Who pays whom?


This week’s post comes thanks to reader CJ, who had questions after my last week’s post. I may get a little strident in this post, so I particularly want CJ to know I’m not yelling at him, and in general I’m not yelling at anybody. I’m just yelling because this is *incredibly* important. πŸ™‚

CJ’s question: For the benefit of relative newbies, who pays whom? I understand that this varies from author to author and contractual relationship to relationship, but is your editor working directly for you, your agent, or the prospective publisher?

Those of us who try to β€œself edit” (and oftentimes fail) need to know a bit more about this relationship. We all know that it’s usually ill advised to pay an agent up front, but what about the really VITAL link in the chain – the editor? Who employs (pays) him or her?

Frankly, if I never post anything else of use on this site, this would be worth the time spent participating in it. It’s that important.

Money flows toward the author.

It is not “usually” ill-advised to pay an agent up front. It is *always* ill-advised to pay an agent up front. The agent works for you. The agent does not get paid until you get paid.

The editor is paid by the publishing house. The editor is the one paying *you*. There is no legitimate publishing scheme in which you give the editor or the agent any money. Ever. Period. End of sentence, end of discussion.

More detail behind the cut.

Okay. I’m going to start with agents and work my way to editors and then next week I’ll talk about print-on-demand and vanity press.

So: agents.

It is my *personal* belief that an agent is a career move. I got my agent after getting an offer from a publishing house that accepted unsolicited submissions. I could almost certainly have continued to sell books without an agent (mostly by making personal contacts), but I felt, and feel, that having an agent, someone between myself and the editor, is really important. Also, your agent will get you more money. Mine got me nearly twice what the publishing house initially offered–which more than covers her 15%.

15% is the industry standard for literary agents. Typically this is how they (and you) get paid:

Publishing House buys your book. Agent hammers out the advance, the contract details, you read it all and sign it and send it back. Publishing House sends a check to the agency. The agency sends you a check for the amount of the advance less their 15%.

That’s it. That’s how they get paid. That’s how you get paid. There are no other loops to jump through, although occasionally there may be photocopying or printout fees (which technically my agency is allowed to take out of my advance, and never has).

There is no scenario what-so-ever in which you pay your editor. They’re employed by a giant conglomerate publishing house and they write *you* the check. (I know I said that before. I may say it another six times. :))

Now: an editorial *service* is something else.

An editorial service is someone you *do* pay to go over your work. It’s like a first reader or a beta reader hopped up on speed. Ideally it’s someone who has either worked as an editor or agent or who is a successful novelist themselves. I personally know two authors running editorial services whose services I would recommend: Laura Anne Gilman, a former editor at Berkley, Dutton, and New American Library, who is now a full-time author of fantasy and romance novels, and Judith Tarr, a fantasy novelist who is frankly one of the most amazing writers I’ve ever read, who offers mentoring services which can include editorial-level critique.

Neither of these women, nor any other editorial service, will get you published.

What they will give you is a professional-level critique, which may be extremely useful. It may also be emotionally devastating (because, well, critiques usually are, even when they’re handed out as nicely as possible). It is *not* the secret password, though. There’s no such thing. All they–and others like them–are offering is a *service*. An attempt to help you make your book better. They’re not publishers themselves. I’m willing to mention the two I have because I know and trust them, but as a general statement I would urge new writers to be inherently suspicious of editorial services.

If you have the *slightest* doubt–in fact, even if you *don’t*–please, please please go to Preditors & Editors, which is the Internet’s #1 resource for scam agents, editors, publishing houses, editorial services, and pretty much anything else you could need to know to make sure you’re signing with someone legitimate, whether it’s an agent, a publishing house, or an editorial service.

I could probably go on forever, but I have to be at work in 2 minutes. Please, if you have questions about *anything* I’ve said here (including advances, etc), lay them on me. I’ll either answer in comments or answer in a post over the next few weeks.


13 comments to Who pays whom?

  • *wild applause* I spoke to a high school group recently, and this question came up. One young woman wanted to know how much it had cost me to publish MK, because she had been trying to convince her mother to spend $4000 to get her book “published”, but her mother thought she could find someone cheaper. Eek! πŸ˜€

  • Augh. Augh augh augh. *hops around* Augh! Was the girl devastated or shocked or pleased to hear they’d paid *you* to publish MK?

