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I really like Barry Eisler. But Scribendi sucks.

No, I haven’t read any of his books. Except for Be the Monkey, which he co-wrote with Joe Konrath. I got a lot out of it, but if you’re not planning to produce fiction on at least a semi-pro level? Maybe you wouldn’t be interested.

I do plan to try his fiction, though. Eisler is a very smart guy & I’d like to see what he can do. (Aside from turning down a 1/2-mil 2-book contract in favor of self-publishing, though you might think that would be enough to justify my paying attention to the man.)

[UPDATE 1/7/13: I’ve read some of Eisler’s fiction now. It’s great! I’ve become a fan of John Rain.]

That led me to Eisler’s site, upon which I found this: “Scribendi offers high quality editing and proofreading, fast turnaround times, and affordable prices—all in a highly secure, confidential environment.”

Cool! So a while back I decided to try them out. Here’s the version of Pagan Sex‘s opening paragraphs I sent to Scribendi for a free sample of their editing services:

Freddy Shackleton stumped around a corner of the “B” building. Chest pains, smoke from the dump fires, the Young Gadjo sneering at him and swaggering like a boy who’d never been laid—was this why he had come to America?

No. Obviously it was to fix dishwashers. Freddy waited for the idiot boy to open the resident’s apartment door. Fifteen years in the job, fixing anything that broke, stretching the owner’s dollars till they screamed, and Freddy still didn’t get access to the apartment keys on his own. Who trusts a Gypsy? Naturally he had made a duplicate of the key to their cabinet just in case he needed them someday. But it was offensive. Fifteen years.

And here’s their improved version:

Freddy Shackleton stumbled around a corner of the “B” building. He was focused on the pains in his chest, the smoke from the dump fires, and the young gadjo sneering at him, swaggering like a boy who’d never been laidwas this why he had come to America?

No. Obviously it was to fix dishwashers. Freddy waited for the idiot boy to open the door of a resident’s apartment. He still didn’t have access to the apartment keys after fifteen years on the job, fixing anything that broke, stretching the owner’s dollars till they screamed. Who trusts a gypsy? Naturally, he had made a duplicate of the key to the key cabinet just in case he needed them someday. But it was offensive. Fifteen years.

(This went on for four or five pages, but I think you get the gist of it already. Don’t you?)

Seriously? I realize this was just one editor, and I have no idea how many are employed by or otherwise associated with Scribendi. But this reads as if produced by a moderately talented third-grader. Aside from weird passive construction, goofy non-parallelism, arbitrary word choices that change the meaning of my sentences, repetition that “sounds” awkward, issues with pronoun clarity, and gratuitous reduction of the “Young Gadjo” title to a generic reference, I have to ask: what was the goal here?

My further claim is that there were grammatical goofs in the extended bits, too, but that doesn’t mean you should have to read them. If you don’t believe me, I’ll send you the whole thing. Okay? Plus, “on” the job only works for certain sorts of positions. And I capitalized “Gypsy” for the same reason others capitalize “Native American.” Or “Indian” for that matter. For chrissake. (Which I didn’t capitalize…heh. Sue me.)

This editor-person went on to recommend that I pay several hundred dollars more for a full-book treatment on the grounds that a copy edit would NOT be enough (all-caps duplicated from original). This, I was told, would increase my chances of publication. There were further comments on formatting issues…even though I’d explained upon submission that the actual document resided in Scrivener, and this was just a Microsoft Word format export. [UPDATE: Oops, that was from another source; I got ’em mixed up.] Oh, and that I’ll be publishing it myself.

So I guess that answers my question about the underlying goal of the exercise: I was supposed to be chastened, buffaloed, and willing to pay them to save me.

Scribendi? They suck. (Did you notice that the company was singular in the title but is plural here? If they’d called my attention to that sort of goof, I’d have appreciated it.)

Though if anyone out there has had good experiences with them, I’d like to hear about it. In spite of my 15+ attempts, so far all my searching for an editor who can actually improve a manuscript has been in vain.

Published inJerksPublishingScribendi Sucks


  1. The Internet Writing Workshop’s Novels-L list. And it’s free. You’ll get multiple input.

    • Thanks; I’ll look into it.

  2. wordwan

    There’s other things I can say, but I’ve encountered enough ‘kinds’ of writer-related people on the internet to make this comment:

    You are the best judge of how you present your work. That sample piece by the ‘editor’ tells me they went to university to learn how to write.

