Recently, two co-author clients went back into their proposal to update the social media numbers and discovered a typo deep in their manuscript they had missed along the way. Would a professional editor have caught this earlier? Likely so. Today, I’m going to list several benefits to be gained by investing in a professional edit of your work before you submit it to an agent or editor.
Those clients are fine non-fiction authors. Yet their two sets of eyes over multiple reads missed something. Of course, the next thought that naturally comes to mind is what else might they have missed? What might I be missing in my own WIP? Here are some reasons to have an editor review your work:
First impressions are EVERYTHING. You may be thinking what’s the big deal. Occasionally . . . OK, frequently . . . we see a typo, wrong tense or wrong possessive somewhere in the published books we read. That’s true. It’s because we’re all human, and it accentuates the reason publishers place high value on clean, publication-ready proposals and manuscripts, especially from unpublished writers, but also from mid-list authors who strive to stay competitive.
An editor will catch an incomplete argument (non-fiction writers) or inconsistencies in a story (novelists). You know in your mind the main point you want to emphasize that will support the message of your non-fiction book. It defines the uniqueness of your book that hopefully will attract publishers. But you might not have done the best job putting it into words. Something this crucial to your chances of getting a contract warrants securing the help of a professional editor.
In the process of re-writing scenes or following interruptions that occur in your writing schedule, it’s easy to forget a detail or to reference something incorrectly later in your novel, even if you keep meticulous tracking records. I see such inconsistencies fairly frequently. An editor will quickly pick these out. Better the one who reviews your manuscript before you submit than the agent or publisher.
Praise and appreciation for critique partners. If one of your partners also is an experienced editor, you are blessed! However, extensive problems with plot (narrative arc) or story and character development (emotional arc), may exceed the boundaries of scope and time your group has available to focus on a single project, especially if your group is large. Enlisting the help of an editor can prevent a frustrating writing process, loss of enthusiasm, and discouragement.
eBooks. You’d have to be in seclusion not to have heard about substandard writing in many of the self-published ebooks available for purchase. Perhaps you’ve read some. Although a few have a niche audience and will sell fairly well, most won’t. People still want a captivating read, even when the cost is only $1.99.
A quick production cycle doesn’t allow time for deep editing. I expect the higher-end ebook publishers—those that provide professional packaging and distribution services—soon will require manuscripts to be professionally edited before submission.
Before you dismiss the idea of getting a professional edit due to cost and the assumption your critique partners will find every weak area, think about it this way. Your book will have a better chance of attracting an agent and getting a contract if it is the best, most professional product it can be. The hands-on craft knowledge you’ll acquire from an editor’s advice no doubt will be more cost-effective and specific to your needs than a writing class at the local college or a trip to a writers conference for a paid critique.
Can you identify the weak areas in your WIP? What are your reservations about hiring a freelance editor to advise you on your manuscript? What benefits have you experienced?
Jennifer Major @Jjumping
Mary, good morning from where it’s halfway to noon.
I am shameless about asking for help. A few dear souls I’ve met along the bloggy trail have been SAINTS about advice and instruction from storylines to queries. I don’t want a “hey, here’s a hug for trying”. I’m in it to win it, I want the cold hard truth. Thankfully, I have gotten that, but nicely couched in love and great advice.
I did send a sample to Saint Christina of Berry and she sent it back, all noted, marked and advised. It stung, but I wasn’t hiring her for a tea party, was I?
The HUGE reservation is the cost of a full edit. But it’s pathetic/amazing to see what I learned from a short sample. And I must say, sending family sized chocolate bars literally bought me two extra pages of help.
So, our lessons for today?
-Pay attention to the advice of others, fresh eyes are critical!!!
-Editors are not therapists, get the edit and then call your BFF.
-A few weeks of not buying magazines or fancy coffee, one large Dairy Milk chcoclate bar and the postage is all worth it for the chance to have someone point out your strengths and weaknesses. Of course, *I* had none, so yeah…umm, I may have eaten one of those Dairy Milks all on my own.
Jennifer, you could start by paying a freelance editor to evaluate your manuscript and give you a quote for the work he or she thinks your manuscript needs. If you go no further than that, as least you’ve learned what you need to focus on.
“Editors are not therapists” — so true, and for your career’s sake, you wouldn’t want them to be.
“…benefits to be gained by investing in a professional edit of your work before you submit it to an agent or editor.”
