Should You Hire an Editor or Join a Critique Group? (Part II)

So Barbara Longley and I decided to go a second round with our discussion. Should an author work with an editor or a critique group. As you might remember I support going with an editor. My long winded and talented colleague, Barbara Longley is a huge supporter of critique groups.

Honestly I think Barb wanted to go a second round because she couldn’t handle that I was so spot on in that first post!

So here we go….round two….. I’ve got one gloves raised high to protect my face and the other lower……. Barb can’t be trusted to spar cleanly!  

KEVIN: I have a lot to say Barb? Really….Really? You just tripled my word count!

I’m not going to match you though. I don’t feel like I must. Why?…… Because I believe in myself. I don’t need affirmation that I can write. Especially from people who are of equal or lesser positions than me in this publishing world. O wait….. 

Before I forget though I should share the rules of this little spat Barb and I are having.(In my world rules are good.) I’ve laid out my initial position (critique groups are a waste of resources) Then Barb responds. Clearly we don’t agree on this point so further bickering is futile. That piece of the discussion is over and we will throw it at you, the readers, to give us your thoughts.

Then Barb will lay out a second reason of why she supports the use of critique groups.

Of course Barb has broken the rules and laid out two initial positions……..

Editors are writer’s lap dogs. Editors do whatever the writer wants to please him/ her.

Critique groups provide valuable feedback and insight to one’s book.

Wow! Lap dogs huh, Barb. Editors will tell me whatever I want to hear because I am paying them? It is clear to me that you have never met my editor. The dude didn’t say a kind word to me for over five months.

He initially read my novel and then provided me four pages of editorial notes. He gave me four larger tenants and three smaller to fix. He told me and I quote, “There are a lot of things really working for this novel. But you aren’t paying me to tell you what works. So let’s talk about what doesn’t.”

Every phone call, every email and every time he put his nose in my book it became a Hanrahan beat down session. At times I loathed talking with him because I knew what was about to happen.

At one point I said to my wife, “I’m not even sure if this guy sees anything good about the book because all he does is point out flaws.”

I almost had a breakdown when he told me my heroine’s story line needed to be completely reworked. That I wasn’t getting to the core of what she brought to the book. My heroine in Paws on the Ground, Megan Jayburn, is the healer of the novel. She is a veterinarian technician who cares for the military working dogs. She is a nurturing dog whisperer who reveals her inner “badass” when backed into a corner.

Anyway, my editor told me to rework and add content to the first 150 pages of her storyline.  Guess what? It was like a light bulb went off when he told me this. How the heck didn’t I recognize that? Until then her character was not equal in stature to the hero of the novel. Now Megan’s storyline easily rivals the heroes storyline. But I digress……

I finally asked him, “John, do you think this book has legs? I just want to make sure I am not wasting my time. That you think the book has potential.”

He replied, “You already know the answer or you wouldn’t have come to me.”

Then he went right back beating me down. My editor doesn’t give a damn about pleasing me. His only goal is to improve my book.  Why?

His professional reputation is at stake here. He is successful because his authors are successful. We are forever linked. You can’t say that about a critique group. Do they really care about your success or do they care more about their own?

My editor has been in this business for twenty five years. Fifteen of those years were as a book doctor for Penguin. He had edited thousands of novels to include multiple New York Time Best Sellers. You can’t tell me that your critique group’s advice is more valuable than my editor’s. I simply don’t believe it. That is like saying I should listen to a group of business school student rather than Warren Buffett when I am looking for investment advice.

Or so you can better understand let’s talk hair dressers. Do you let your neighbor do your hair or do you go to a professional hairdresser? Why don’t you let your neighbor do your highlights, Barb? I’m sure she will do a great job!

If your book has an issue then my editor has seen it before. If you are stuck somewhere or unsure where to go talk then all I needed was a five minute phone call with my editor. Why? Because my editor knows what he doing.

Working with my editor felt as if I was going through five months of an intensive writing course. My editor is the master and I was the student.

You get what you pay for in the world, Barb. I sought out professional guidance much like you do when it is time for a haircut. Critique groups? Hah! No way……I’ll put my novel in the hands of a professional!