    That doesn’t make them a writer. CONTENT makes you a writer.

    Your content is fine.

    And I like Hugh Howey’s idea of ten dollars paid to a person to read as far as they can go of my writing, then giving me the kind of feedback they are comfortable with.

    I’m around.


    • David

      Ha. Whatever the quality of the original, the “edit” introduced a reasonably amazing number of grammatical errors–given that I only posted a couple of paragraphs. If there was a university involved, I wouldn’t recommend it on the basis of this (granted: rather weak) evidence.

      I’m occasionally tempted to post the whole thing. All-caps exhortations to send the…editor…more money included.

      But that would be mean.

    • David

      Hey, wait a second. Are you offering feedback for ten bucks? You’re on!


      • Sorry. Didn’t see this. Obviously. *grin*

        Start sending me your books, David. PDF? Email. I guess. Been doing internet technology since 1997 but I stopped even having a phone when I came out here from Toronto to Manitoba. I do internet. *grin* And I do fine. *grin*

        I don’t have a tiny Kindle box of any kind. Nor do I have buyer’s status on places like Amazon. No credit card. Never did those. Don’t do money much really. Been living in Canada inna house with no heat or water, going on three years. I live strange. Been doing it a while. Sorta why I get you, I guess. *shrugs*

        I’m not bothered by reading gyspies. Is there any other kind of human being out there? Oh? Really? *laugh*

        Twitter and Facebook always struck me as dumb. How many ways can you say buy my book on Twitter or Facebook, for starters? The duplicates I used to see of posts drove me batty. BOTH those devices work with people like the manband “Take That”. They’ve been famous BEFORE those marketing devices. You know?

        Wasn’t Barry, as well? *cocks head* They rarely factor that into their conversations on this ‘you can win on the in-ternet,’ yes?

        I always liked the way you wrote. I simply got off the ‘Amazon’ and ‘publishing’ train and went to WP to write stories. I’ve learned a lot of stupid shite there too. People politics.

        I hadn’t realized I’d already read this post. I was gonna reply again, cos more recently, I’ve had the whole “critiquers” who know best horseshit…. here, at WP, up to the gills.

        Be they university students or bookclub people; mostly what I meant is someone ‘educated’ them in a way that finally made me realize this:

        writers write, editors don’t. They ‘correct’.

        And god help you if you don’t believe every single word they tell you, PARTICULARLY that you should be using your book revenue *grin* to pay THEM to edit your books.

        yes? *grin*

        I’m around. I know you may not be.

        So be well, no matter what.


        • David

          Yeah, I’ve made some odd life choices too. I swear they all seemed reasonable, or at least funny, at the time. And yup, Eisler was successful before going indie.

          The Secret’s on the way. Dunno if it’ll make it past a spam filter. Maybe! {8’> But actually if you have trouble with the attachments just let me know & I’ll send you a download link.

  3. wordwan

    I’m trying youtube vids of me reading my stuff and tying them in with wattpad entries. I love the rewrappable text mode on that website. I’ll look for your stuff if you have any there. Let me know. I sense that might be a good place to find avid readers.

    I’m mostly into dissecting ebook environments. I’d love to support writers, but it’d be nice to have an income doing something related to writing too.

    I’m around.



    • David

      Nope, I don’t have anything there. Yet. I’ll look into it…thanks for the suggestion!