So it seems that in this area, that is the author being advised to have their work edited before people outside their own circle see it (be they agents, editors, or potential buyers), you’re saying there’s no difference in practice or expense between trade publishing and self-publishing. In this one area. Am I understanding that correctly?
I have no reservations about hiring a freelance editor to look at my work. All I lack is $1000 to do so.
David, don’t assume the cost before you get a quote. A freelance editor can point out issues you aren’t aware of or have overlooked. Some of them are quite open to short projects like this between their larger projects.
In these times when the competition for an agent’s or editor’s attention is so steep, your best chance of getting published involves presenting the most professional version of your work. You’d have to view the cost of editor’s review of your manuscript–and what you’ll learn from it–as an investment in your craft and career, not as merely an expense on the one manuscript.
Cost is something I and my editor colleagues are deeply aware of, as many of us are writers too.
I and others have a wide variety of less-costly services ranging from synopsis critique to first 10 pages review ($30 on my fee scale, and only $35 at The Editorial Department last I checked.) These can help writers get a bead on where they’re doing well and how to continue building their skills.
“…you’re saying there’s no difference in practice or expense between trade publishing and self-publishing. In this one area. Am I understanding that correctly?”
Because I work with a wide range of people, from traditionally-published to self-published, I’ve developed my services based on how they’ve asked me to meet their needs. Part of the job is knowing how to meet the writer where they’re at.
My trad pubbed authors use different services than my indies, because their agencies and house editors are also going to be working on the project with them. They usually request a basic read or a manuscript evaluation, either of which runs in the $100s, not $1000s. In other words, greater experience and/or greater support system = less cost.
New writers may decide to buy a higher-priced substantive edit ($1000s). Their goal is to access personalized, intensive teaching that takes abstract advice and demonstrates it in a hands-on way. I and many others will also teach craft using ms excerpts, bringing the cost of learning down into the $100s.
My indies choose low-budget services to assist in project development in the initial stages ($30 to $100+). For completed projects, they’ll choose the ms eval if they’re already experienced, or a full-service edit for newer writers to get ready for publication. ($1000+)
I hope that helps answer your question. It really depends on the writer’s needs and goals. If you do decide at some point to go window-shopping for an editor, don’t hesitate to ask questions and state what you want to get from the process.
Cathi-Lyn, thanks for that post. I find it hard to know what an experienced editor should charge, so its good to know what the various costs could be.
I know it’s difficult to edit your own work, but since I’m an editor in my day job, I think I would have a hard time hiring a freelance editor, simply because it can be expensive and I don’t think it’s a big enough weakness for me (and I definitely don’t say that to brag! I would just rather spend the money on a writing retreat or conference where I can learn more about how to improve my weaker areas). I think my work is fairly clean, and I have my CP and my in-person critique group go over it for other types of inconsistencies, etc. But I definitely realize that it’s of utmost importance to present a clean copy to agents and editors, and that’s why I read and reread my manuscripts before doing so.
Lindsay, you definitely have an advantage with your professional editorial eye. And it sounds like you already have a good review process in motion.
I know I’m going to have to hire an editor before I send out queries and proposals. 🙂 I think I know some of my weaknesses, and my crit group will be able to help me with a lot of that. I just need to figure out where the money will come from when that time comes. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mary.
Jeanne, knowing this early on, you can start setting money aside now so the hurt isn’t so great when the time comes to hire the editor.
Good point, Mary. Setting money aside. Thanks. I hadn’t thought of that. 🙂 Silly me.
Jennifer Major @Jjumping
Jeanne, I’m thinking of selling a kidney on ebay. I mean come ON, do I really need two? I hear and feel your concern about the extra expense for an editor. That is my wall right there, we simply don’t have the finances. If the kids need something, or we need a new alternator, the money will be found. But to take it for *me* would sting too much. I just cannot do it right now.
Even if I got a good price for that kidney 🙂
Mary, you make excellent points. As a former editor myself, I can say that every writer–including editors who write–needs an editor. Humans make mistakes, and an author’s eyes can “see” what he meant to type on a page even if that’s not what the fingers put there. So for my WIP I bit the bullet and paid for a professional critique by a writing instructor with a solid reputation. He found things I didn’t and made valuable suggestions!
Rick, thanks for your valuable input from a former editor’s perspective.
It amazes me how easy it is to overlook typos. I can submit the same pages to four different people, and sometimes, a misspelling or dropped word is only noticed by one individual. I’m much more forgiving of typos in published works now!
