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Watch Out for Sharks in Those Publishing Waters

By Patricia Fry

As most of you know, this column is generally devoted to book promotion. However, something happened this week that prompted me to change direction. I had no option but to sit by and watch a hopeful author possibly tangle with a shark. You be the judge:

The author contacted me about consulting with his on a book project. We had several email conversations. I evaluated a section of his manuscript and presented him with an estimate to edit it. He thanked me for the estimate, but said it was more than he could afford. At that point, I offered to edit a number of pages that he could afford. I told him I teach as I edit, giving authors some valuable knowledge and skills they can use to refine their own material.

My original estimate for his particular manuscript (devised after reviewing 50 pages) was roughly $1,500 for 200 pages at an editing speed of approximately 6.5 pages per hour. That’s around 30 hours at $50/hour. If I complete the job ahead of schedule, I drop my fee accordingly. If I go over, I charge only the $1,500.

Yesterday, this author contacted me with an expression of his gratitude, but explained that he has decided to go with another editor. In fact, he suggested that maybe I should adjust my fees and my way of working because, while this editor was charging more per hour, his website indicated that he could do the job in less time. Here’s the shocker. This guy charges $65/hour and he claims that he can edit the 200-page manuscript (which he has not seen) within 4 to 6 hours for a fee of $350. That’s 33 to 50 pages per hour, folks! That’s more pages per hour than some people read.

It's true, I did an internet survey and discovered that some people have actually timed themselves reading. The norm is around 25 pages per hour. One reader said he could get through 12 pages per hour when it’s a really gripping story. Others said they could read between 50 and 60 pages in an hour. But reading is certainly a very different activity than editing.

I thought about this editorial declaration all day. I contacted some of my editor colleagues to ask how many pages they can edit in an hour. No one even came close to the 33 to 50-page rate claimed by this super editor. Here are the average figures I gathered from colleagues and internet research.

  • Light copy editing, anywhere from 4-9 pages per hour
  • Medium to heavy line editing, 3-6 pages per hour.
  • Final edit (fine-tuning an already edited manuscript) 12-18 pages per hour.
  • Proofreaders can often read between 12-15 pages per hour.

My conclusion with regard to the editor who claims he can edit 33 to 50 pages of a manuscript per hour (sight unseen), is that he is using a software program or maybe even Microsoft Word Spellcheck and grammar check. Yikes!!! Or maybe he uses this estimate as a come-on and, once into the project, asks for additional fees.

Someone else suggested he might be hiring people from third world countries to do the actual work.

Some people who advertise themselves as manuscript editors have never even written a book, nor do they have any experience in publishing. Some editors are skilled when it comes to thesis writing, ad copy or in-house copywriting for a large company. This experience does not generally transfer well into the realm of book editing. And folks, just because someone is or has been a teacher or professor, does not mean that person is necessarily a skilled book editor. Even someone who worked for a publishing company years ago might not be up on current editorial concepts and rules.

So, using unskilled or scamming editors and book doctors is just one way that authors are sometimes drawn into situations that are not in the best interest of their projects. Here’s another one. And you’d better be sitting down because this is rather shocking:

I guess we can’t actually call it a scam, but it’s close to it in my book. I discovered a while back that all it would take for me to be listed among “recommended editors and book doctors” on one publishing professional’s website and, possibly, in his book is $$. No kidding, he doesn’t care about references or testimonials or anything else. This well-known individual, and probably others like him, will recommend an editor or book doctor if they will pay him to do so. Now this is more than a little misleading, don’t you think? If you visited this site and saw this list of recommended editors, wouldn’t you expect each of them to be genuinely qualified? They aren’t necessarily!

I recommend that you choose an editor or book doctor with a track record. Pay attention to word of mouth and legitimate recommendations from other authors and professionals that you trust. But how do you know that the list of recommendations at a website are truly recommendations or are they paid advertisements? I guess you could ask a few questions of the web site owner.

Authors (or literary) agents are notoriously subject to suspicion. We’re warned to avoid those who charge reading fees and those who won’t give you names to use as references. I tell people to always trust

Some fee-based POD “self-publishing” services have bad reputations for good reason. Read Mark Levine’s book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing before choosing one of these companies. Levine rates and ranks 45 of these companies. You won’t make a mistake if you go into a contract after studying the publishing industry and after reading and absorbing Levine’s book.

(Note: Join SPAWN and get Levine’s book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing FREE. This is a limited time offer, so hurry.)

There are scams perpetuated on those who enter writing contests and contribute to anthologies, too. I was presented with a pretty common one many years ago, in the music industry. I sent song lyrics to a company and they acted as though they were anxious to record my song. All they wanted from me was a chunk of money. Thankfully, I showed the contract to a more subjective person who understood the fine print and he convinced me that there were some potential problems with the contract. I’ll never forget one of the statements in the contract, “We will record your song and make it available for sale everywhere.” Of course, I envisioned that it would be recorded by a hit artist with a full orchestra and then it would be for sale in every record store in the world. But my contract “expert” pointed out that the recording might feature the publisher’s wife singing and playing the piano. And, again, the term “make it available,” is NOT t he same as saying “the record will be available in record stores nationwide,” or “we will aggressively market it to record stores throughout the nation.”

Needless to say, I am appalled at the number of and the nature of what I consider out and out scammers oozing into the publishing arena. What’s bringing them in such number today? We are. There are thousands and thousands of newbie authors entering into the shark infested publishing waters every year. Most are uninformed and unaware. Starry-eyed authors, who want nothing more than to hold their published books in their hands, are prime targets and easy pickings for scammers.

What authors need is the straight scoop. You don’t need the services or products of unskilled, unscrupulous Johnny-come-latelys who are just entering the publishing industry in order to see how much money they can make. You don’t need to do business with scammers who are following the money trail instead of their hearts or your interests. You don't need to trust inexperienced people posing as professionals. I recall a few years ago, a woman proudly telling me, “I just published my first book and now I plan to establish a POD publishing company so I can publish books for other people.” It’s not uncommon. It’s scary, but it’s not uncommon.

It annoys and infuriates me when I see or suspect that someone is knowingly or ignorantly perpetuating a scam on authors. We’re ripe for the plucking when we don’t strive to educate ourselves about the industry we are entering.

Study the publishing industry. You’ve heard/read me (and others) say this before. Don’t put it off. Begin today! And continue the study because the industry keeps changing. Of course, the fact that you are reading SPAWNews is a start. But there is so much more that you can and should do.

It’s ironic that this possible scam came to my attention just as I was contemplating a topic for this column, especially in light of the fact that I wrote about scams last month. Check out the September edition of SPAWNews for additional tips. You’ll also find a list of warning sites in that article along with instructions for using Google to check on companies and individuals who generate red flags.

Be proactive. Protect yourself. Become informed.

– Patricia Fry is the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 28 books.

Read her hallmark book The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book, revised 2nd edition. and her NEW Author’s Workbook

If you are struggling to promote a book, order Patricia’s newest ebook, The Author’s Repair Kit.

Visit her informative publishing blog often at



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