1. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    Do they work with writers?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by ojduffelworth, Jul 10, 2009.

    How much work (if any) are literary agents and publishes generally prepared to put into a manuscript in order to polish it up?

    If a manuscript was considered to be a ‘rough diamond’ is there any chance that someone would take it on board and work with the author to grind it into shape? I suspect not as there are surely enough polished submissions landing on the desks of agents and publishes as it is - still they must surely allow for some mistakes?

    I am near to completing a ‘novel’. I suspect I need some professional help in tidying up my work. Should I pay for such a service, or submit my work as it is – having being edited to the best of my abilities and proof read by friends?

    Thanks.
    O.J
     
  2. Rumpole40k
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    Rumpole40k Banned

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    You should only submit a polished piece for consideration. There are many forum members who may be willing to help you with this.
     
  3. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ojduffelworth,

    Part of the answer also depends on what needs work. Is the story rife with grammatical errors, plot inconsistencies, formatting issues, length concerns, problems with tense or POV?

    It is true that you generally only get one shot with each agent/publisher for each project, so you want to send your best.

    The best answer would be to learn/teach yourself how to polish up the weak spots. It may take a while to do, but you'll be a better writer for it, and your future works will not suffer from the same weakness(es).

    Truth is, hiring a professional/competent editor is expensive. One to three dollars per page is common, with closer to three and up more so. Spending that money on a project that may never be accepted for publication is usually a questionable thing to do for most folks.

    Diamond in the rough? With the volume of submissions and queries agents and editors get, the chances of them reading past the first few pages if the story/manuscript looks flawed (less than polished) is pretty darn slim. With so many submissions to choose from, why would they take on such a time-consuming task of working with an unknown would be first time author to polish an entire manuscript?

    Also, with such volume coming in, agents and editors generally read slush, looking for a reason to pass on a submission. Unpolished would give that reason.

    Does a manuscript have to be perfect? No, but it should be the absolute best the author can produce and as close to perfect as possible.

    Although I don't know if grammar is your main concern, but I did write an article a while back concerning it: Never Learned Grammar?

    Good luck!

    Terry
     
  4. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    Thanks for that. I will seek help when the time comes. I will try too learn me gramma better two! Thanks for the link.

    $3 a page sounds ok to me. That’s 'only' $540 for a 180 page manuscript.
    So far my writing has cost me nothing. In comparison other hobbies and fruitless pursuits have run to many times the figure quoted. I think if I am not prepared to spend some cash on polishing my manuscript then I am not so serious about trying to achieve publication. Ok, I still may not be successfully, but at least I will have given it my best shot and I wont be left wondering if things would have been any different if I solicited a professional editor.

    But what exactly do you get for the fee and can you recommend anyone?

    Of course free would be better! But to generalize it seem to me that you get what you pay for in life, no matter if the currency happens to be blood, tears or dollars.

    I don’t suppose I can pay in mice?
     
  5. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    If it is in standard format, a 180 page ms. is probably not up to novel length -- unless it's for some of the genres that run shorter than usual.
     
  6. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I'd say you're more likely to get a letter back suggesting that you smooth out the wrinkles yourself than you are to find a publisher who will work with you (if you're a completely unknown author). Yes, they allow for some mistakes--things like a typo here and there (and sometimes even print them). But if you believe your work needs help tidying up, then, yes, you should do whatever it takes to ensure that's done before it ever goes out the door--even to an agent.

    Your agent might also give you some pointers if he or she thinks the manuscript has the potential. But that's more likely if the agent believes YOU have the potential to make those changes (again, if you're not known it better be polished before it arrives in the hands of any professional in the industry).

    And, not to disparage your friends, but friends aren't often the best folks to proofread or provide feedback to you on the readiness of your manuscript to make it into the food chain.
     
  7. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    "And, not to disparage your friends, but friends aren't often the best folks to proofread or provide feedback to you on the readiness of your manuscript to make it into the food chain."

    - of course, so like I said, that leaves paying an editor...know any?
     
  8. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Here's my advice on paying a professional editor.

    1) Expectations. Do not expect that professional editing will guarantee you success in terms of publication. An editor can clean up the errors and suggest grammar and word choice and new structures, but all that is premised upon how the editor reads your story and your style. It will still fall to you to decide if that actually enhances your story and/or supports your intentions.

    2) How a professional editor can (and can’t) help. In my experience, the best written stories benefit the most from what a good editor can do. The worst are still completely unpublishable, even with extensive (and costly) edits. Fixing spelling errors and improving poor word choices and structure do not, alone, make the difference between a piece that's publishable and one that is not. Still, that's time-consuming for the professional editor who may not recognize that your work needs more than editing till she's a good distance into the process.

