Don’t give up, no matter what our stats tell you.

***

And with that‚Ķ¬†Goodbye, 2018! Here’s to what’s next.

 

2016: A Year in Queries

Hi everyone!

I’m getting to this post a little later than I usually do, and part of that is because I am very¬†behind on queries. It’s sort of easy to be all “ugh, 2016” about it, but that is kind of what happened. [Update 1/17: I am caught up on all 2016 queries and stats have been adjusted accordingly!]

The number of queries I get in a year vs. how many I request vs. how many authors I actually sign are always overwhelming to writers (so I’m told). Last year I decided to keep better track of what type of¬†queries I receive so you can see what you’re really up against. Maybe it’ll be make you feel better; maybe it won’t. But, here’s one more layer to an agent’s inbox for you to consider:

In 2016, I received 756¬†queries in genres I do not represent. When I say “do not represent” I’m referring to the following categories only:

  • Nonfiction of any kind (including memoir)
  • Picture Books/Chapter Books for readers younger than 8
  • Inspirational/spiritual novels
  • Category romance and/or erotica
  • High/epic commercial fantasy
  • Screenplays

I wasn’t super strict about it, so I kept to what I’ve specifically listed online under “do not send.” Anything else, including sub-genres of fantasy or¬†just “not my usual thing,” were still considered as regular queries and went toward the following tally. But, more on this later. For now, let’s get to the stats!

(As always, remember these are from unsolicited queries¬†aka “the slush pile” – only. Requests from¬†conferences, contests, referrals, or previous R&Rs were not counted.)

January: Total: 394; Requests: 9

February: Total: 403; Requests: 4

March: Total: 336; Requests: 4

April: Total: 324; Requests: 1 (Note: Most of the requests I made in April were from the DVpit Twitter contest and not from queries.)

May: Total: 340; Requests: 6

June: Total: 335; Requests: 6

July: Total: 484; Requests: 8

August: Total: 379; Requests: 2

September: Total: 300; Requests: 6

October: Total: 460; Requests: 7

November: Total: 307; Requests: 2

December: Total: 265; Requests: 5

Total Queries in 2016: 4,327

Total Requests from Queries: 60

Most Requested Genres: Adult upmarket/literary (usually tackling women’s issues in some way);¬†YA contemporary (most often with a focus on marginalized voices and/or fun, high-concept character-driven stories); MG magical realism (the hardest genre to get right on multiple levels, but I’m a sucker for it).

What I Wish I Saw More: Literary MG (magical or contemporary/realistic); YA or Adult Sci-fi (not space opera or post-apocalyptic); Adult upmarket (see above; I want even more!)

Total New Clients Signed in 2016: 3 РRaeChell Garrett (YA contemporary, query); Andrew Munz (YA western, conference and R&R); Katie Henry (YA contemporary, query)

***

I answer most of the queries I receive, including those 756¬†that were in genres I didn’t represent. What I delete without answering are the following, even though they end up in my final tally before I open them:

  • Pre-queries – 32
    • Remember the query itself is what asks an agent for representation. Asking if you can ask is redundant and considered spam.
  • Not addressed to me – 226
    • When I get another agent’s name, I assume you meant to query them instead (sorry!). When no name is written at all, I still answer, but it’s kind of¬†a red flag. Your query is like a job application. Don’t “To Whom It May Concern” the very agent it concerns. Author/agent relationships are a partnership.¬†If you expect an agent to work for you, you need to put in effort to work with them too.
  • Mass queries – 123
    • When I’m obviously BCC’d on an email or I can see other agents CC’d on your query, I don’t think you’re serious about working with me and I delete your query.
  • Book already published – 137
    • Some of these were books published with small presses, but the majority of these queries were for self-published books.¬†I started typing all of the caveats about this, and was forming a whole other blog post, so I’ll just refer you¬†here and here, for starters.

With all that in mind:

Total queries I didn’t even answer/answered begrudgingly:¬†518

Added to the 756¬†queries in genres I don’t rep: 1,274

Now, the more realistic number of queries I received and answered and considered in 2016: 3,053

I know this is still a large number, but I hope it keeps things in perspective! Some other things to keep in mind:

  • I ask for R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit) a lot. Meaning, I’m not signing folks at the fastest rate, but I am actively working with authors with the intention of representing them in the future. If they end up signing with someone else in the meantime, that’s on me. My hope is that 2016 R&Rs come back to me in 2017 and become new clients!
  • Agents can’t take on everything. Of those¬†3,053 queries¬†that did everything right, I still had to be super selective. I can’t sign 3,000¬†new clients every year. Realistically, I can handle about 5-10 new clients per year on top of my current client list. This means I end up passing on very good projects all the time! I’ve seen them go on to sell ¬†– and do well – and it’s always bittersweet, but that’s business.
  • Do not take rejections personally! It‚Äôs always a business decision based on our time and expertise and skill set. Very rarely, if ever, is it because your book is “bad.” Agents are rooting for you even if we’re not the ones to help you find success.

***

There it is! Another year in queries.¬†If there are any stats I didn’t include that were query-related, and you want to see them included in 2017, please comment below!

Finally, because I can usually only send form rejections, let me just say here: THANK YOU! It would be kind of awkward if I added a “PS” to rejections just to say “but you did everything right, yay!!!” So, consider this my token of appreciation.

See you in 2017, friends!

Do Androids Dream of Me?

Last night I had a dream about this blog. And the dream was this:

I had woken with a start in the middle of the night and crept stealthily to the living room, where my white Macbook sat waiting, nay, begging, for me to turn it on. With its resounding chime, it woke, and I obeyed its silent command to log in to my blogger account. Upon opening Glass Cases, I was shocked and delighted to find that I had seven followers.

This tells me two things: 1) I apparently dream in the style of really bad Edgar Allen Poe fan-fiction, and 2) Being happy over seven followers, as opposed to, say, 700, is my dream. As far as dreams go, this one seems pretty attainable. I will get there someday. Someday!

This brings me to my second official post. I’ve been thinking about what I want from this blog and from you, whoever you are. And what I want are words. It’s that simple. I want words so badly that I’m even adopting some for my very own – here, to be exact. I want so many words that they have no choice but to form well-structured, coherent, interesting stories. And then I’d like to publish them here for all the world to see.

In the meantime, I will continue to post (and dream). For example, a new season is beginning, bringing with it a myriad of topics ranging from pumpkin lattes to Labor Day/Columbus Day long weekends to the publishing industry returning from its summer vacation. Please feel free to send me your autumnal equinox story, as serious or as silly as it may be.

Dreamily yours,
Sarah