  4. Former In-House Scribendi Editor

    This will help you understand why clients get poor results from Scribendi Editors. I just copy-pasted it from another site. is practically taking advantage of editors. There are no good relations between the senior editors and their juniors, more so remote editors. I strongly feel that the management has a lot of work to do for this company get up from where it is at the moment. Otherwise, the company is headed for to a fall out. Below are my main points:
    • Threats: Scribendi senior editors are honestly treating remote editors in a very humiliating way. They threaten them, put claims on them and use them as scapegoats for their underperformance. I strongly believe that the top management ought to know this and step in before the situation gets worse. Sometimes last year, I witnessed a remote editor who was seriously humiliated and it did touch me. I felt sorry for him but I could not do much to help. The worst thing is that they never give editors a chance to be heard.
    • Deadlines: A client sends in a document with a deadline of 48 hrs but Scribendi trims down that deadline to 1 day 8 hours, and an editor, regardless of whether it is 20,000 words or not, must complete that work load within a day (instead of 48 hrs) with the same pay (yet they expect quality work). Scribendi aims at making their clients happy at the expense of poor editors who burn the midnight oil without appropriate recognition in terms of remuneration. They also threaten that they will terminate the contracts of any editors who do not meet these deadlines that they have trimmed down. They do not take into consideration the time at which the editor picked that order. This really needs to be improved.
    • Payments: Scribendi is honestly taking advantage of editors in terms of pay. First, they will offer a client a discount of let’s say 10% and the editor has to foot part of that. This is quite unfair because the company itself is supposed to cater for that, NOT the editors. Clients should not be given good deals at the expense of editors who work hard to deliver quality work. Second, when they trim down the deadline of an order, they are supposed to increase the pay because time is one of the key factors that determine the editing prices. However, scribendi completely ignores that and keeps on taking advantage of editors. When an editor misses a deadline (i.e., you submit an order within the 48 hour turn around time requested by the client and not the 1 day 8 hrs put by Scribendi) threats will be hurled at you (not by one person but by many persons—senior editors). Many editors can bare me witness. I’ve seen many editors go through this; most of them are senior editors with a very nice record but believe you me they will be humiliated.
    • QA checks: This is one critical category that needs attention from the top management. The QA check technique used by Scribendi has a lot of defects. First, it does not take into consideration whether the paper was an ESL paper, which might need more than five rounds of editing for every single grammar error to be eliminated. Second, it does not take into consideration the number of words; for instance, you edited a 10,000 word document and when the QA check was done and only eight errors were found, you will be surprised to be given a score of 60%, meaning that you did not even edit the paper. I’ve seen an editor score up to 0% in a very badly-written ESL paper yet he had done a considerable amount of work on the paper. Third, the senior editors seem to particularly aim at humiliating editors who out do them in their job; they can carry out up to eight QA checks on a single editor within a month. They carry out frequent QA checks with the aim of terminating their contracts (I’ve seen this happen several times); that is why Scribendi is always hiring. Forth, their QA system does not differentiate between an order which was being proofread and one which was being edited, yet the company claims to have been in business for more than 10 years. For an order that is being proofread, it will be understandable to put the minimum score at 80%. But setting the minimum score at 80% for an order that is being edited displays the company’s ignorance. An order that has been edited is supposed to be sent back to the client and after the client has made revisions he should then bring back the order for proofreading. Proofreading is the final step that should eliminates most, if not all, errors and make a paper at least 80% grammatically correct.
    As for me, I intend to resign from Scribendi because it is difficult to work with such a company. If the top management will not intervene early enough, their bad deeds will soon catch up with them. What will happen to the company if all editors decide to boycott work for one week (more so during the peak season)?

    • David

      Very interesting! What I got out of that, chiefly, is that Scribendi (aside from being a less-than-ideal employer) appears to employ an automated system for catching grammatical errors at some point in the process, and actually grades editors based on its results.

      That’s just not going to work out well–for either fiction or nonfiction, but especially for fiction. If the sample I got is at all representative of their output, it gets worse in that a number of errors were introduced by the “edit” I received. Which suggests that the automated system isn’t even very good at its job.

      Yes, I played fast & loose with grammar, punctuation, and even capitalization. But I did it for reasons that are fairly obvious to a human reader (or so I believe, and so feedback on this page has tended to confirm). If editors are punished for understanding what writers are trying to do, it seems to me that Scribendi will only be able to retain bad editors.

      Thanks for the comment! I hadn’t even considered that they might have such a horrible process in place, but it does go a long way toward explaining my experience.

      • I can appreciate what this first poster has said. All cutthroat business environments have hierarchial problems like this. (McDonald’s anyone?) And so long as you have ’employees’ that put up with this shit, it will continue. Many of these businesses have a really high “Aren’t we wonderful?” kinda visibility. Funny, that. Young kids grow up on this minimum wage war treatment and take it into real jobs. You need to just say no, when you’re being abused. *blinks*

        A person, doing a job, needs to be validated. If you aren’t being validated to your satisfaction, quit that job. And start your own.

        We have shitloads of kids, on WP who offer editing services in exchange for something; usually a follow or you read their stuff. This kind of division of talent is occuring on Wattpad as well.

