Back in June of 2015, I began researching editing companies online that would be able to help me with my novel. I had been working on MEDOUSA since about April of 2012, and had started shopping it around, querying agents in late 2014 (and being soundly rejected most times). My best friend, himself a superlative writer, had been helping me with my editing; however, due to his own family commitments, he was unable to give me as much help as I thought I needed. When I mentioned pating a professional editing service, he advised against it. Whether it was because he thought so much of my writing, or so little of the companies out there, I am uncertain. In any case, after screwing up my courage, I found an online editing service that I thought looked acceptable: NY Book Editors.
NY Book Editors had several services, from actual copyediting, to manuscript critiques. After submitting a proposal and explaining my needs, I decided to purchase the Manuscript Critique. I spent many years teaching Language Arts and ESOL, and have even worked editing scholarly papers, so things like copyediting or line editing were unneeded. A comprehensive edit, I didn’t think I could afford, though it would have been nice. But the manuscript critique was exactly what I needed. It would help me keep the themes of MEDOUSA focused, it would help bring me back to point when my characters’ voices started to drift or fade. It would give me good advice on where and what to cut. And so on.
When I received my proposal from NY Book Editors, I compared their prices online to other, similar service, and found that their prices were about average for the industry. They were neither suspiciously cheap, nor were they exorbitant. I did end up paying more than the general estimates, in fact; but that was due more to the fact that I had written a 160,000 word epic.
Once I accepted, Dan Alexander, my contact, found an editor who was willing to read through MEDOUSA and critique it. I was assigned to Megan Reid, a professional editor who, as I checked online, had worked with such publishing houses as Simon and Schuster. I felt comfortable with her qualifications, and so assented.
The review of my book went a little faster than I had expected, and I received a letter from Ms. Reid as well as a printed copy of my manuscript with annotations. I was at first quite pleased and flattered when I read it. It began, “I very much enjoyed your imaginative and compelling take on Greek myth which, in its depiction of one young woman’s struggle to command her own fate, becomes an examination of that which makes us all too human.”
While flattering, it really seems far more “literary” than the book I thought I’d written. I had thought that I had written a defense of Medousa herself, and that the book was more a shout of defiance rather than an “examination of what makes us all too human.” That gave me pause as to how much attention the editor paid to the manuscript.
Now, that said, when I did speak to the editor in our phone interview/discussion, she did know the book backward and forward. Perhaps her description of the book’s theme was what she herself had gotten from it, though honestly, I would disagree. And yet, I believe that art is more than the product of the artist’s work. I believe that art is also an interaction between the artist and his/her audience. And it may be that the artist’s work touches people in ways unexpected or unplanned. In any case, I still feel that Ms. Reid gives me far more credit as a writer than I deserve.
The rest of the editorial critique was most useful, and it set me on the final round of edits for the book. Ms. Reid reminded me of consistent tone, encouraged me to continue bringing out my protagonist’s voice when it began to “fade” here and there, pointed out repetitions and awkward phrasings, and just about all the things for which I needed an editor. She was an objective, fresh pair of eyes, and I am most grateful.
That said, I was rather disappointed with the phone interview. On NY Book Editors’ website, the package I purchased was supposed to include a full hour of time over the phone, or Skype, to go over the manuscript with my editor. And while the phone time I had was extremely helpful, I was cut off after roughly only half an hour, as Ms. Reid had a meeting to attend. In that case, I felt I didn’t quite get my money’s worth. But, as I said, the chance to talk directly with her about her concerns for the novel, were helpful. I just wish I had more time.
To be fair, when I made this disappointment known to the directors of NY Book Editors, I was given a further thirty minute interview on the phone, and it was most useful, as I was able to go over some of the edits I made on Ms. Reid’s suggestions. And although it had been several weeks after she had initially edited my manuscript, she still remembered the story, and had a clear understanding of it. I was most impressed.
Would I recommend a professional editing service after my experience? Well—to be honest, yes and no.
If one is already immersed in the “literary world,” a good writers’ group would be ideal for editing a manuscript. You would share your work with a group of others, in person, or online, and offer critiques to one another, and you would learn just as much by critiquing others’ work as you would having your own work critiqued. You might also be part of a writers’ class online or at school, and your instructor and fellow students would be able to offer the editorial support you would need.
On the other hand, if you do not have access to such options, then I would say that you should definitely opt for a professional editing service. It is very difficult to be objective about your own work, and after working for months or years on a book, you will need fresh and enthusiastic eyes to look over your work. I am here reminded of a trilogy I recently read, also focusing on the myth of Medousa. The author had published her work independently, and on her profile, she says,
“Unable to bear the thought of, not only the rejection of her work, but the possibility of having it chopped up, she felt her only real option was to self publish.”
That, I thought was a shame; she showed quite a lot of promise in her first book, and was very good at plot and motivation for her characters. But because she couldn’t bear to allow an editor to critique the manuscript for her, her story started to fall apart in terms of setting, background, tone, and even her heroine ends up something of a Mary Sue.
Editorial work is a vital part of any literary endeavor. And I would say that if you must use a professional service for your editing, then NY Book Editors is certainly my recommendation. They are reliable, and have access to a stable of professional editors. Their prices are reasonable, about average for the industry. And their service is overall excellent. I should here relate how Mr. Dan Alexander was with me each step of the way, answering email queries quickly, and leading me through each step of the process. He was as admirable a guide as Virgil was to Dante.
NY Book Editors also has a proposal editing service of which I availed myself. I’m not sure I’ll sell my book by merely proclaiming “Amazons! Lesbians! Philosophy! Sweet hot Nymph on Gorgon love!” Unless of course, some agent thinks this is a very different sort of book than the one I’ve written.
Well, never mind; as I noted in an earlier blog post, I’ve already racked up nearly one hundred rejections, and am publishing the book on my own through CreateSpace. It could be that the prevailing wisdom of the agencies and publishing houses was correct, and my work is shit. On the other hand, maybe MEDOUSA just needs to find the right audience.
I expect the public will let me know.