    3) The process of working with a professional editor. What I would do is to secure an editor who's willing to edit a small segment so that BOTH you and the editor can make an informed decision about whether that editor can be helpful. There's a fine line sometimes between whether a manuscript actually needs to be edited or rewritten, or simply critiqued. If rewriting is what your manuscript needs, or even if that's how it's perceived on the part of the editor, that's going to be more costly and not as likely to result in a useful outcome to you (unless what you want—and, importantly, who you hire--is actually a ghostwriter). You might benefit more from an insightful critique (which you can request and pay for, as well), after which you can do your own rewrite. (Which brings me to number 4.)

    4) Before you pay for editing. I'd always begin with a FREE review by someone I don't know at all (or, better, several independent someones), perhaps someone from a forum like this one--at least for a piece of the manuscript. I'd do that privately (so the piece doesn't linger here on the internet in some “questionably published" limbo); but also so that you're receiving individual impressions rather than collective judgments that are sometimes more misleading than helpful. I'd think of that as a step closer (than "friends," I mean) to getting feedback that’s a little more objective. Even that has to be interpreted, of course, and I realize you're looking for something more definitive than that. But I usually find I can learn a little something by listening to what various, especially independent, critics are willing to say. Maybe you've already done that.

    5) Gaining some confidence. If all that sounds daunting and unclear, it will probably sound less so if you’ve actually published a few things. If you haven’t already, I’d submit some short fiction to see what it takes to get published at all. If you’re not paid for it, at least you know your writing is not seen as an embarrassment; if you ARE paid for it, then you’ll know that someone out there is willing to part with something of value for the privilege of publishing your work. That will help put you in a better position to know what you want from a professional editor and give you a clearer picture of how to work with someone you’re paying.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Another thing about professional editors - not only are they expensive, you may find it difficult to fine one who will make exactly the changes your writing needs, without unnecessarily altering your style.

    I have a friend who is a successful mystery author. Some years ago, she decided to drop her editor because of the extent of creative differences. It took her over a year of careful screening before she chose a new editor whom she could trust to preserve her style in editing.

    And why does such a successful, professional author use an editor? Because she had a contract for additional novels at regular intervals, so it was cost effective for her to use a TRUSTED editor to cut the total time to complete each novel. The manuscript she would pass along was already quite clean.
     
  10. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Yes, and that's complicated if the writer himself is uncertain about the kinds of changes his writing might benefit from.

    Very good point. There may often be creative differences (legitimate ones). I had an editor once who did an excellent job of explaining particular choices and suggestions. She even bowed to style on more than one matter that was questionable from a strict grammatical standpoint. More often, I've had editors who (apparently) wouldn't know style if it smacked them in the head. But that's partly because they have perceived themselves more as line editors who simply comb through a manuscript for things to "correct" (and I mean that in quotation marks;)).

    There's nothing quite as delightful to a good, careful editor as a "quite clean" manuscript to work with. That's not because it's easier or takes less time; but, more, because it's actually possible to contribute something useful to the process. Improvements to a "clean" manuscript can make an already excellent piece of writing just stunning, by eliminating anything that might interfere with that impression.
     
  11. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    I personally wouldn't ever hire a professional editor. I'd much rather learn to edit my book myself. I consider that a part of the learning process of becoming a writer. I'm working on my first novel right now and it's frustrating because I've been at it for going on 2 years now and it's still nowhere near done, but when I look at how far my writing has come and how much I've learned, it's worth taking the time, IMO. Because when I finally am ready to submit to agencies I will have something I am proud of, and then when I go to write my next book I will have a lot more skills at my disposal. Just a thought.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    none!... it's up to the writer to polish the ms BEFORE submitting it... after that, the only editing an agent or publisher will do is if they think something would work better another way, or if there are typos the writer missed... an unpolished mess most likely won't even reach a publisher or agent, will usually be dumped by the mail reader before it gets that far...

    ...next to no chance... it would have to be an extremely marketable 'high concept' for any agent or publisher to want to spend any time and money on it, if the author was so inept or lazy as to send in such a mess...

    sure, a few can be overlooked, if the rest of the work is worth spending time on... but an out and out mess will just be dumped, since there are so many submissions, they can afford to take on only the best-prepared ones...

    it's next to never worth the money you'd have to pay a good editor, because even with all your goofs corrected and every flaw fixed up as well as can be done, the odds are heavily against the book ever getting published and/or you ever making back what the editng cost you...
     
