Should you hire an editor for your manuscript?

October 19, 2009

As I inch closer to finishing a draft of my travel memoir, I’ve been thinking about whether I should eventually hire an editor.

Some first-time authors do so to make their work its very best before submitting to a literary agent. A few published authors have suggested I hire someone because sometimes literary agents and editors at publishing houses don’t spent a lot of time editing. Of course, plenty of them put lots of effort into editing manuscripts. But since I don’t know yet who I’ll be working with, I don’t have a clue how much they’ll edit my book.

The truth is, everybody could benefit from an independent editor, so long as you hire a good one. Don’t tell me you already know how to write, so you don’t need an editor. Even the best writers need editors! After working at a newspaper, I’m a big believer in not getting attached to your work — or at least the way you’ve worded it — and letting editors help you improve each piece. That’s how we get better, with fresh eyes and feedback.

But hiring an editor costs money — here’s a list of rates from the Editorial Freelancers Association — and since I left my day job a year and a half ago, I’m all about saving pennies. So instead of asking myself whether I want an extra editor, I’m asking myself whether I need one.

In some ways, I think a quality critique group can stand in for an initial editor, especially if the writer is looking for content, development and thematic suggestions. I’ve worked with a small group for months, and they’ve critiqued about a quarter of my chapters. But at some point, I’ll need someone to read my entire manuscript from start to finish, making sure it works as a unit. That’s a lot of work for my critique partners, even if I offer my services in return.

So. Should you hire an editor? Check out posts by literary agent Nathan Bransford and blogger Editorial Ass on the topic. And if you do decide to hire one, heed this advice by editor Alan Rinzler about what to look for in a freelance editor.

What do y’all think? Is it worth hiring an independent editor? What should writers consider when heming and hawing over this one?

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    15 Replies to “Should you hire an editor for your manuscript?”

    • Jamie says:

      My personal opinion is that publication is not a guarantee, no matter how much time, effort, and money into it. In the end it has to be about the writer’s best effort.

      I am a firm believer in writing groups (and yes, I am a member of a group that looks at each others novel length works) and have found that between 2-3 different readers, if they are honest with you, are quite sufficient for helping you get your foot in the door. All that will cost you is the opportunity to read another writers best effort.

    • Jody Hedlund says:

      Alexis, I hired an editor to help me polish up my two books. It was one of the best experiences I had. Rachelle already had both of my books at that point (some overlap), so I don’t know that it helped me get an agent. But I grew a lot through the experience and felt better about my books as she got ready to sell them. Now I’m going through the in-house editing (as you know from reading my post!). And my editors at Bethany House have MANY changes for me to make. I think the specific editor of any house will always have changes they want a writer to make that fit their house. However, I can feel good that my book came to them as polished as I could get it at this stage in my writing journey.

    • Anne Wayman says:

      The reason I hire an editor and suggest others do so is that by the time I finish writing a book I can no longer really see it. Even when I read every word out loud, even when I taped that reading and listened again a good editor found mistakes. I’m simply to close to my work to do it well.

      And yes, if the manuscript then goes to an agent it will probably come back with requested changes and edits and again with a traditional publisher. I’m never quite sure what I think of those additions/subtractions. Some are okay, and some seem, well, like someone trying to prove something… but that’s another subject.

    • Peggy says:

      We all definitely need someone (or multiple someones) to look over our chapters with fresh eyes and give a good critique. An outside editor may be that objective reader, backed up with solid experience and industry insight. But I don’t think hiring an editor is absolutely necessary. I landed an agent without hiring an editor. (That being said, we’ve yet to land a publisher, but hopefully soon!) For me, I couldn’t afford to hire an editor. I trade off critiquing projects with a few members of my larger writer’s group. If finances are an issue, why not try submitting first and then if you feel that you’re not getting anywhere, consider hiring an editor for input?

    • In one word, “YES!” It is imperative to hire a professional editor. Authors, no matter how good they are, cannot “see” their own work after working so long on it. Even the highest paid, successful authors have their editor. Hemmingway said he’d have never attained the success he had without his editor.

      I am a professional editor as well as an author and I would never send in my ms for publication without having my editor go over it first. BTW, my rates are VERY affordable (wink)

      Good to stop by, it’s been a while – stay in touch, Alexis, and best of luck with your book!

      The Old Silly

    • Karen Walker says:

      I’m definitely in the camp of those who’ve said it’s a good idea to hire an editor prior to sending the manuscript out. I did, and my manuscript was so much the better for it.

    • jessiecarty says:

      I’m on the poetry end so it is harder for me to say but I think your idea of going to a writing group first is a good one. You can help get an idea of overarching themes etc and you might find readers, if you don’t already have some who would be willing to read your work in exchange for reading theres even full length. I have that with my poetry friends and it is invaluable!


    • I’m in the hire an editor group. I lucked out and found a great editor through one of the writing groups I belong to. She offered to do it for a reduced rate because we had become friends. I’m glad I took that extra step.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Great responses — Thanks y’all! Good to hear arguments on both sides.

    • Honestly…I think hiring an editor for at least the first WIP can work out well. You can learn a lot from a great editor and apply your knowledge to future WIPs.

      Mystery Writing is Murder

    • Jay Tee says:

      You should check out the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It’s a fraction of the cost of a human editor and will help you find mnay of the problems that need to be dealt with.

      Then, if you decide to use a human editor, they’ll be able to do their job faster because there are fewer issues to deal with.

      I use the AutoCrit Wizard with every manuscript. I love it.

    • Enid Wilson says:

      I paid for an editor, expensive, but worth every cent. She edited language, vocab and even questioned my plot holes.

      Bargain with the Devil

    • Berta Dickerson says:

      I have just handed over my completed memoir ms to an editor. I’ve known her and seen her work for over a year. She understands my POV. To say the least I trust her and expect my ms will be the best possible for publishing.

    • Rob benwell says:

      Good points. One of the important things I’ve found with editors is that it is soooo much easier to work with one who understands and likes the genre you have written in. When there is a mismatch, I can spend hours explaining points that would be obvious to a fellow genre fan, or arguing about technical issues that the editor finds confusing but which would be commonplace to the work’s intended audience. When there is a match, the process is infinitely smoother, faster and less frustrating.

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