Should You Hire A Writing Consultant? By Peggy Vincent

After finishing my first book, BABY CATCHER: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife securing an agent and publisher seemed insurmountable challenges. Yet, just three months after its completion, BABY CATCHER sold to Scribner for a low six-figure amount. It sold again in Germany and has been chosen as an alternate selection with The Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club.

How could this happen to an unknown such as myself?

I’m certain I owe the slant of the whole trajectory to Dorothy Wall, a writing consultant from Berkeley. I heard her name at a local writing class and, on a whim, not even knowing the definition of ‘writing consultant,’ asked if she’d help with my presentation. It turned out to be my smartest move.

She pronounced my query letter perfect, but said, “Your proposal needs serious help.” Two rewrites later, she said, “This book will sell,” and sent me a list of agents with five names starred. Three of the five agents said my proposal was the best they’d ever seen.

A month later, one of those, Felicia Eth of Palo Alto, became my agent. I am firmly convinced that, without Dorothy’s guidance, I would still be working my way through one of those mind-boggling, small print books of agent listings.

When I share my story, people frequently ask, “What’s a writing consultant? Is it the same as an editor or book doctor?”

The three are quite different, but, as there is much overlap in how individual editors market themselves, authors must ask questions to find exactly what they need.

Line editors, also called sentence editors, correct errors of grammar and improve clarity. Copyeditors, employed by publishing houses, clean up manuscripts before they go to the printer. Individuals frequently hire their own line editors, but need copyeditors only if they are self-publishing.

Book doctors, sometimes called rewrite editors, can turn poor writing into readable prose, help with organization, and rewrite a manuscript for a specific audience. Ghostwriters and collaborators fall loosely into this category.

Writing consultants help both fiction and nonfiction writers in a variety of ways. In addition to developmental guidance and line editing of the manuscript, consultants who stay abreast of the publishing world will help create proposals dynamic enough to catch the eyes of busy agents as they munch their poppy seed bagels.

Just as editors and consultants vary widely in their backgrounds and skills, their fees, too, reflect their differences. They may charge by the page, the hour, or per project, ranging from as low as $15/hour for line editing to a $4000 flat fee for a written evaluation of a 350-page novel.

I paid Dorothy Wall $75/hour for a total of $375, probably the wisest money I’ve ever spent. When BABY CATCHER is released in April 2002, she’s one of the first people to whom I’ll give a free copy-and I’ll still feel I’m in her debt.

Questions to ask a prospective editor or consultant:

1) What is your background and experience? Have you worked previously with my type of book? Can you provide me with references?

2) What services do you offer? Line editing? Developmental editing? Rewriting? Do you give written evaluations? Do you meet clients in person?

3) Are you knowledgeable about the publishing world? Do you have contacts with agents?

4) What do you charge?

5) What is your turnaround time?

Peggy Vincent, retired midwife, author, and mother of three, lives in Oakland, CA, with her husband and teenage son. Her memoir, BABY CATCHER: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife, will be released by Scribner in April 2002.