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10 questions to help you hire an editor

Need an expert hand to whip your draft into shape? These questions can help you find the consultant that is best suited to help you.

Hire an editor
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5. QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

1. Can you afford them?

Pricing is always a difficult topic when hiring a third party. Usually professionals will have their fee schedules posted on their websites, so you know what to expect from the beginning. Unfortunately, however, there are no best practices or standardized industry rates for script consultant fees; it’s pretty much a “make it up as you go along” type of industry. Things that can affect pricing might include their years in the business, the prestige or length of their client lists, professional credits, etc. The bottom line here is you will have to gauge for yourself if you think their fees are agreeable or not. But how can you know if they’re reasonable? Are there any standards you can use to compare and contrast rates? Can you negotiate, or are you just stuck going with their first quote?

The smartest approach here is to do your research. Check out as many other consultants as you can, and compare pricing and services. You will quickly get a feel for the market, and then you can determine if that outrageous fee they’re asking for is justifiable.

All of the above also applies to book editors, except that there are some best practices in place for their fees. As mentioned earlier, the EFA has standard rates for all categories of editorial work. These are just starting points for negotiating a deal, but at least you can know what is considered fair and right within the profession.

2. Are you comfortable with the consultant’s clients’ publishing/producing records?

When you hire editors or script consultants, you are hiring an editor first and a writer second. I say this because many people incorrectly ascribe competence based on how many books one has written or screenplays one has sold. But editorial talent is different than writing talent. For example: Maxwell Perkins, who I consider to be the greatest editor in the history of publishing, never so much as published a recipe in his 50-plus years with Charles Scribner’s Sons, yet he was responsible for helping two of his clients win Nobel Prizes in literature (Hemingway and Fitzgerald). So the measure of a consultant’s value should not be based on personal publishing or sales records. It should, however, be based on the publishing or sales records of his client’s books and screenplays. Ask book editors what publishing successes their clients have enjoyed; ask script consultants how many of their clients got script sales, awards, or producing deals. You will have to weigh how comfortable you are hiring an “expert” with a client list filled with low-sale, self-published books or a script consultant with few or no clients with produced IMDb (Internet Movie Database) credits or festival awards. Remember, having a weak client list doesn’t mean a person can’t do the job, but it’s important to know their history so you can be fully informed in your decision-making process.

3. Are you willing to fire the consultant if you are dissatisfied?

Are you comfortable managing them, and not being managed by them? Because if you don’t take control of the partnership, the consultant will take control – by necessity. The consulting relationship will go off the rails unless someone is managing the process. But that “someone” should be the client, not the consultant.

Part of that process involves hiring, yes, but also firing. Are you really willing to do that? Frankly, most people want to avoid conflict and will just ride out the experience and then move on, losing money, time, and their sanity. Building checkpoints into the partnership can mitigate this risk: You can measure progress and discuss problems, delays, or failures sooner than later. But you still have to be willing to step up and fire the consultant if you aren’t happy with how the project is progressing. This worst-case scenario is where contracts come in handy: Termination clauses will allow you to fire someone cleanly and with as little exposure as possible on your end. If you don’t get a contract, at least obtain a written agreement in an email (before you hire them) explaining your criteria for releasing the consultant if you are unhappy.

The bottom line here is: Are you willing to be a boss and not a passive player in this partnership?

4. What kind of consultant do you really need?

All consultants and editors are not created equal. Many consultants will tell you they do it all, but it isn’t wise to believe them. It’s best to work with professionals who specialize in one type of editing, not five. (See page 35 for the basic types of editors and consultants you will most likely come across in the industry.)

The more you are exposed to professionals, the better you will become at recognizing those who are truly talented and productive. You will have to kiss a lot of frogs, however, before you find your prince.

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5. Can they do an interview and walk and chew gum at the same time?

If at all possible, talk to potential consultants or editors over the phone or by video chat instead of using texts or email. How they present in person can tell you a lot about how comfortable they are with you and vice versa. Can they talk articulately? Do they make sense? Are they confident? Do they ask you questions? Do they leave you feeling they can do the job – and that they actually like what they’re doing?

 

Asking these 10 questions will help you not only find the right editor or script consultant, but also will make you the kind of client consultants will enjoy working with. The snake-oil-salesman hucksters will quickly expose themselves, and the gems in the rough will always shine through. Writing is a lonely game, but you don’t have to do all of it alone – in fact, you can’t, if you want a real career. Learn the skills for hiring third parties and empower yourself with the confidence and composure that comes from knowing what you want, without giving power away to anyone else.

 

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Jeff Lyons is a published author, teacher, screenwriter, and story development consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the film, TV, and publishing industries. His book, Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success, is published through Focal Press. Web: jefflyonsbooks.com.

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