Wowzer! I just rocked that out over a couple cups of coffee. All right…. I am nearing Barb’s word count so I’ll be brief with this next point.

Critique groups lack perspective. My editor read my entire book first. He needed to understand the big picture before he focused on the plot, subplots, structure and prose of the novel. If a critique group reads and provides feedback of one chapter then how can they provide feedback on a novel’s turning points, structure of the scene in regard to its placement in the novel? Your critique group has no clue about the pacing of your novel.

Hay! I just threw down the gauntlet Barb! Please take note….. I was short and concise with my points. Let’s save your long winded conversations for those critique group sessions when you hem and haw about each other’s work….. o… wait…that is a future point I have! 

BARBARA: Whatever. Once our novels are done, we CPs read the entire thing through for all those things you mentioned, plus I have a group of Beta readers who read my books for me as a market test. You don’t think I’m “professional guidance” to my CPs?? Snort. You don’t think they’re “professional guidance” to me? You think they “lack perspective?” Snorting again because you do not know what you’re talking about. By the year 2014, I will have seven books out. I get advances, and I have contracts. That makes me “professional.” If I didn’t get how to write and edit, if I had no perspective, I wouldn’t be published at all. You wanted to take a shortcut. Fine. You wanted to spend mega bucks to get to the same place I’ve gotten on my own with my treasured CPs. Fine. Just don’t malign the “professionals” I work with. Most of my CPs from over the years are successfully published authors with multiple titles to their credit. My neighbors aren’t critiquing my work; professional writers are. Also, you learn a lot about writing through critiquing the work of others. A point I forgot to make previously.

I too have a great deal of confidence in my abilities as a story teller and in my CP’s abilities as well. The difference is: I didn’t pay anyone to help me improve my novels or my craft as a writer. I became a professional through dedication, drive and hard work—along with other writers who are equally dedicated. What you described I also go through with my editor/s, only I have a contract and they pay me to go through the process.

I’m not saying paying an editor is entirely a bad thing. I can see the merit, and a lot of self-published writers would surely benefit. But that’s the difference. If you’re planning to self-publish, then yes. You should hire an editor. A writer can save themselves a lot of embarrassment by doing so, because we all need a fresh set of eyes looking at our work before sending it out into the world. But if you’re on the road to getting published, embrace the process, learn with others along the same road. It’s well worth it.

You know what I think the difference is? Some writers just can’t take criticism from other writers. They just can’t. I’ve tried to work with a few writers like that over the years, and they didn’t last. (Nor are they published to date.) They thought they knew better than the rest of us, and were blind, deaf and dumb to what we had to say because of their defensiveness and/or arrogance. Maybe writers like that need to pay someone in order to be open to the criticism. Some authors just can’t work with critique partners, and that’s OK. Whatever works for you. Go pay someone to tell you the same kinds of things I would if you were my CP. I guess the money makes it more legit for you.

Yeah, we’re not going to come to terms over this issue, Kevin. That’s all right. We’re writers on a journey. We have stories to tell, and it’s an intrinsic imperative that we tell them. However we get to the finish line is good, one way or the other. I’ll do it my way; you’ll do it your way.

In Summary:

Well, I’m going to wrap this up because I know Barb would continue to put me through the wringer if I don’t. Don’t you just love her passion and loyalty to her critique groups? It is clear they have helped her immensely. I’m sure they a very special group of talented authors.  Most of my friends look at me like I am insane when I tell them I’ve written a novel and am 1/3 complete with my second.  So yes, I guess I’m a little jealous.

I have no doubt that the passion and eloquent writing of my colleague, Barbara Longley, radiates though her work. If you are interested in reading more about Barbara’s novel, Heart Of The Druid Laird- Carina Press please head to her website. She also has a new trilogy coming through Montlake Publishing beginning with Far From Perfect releasing October 23rd.

Critique groups or an editor?

Has Barbara swayed me?

Nope.

In my editor I trust.

While I certainly see the value of working with other authors there is no doubt that is has to be the “right” group that you vest your time with. Likewise, if you are planning to spend money on a professional editor then you should be selective and land the “right” editor. 