  13. starseed
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    I agree with all you said besides the odds are heavily against the book ever getting published. I realize you probably feel you are being "realistic" but I can't stand that mentality. There is no "chance" there is determination and fate. If you feel in your heart your book is meant to be published then go for it and don't let anyone tell you it has no chance!
     
  14. lovely
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    If you're very concerned about not having it polished enough and ultimately decide to pay to have someone edit it go to the nearest college campus. Talk to the English Department or if they have a student work center and ask them to post what you would be willing to pay. This way you can still get good editing advice and pay much less. I know plenty of people have done this with manuscripts at my school. College kids (and even some professors) jump at the chance to make a little extra money just using their best skills. An English or writing student would obviously be your best bet, and chances are that they will know their stuff grammar wise.
     
  15. ojduffelworth
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    Thank you all very much for the feed back. It was informative and useful.
    I have decided that I will use some professional help when the time comes.

    “the odds are heavily against the book ever getting published and/or you ever making back what the editng cost you...”
    I think you are missing the point here. If we were all to abide by this grim statistical logic alone nobody would even bother paying for postage stamps to send out queries.
    You may just as well say, “The odds are heavily against the book ever getting published so you may as well not write it...”
    Again, you would be statistically and logically correct, but is this advice for an individual who is passionate about wanting to write a book, or it generalized advice for all?
    Life is about doing the best you can in what interests you regardless of the odds. Passions and logic are not necessary complimentary, but I think it is better to be logical about your passions rather than passionate about your logic.
    If I wish to adopt a defeatist attitude I may as well give up life in its entirety right now.

    The aim is to submit the best book proposal that I can possibly manage.

    On one hand I am being told that litery agents and publishers will not put any work into a manuscript and will only consider the creamiest submissions, and in the next breath I am being generally advised not to seek professional help…I don’t fully understand the reasoning. Maybe I am missing some point?

    I could do with editorial help and general advice. Everyone needs help. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone can improve regardless of their level of proficiency. Good can be reworked to better. The best sports people in the world use coaches, and I suspect the ‘best’ writers in the world are proof read prior to publication/submission, and they probably have people add a suggestion here and there.

    I don’t see that I have much to loose from soliciting help, other than some money, but am I serious about trying to get published or am I just playing around?

    “but an out and out mess will just be dumped, since there are so many submissions, they can afford to take on only the best-prepared ones...”
    I don’t think my work is an out and out mess. I think it is good. Good can be reworked to be better just as excellent can be reworked to be brilliant.
    - Sure my work needs to be ‘best-prepared’. That is why I am having trouble understanding why you then say, “it's next to never worth the money you'd have to pay a good editor.”
    If an editor makes a work 1% better, or merely 1% better prepared, then as far as I as I am concerned, I am 1% more likely to be published.
    In such a competitive market every inch counts.

    I believe I write with a reasonable level of proficiency, but of course I may be fooling myself. I have had some newspaper and magazine articles published in the past, and I was shortlisted for a nationwide young play writer’s competition, when I was still young. Still, sometimes I many not express an idea or concept clearly, or I jump around, and being somewhat dyslexic (but improving!) I really struggle with spelling and mixing up words. I know what I want to write, but another word takes its place.
    I can read over something on my computer a hundred times and find nothing wrong with it, but as soon as I print out the text onto a page I instantly see numerous spelling, gramma and punctuation mistakes. Same thing when I change the text to another font, even so, I certainly still miss a great deal. It’s a problem. I know it. It’s not acceptable to a publisher. I need some help. End of story.

    “I personally wouldn't ever hire a professional editor. I'd much rather learn to edit my book myself. I consider that a part of the learning process of becoming a writer.”
    I edit to the best of my abilities, but it is so easy to look over your own mistakes and see what you thought you wrote rather than what you actually wrote.
    Suggestions on format, chapter order and so on would also be useful to me. I have a clear idea of the story, and how everything intertwines, but how can I know that it is clear to someone who is reading the story for the first time and does not already have the character and plot swimming about in their head?
    Sure learning to edit is a never-ending process, but do you think you can’t learn anything from anyone else?
    I consider part of the learning process in any activity to involve asking for advice, opinions and assistance. Writing is 99.9% solitary as it is. Why make it 100% ?

    As for the cost of using an editor, so be it. I may never make the money back, but again, the point is to submit the best proposal I possibly can.
    If I did not feel confident enough with my work to deem it worth spending some money on, then why would I consider it worthy of publication?

