Thayer Literary Services ~ Book Editing

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Q. How do I choose the best editor?

A. Of course I understand that you need to compare apples to apples when considering fees from different editors, and I know that can be problematic. That's why I have included a great deal of information to help writers make an informed decision here on my Thayer Literary Services website. I suggest that you learn as much as you can about the editor before making a decision. Naturally, I think that my services are exceptional. :o) I have some objective reasons to believe that to be true, including the consistently positive feedback from my clients. I can’t divine the exact nature or quality of the services for which other editors have quoted their fee, but I can tell you this about how I do my job: I spend quite a few hours on a manuscript when I do a complete read and critique, which includes marking errors and making notes on the ms. I explain errors and various writing principles, using examples from the manuscript, in the critique.


My reports, or critiques, probably best distinguish my services from those of other editors. Much more than a superficial overview of a written work that offers only a few pages of general discussion, my reports typically fill thirty or more pages, single-spaced, with loads of specific information included under two main categories, Literary and Technical. In the Literary section I discuss essentials like plot, characterization, dialogue, and viewpoint as they relate to the author’s work. Then, because I know that obvious errors in grammar, punctuation, and usage are the number-one reason that manuscripts are rejected, I emphasize such matters in the Technical section, where I provide thorough, clear explanations of many different writing problems, citing examples from the writer’s text. After reading their critique, my clients often say that it’s like going back to school (which to me is the whole point), and one client said that I wrote “the Cadillac of critiques.” Such comments reflect the breadth and depth of information that my reports contain.


Because my critiques are so comprehensive, they require quite a few hours to produce, so I have to include that cost in my fees, of course. I figure my charges according to the number of hours involved in a project, including the hours required to read and annotate a manuscript, a number that is based on the word count, which I use to figure the number of manuscript pages (I use the accepted standard of 250 words per page). I add the hours of work on the manuscript to the hours of work on the critique to figure my total fee, all at an hourly rate that is less than what many editors and editing services charge. Charging any less for what I do simply does not make good business sense in light of the kind of value-added service that I provide.


Q. My novel has a little more than 300,000 words. Is that too long?

A. That’s not a novel, I thought. It’s a doorstop. Here’s what I said to him: The length of your novel presents some problems in today’s literary marketplace. Generally, publishers prefer commercial fiction to be in the range of 60,000 to 90,000 words. A typical mystery, for instance, is 60,000 to 80,000 words. Sci-fi and fantasy novels often run longer, up to 120,000 words, but even the publisher Tor, long known for its sci-fi/fantasy list, now says they want novels of 75,000 to 100,000 words. Acquisitions editors tend to shy away from any book with more than 100,000 words, especially if it’s a first novel, because at that point production costs become a serious concern.


Selling a novel of more than 300,000 words, therefore, could be almost impossible. Getting editorial help from someone like me presents another problem, because editing costs are based on the word count. A 330,000-word manuscript translates to 1,320 pages (at 250 words/pg., the accepted standard). Just reading that many pages would require many hours, so editing costs would be prohibitive since professional editors don’t work for minimum wage.


I don’t mean to discourage you. Just want to tell you some of the facts of life in the publishing world today. You still have some options. One to consider is dividing your Big Whopper into three parts of, say, about 90,000 words each and marketing it as a trilogy. When you try to sell a novel, you have to have the whole thing written, unlike a nonfiction book, which may be sold on the strength of a book proposal. If you cut Mr. Whopper into three books, you would need to have only the first one ready for presentation, not all three of them. Your agent and publisher would be happy to hear, though, that you had the two follow-up books “almost done.”


If you want to keep working on this epic sci-fi book, I think this strategy has some merit. To get started you could concentrate only on Book One—a 90,000-word project instead of an intimidating one of more than 300,000 words. By doing this you would reduce your work load and your editing costs by two-thirds, down to something that would be much more affordable. Another option is to shelve the Whopper for the time being and concentrate on a different novel—one that isn’t nearly so massive but still has commercial potential.



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