Editing books appears to be a job headed for specialization. In the past, my novels were reviewed by one individual. That person corrected for both content and technical errors. Between the time I did extensive rewrites on my upcoming novel, Ballet Noir, and was ready for a final review, my initial editor had left the business and I needed to hire a new one. This second editor lived in New York and charged by the page for the general edit, which didn’t include a check for technical errors. For that I had to find a third editor.
By the time Ballet Noir was ready to send out for approval, I had reduced my bank account by $4,000. The publisher who took the book paid to produce it, of course. Nonetheless, my part in the preparation was expensive. With specialization hitting the profession, costs for the writer will skyrocket. Now days, the process begins with a concept editor. This is the person who critiques internal content, including character development and story line. If the concept editor is a freelancer with a good reputation, a writer could pay thousands of dollars that run into the double digits. When the editing is done, the book goes to a copy editor. That person looks for textural errors like word choice and sentence structure. Last comes the final polish applied by the technical editor. He or she looks for the creepy crawlies: errors in punctuation and spelling.
All this I learned while sitting down with a young woman who is half way through her master’s degree in book publishing. During our conversation, I commented that a concept editor sounded like a ghost writer to me; but she balked at my suggestion. Many famous writers worked with a concept editor, including Earnest Hemingway, she said. As I’m no admirer of Hemingway, I gave my companion a dour look. A writer who needs heavy-duty instruction on plot and character development, I replied, should go back to school. Doing so would be cheaper, too, I added.
My editor-student friend wasn’t deterred and insisted having a unique idea is what brings a writer success. Niche markets are all the rage., Publishers, she assured me, like improbable plots that take a reader where he or she has never gone before. Think Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, for example. One of the current niches deals with a mixture of dinosaurs, sheep and sex. That’s when I stopped listening.
What I took take away from our conversation, however, was that a concept editor seems to enjoy the sweet spot in publishing. A free lancer gets fees paid up front, regardless of whether or not the book finds a buyer. The editor who shaped dinosaurs, sheep and sex into a marketable concept probably earned every penny of his or her fee, however.