        Thing is: we don’t deal in dollar signs here. But a lot of the kids that do this are STILL part of that ‘educated’ realm of writing. No ‘stumping’ allowed. *grin*


  5. Richard

    I’m a freelance copy editor. I applied for a remote job with Scribendi some time ago. They sent me an editing “test” that was so appalling I didn’t do it. In my disbelief, I showed the “test” to a friend, who is reasonably adept at English, but not an editor. My friend extensively corrected the grammar from the test’s instruction page and suggested I return the test like that. This test was surely devised by the head honcho, who shows herself to be a bully with it (it would have taken more than twelve hours to complete, and was due within twenty-four), thoroughly dishonest, and having little comprehension of how to helpfully edit copy. One of the five test texts, for example, was wholly plagiarized from Wikipedia and Gray’s Anatomy, with the punctuation points simply moved or removed, and the test-taker had to guess where the punctuation was supposed to go, which wasn’t possible, given that this text was simply lists of Latin names for anatomical parts.

    I’ve seen a few Scribendi edits since. Yes, they’re very bad. I’ve looked at a few other editing sites, and they seem pretty bad, too. Kibin proudly shows editing examples on its site with initially correct grammar changed to incorrect, and editors’ bios that could seriously do with editing. I guess the main reason for the lack of editing quality from these sites is the very low remuneration—less than a penny a word. There’s an adage about getting what you pay for…

    I think Former In-House Scribendi Editor meant that other Scribendi editors do the QA checks, according to their own [ignorant] arbitrations.

    While the reason for your outrage at the editing example you’ve given is mostly apparent, some of your complaints are entirely unjustified. The capitalization: You can give a character the name “Young Gadjo” if you want, but if it were a name, it wouldn’t be preceded by “the”; from the context, it definitely looks like a “young gadjo”. As with “Gypsy”—capitalization is codified and prescribed by various style manuals (most notably, The Chicago Manual of Style): You can break from the standards if you want, but you can’t blame an editor for changing your English to meet the standards—that’s exactly what editors ought to do.

    You have a good case against Scribendi, but it’s tainted by your apparent unwillingness to accept any correction at all. This is a kind of editorial comment, you see—I’m suggesting that you remove these complaints to bolster your case. 🙂

    • David

      Ha! I like your editing suggestions…in the sense that I agree following them might make this particular blog post more effective. However, I disagree about applying them to the actual novel. But not out of a sense of stubbornness, or not solely so–though I do possess that quirk.

      In the case of “Gypsy,” I would argue that the lower-case usage is somewhat insulting to the Romani people (here I gratuitously demonstrate my sensitivity to the fact that “Romani” is an adjective). “Gypsy” does after all refer to an ethnic group, and worse: one that is often dismissed as unworthy of consideration. Poor lobbying practices on their part, I suppose. Worse, the term is both often considered pejorative and historically inaccurate in that it originally implied that the Romani people came from Egypt (whereas India is far more likely).

      Yes, I’m aware of the existence of style guides. They’re not completely annoying, but OTOH being able to leave “dumpster” and “realtor” lower-case (or even lowercase if I like) is one of the little primal joys of self-publishing. In this case I think the lower-case form is a bad idea. More importantly? The “editor” could have had the sense (aka courtesy) to ask why the term was capitalized, or simply point out that it was non-standard usage, rather than tell me (in all caps) that there was no reason to capitalize it.

      As for “Young Gadjo,” I agree that it’s not a name. It is, however, a title given semi-affectionately–though also somewhat in a mix of anger and contempt–to the son of a man this particular Romani kumpaniya (“company,” maybe, or family, or clan) has been dealing with for years. It is how these particular characters refer to that particular character, and the sentences parse badly if the term is left uncapitalized. (Also, at a later point in the book it is of semi-great plotwise significance that the title be remembered…because the character’s actual name is not given early on. And I believe the capitalization is helpful in that regard.) If the editor had only seen the first couple of paragraphs, I could understand querying my usage. However, he or she saw much more than that and I don’t believe it was especially hard to figure out what I was doing–or even why I was doing it. And that all-caps claim that there was no reason for capitalization applied to this too.

      C’mon…it’s a work of fiction intended for publication, and it doesn’t actually suck. Non-standard usage might be deliberate. I agree that “correcting” it might be a valid editorial approach (as the author does after all have access to super stet powers), but combining this (overeager) correction with a blanket statement that there could not be a valid reason for the author’s choice is over the top. Also, rude.

