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.
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."
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.