When it comes down to I think you need to determine what works best for you.

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39 thoughts on “Should You Hire an Editor or Join a Critique Group? (Part II)

  1. Bethanne Strasser

    I use both. I would never send an uncritiqued ms to an editor. Their time is valuable, too. Not to mention that even an editor will miss things. Haven’t we all read a book with mistakes in it? I have also sent a book to an editor for content editing, rather than line editing, because I had put it through the crit group for editing and betas, and it was still getting rejected. I knew I needed a clean look at this from a complete stranger.

    FWIW, I don’t think either of you are wrong. But, I do believe with diligence and several passes, a ms can be ready never seeing an editor… *disclaimer* writer must be willing to change the ms…and a decent writer in general, with a basic grasp of story-telling techniques.

    :D

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Bethanne. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I believe that several passes if definitely a must. My agent is now editing the book. Once it is sold it will go through another whole series of edits.

      Interesting that you passed it through your critique groups and beta group but was still rejected. Did you editor help you elevate the book? Was this particular novel eventual accepted by an agent/ publisher?

      I would like to hear from someone who has used there CG and beta readers only and turned their novel into a smash hit…….anyone out there…anyone? Just curious.

      Reply
      1. Bethanne Strasser

        My writing has strengths and weaknesses. All I can do is keep writing, taking classes, and filling in the holes that I know have a tendency to appear in my mss.

        The first editor I hired was for a novella I self-published this year. It has done well and gotten good reviews. But it is no smashing best seller yet. :D

        I hired an editor for another ms that hasn’t gone anywhere yet, mostly because I had an external hard drive issue during revisions. BUT, I will say, this ms was frustrating me to now end. It had been sent to publishers with no success. That’s why I sent it to her. And yes, she saw and made note of things, I hadn’t seen. I think that is the value of the editor. Even your CG becomes too familiar with your work, and getting a work chapter by chapter makes it harder to see the whole, too. When I come to great bestsellerness, I will stop in!

        The truth is that every success story is different. Each success comes by different means.

        Also, my crit group is composed of editors and authors–published and unpublished. maybe that’s unusual, but it certainly is helpful.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

          Hi Bethanne. I think we all have weaknesses. Fortunately there are lots of folks out there to point them out to us!
          I learned a lot about mine working with my editor. I am excited to start my own edit of this second book using the techniques I learned working with my editor on my first novel.
          OMG…..my worst nightmare. A hardrive problem. I email my MS to myself every couple days to minimize the potential disaster!
          I agree Bethanne. I think everyone has a different path to follow.

          Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Yes but your CQ aren’t trained professional editors. My editor has edited thousands of novels….to include NYT best sellers. Authors aren’t editors and I don’t believe that their opinions are unbiased.

      Reply
      1. RD Meyer

        Your editor has also probably bought dozens(or more?) stinkers that readers turned their noses up at. Are you trying to sell to editors or the general public?

        I don’t use other authors for CQ groups – I use regular folks who can tell me whether they, as the folks I’m actually targeting, enjoyed it or if I need to go back to the drawing board.

        Reply
  2. Barbara Longley

    RE: “CP’s not being trained editors.” What does it take exactly to become an editor. Many editors today used to be teachers, or are English majors…eh. One of my previous CPs teaches English. And RD makes a good point. I want people who are a representation of my audience reading my books. It’s a great litmus test.

    Reply
    1. RD Meyer

      Editors can help with grammar and structure, but too many seem to want to be writers without having to do all the messy work of, you know, actually having to write a book. I know what the story is, and I don’t need an editor to tell me what they would’ve written. Given what I’ve seen in stores that boths sucks and fails on a massive scale, I’m not sure that they know any better than I do what sells. Yes, they get some right, but they get a lot more wrong. Let’s not forget that it was about a dozen editors that passed on Harry Potter, and 60(+) that passed on The Help, but they sure were eager to give us things like Pregnesia.

      I’m not selling to editors – I’m selling to the public.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

        I associate training with experience Barb. I’m honestly not sure if there are course (or an accreditation) that teach editing. Anyone…anyone?

