Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Should a Manuscript Be Edited Before Querying a Publisher?

That seems like a stupid question and most readers and authors would say, "Of course the book should be edited before it is published." However, I've had authors become upset when we refused to write a review or query letter for their books.

An author asked me to help him write his query letter in hopes of having a publisher pick up the cost of publishing. He also expected the publisher to pay him an advance. When I looked at the unedited, poorly formatted manuscript that I was supposed to "sell" to the publisher, I recommended the author have the manuscript edited first.

He thought I was trying to get more money from him by suggesting that I first edit his book! Can you believe it? I was trying to keep the author from wasting his money and time writing a query letter for a manuscript that doesn't have a chance in hell of being accepted by a conventional publisher.

While we do offer editing services, it's not just an up-sell attempt when we recommend that an author have a book edited before starting the query letter. How can I in good consciousness brag about an unedited book and write a query to a publisher who is not only supposed to accept the manuscript and pay the author an advance, but also do the marketing? Someone's not doing their research, and it's the naïve, unproven author who thinks he or she will get rich by having a publisher assume these responsibilities.Publishers are businesses and the bottom line is can this product make a profit?

What about publish-on-demand (POD) companies? Don't they publish unedited books? Yes, like their name says, they publish on demand or "as is" and that is exactly the reason why many of these companies have a bad reputation among booksellers and in the literary community. That's also why Writers in the Sky doesn't accept every book submitted to us for review. If we can't write a four-star review for the book, we turn it away rather than present a lie to the readers who have come to trust us for factual information.

Publish-on-demand companies get a percentage of the royalties from the books their clients (authors) sell. What publisher would not prefer to have authors bring them a well-written and edited book to publish? Better books make for better sales. Besides that, both the author’s and the publisher’s reputation is on the line.

For more reading on this topic, see these sites:
http://www.dancinglemurpress.com/id10.html (this publisher only accepts professionally edited manuscripts)
http://publishingcentral.coml (see #16)

I want to hear from authors, PODs, and conventional publishers. Please leave a comment.

Should a manuscript be edited before querying a publisher?



Joyce said...

Yvonne, thank you for this article.

The topic of editing can and should be expanded for first-time authors so they grasp what's involved (or should be) during the editing/revisions stage. They need to understand an agent or publisher looks for more from a first-time author than an engaging story or topic.

My new clients receive an e-book I created that includes a chapter about this imperative part of the process, and addresses other questions first-time authors often ask.

I provide developmental editing and thorough critique services for, primarily, first-time authors. In our initial conversation, I clearly explain what's involved; yet, I often discover a lingering notion that developmental editing should take the same amount of time and effort as a proofread--and that one revision should do it.

First-time authors would benefit from any additional information you provide about the editing/revision process.

Thanks for all you do!

Joyce Shafer http://www.freewebs.com/editmybookandmore

Brooks J. Young said...

As a first-time author, I refused to release my book until I had a substantive and copy edit along with a few proofreaders. I'm also self-publishing and it is my duty to myself and my readers to provide great content. Self-publishing already has a bad image.Why would I want to prove those who turn their nose up on self-publishing by proving them right with a poorly edited book. I don't think so.

Publishing a book is costly. Editing, in my opinion, should have the most money allocated towards products.

Twitter: @youngjbrooks

Bob Turel said...

Since you just did this very thing for me Yvonne and opened my
"newbie" author eyes wider than could be imagined, the answer is an unequivocal YES!
Besides as some other commenter just reasoned, your reputation is on the line, and I know at this juncture in my life and career, I want that rep to be intact and polished.
If there ever was a critical step to writing and publishing, it would be editing.

Maxine Thompson said...


Thank you for this article.

I believe fiction needs two lines of editing. The first one should be a story or developmental edit. The second one should be the copy editing.

A person should give his or her best to their book before they submit it for an agent or for self-publishing.

I provide developmental editing for experienced and for new writers.

Maxine Thompson

Yvonne Perry said...

Thank you for the great comments. I find it enjoyable to help authors see new ways to improve their writing. Once you work with a good editor, you will use that knowledge on everything you write from that point on.

Sue Collier said...

Excellent article! Everyone needs an editor, regardless of how good their writing skills. Case in point: I've written a book (being published traditionally, via Writer's Digest). My coauthor and I are both seasoned, experienced writers who went over all the material. (I am actually an experienced editor as well.) But still--when the manuscript came back from the copy editor, she had found plenty to revise.

When I am able to convince first-time authors they need an editor--whether they are self-publishing or hoping to publish traditionally--one of the comments I often get from them is that they are "humbled" when they see my edits.

It's simply impossible to edit your own material effectively. A good edit is going to make you look better in the eyes of a trad publisher...and it will give you credibility if you are a self-published author.