    “I realize you probably feel you are being "realistic" but I can't stand that mentality.”
    Of course I feel I am being realistic! Everyone who submits a manuscript feels they are being realistic otherwise they would not bother submitting in the first place.
    I feel I have a realistic chance of being considered for publication. I do not know what my chances of being published are. I can only do my best to have it considered, and in regards to that I am being realistic.

    I have been invaded in the past to submitted material as a follow up from quire letters, but without success. I now read over that submitted work and see that it was not up to standard – but that is fine – it will be so much better when I get around to rewriting it! And as bonus I can rewrite it with added confidence, knowing that the idea, plot and format has already generated some positive feedback with a few publishers and invited further submissions.

    “Another thing about professional editors - not only are they expensive, you may find it difficult to fine one who will make exactly the changes your writing needs, without unnecessarily altering your style.”
    I can see that being a problem for sure…Finding an editor one likes would be difficult!

    “There is no "chance" there is determination and fate. If you feel in your heart your book is meant to be published then go for it and don't let anyone tell you it has no chance!”
    I don’t mind anyone telling that particular paper pile has no chance in its present format. I’ll just keep plodding on and reworking my material. I have a few manuscripts on the go. There is no rush to get any of them published.


    “If you're very concerned about not having it polished enough and ultimately decide to pay to have someone edit it go to the nearest college campus.”
    This may be a good option (thanks for the idea) although the nearest college campus if rather distant. Still there internet drags all closer!


    “I'm working on my first novel right now and it's frustrating because I've been at it for going on 2 years now and it's still nowhere near done, but when I look at how far my writing has come and how much I've learned, it's worth taking the time, IMO. Because when I finally am ready to submit to agencies I will have something I am proud of, and then when I go to write my next book I will have a lot more skills at my disposal. Just a thought.”
    Good on you. Hang in there. I have been working on various writing projects for years and years. I word on one for a while, get fed up, then swap to another. I need to concentrate on finishing one! I have in fact been mucking about for so that I think it would be very useful to have a good editor look at my work. The background of characters and plots are in my head and clear to me, but it is truly impossible for me to know how fresh eyes would view the world I have tried to create. My eyes are no longer fresh to those worlds and can never be.

    Happy mousing!
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The point about professional editing service is that the writer has to be able to write, and to proofread. No one else can really do it for you, unless you are hiring a ghostwriter. But then it is not really your writing.

    You have to learn spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You have to learn about pace and flow. You have to learn how to construct lively and effective dialogue.

    You have to be on the same writing par as those you are seeking to hire.
     
  17. ojduffelworth
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    ojduffelworth Contributing Member

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    Hi Cogito, I would add that part of learning and improving involves seeking assistance and impartial input to some extent. If not, why are there review forums on this website?

    “You have to be on the same writing par as those you are seeking to hire.”
    I do not fully agree. Tigerwoods hires a coach. They are not on the same par.
    You only need to hire someone who will improve your game. IMHO.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The Review Room forums are a critiquing workshop, so you can learn to look for opportunities for improvements, and to find ways to make those improvements. The critic invariably gets more from the process than the person who wrote the piece.
     
  19. ojduffelworth
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    "so you can learn to look for opportunities for improvements"

    Is it possilbe to do just this with a hired editorial type service or not?
     
  20. ManhattanMss
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    You should understand that "editorial type services" run the gamut from people who know way less than you about editing to those who know quite a lot and who may work only with published authors. Again, you can begin to find a good "fit" by testing a small segment of your work (perhaps with a fee, maybe not) and knowing what kind of feedback you think would be useful to hear.

    If you are looking specifically for "opportunities for improvement," what you really need is something more like a content edit or a critique of your work (not a line edit). Not all professional editors will provide you with content editing; of those who do, they won't all be exceptional. And from the exceptional ones, of course, you may not get back what you hope for. A content editor may actually ask for a sample of your work to make a determination of he or she believes there's a possible fit and to estimate how time-consuming the project is likely to be.

    I think it really is a matter of finding that fit; and that can be done if you have an idea what kind of help you're more likely to need. It sounds like maybe you do.
     
  21. ojduffelworth
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    “I think it really is a matter of finding that fit”
    Me too. I think the question is how to find a good fit, not if or others (hired or not) can be a useful tool in improving someone’s writing.
    Of course the value of such a service would vary considerably between providers. I intend to fish around as soon as I figure out where to sink my hooks! Any suggestions?

    I am not intending to employ someone to unravel an ‘out and out mess’ and I am not considering using a ‘ghost-writer’.

