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Yog’s Law…it has nothing to do with picnic baskets

July 27, 2016

YogiI’m always up for a picnic basket and Berra has some of the most iconic quotes ever, but I’m not writing about Yogi; this is about Yog’s Law as posed by  James D. MacDonald. It simply states that “Money flows toward the writer.”

Let me back up a bit. I was checking out a local writing group’s Facebook page and followed a link to an article about lessons to be learned from one writer’s first novel sale. One of the lessons was to hire an editor before you submit your manuscript to agents and/or publishers. My Yog alarm started wailing.

For the record, this is not exactly the issue Yog’s Law warns against. Hiring an editor is a choice made by a writer using money the writer controls. In fact, hiring an editor is definitely advisable if you plan to self-publish your book (as noted by John Scalzi in his Corollary to Yog’s Law). But the alarm still sounded and I consider the advice dangerous.

YogsLawIf you’ve been here before, you probably know that I don’t write for a living, but I do write. I do know how to write. I am pretty good at it, but I definitely make mistakes and almost everything I tap out on a keyboard could use some improvement. I could use an editor. That said, I’d like to be published by someone that has editors on staff to do that job. If I can’t get that kind of contract, then I’ll consider hiring my own editor and going the self-pub route. But to suggest that I need to hire an editor before I submit to agents? I don’t see that necessity.

A moment of clarification. The article (okay, I should probably link to it) stated that the writer spent $700 on developmental editor and $2300 on a line editor before getting agent representation. I’m sure this improved the work in question. But was it necessary? And my bigger concern, how much was the advance on this first novel?

I do not mean to knock the role of freelance editors. They are surely honest, hard-working individuals who are good at what they do. The editors I know certainly are. However, the suggestion that a writer needs to spend $3000 before they can expect to gain representation and/or sell a novel is pretty dangerous. Compared to a $50,000 MFA (as the article compares it to), yes, 3 grand is a bargain. If your manuscript really needs it, an editor can probably help. Probably.

Let’s face it, if an agent rejects your manuscript because it has three typos in the first hundred pages, you don’t want that agent. Three typos on the first page? That’s a different issue. As for publishers, they have editors to handle that kind of thing. This paragraph would work better a page earlier, that description is confusing, there’s a better word to use there… You don’t have to have a perfect manuscript to get it published. You do need a good one.

Ask publishers (the term should be editors, but that gets confused with the freelance editors) these three questions. (1) Ask if they’ve rejected manuscripts over issues that a freelance editor could have fixed. They have. Every one of them. (2) Then ask them if they’ve accepted manuscripts that could have used a pass by a freelance editor. They probably have. (3) Have they accepted a manuscript because it was well edited? That one is a lot less likely to get any support. Novels are published because they have unique voice or compelling plot or interesting characters or great research or riveting suspense or popular appeal inherent in the story.


The phrase “you have to spend money to make money” appears in the article. This is an entrepreneur’s adage, not a writer’s. If you’re publishing the book yourself, then yes, you need to spend to make. Otherwise it’s the publisher that needs to spend to make. If you’re paying for the leg work upfront, what do you need them for?

All that will mean more after I have my own first novel anecdote. I’ll be sure to link back here and follow up once I do.

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