        But here is what I associate this with. (I already gave you my plumbers analogy) I’ve been watching Gordon Ramsey over the summer so here goes….. you are an aspiring chef. Do you listen to Chef Ramsey or do you go with the people that are eating your food? Hmmmm…someone who has years and years of experience and success in this field (editing) or the couple of people who like your sampling of food (to read your stuff)?

        Editors are experts in their field. Editors are book doctors…..your beta readers and CG are not. They are fellow aspiring chefs or they like to eat! Corporate American hires experts all the time…so should authors. (Disclaimer- not all line cooks are chefs)

        “Piss off Barb. You too Russ. Get the Fxxk out of my kitchen,” Chef Ramsey would say.

        Sorry, I couldn’t resist….. I love you both! Thanks for sharing your thoughts……

        Reply
        1. Bethanne Strasser

          The value of an editor who won’t change your voice is priceless. I’ve found that in the editor I hire for my mss, Rhonda Helms–in case you’re curious. ;)

          And sometimes it seems like just about anyone can be an editor…I will give Barbara that much. That’s why you really have to check everything, experience, diplomas, feedback from other clients.

          The entire industry is in upheaval anyway so it’s just smart to be aware at all times. LOL :D hey, that’s so dramatic.

          Reply
          1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

            My editor didn’t try to change my book at all. He wanted to take it to a new level!

            Great point Bethanne. Doing your due diligence is finding an editor is critical. For instance…..if you hire me to be your editor…… you will be very disappointed!

      2. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

        Who says editors want to be writers Russ? Don’t you think you are generalizing a bit Russ? Editing is a different skill set than writing.

        My experience with independent editors went like this…. three wanted to work with me….one very badly after I told her which agents wanted me to re-submit after an edit. One said it wasn’t his type of book. Two of them were directly recommended by an agent….do you think that agent knew who produces good quality…sellable books?

        Of course some don’t work out…..but….what my editor has that you will never get with your CG and beta readers is 25 years of connections in the publishing industry. Agents recommend work out to him…..editors at publishing houses know him……. he understands this world and once an experienced editor works on your book their name is forever linked to that piece of work. They are vested in your success.

        Reply
        1. RD Meyer

          My experience with the editors I’ve run into is that most want to radically re-write things and essentially change the story. We’re not talking about happy to glad changes to get the story across, but wholesale changes that would create an entirely new tale. Sorry, but if I wanted to write a different story, I’d have done that.

          I’ve gotten more out of copy editors, and I’ve been very specific in I’m not looking for content changes, but rather the rules of grammar and spelling. My beta readers provide me better insight into story consistency; if more than one mentions something, that’s worth taking note of.

          And not to turn this into a rant, but given the state of American books and bookstores, let me be blunt – no, I don’t think they know what sells. Lest we forget that somewhere around 70% of books make no money for their houses. I’ll rely more on those I want to sell to, thanks.

          And I love you too. ;-)

          Reply
          1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

            OMG…I am getting beat up here by you and Barb….any help out there……can I get a lifeline?

            I think our experiences with editors have been very different. There are levels of editors. I sought a high end…experienced editor. He didn’t try to change by novel. He tried to make it the best story possible….he basically took a gold nugget and made it shine so others (my agent and hopefully publishers) will take notice.

            There was no content change…he made me see things I hadn’t. He brought my writing and story to a new level. The made my car….which was in need of a tune up…….rev and drive (read) like a Ferrari. If you gave me your book as a BR I could never do what John did for me….for you. That comes from editing thousands of books, being engrossed in the publishing industry.

            If those are your experienced with editors I would tell you to find one with experience and with connections. They are out there, aren’t generally looking for work (work finds them) and can help you (if they believe in your book) move in the direction you want to be going.

  3. barbara longley

    Nobody knows what will sell, when it gets right down to it. No one can predict what will take off, and when something does, everyone jumps on the band wagon and tries to copy the million dollar formula! It’s a crap shoot, that’s for sure, editor or CP.

