Monday, July 4, 2016

Why 50 Pages?

A popular post from May 2010

by Annette Lyon

"I want PEG to edit my entire novel."

When we hear that, of course we're excited. We love what we do, and we love helping writers. But instead of telling the client to send the whole puppy over, we usually request the first 50 pages, or sometimes only 30.

Clients' natural reaction is, "Um, why?"

After all, they're planning on using our services for the entire manuscript; why not send the whole thing at once?

For that matter, some people have even wondered if we're nuts based on a pure business perspective: Why in the world wouldn't we willingly take on 350 pages to edit (and charge for) and instead settle for 50?

So here's the scoop . . . and why it's in everyone's best interest that we generally function this way.

Case in point:
(This really happened recently, but it's also happened more times than I can count.)

PEG often gives free 10-page edits so the client can get an idea of whether we're a good fit. I did one such 10-page edit for a client, who then wanted their entire book edited.

GREAT! Right?

The client was instructed to send the next 50 pages. The client was confused. "I said I wanted you to edit the entire book."

The client pushed the issue, but Heather, our fantastic manager, held her ground and had me work on the next 50 pages.

I can honestly say those pages had some great potential. The writer had talent. But yes, it did need a pretty solid edit. There were several sections that needed smoothing out, clarifying, more showing details, and the like, but overall I thought it had some serious promise.

On the other hand, if I'd worked on the whole thing up front, all I would have done is repeat the same commentary and suggestions over and over again.

Almost like, "See the notes on pages 12, 29, 42, and 83. You're doing it again." That kind of redundant advice gets meaningless and wastes everyone's time.

Instead, we aim for the writer to learn how to write better by getting mini lessons through an edit of the first part of their work. Then they can learn how to fix many of the problems throughout the rest.

In the case above, I returned the 50 pages. The client soon e-mailed me back saying that a light bulb had basically gone off. They'd learned so much from the edit on those first pages that now they knew how to write better.

"I'm going to revise the rest before sending it back to you for editing."

Bingo.

That's exactly why we work this way.

If a writer can be taught how to make their work better simply by getting a detailed, 50-page edit, then they should have that opportunity. We'd hate to have them paying six times the amount to learn the lessons they could have figured out by page 38 of an edit.

After all, the very same beginner mistakes will almost certainly be made throughout the rest of the book. Why pay an editor to fix the same things over and over and over when you now have the ability to do it yourself?

Not only that, but when you're dealing with content edits, if the plot or other major elements have serious issues, there's really no point in editing too far: so much of the book will need to be rewritten that any edits on page 234 won't be relevant anymore.

It's not at all unusual for a writer to get their 50 pages done, go back to revisions, then send the full, revised version. Always, it's a step (or two or three) up from where it would have been had they sent the whole thing in first.

Here's another editing secret:
A single edit can take a book up one level, but it can't take coal and turn it into a diamond. The better a piece is before it reaches an editor's hands, the higher level it'll end up on the other side of the edit.

When an author in this situation rewrites and then sends in the rest of the book for editing, they've brought it to a higher level on their own. That then helps the editor to take the polished version and push it one step above that.

It's amazing to me how well writers learn from getting those initial 50 pages back. It's as if their writer toolbox is suddenly filled up with shiny, new tools. They're able to both see the flaws in their work more easily and know what to do about them.

In the end, not only does the writer get a much bigger bang for their buck this way, but their skill level for future writing goes up right along with the quality of the one piece they had edited.

Everyone wins.

17 comments:

T.J. said...

So when I get money again, can I request a specific editor to look at it? Like the one who did my free 10-page critique...

Annette Lyon said...

TJ, You can always request an editor. The one you did your critique is flattered you'd want to request her. :)

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

As another editor with PEG, I'd like to give Annette a BIG thumbs up for this post. She is exactly right! I've had clients get really mad because I won't edit more than 50 pages of a manuscript that simply is NOT ready. It's a waste of time and money because, as Annette says, if major changes need to be made, then anything we say after about page 50 (sometimes earlier) won't mean anything anymore anyway. I can't bring myself to charge a client for an edit they won't really be able to use. I'm hoping Heather will copy this one and send it along to new clients. I think they will find it very helpful.

Laura said...

When I read this I can't help compare it to the agent scenerio where a full manuscript request is so much more exciting than a partial. I know, it has nothing to do with your post... I just have agent-brainitis.

But yes, point taken on the self help part. In fact, it even makes the whole thing more affordable. You only have to pay for 50 pages the first run-through and then as you're ready, move on to more pages.

