After making the decision to self-publish my first novel, A Class Apart, this year (if you missed that announcement, you can read all about it here), I compiled a very long list of all the things I will need to do to achieve that goal. It covers everything from learning how to keep basic financial accounts to working out book marketing strategies, but top of the list was choosing an editor.
I’ll be honest and admit that, due to the cost of it, I had originally hoped to sidestep it altogether. I pride myself on being a really good proofreader (the six readers of my recently-completed second novel, A Class Entwined, returned one typo from over 88,000 words) and I had the temerity to believe I had moulded A Class Apart into a pretty decent shape, maybe even a shape decent enough to sell to the public. But then I came to my senses. I’m too close to the book. After years of working on it, I’m so enmeshed in it now that I could easily miss a glaring problem in the plot or a flaw in a character arc. It needed fresh eyes, and those eyes had to be professional ones that would know what to look for.
Moreover, A Class Apart is the first book I’m going to put out into the market. If someone takes a chance on it and it isn’t up to scratch, then that seriously damages my ability to build my integrity as an author in the future. I must do everything as well as I possibly can right from the outset.
So once the obvious decision was made, I set about searching for an editor. An important point to note about editing is that there are, broadly speaking, three different types: developmental editing (the big picture), copy-editing (the details), and proofreading (the final check). You can read more about the different types of editing on editor Robert Doran’s website. (Incidentally, I contacted Robert about three years ago when I last considered getting my book edited…until I realised I still needed to put a lot more work into it myself first. Although he didn’t think he was the right person for the job because he wasn’t familiar enough with the tropes in historical romance – which was the genre I was using at the time – he was just so kind and spent a full half hour on the phone giving me advice. I’ll never forget his generosity to someone who wasn’t even a loose thread yet in the enormous tapestry of the publishing industry.)
However, I wasn’t looking for an editor to provide any of those three services. The cost of the first two usually tends to fall into the low four figures margin, which is just too far beyond my means, and I’m still certain I don’t need a proofreader. What I decided to seek instead was a manuscript assessment. This service varies a little depending on who you go to but in general it is where a professional editor reads a book all the way through and supplies an overall appraisal of its merits and weaknesses, as well as suggestions for improvement. Basically, it points the writer in the right direction for making their book the very best it can be. Here’s a good article listing seven must-know facts about manuscript assessment.
I deemed this to be the most cost-effective option for me. My next step was researching the various companies and individuals who offer this service and identifying the most suitable one for my book. I designed a simple table so I could easily compare them to each other in areas such as (1) general impression, (2) what I get, (3) price, and (4) turnaround. Most pertinent of all, I included a column for calculating the precise cost in relation to A Class Apart, which stood at 85,376 words.
I have listed my findings below, along with my thoughts on each one. I’ve chosen to leave the names of the providers anonymous because not all my comments are favourable, but if there are any other writers reading this who are seeking a manuscript assessment too and need to know this information, then do get in touch with me via my contact page.
Manuscript Assessment: Company A
This company could select from over 80 professional readers to match with your manuscript. While these readers were listed on the website, you wouldn’t be told who your reader was and there would be no facility to communicate with them after the delivery of the assessment report, except by passing questions along through the company’s in-house team. This detachment between writer and reader didn’t strike me as a satisfactory way of going about a manuscript assessment at all. In addition, they expected you to either post them the entire manuscript or else pay up to £30 for them to print it – quite an outdated process in the current digital age.
Manuscript Assessment: Company B
This company listed over 40 professional editors on their website and said you could request a particular individual if you felt they would be a strong match for your manuscript. Furthermore, you could discuss feedback directly with your editor afterwards. There was no mention of how long the process might take though.
Manuscript Assessment: Company C
I liked this company a lot, and their wide range of services showed an understanding of the broad spectrum of a writer’s various needs. They provided no list of readers which made the process seem somewhat anonymous, although I think you would learn who your editor was once they had been selected. Unfortunately, I found mistakes in the text on the website – sadly not something to inspire confidence when seeking an editing service.
Manuscript Assessment: Company D
Again with the anonymity. This company expected you to upload your manuscript and pay for the assessment even before an editor was assigned to you. The price was also quite steep – with their blanket figures for the word counts, I would be paying for an extra 15,000 words that didn’t exist. Having said that, they did offer the opportunity to review the feedback afterwards with the editor.
Manuscript Assessment: Company E
This was an odd one. Warning bells started to ring when I read through their FAQs. One question asked whether it was okay to credit the company in an author’s acknowledgements and they said no, they didn’t want there to be any confusion over copyright. Another question enquired as to whether the company used machines to do the editing, which they denied, but the fact that such a question even had to be posed made me nervous. In any case, the type of feedback on offer seemed to be more of the proofreading variety which was not what I was looking for.
After spending a lot of time exploring the services of different companies, I started researching individual editors. What I felt was lacking with some of the companies was the personal touch and I wondered whether working with an individual might be preferable.
Manuscript Assessment: Individual A
I was very partial to this editor at first – I liked her website and her attitude and she seemed very capable. But of course the price stopped me in my tracks. It couldn’t be right, surely? I actually went so far as to seek a quote for the smaller excerpt, hoping I’d be able to confirm whether the figure was just a spectacular typo, but she responded to say that historical fiction was not a genre she worked in. Fair enough, but I shall remain curious and gobsmacked.
Manuscript Assessment: Individual B
This editor gave a very favourable impression right from the beginning. I liked her website which was minimalist but informative and, when I sent an email query, she was really friendly and she ticked all the boxes in terms of genre and suitability. The only drawback was the timeline – she had no availability until the start of March, and I was itching to get my manuscript assessed much sooner than that because there are so many elements to the self-publishing process that can’t even be started until the assessment is complete.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering who I ended up picking after all that research. The answer? Individual B. Yes, I’m impatient to get published but I’m also determined to do it right and if that means waiting a little longer to get the best job done, then that’s what I’m going to do. Her price is a little more expensive than what some of the companies quoted but I think it’s worth it to establish a connection with a single person rather than through a website platform. After all, I’ve five more books in the series to follow this one and, assuming things go according to plan, I’m hoping she’ll stick around for them all.
So the manuscript assessment is scheduled for March and I should have it back by mid-April, at which point I expect I’ll have some work to do! In the meantime, I won’t be sitting around twiddling my thumbs – there are plenty of other items on my list to tackle, so stay tuned to hear about them!