Why Should I Pay?

We live in a world where we hear that the best things in life are free–and yet we pay money for more and more goods. Once upon a time, you’d never have paid for water, right? Now, we believe that the only good water comes in a bottle and costs at least a $1.00.

I live in New York City, which has an excellent water supply and I love that. It’s a luxury. I don’t need to pay for water.

So why should you pay for responses to your writing?

Because, alas, good critiques don’t flow from any city taps that I know of. You can find great writing groups and friends and family who will give you precious help. But you won’t get serious copy-editing or line-editing from friends. It’s a skill. I charge from 4 cents to 10 cents a word, depending on what you want and need and can afford and I spend my work hours working for you, not a half hour before I run to the gym.

As for critiques, you don’t want too much advice and you don’t want bad advice. Sometimes we just need a magical word or two from a friend, or a kind stranger on the train. And sometimes we need concentrated professional help–whether to massage your stiff neck, redirect your career, perfect your tennis game, or preserve your marriage. The choice here is not all that different. Do you want “tips” or hours of expertise?

I read a funny comment on a writers’ list-serve this morning: Marry an editor! It’s true: Writers need people in their lives who will give them huge amounts of time and attention.

Paying doesn’t guarantee excellence. But paying should mean that you will both be focused on the job. You may find that you up your game when your cash is on the line. Ask yourself: Will I do my best to deliver a publishable manuscript? Will I make good use of the response I get? It’s an investment.

On the other end, a professional editor wants your good word-of-mouth to grow her business and should see her work for you as part of her mission in life. A good editor knows she’s damn good and will prove it to you. She has a bigger stake than a volunteer.

So I’d recommend that you get all the free help you can, and then hire an editor if you can afford one. I also take my own advice. For my own novel, I paid. Every writer needs an editor. Better writers need better ones.