It's kind of like dog obedience training. You don't just train the dog, you train the owner to train the dog. You guys don't just edit, you teach the writer to edit.

Josi said...

GREAT post, Annette. If we were just in it for the money, we'd edit everyone's full but because we want YOU to be better for having worked with us, we make it manageable. So well said.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article, Annette!

I once wanted to work with a developmental editor in exactly that way, but he insisted that he needed to consider the relationship of the parts to the whole in order to perform a proper developmental edit.

I had two concerns with that:
1. It felt like he just wanted to do the work and be done with me (I'd get an hour of his time after he completed the edit)
and
2. The whole edit was way out of my immediate budget.

Still, I suppose that different editors work differently.

Do you ever get a partial and then say, in order to edit this, I really need to see where it is going?

In my critique group, we were doing chapters on several people's work, but when we got a look at the whole end novels, a couple of them fell apart in a way that wasn't possible to see in sections.

Because of that experience, I like to look at a synopsis or outline and the first 50 pages.The outline tells me about story arcs. The writing, I agree, can be greatly fine tuned in 50 pages.

BTW, do you guys work with specialties (i.e., one for romance, another for fantasy, etc.?)? I was a little worried that you might not like an edgy YA.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article, Annette!

I once wanted to work with a developmental editor in exactly that way, but he insisted that he needed to consider the relationship of the parts to the whole in order to perform a proper developmental edit.

I had two concerns with that:
1. It felt like he just wanted to do the work and be done with me (I'd get an hour of his time after he completed the edit)
and
2. The whole edit was way out of my immediate budget.

Still, I suppose that different editors work differently.

Do you ever get a partial and then say, in order to edit this, I really need to see where it is going?

In my critique group, we were doing chapters on several people's work, but when we got a look at the whole end novels, a couple of them fell apart in a way that wasn't possible to see in sections.

Because of that experience, I like to look at a synopsis or outline and the first 50 pages.The outline tells me about story arcs. The writing, I agree, can be greatly fine tuned in 50 pages.

BTW, do you guys work with specialties (i.e., one for romance, another for fantasy, etc.?)? I was a little worried that you might not like an edgy YA.

Annette Lyon said...

Anon, It really depends on the project. There have been times I've felt like I need a synopsis ahead of time, and others, it doesn't matter so much, especially with non-fiction/self-help type works.

PEG has a wide range of editors, and we all specialize in different areas and genres. I can think of two or three of us I think you could trust with to do a great job with edgy YA.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that I seemed to have posted twice. (You can remove the redundant post if you want.)

It would be very informative if you guys could list your specialities and special interest areas.

Again, thanks for the great post!

Janine said...

Awesome explanation.

One of my tricks is to use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard before I let anyone read my ms. It's amazing what the Wizard can pick up.

As Annette says, it's much better to fix as much as you can before you pay someone else to read it (or use up favors with your friends)

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Loved this post and it's so true. I have learned so much from my editor. It's amazing how that works!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a post on auto editing types of programs and whether they can really compete with an editor's eyes. My fear is that they might wipe out writing that needs to breathe around the rules, something an editor might see, but a program might not.

Stephanie Black said...

This is fascinating, and says so much for your company that your top goal is to help clients improve their writing and to give them an edit they can really use. You ought to post this blog on your home page!

Anna Maria Junus said...

Really interesting article.

I wonder though, are there times when you're editing and you have questions, or something doesn't make sense, but the answers are further along in the book?

And do you sometimes get caught up with wanting the author to write in your voice instead of hers/his.

Annette Lyon said...

Stephanie, fascinating idea! I'd love to run someone's piece through a program like that, edit it myself, and then compare the two. I'm guessing the program would be pretty sterile in its rules.

As for the other questions--I think we've got at least one editor for just about any genre, with the exception of erotica.

Anna Maria, If something is confusing early on but is clarified later, that's a problem. Even elements that we don't know all the details on shouldn't confuse the reader. They should show up, even without full explanations, and make some sense. If it's too ambiguous when something first appears, the writer should revise so it works naturally into the narrative, even if we don't know all the details yet.

Annette Lyon said...

Oh--and to answer your other question--a good editor makes the author look good while maintaining THEIR voice. It's a skill you have to develop. If an editor is rewriting into their own voice, they are not doing their job.

Kimberly said...

Great post Annette. So much common sense here. I found myself nodding along as I read thinking, yeah, that totally makes sense.

I can't wait to have 50 pages to bring to you gals. Hmm...maybe I should stop reading blogs and start writing...