    I am however struggling to understand much of the negative sentiment towards paying for a professional service.
    Below his posts Cogito writes: If you would like me to review something you have written, please PM me and I will try to treat it fairly and in a timely manner.
    Generous - but why therefore take a negative stance on paying someone to do similar?
    Sure, free is better from a financial point of view, and friends can help there, but I don’t expect anyone impartial and professional to take a red pen to my work for free. But I do beleive it would be useful to have someone do just that before submission. I do not understand the resistance to this sentiment, especially from people who encourage others to improve their writing, who post on review forums, and who volunteer to critique others work. Like I said, I must be missing some deeper point...

    But thanks again all!
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Critiques will help you find your blind spots, but you really have to still understand the issues, and do the work yourself. If you are looking for a writing coach, that is certainly an option. An editor is different. An editor just goes through and makes changes throughout your manuscript. You either accept that person's changes, or you go over them and decide which ones to accept. Well, how do you do that, if you don't know writing well enough to do it yourself?

    When I critique, I look for a few stand-out things I feel need changing, and I explain why I think so. I don't go through and find every instance, or track down every possible problem. That's the writer's job. I just try to give the writer an idea what to look for.
     
  23. TWErvin2
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    Ojduffelworth,

    From your running commentary, it appears obvious you're set on hiring an editor. Nobody is telling you not to, just what to look for and expect, and other possible routes other than hiring an editor.

    If possible, find a freelance editor who has worked in a major publishing house (or who has done work for major publishing houses) in the genre (if applicable) of your writing.

    Depending on the length of the work, type of editorial assistance you're looking for and how much work is needed with the piece, for many freelance editors like I suggested it can run from $500 up into the thousands of dollars.

    As a side note, there may be stong opportunities out there to hire someone to edit your piece as many publishers have been cutting back in all departments, including editorial.

    Terry
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    terry's advice is sound and the sums mentioned are realistic, though i don't know how good a job you'd get on a full length novel, for only $500...

    and, to face reality, you do have to accept the unpleasant fact that whatever you pay will most likely never be made back, because even with the best editing you can buy, the vast majority of first novels by new and unknown writers never get published...

    that's not being negative, or discouraging, just stating what happens in real life!... and if you don't accept that risk before you spend that money, you're not being logical or practical... writing is a business, like it or not...
     
  25. ojduffelworth
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    “that's not being negative, or discouraging, just stating what happens in real life!... and if you don't accept that risk before you spend that money, you're not being logical or practical... writing is a business, like it or not...”

    I would say if you don’t accept that risk before writing a novel with the intention of trying to have it published, then you would not write it in the first place.

    Of course the chances of getting a first work published are minimal. Endlessly stating that is as good as telling me how to suck eggs. Every fool knows that. I am not questioning if it is it difficult to get published, I am asking how do I increase my chances of publication given the fact that it is a difficult, competitive game?

    Realistically, because the world is competitive and the chances of success are slim, I believe you have to do the best you can with the relevant recourses at your disposal.

    I neither like nor dislike the fact that writing is a business. It is what it is. Recognizing it is a business, I think I have to approach it in the most professional manner in which I can when submitting to potential clients or partners. Incidentally, there are few business ventures I can think of in which one can enter into without making some monetary investment.

    Again, the point is simply to submit the best proposal that I can. You don’t know if it will be published, and neither do I. However what I do not want to do is decrease my chances by taking the attitude that it probably won’t be published, so therefore it is not worth giving it my best shot. Then it certainly will not be published! If I do my best and it is still not good enough, then so be it. Surely you are not suggesting that I refrain from doing all that I can to improve my work and increase the likelihood of finding a publisher?

    Of course paying for some form of critique / editing will not make a fundamentally poor novel publishable. Isn’t that obvious?
    Hopefully what it will do is catch a few ‘mistakes’ before they reach the eyes of those hardened men and women with stacks of submissions and a big trash can.

    Maia, I caught a ‘wording’ problem in your short poem and I am by no means as technically proficient as you when it comes to writing. All the same, you made a ‘mistake’ which I saw and you overlooked. Does that mean you are a poor writer, or have an inadequate vocabulary? Of course not! It simply means that people make errors and that they can benefit from the help of others. Because that is a fact of life, I think the logical and practical thing to do is to seek the help of others.

    I acknowledge the fact that is mighty difficult to get a first novel published. Having assimilated this information into my business plan I do not need to dwell on it any longer, other than to come up with strategies to deal with it. The bottom line is the writing has to be primarily sound, and then it has to be correctly presented and marketed.

    Anyhow, thanks again, Unless someone can suggest the details of some coaches/editors along the lines I am seeking I think this tread has just about run its course for me..
     

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