Bad Reviews When You’ve Had Your MS Edited

What should you do if you’ve paid an editor good money to help you with your manuscript–and then when the book is published you get poor reviews? Here are some thoughts (and things to think about next time you hire an editor!):

Consider all the reviews you have received.

  • Are there a lot of negative reviews, or just the occasional one?
  • Is there a pattern in the negative reviews? If so, what is it? Is it a problem your editor should have picked up on, or does it have to do with issues such as your own writing style?
  • Did your editor talk to you about that issue, and you decided not to take the editor’s advice? Or did you take advice and it turned out to be unhelpful?

Look up the reviewing history of the person who made the review.

  • Does this person frequently make negative reviews about many books?
  • Or does the reviewer usually make positive reviews? If so, why do you think the person was unhappy with your particular book?
  • Is the review of your book credible, based on other reviews the person has made?
  • If the person rarely does reviews, why do you think he or she suddenly decided to make a negative review of your particular book?

Talk to the editor. Share the reviews with the editor and try to figure out together what went wrong:

  • Is it an editorial issue or something else?
  • What did you pay the editor to do? How experienced is the editor? What does the editor specialize in? Did you make a good choice of editor in the first place? Experienced, professional editors often cost quite a lot more than inexperienced editors, while the level of editing also can vary in cost. If you feel that the editor did not live up to her billing (pardon the pun!), you should consider asking for free or low-cost help in resolving the issue–unless you prefer to find another editor.
  • If (for example) you asked for substantive or stylistic editing, but not copyediting or proofreading, and the problem indicated in the review is of the latter types, you can’t blame the editor. As a writer, you have a responsibility to know about the different types of editing (although a good editor should discuss that with you).
  • A good editor will usually help you with a revision if it is really needed. If the problem was really the editor’s fault, you might decide to have a different editor look at it instead. But if the issue occurred because you didn’t take the editor’s advice, or it is an issue you didn’t ask the editor to help with (for example, if it is a structural issue, and you only asked for a copyedit), the editor may be willing to work with you on that, but you’ll quite likely need to pay for it. Or the editor may advise you to work with another editor who specializes in that issue.
  • Did you make last-minute “fixes” or “changes” in the manuscript, and not have the editor go through them? If that is the case, it is quite possible that in the process of “fixing/changing,” you may have introduced new errors–especially proofreading and/or copyedit level errors. In this case, you’ll need to pay for fixes (which should have happened, anyway).

Seek a re-edit elsewhere (and this time be more careful in choosing an editor):

  • Before choosing an editor, read reviews of editors, check out their websites carefully to see what genre or topic they focus on, and what their background is in editing, their editing-related education, what kind of writing they do (if they are also writers), and their career experience and/or hobbies related to your genre/topic. Is this an editor who will understand your story or topic and is knowledgeable about it? Check well-edited books in the same genre or non-fiction topic, and see if the editor is listed. Check out writers’ groups (live or online) and ask for recommendations from other writers–being sure to let them know what kind of book you’re working on.
  • Know what kind of editing you need–substantive/structural/content development, stylistic, copy editing, proofreading, fact-checking, or a combination. If you aren’t sure, learn about the different types. Then find an editor who is experienced in the kind of editing you need. Ask questions! Discuss. Together, define the scope of the edit you require and decide if this editor can do it all, or whether you might need two or three different editors for different levels of editing.
  • Many editors will do a free sample edit of a few pages of your manuscript so you can decide if their editing style is what you are seeking. Even if they charge for a sample edit, it may be well worth paying for it, especially with an experienced editor. Narrow down your list of potential editors to at least 3 or 4 who you think might be good, and ask for sample edits (use the same few pages for each one). Then choose.
  • Be willing to pay for what you need. A good quality edit can be fairly expensive but, in the end, if you get reviews and sell many more copies, it will be a worthwhile investment, right? When you get your sample edits, also be sure to ask for estimates of the cost of a full edit, based on the sample and on the research you have done about each editor.
  • Here’s a really important thing to think about! Did you allow your original editor enough time to really do a good job? Did you do at least two or three edits (have the editor comment and point out errors, you self-edit, then repeat at least a couple times) or were you in a rush and just published after one go-through? Did you write your draft over two or three years–and then expect the editor to do a full edit in a week (or even weekend)? You should be prepared for a good edit (with repeated go-throughs) to take at least a month or two, or even longer, depending on the amount of editing that is needed.

Before you publish (or re-publish) next time:

  • Have several good beta readers, a critique group, and/or writing group members (especially ones who also write well, and ones who read widely in your genre or topic area), read the manuscript before you publish and get their input. Let them know what you are looking for in the way of feedback. Pay attention to their advice. Discuss issues with your editor, and be prepared to do some more editing and self-editing if needed.
  • When you think your manuscript is ready to publish, have at least 2 or 3 good “proofreaders” (people who easily pick up on those annoying little typos, spelling errors, homonyms, and so on) do a final read-through. As an editor, I recommend that writers hire a person who specializes in proof-reading to do one final check of the manuscript (starting on the front cover and checking every page, including margin materials, bibliographic information, captions, tables, etc., right to the end of the back cover). There’s nothing like a fresh set of experienced eyes to catch those last errors. It usually doesn’t take too long and can make a huge difference in the way readers perceive your book.

Coming up:

In the next post, we’ll go into more details about some of these topics!

Now it’s your turn…

What tips do you have for writers who may have received poor reviews, and/or are disappointed in the job their editor did? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!


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