    Reply
  4. Barbara Longley

    Chef Ramsey is the perfect example, Kevin. He’s far more interested in creating drama and buzz to promote himself than he truly is in “helping” the up and coming cooks under him. Do you see that? His ego, verbal abuse and arrogance entertain us, right? You keep touting “experience” like it’s the magic fix for an aspiring writer’s lack thereof. NOT.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Check Ramsey put the winners of those shows as his head chefs at his restaurants. He clearly trusts them, believes in their abilities as a chef and their character as a person. High quality editors do the same thing when they guide you and then back you in your pursuit of your publishing dreams.

      CG and BR may do the same but do they have the clout and expertise to put you in a position to be placed as Head Chef?

      No!

      Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      You gotta check out Russ’s blog Barb….. I love above when he says he doesn’t mean to rant….um, yes he does! He is the best at ranting. Plus he makes a lot of sense…..but not on this issue!

      Reply
  5. Diana Stevan

    Great discussion, Kevin. The points raised by both you and Barbara are valid. Like that old saying, “there are many ways to skin a cat.” Whoa, don’t know why I even said that. Sounds gross. But you know what I mean. I’m in the process of self-publishing or trying to get a small independent publisher. So I’m trying to figure out where to find a good editor for my genre and I don’t know where to begin. I’ve also had two friends who hired a high end editor, who re-vamped their manuscripts to the point where their original stories were no longer recognizable. That’s the fear.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Diana. Don’t worry….as you can tell from the site I am all about the dogs! :-)

      I don’t think my editor tried to change the heart of my novel. He made suggestions. I could take them or leave. But his suggestions where more to bring out and capitalize on the strengths of the book and the characters.

      Many of his suggestions went like this:
      -remove that subplot…it does nothing to move the book along.
      -These two characters need to be in the book earlier…this guy lights the book up…get him in as soon as possible.
      -You’ve already covered this…delete.
      -etc, etc He made one overhaul suggestion which I’ve mentioned before about showcasing what my heroine brought to the book. It was a great call.

      I would have walked away after the initial consultation if I felt like he wanted to change my book. I actually discussed this with my mentor and writing coach Ginger Moran. She was worried about the same thing…one reason I settled with the editor I did was I felt he wouldn’t change my novel. It is a character based novel and I wouldn’t change that.

      Do you ever wonder about your friend’s books…or others who had similar experiences with editors…maybe their books needed to be revamped? Did any of them succeed without working with the editor. (Not trying to be a jerk here….just interested in your thoughts on that)

      Reply
  6. Natalie

    Hi Kevin – I only just discovered your site this morning, and have found the above discussion very interesting.

    As an aspiring copy-editor with years of editing business documents through my role at work, I am assisting with editing my first novel. While my red pen and I meticulously check grammar and spelling, I am also reading the novel from a reader’s point of view. Having followed yours and Barbara’s discussion, I feel maybe I fall into both categories – copy-editor and focus/critique group member.

    Personally, I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way of doing things – I think it is personal choice, and what works for the author. I can see value in using both an editor and a critique group. I think though, if I was an author, I would be nervous of critique group members putting out copycat works.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion. I look forward to your next debate.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Natalie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Interesting what you say about copycat work. I was very nervous to share my work with anyone. I think the only one besides my editor and potential agents to read my first work is my father in law. I def think your partners/ group need to be folks that you trust.

      Another great point….my editor IS my target audience. He likes to read and is interested in my genre.

      I think it would be fun and a great learning experience to be a part of a critque group but I just think that time commitment can’t be glossed over…..it is huge! I would rather spend that time on my own work.

      As I get closer to the completion of my second novel I am lining up beta readers. My plan is to add that layer of scrutiny into my process prior to handing the book over to my editor. Hopefully his edit will be simpler.

      Reply
  7. Elizabeth Crane

    It is beyond me why this is even a discussion. The answer is most definitely an editor. A critique group might be fun to see what their reaction is but I don’t see any other benefit from that. An editor is an absolute necessity.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      I too believe an editor is absolutely essential Elizabeth. I just don’t think a CG can produce a refined product like an experienced professional editor.

