Is the fiction editing boom really a bubble?

At the weekend I attended a talk on self-publishing given by the awesome Faith D.Lee. You can see her speaking on a different occasion in the video above.

Lee is a novelist and academic who is interested in the stories that people write for themselves. (She spoke as a writer. What I say in this blog post about editing comes from me and not Lee.)

The room was packed, unsurprisingly. In recent years increasing numbers of people have taken an interest in publishing their own work or providing services to those who do.

The boom in self-published fiction writers has been matched by an explosion in editors who want to work with them. I can see why. It is possible to charge over £1000 to edit a novel. (It takes time to edit properly, so that is a very fair price if the job is done well.)

Unfortunately for editors, writing fiction generally does not bring in much money for authors. Unless an author is extremely successful, it may be several years before they make enough to cover that £1000 editing fee.

I can see now that this creates a mismatch in the industry. The financial incentives are clear and obvious for editors who work with self-published writers. Whereas for self-published writers, paying £1000 to an editor is a bit like hiring a personal trainer.

A great editor can save your book and a personal trainer can save your health, but both are rather expensive when you have other bills to pay.

F.D. Lee highly praised her editors for the work they did with her, while commenting that hiring an editor is expensive. I am sure all writers who have experienced good editing would say the same.

Lurking on various social media sites, however, I notice an increase in authors “doing it for themselves.” Writers help each other out with editing and critique services. There are lots of call outs for beta readers and critique partners.

The problem with authors doing favours for each other is that you can’t guarantee that any author is a good editor. Editing and creative writing are separate skills.

Many authors would say in response that there’s no guarantee that a self-described editor is a good editor either. Again lurking on social media, I see a lot of stories about authors who feel ripped off by their editors.

Why does this happen? Are these editors evil people? I doubt it.

It happens because editing is still very misunderstood as a profession. I’m sure a lot of the people who shouldn’t be calling themselves editors are well intentioned individuals who think it’s enough to know how to spell. They believe they’re doing a good job but miss problems because they haven’t been taught to look for them.

(If you hire a fiction editor it’s a good idea to ask about their training and who else they’ve worked with. You can also find editor directories on the websites of professional associations such as SfEP and Editors Canada.)

F.D. Lee described the self-publishing scene as a Wild West environment. It’s still fairly new and things are changing fast.

Like the Wild West, it’s a place of community. Lee advised writers to get out and about — go to conventions, go to festivals, give talks, build relationships with other writers. Above all, have fun with it. Self-publishing is something to be done for love, not money. Done in the right spirit it can enrich your life.

Editors also talk a lot about the importance of networking with other people who love editing. It can be very useful because many editors refer customers to each other.

Editing, like writing, can be lonely. It’s common for editors to build friendships with each other on social media.

It’s also commonly recommended that fiction editors join societies for writers. The basic idea of this is that if you want to edit fantasy, you should sign up to fantasy societies, go to fantasy conventions and so on.

This is a big ol’ rambly blog post and you might be wondering what the point of it is. Well, three things really.

I am very struck by the money mismatch between reasonable expectations for fiction editors and reasonable expectations for self-publishing fiction writers. For editors it is a profession, for writers the prospect of a livelihood is not realistic. I suspect that sooner or later the boom in fiction editing will come to an end.

Secondly, as I’ve said above, it seems that writers and editors both need to be very good at socialising with others in their industry. I’m wondering whether networking as a writer who doesn’t hope to make much money is very different in spirit to networking as an editor who wants to build a business.

Thirdly, editors need to keep an eye on what writers are doing instead of paying for professional editing. It strikes me that this new and developing area is very exciting and will carry on being so for a long time.

 

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Helen

I am an editor and continuity checker. Email me to find out more. helen@earthcopy.com

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