Thursday, 7 May 2009

Editorial Agencies

Suppose you’ve written a book which has received nothing but rejections, but you don’t understand how you could improve it. One way to get specific advice is to pay for an editorial assessment of the book which should point you in the right direction.

Editorial agencies are not without their problems: there are plenty which offer very expensive bad advice; and there are a few which are out-and-out scams (Edit Ink, anyone?). Some, though, provide a useful service: Sharon Maas, who had three novels published by HarperCollins, doubts that her first book would have been published at all had she not first worked with an editorial agency to improve it, and I’ve heard good things about others, too.

Writing a good book and using a good editorial agency to improve it won’t guarantee immediate publication, though, as Sally Zigmond discovered; and even the good agencies won’t always get it right—if you write in a genre they aren’t familiar with, or in a style they don’t particularly like (regardless of its literary merit), then you’re not going to get the best advice. And using the wrong agency for your particular book, even if it’s a good one, can be an expensive mistake to make: those reports can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds.

If you’re determined to use an editorial agency to improve your book, how should you proceed? You need to find a few reputable agencies: either through personal recommendation, or through your own research. They must be run and staffed by people who are qualified to do the work: either by having appropriate editorial experience, or by being published writers themselves. They must be able to demonstrate that their reports have been effective: most will provide a list of clients and testimonials. And when you check, you’ll find those testimonials corroborated elsewhere, by people who are not in the agencies’ employ, and who have had a good degree of publishing success as a result of the advice that they received.


Dorset Girl said...

I read a post on behlerblog which seems to contradict this:

(I hope I've pasted that link properly)

I know Ms Behler reads this blog, so I'd be fascinated to hear her comments.

I'm dyslexic and had a lot of difficulty in getting my m/s into shape. My husband, an established writer, read a draft and told me that I needed to fix the mistakes, because he wasn't going to do it and that no editor or agent would either. It was harsh but useful advice. I spent months practicing and doing kids grammar exercises and then edited again.

When I signed with my agent he was really surprised that I am dyslexic as was my editor. I'm about to embark on book 2, and personally I'd be really worried if I knew that I was going to need an outside editor to help.

Nicola Slade said...

If your novel has some kind of relationship at the heart of it you could get your work assessed at a fraction of the normal cost by joining the Romantic Novelists' Association
The RNA has a New Writers' Scheme under which your novel is critiqued by an informed reader, ie a published novelist, or someone in the publishing trade. You get a comprehensive report on what is good about your work and what is not, plus suggestions on how to improve it.

I'm a passionate supporter of the RNA and this scheme as I was helped enormously by it which is why I'm glad to be one of the current readers for the scheme.

Don't be put off by the 'Romantic' tag; as I said at the top of this post - if your novel features a relationship of some kind, give the RNA a try. You can always email them if you're not certain of your genre.

Kim Hruba said...

I think this post and the one from Behler Blog compliment each other. Each post has valid points.

Sharon Maas said...

Wow, a mention in the fabulous Jane Smith blog! I'm honoured!
For those who are interested, the person who helped me was Hilary Johnson. And she didn't charge an arm and a leg either!

Sharon Maas

Sharon Maas said...

Dorset Girl,
I just read the Behler blog and I think there is a general misunderstanding, and it's all about definitions.

The help I got from the assessment agency had nothing at all to do with grammer and spelling.

What happened was this: Hilary read my ms and then made suggestions as to how I could improve it, that is, make the story itself stronger. For instance, that novel, Of Marriageable Age, was initially written in three huge chunks, each deovted to one of the three main characters. Hilary suggested that the second character entered the story too late; by this time, the reader would be too involved with character one and not want to switch.

I ended up breaking the whole thing up into chapters and alternating these chapters, so that the reader stays in touch with each of the three main protagonists and is in fact eager to get back to each one. That worked really well, and changed the whole nbature of the book. And I did all the work myself; it was not in any way written by Hilary, which is what seems to have happend in the Behler story. I simply followed her suggestions!

Sally Zigmond said...

I went to Cornerstones. I paid for the basic package where they send your novel manuscript to a reader who writes a general report on its strengths and weaknesses. I did this because I'd 'lost the plot' as it were and didn't know whether it was worth my seeking publication or binning. They are not cheap but their readers are top-notch professionals--as I found out! They don't do copy-editing, as far as I know.

I think Lynn was taking about something different--writers who think that by proudly announcing to a publisher that their manuscript has been 'professionally edited' that it will impress the publisher and give them the edge. I don't think she is agin it on principal--just that if a writer relies on someone else to make his or her work publishable then who is the publisher to work with if she accepts the manuscript?

Word ver. tratchor--a hard day's work on the farm.

Dorset Girl said...

Ok, yes, Sharon and Sally, I do now understand the difference. I live with another writer and he gives me those broad notes – "Yes, darling, it's lovely but I think you need a plot etc."

It was the smaller line edits that he insisted I needed to learn how to do myself. Of course my m/s is still not perfect, but I think I had to learn how to correct some fairly basic errors. I was not taught proper grammar in school. But that is another topic!

Jane Smith said...

I think that the issue Lynn was dealing with in her post was the tendency of some writers to pay for their work to be "professionally edited" and to then assume that this is going to be a Good Thing in the eyes of publishers, as they won't then have to edit it further. Which is, of course, nonsense. All books could do with just a little bit more editing. All of them.

The editorial agencies I'm thinking of are of the kind that Sharon and Sally both used: ones which point out the flaws in the plot and structure of your writing, and not ones which merely identify misplaced commas. It's important, of course, for a writer to learn how to do all this for himself; but if you're never shown how it can take a long time before you manage it, and there's no doubt that a good editorial agency can help you with that.

David Dittell said...


This is definitely one of those instances where it pays off to have other friends who are writers, and good writers at that.

Each piece of feedback is enormously valuable, so any time somebody reads your work for you, make sure you're appreciative and return the favor.