Judging an Evaluation

In the previous post I discussed the difficulty that an author experiences when trying to hire the right editor. I started with the first step in a multi-phase edit, pointing out what to look for in an editorial letter. If the edit is to consist of only the letter, however, that requires a different set of considerations.

This type of edit is commonly known as an evaluation. In it, the large-scale suggestions in the editorial letter are supplemented by page-by-page notes the editor takes while reading. That is the evaluation’s advantage, because an author can see exactly where the editor thinks the manuscript needs improvement. Unfortunately, the page-by-page notes are only as good as the eye of the editor. Here are a few guidelines.

The first is: how well do these smaller notes support the overall concerns raised in the editorial letter? If one of the topics in the letter is the book’s slow pacing in certain stretches, for example, you should receive specific examples of where it sags. Or, if the editor wrote a half page about not liking the protagonist, there should be successive examples where violations against the reader’s moral sense are committed, including when the editor started to give up on the character.

Second, how weighty are the suggestions? If the evaluation is filled with remarks such as not liking a character’s hair color, or dress choices that seem to contradict her personality, how useful are they to you? Such suggestions are essentially minutia. The same holds for a story’s crucial questions such as plausibility. If the editor doubts that a character would decide to investigate a crime, that’s a big deal. The entire course of the book hangs on swallowing that premise. If the suggestion points out the unbelievability of a character submerging a car in a pond, that’s an easy fix—if you decide you want to fix it at all.

While on the subject of the picayune, I’m not even talking about the lowest level: pointing out grammar or spelling corrections. You can hire a copy editor to correct your grammar for a fraction of the cost. I stress this point because many so-called editors are really just jumped-up copy editors. I suspect, from the material they post, that a significant proportion of them don’t know the difference between the two types of editors. Don’t pay for the one if you’re expecting the other.

Returning to the evaluation, a final guideline is: how many large-scale suggestions are offered as opposed to the specific ones? You still should be receiving a broad picture of how the novel is progressing. If the letter is two pages long and the page-by-page list is seven pages, you know that the editor is not seeing the forest for the trees. That’s the hard part of an editor’s job, and it provides the most benefit.

“Writers have to put up with this editor thing; it is ageless and eternal and wrong.”
—Charles Bukowski

Copyright @ 2018, John Paine

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