      That said? I hope you’ve subscribed to the comments here. If so, I’d love to hear more about your editing services. Simply replying to the email you may (or may not) get to notify you of this reply will reach me. If I haven’t heard from you in a few days I’ll probably reach out more directly–and if I may make a suggestion, it might be useful for you to include a link to your site in comments like the one above. You impressed me, anyway, and who knows who else it might reach? (See how I didn’t use “whom” there? It’s because it would sound stupid in a blog-comment context. Or at least I think it would.)

      Here’s where I’m not telling you it was a mistake to leave out the URL, by the way! {8’> You may have some sort of principle that forbids advertising your services by that method. You may be involved in a partnership or other organization that’s likely to dissolve and if so you may feel it to be counterproductive to send business to that organization, possibly whilst bound by a non-compete (awkward usage, I agree, but not my fault) agreement.

      Just sayin’. Approach and attitude matter. I liked yours.


      • Richard

        Hey David,

        yes, the Scribendi editor definitely sounds rude and thoroughly inept.

        I wouldn’t have thought the lowercasing of “gypsy” an ethnic slight; neither do “blacks” or “whites” get capitalized. Yes, it’s your novel—you can most certainly do it however you want. The protocol is to give the editor your special instructions in a note, along with the manuscript.

        I wasn’t advertising my services. Please understand that I know some of these online sweatshop editors. Your original post is getting on for two years old. Did you find an editor that suits? Did you publish your book? It looks good from the piece you show here.


        • David

          Nope, I never found an editor who made useful suggestions, or even one who failed to send me a shitstorm of basic errors. I do have some really helpful beta readers, though. They save my butt fairly often. And yes, I published that novel (FWIW it’s currently free on Amazon’s sites). I have another novel out with beta readers. We’ll see how that one goes.

          Thanks for saying the excerpt looks good. I do so hope.


          • Richard

            Well, this is my email address: [REDACTED]

            Could you remove it from here as soon as you’ve used it or not used it, please?

          • David

            Done! I’ll send you an email later tonight.

    • But see, Richard, that head honcho is the real problem. And indicative of too many jobs I, personally, in my life, have quit.

      The good ones leave, is the first thing young people need to be aware of; something about the job is limiting them and so they move on. Leaving openings in power, like this head honcho who are probably mediocre talents, at best. And have the power of the grammar nazi bible, in their left hand. *grin*

      Imagination is what expands this universe. And I am here to say:

      Amen to the men who imagine.

      Thank you, David. I’m around.

      Heather, holed up on Wattpad

  6. Gavin

    Just wanted to say ‘hi’ and I’m glad I found this discussion as I’d been thinking about applying to Scribendi as a proofreader, but have now had second thoughts!

    I also thought I should add that while I’m trained as a proofreader, I still have some idea about the editorial role, and I think the changes they made to your sample paragraphs are outrageous! Where fiction is concerned, authorial voice is key, and they totally removed that in what they sent back to you. Even with the words that you chose to capitalize, an editor should be looking at your piece as a whole – if it’s inconsistent, then they should flag this with you and try to reach a mutual agreement about the best way forward. With editing, the ‘query’ is key.

    I guess the main difference between working with editors in-house and businesses like Scribendi, is that the former have a vested interest in helping you make your book ready for publication, whereas the latter just see it as another income source and don’t care so much about what happens once it’s sent back to the author. It sound like your use of beta readers is a good way to go (particularly if they have the possible incentive of a name credit in the acknowledgements at the back of the book).

    • David


      The more time that flows by and around me (because of course I’m immune to any of its direct effects), the more I question whether I’ll ever know what the hell is or ain’t important. I have some notions about in-house versus freelance editors that I posted here, but OTOH I certainly don’t guarantee any accuracy therein.

      Glad to see people are still reading this thing. It’s been around for quite a while now. Scribendi-folk (by which I mean the company) still haven’t responded to me! {8’>

      • Funny thing? All the characters you describe in these paid jobs?

        We have them on Wattpad. Same day, different shite. *grin*

        Heather, confirming the universe, yet aAGAIN!

  7. Hi David,

    I am very happy to read your article, I am also happy with reading from the internet or books. in my opinion, someone’s work can be determined from his own handwriting. sometimes I am annoyed to see editors who only edit a little of the original work but instead have more readers, but on the other hand I understand that this is where the work of the original authors became famous. so the conclusion in my opinion, mutually beneficial one side. please correct me if I misrepresent. or do you agree?

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