The Ghost Editor

by RS on July 11, 2010

This past Friday evening I attended an event at our local library on how to sell your book. The panel of experts consisted of two agents and two editors. For the most part much of what they said I knew, but I figured I would attend because they are folks in the industry that live here (actually they have second homes. They all live in Manhattan) and I figured it would be smart to schmooze a bit.

The one thing that stood out was the discussion of Ghost Editors. It seems the two editors on the panel would rather see most of the work polished by the author rather than receive a manuscript that has been doctored. These editors believe that with the agent making her tweaks, then having an editor make more tweaks, the author’s voice is lost.

One of my writing mentors strongly believes in using a ghost editor, and highly recommends hiring one when the manuscript has gone through it’s numerous revisions. How do I personally feel about this? My thoughts are mixed. I’d like to get a professional’s opinion of what I can do to improve the story, but I question what are my chances of snagging an agent even if I were to spend the money for this work and make the changes?  No matter how well it’s written and if all the suggestions are used to make that one final revision it’s still a crapshoot.

Let’s assume that Julius ends up in the hands of an agent and said representative tells me, “Love the story, but it needs some tweaking. Hire this editor, whom I highly recommend, to help you make the following xx changes.” What would happen if I said no? What guarantee do I have that a ghost editor will improve my copy? Maybe he or she will lose the entire scope of the story, making it less likely to be acquired by a publisher.

A friend of mine recently found an agent who suggested she cut 20,000 words, saying that first time novelists should keep their work under 100,000 words (the panel of editors and agents thought this was ridiculous and arbitrary. Somehow I felt vindicated when they said this because I found it silly too) and to hire an editor.  Well, it’s been more than six months and still no sale. Did my friend lose her voice with the new set of edits?  Were those 20,000 words extraneous or did they actually help the story?  Maybe if the book had been sold and the actual editor working on the book said, “We need to cut here and here, and tighten this up here” then that would be a completely different matter.

So what am I leading up to here? I guess the best thing to do is work on my editing skills. I think what makes Julius unique is my story-telling voice. I don’t want an agent or a ghost editor trying to double guess what the actual acquiring editor will want. Go with what I send and let’s take it from there, but don’t distill the story and don’t fuck around with the voice.

And on that note, time for some writing!

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