Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Report from Portland

Robert Zumwalt, one of the administrators of the novels critique of the Internet Writing Workshop, recently attended a writing conference in Portland, Oregon, and offers a few comments about what he learned there.


Noteworthy for our group: A panel of editors, a couple from some major houses, offered opinions about freelance editors, including using their services prior to submission. They were unanimous that such efforts are neither needed or appreciated. Using critique groups or other peer review is quite adequate. The editor from Tor was especially worked up about the potential for abuse by the freelancers. The agent panels were a little more friendly to the idea of professional pre-editing, but it seemed they were triangulating from a marketing, rather than creative, standpoint. This is my 15th or 16th conference and I'm beginning to see a pattern in the number of self-interested camps in publishing, all in some flavor of symbiotic collusion -- editors depend on agents to pre-screen, and some agents use free-lance editors in much the same way. In any event, while I know online critique groups such as ours are held in low esteem by many freelance editors (probably don't like the competition) publishing houses may view us differently.

Apparently, acquisition editors (AEs) didn't object to the spelling and grammar checking, but tweaking the story was another matter. They want to do it themselves. I suspect it's a turf thing. If the story has been reformulated to suit the taste of the freelance editor, then the AE is getting second-hand goods and might well wonder what the author's original intent may have been.

In spite of the AEs' veiled distaste for them, I think free-lance editors who've made it to the inner circle have become a second line of defense for the AEs -- not unlike agents. The AE from Tor decried the quality of unvetted submissions (quick to say we lambs attending the conference would be miles ahead . . .) If someone has paid a free-lance editor however-many thousands to have their story edited, then it shows serious intent. Story premise and compelling interest are another matter.

The point I took from the panel was that the quality of what we offer in our critique lists passes muster. On the issues that matter to the AEs, our participants stand favorably with those who've hired editors. Of course once the contract is signed with the publisher, their staff are going to clean up any MS way beyond what comes out of the Novels-l submission/critting process. But that would happen with a professionally edited MS, as well.

While I've never heard of any formal arrangements between freelancers and agents or publishers, they are in a relatively small circle where many know one another, and mutual back scratching is a way of life. For instance, all the conference workshop staff (many are freelance editors) along with agents, etc., have private conference meetings, just like we admins. They see one another at conferences again and again. The devil you know is at least market savvy. How many times have you seen in a conference brochure how Mr. So-and-so, freelance editor and long-time workshop leader, has shepherded somebody's MS to publication? They don't do it for free.

Conferences are a source of customers. The industry has a refined system of nepotism, and the latest step in the evolution of gatekeepers seems to extend beyond the agent to freelance editors who know agents and promise an introduction if you use their services. One free-lancer I know confided she was on tap for a major, unidentified publisher, but she didn't name names. The allure of the undisclosed.

1 comment:

Jeannette said...

Many if not most publishing houses employ freelance copyeditors for that stage of the editing process; I work for two mainstream traditional publishers, and most of my freelance colleagues do so as well.

Obviously a house wants to do its own substantive/developmental editing, but presenting a manuscript that's as perfect as possible always makes the chances of acceptance better.

Jeannette Cezanne
www.customline.com

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