  • Sometimes I wonder how people can still not understand this. (High schoolers excepted, as they don’t often understand many things.) There is so much great information out there… but then, there are also unscrupulous people who make their livings by convincing wannabes that this is how to do it.

    Completely unrelated: next time you redo the site, it would be really useful to have the author’s name up at the top of the post. For me (firefox on linux), it shows up in Google Reader, but not if I come straight to the site. The author of an individual post isn’t listed anywhere except the tags. C’mon, give yourselves credit right up front (and relieve us your readers of the need to scroll down to the bottom, then back up again).

  • >>Money flows toward the author.

    Catie — YOU GO GIRL! YES!
    We’ve said it here before, but never so well. It needed to be said here again. Pounded home. Good post!

  • Well, that very succinct phrasing, money flows toward the author, is thanks to Making Light, to give credit where it’s due. But I’m very fond of that particular phrase because it is *so* succinct and it’s, well, kind of hard to get wrong. πŸ™‚

  • Great post, Catie. I’ll reiterate the importance of checking the Preditors and Editors site that’s linked in Catie’s post. There are a lot of crooks out there looking to prey upon people’s dreams. Sad but true.

  • Preditors and Editors has been added to my bookmarks. πŸ™‚

  • CJ

    An excellent and very clear reply to my original question. As far as Phiala is concerned, SOME of us have never had the opportunity to go to university and, in the UK at least, half the teachers at “high” school can barely speak English, never mind write it! Therefore, this relationship is NOT something you just know about unless (like me) you have spent a lot of hours researching this subject and deciding who to believe.

    Nevertheless, one thing in particular is obvious when explained so clearly and yet had confused me in the past. That is the difference between an EDITOR and an EDITING SERVICE. Although the advice is never to pay an editor (and I now exactly understand how that can be so), I used the services some time ago of an editing service and it was EXTREMELY helpful. It didn’t, as you say, directly sell my book, but it made it better, taught me one heck of a lot and (I think) made me a better writer.

    Thanks again for an excellent and concise post!

  • Ah, good, I’m glad it was a helpful post for you, CJ, and also that you had a good experience with an editing service!

    I think you’re nailing something in your comment, too–deciding who to believe. On one hand, Phiala’s right: in some ways it seems impossible that people wouldn’t know these things, because you can find a lot of explanations in a lot of places…but you have to know to look and you have to be able to trust your source, and for innumerable reasons, both of those things can be difficult. Far too many people do assume publishing at all means vanity publishing–but I’ll go into that next week. πŸ™‚

  • Chris Branch

    Regarding paying to publish your own book, I guess it’s clear that no writer wants to do this, but maybe the thinking goes like this (DISCLAIMER: I know this is wrong – or at least idealistic – I’m just justifying for argument’s sake why it might be easy to think this way):

    As a writer, I have a product to sell, and I have to sell it in order for the money to “flow toward the author”. So, who is my customer? The tendency is to say (correctly I think): the reader. But wait, all I have is a manuscript and a handful of rejection letters. I can’t sell that to the reader; what I need is a book. The responsibility for turning my manuscript into a book lies with the publisher. If they would just do their part, then the money could start flowing. This might lead me to conclude: turning my manuscript into a book is not so hard – I can do that step myself and cut out the middleman. Sure, I might have to pay for it, but hey, sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money. Okay, the self-published book might not sell as many copies as a traditionally published one, but it can’t be worse than the zero copies that are being sold as long as all I have is a manuscript.


  • *applauds*

    I think this post should be set up on an auto-post every 6 months. That way all the newer visitors to this site can read these wise words, and those of us who have been around a while can get a little reminder.

    Well said, Catie!

  • […] editor/agent/author relationship and the differences between an editor and an editorial service, is here. Part two, discussing vanity presses, is here. I expect I’ll be talking about POD and ebooks […]

  • I heartily endorse everything Catie says here, from ten years’ personal experience and observation as an author.

    Another site for perusal and bookmarking: Writer Beware, and their associated blog