      Reply
  8. Steve S. Grant

    Wow, this discussion really hacked deep at the heart of the matter. I think that a CG members are good beta testers for a novel, and they will definitely improve the final product. But, a committed and professional editor is a must.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Steve. I think this a question many aspiring authors have. Though I believe most experience ones do have editors. (Just my belief though) I am leaning exactly where you are in this discussion. But I plan to use beta readers and an editor.

      Reply
  9. Carole Remy

    Hi Kevin and Barbara,

    You both make good points! I have worked for years as a writing coach, kind of like an editor but with the goal of teaching the writer to be a great self-editor. We line edit a section for an hour on paper, sitting and working together with me explaining each detail. Then the writer goes home and inputs that section and either writes the next section, or edits the next section he’d already written. The next week, or day, we repeat with the new section until the book is complete.

    Then, once the writing is cleaned up and clear, we go through quickly, preferably in a couple of days, and read the whole book aloud together looking for structure points, those things Kevin points out that his editor told him to rework: motivation, pacing, back story, etc. I don’t think you can see the skeleton until the surface prose is fluent.

    You’d be amazed how quickly the professional edits become internalized. For a writer who’s serious about producing multiple books, the huge benefit of all this editing hard work is that the first drafts get better and better and better.

    Happy writing! Love your blog, Kevin.

    Carole

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Should You Hire an Editor or Join a Critique Group? (via @Kevin_Hanrahan2) | Literarium – The Blog

  11. Jani Muhlestein

    How did I miss this one? This has been the most discusses issue in G.’s group forever. And I am so socking of hearing that a critique group is best. Yada, yada, yada. Get yourself a good editor, who knows what their doing. Doesn’t mean that you can’t give it to friends that you trust. Just not many of them. And never, ever, give your writing out to a large group of fellow writers. Without even meaning to, people can steal aspects of your writing. And make sure that you note the copyright on every piece you give out.

    As always, your instincts are dead on.

    As a side note the links that we gave you to Kris and Dean’s website are to give you an idea about how the business works. Not everything that they advocate works. But they know a lot that can help.

    But while writing ain’t nothing like the military, you have developed a very good gut feeling for where you should and shouldn’t go. Listen to a lot of people, and then take your own advice first.

    Reply
  12. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    I’m pulling out some prior posts and flashing them across twitter Jani. This post reigns especially true for me right now as I begin to edit my second novel. (Phase I edits)

    I’m very hesitant to give my writing out to those I personally don’t know. I’ve lined up Beta readers for this round and they are people I know….my only concern is their ability to provide me brutally honest feedback.

    I read through those blog posts last week Jani and some I agree with and some not so much. I think the important thing it to ultimately find what works for you in your own situation.

    Reply
    1. Jani Muhlestein

      Like I said, your instincts are dead on. And I think that you’ll find that some of the people you know are capable of giving you very good criticism. Phil Rickman says that his wife is the best critic he has ever found, because she loves him enough to be completely honest. I imagine that you know a few people like that.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

        Thanks Jani. As I muddle through the 1st edit of the 2d novel I know I wil be seeking some good sounding boards!

        Reply
  13. Louise Sorensen

    Hi Kevin and Barbara.
    I belong to a writing workshop group that is run by a retired professor. I’ve learned a huge amount from this group. You learn as much from the work of others as you do from a critique of your own work. Your critique group can tell you what they don’t get, what they find unclear, what doesn’t work for them.
    I don’t know how good my particular group will be in helping me edit my book. I have always planned on hiring an editor and self publishing.
    But Barbara’s right. Not every writer can take the diplomatic as possible, critique of their work by another writer. But imo, it’s very good for the character, to listen to what doesn’t work. You begin to understand this when you see the same thing and mention it to another writer in your group.
    Again, every writer travels a different path. A good critique group is not easy to find, but a good editor isn’t easy to find either.
    We must all find our own way.
    louise3anne twitter

    Reply
    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Louise. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! In my current professional I’ve always learned the most of my peers so I can see how writing would be the same! For me it is a matter of time. My spare time is spent writing or with my family.

      You are so right….good editors and good CG are very hard to find…it may take trial and error….but I’m sure both are worth the investment.

      Reply

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