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.
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 “self 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.
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.