I LOVE working with an editor. For one thing, it boosts my confidence when it comes to querying or submitting to agents and editors.
I approach hiring an editor like signing up for a writing course. It may be expensive, but I can learn and grow from the experience. I seek out an editor who will allow me to break my manuscript up in smaller submissions—four to six installments. This allows me to read over the edits, see what I’m doing wrong, and then self-edit those things from the next submission. This helps especially with overused words or awkward phrases, but bigger problems as well. When the next round of edits return, I can see if I was successful at identifying my problems and correcting them.
This helps me learn and boosts my confidence. And sometimes, I don’t grasp the problem or how to fix it after one edit and need another “lecture” about what I’m doing wrong and how to fix it 🙂
Excellent plan, Sarah. Multiple benefits from this approach. And do you think this method might also reduce the total fee as you make corrections in future batches before the editor sees them?
It depends on the editor. I do think many reward return clients, and if they’ve seen an improvement in skill, thus reducing their workload, they may provide a discount. At least, that has been my personal experience.
If it’s your very first work… save your money. I advise finding a beta reader instead, there are lots of them out there in the writing community and some have very good credentials.
However, if you keep getting form rejections for something you have strong faith in and have received feedback from other authors which suggests you need editorial help, then that’s probably worth the investment.
Stephanie, a beta reader is a good option, as long as you have a lot of confidence in him or her. But they don’t usually delve into deeper issues with plot and story.
It can be expensive to hire an editor to look over your full manuscript. So I hired one to read my first chapter and my proposal. She did a beautiful job of pointing out how I could improve that oh-so-important beginning and she was able to offer advice on the story as a whole thanks to the synopsis in my proposal. The amount she charged was incredibly reasonable and her advice was priceless. Highly reccomend!
Sarah, thanks for sharing your great suggestion and the “priceless” benefit you reaped.
As an editor for a small, independent publisher, I beg that writers follow this advice–and not just to take care of those typos.
As a writer who has been an editor for a very long time, I know that even editors need an editor. I would not send a work out for consideration to my agent or to a publisher without the help of my critique partner and a couple of other editors on the way to submission.
But I suggest you vet an editor before handing over good money. There are a lot of folk out there offering editorial services. Some are excellent. Some aren’t. Once upon a time, when I first moved from non-fiction to fiction writing, I threw a good chunk of change after some bad advice. Reputable freelancers will give you a sample and a cost analysis before you sign on the dotted line, so do take advantage of that. And ask for recommendations from writers you admire.
Normandie, thanks for sharing your experience and excellent advice. A detailed cost analysis (quote) will reveal the editor’s level of expertise.
There is a lot to be said for hiring an outside editor before submitting your work to an agent or publishing house.
If the financial resources aren’t available, find a variety of writing crit buddies, from the grammar whiz, to the plotter, to the wordsmith. Then always…always…always let your work sit for several days before the final read through and hitting send.
I have mixed feelings about hiring an editor. I agree with its value, but also realize that for many authors it is very difficult to afford.
Very true, Michelle. The expense of hiring an editor can be daunting. But several of today’s commenters have suggested helpful options that would bring the cost way down, while still providing great benefit.
Michelle Sanders Brinson
Love the article! Why? Because I’m a writer and an editor. I write for myself, my employer and other clients. I am also a freelance editor. If any reader is interested in a quote, I’d be happy to take a look at your project and give you an estimate. I know I don’t proofread my own work… it’s too hard. It’s worth every dime to pay someone else to proofread and edit your work because they can be more objective.
Thanks for your professional input, Michelle.
Caroline @ UnderGod'sMightyHand
I would love to work with an editor even if simply because of the one-on-one feedback. (Isn’t that what so many writers desire?) I need more experienced feedback to grow in my writing.
Thanks for sharing this post to help push us in an appropriate direction!
You’re welcome, Caroline. Best wishes in your writing journey.
I’m on the board of the Fictionista Workshop. Our slogan is Turning Rough Drafts into Polished Fiction. We are a non-profit group that provides free editing through collectives and workshops. The only payment we ask is that authors turn around and help others polish their books in future workshops.
If you want one-on-one editing from a group I ask you to join us. Workshops consist of one author, a researcher (fact checker), a dialogue/characterization editor, a copy editor, and a moderator and all critique is focused on the one writer. Collectives are three to five writers grouped together who critique each others work. All run for about 12 weeks, but we had one writer completely redo her entire book based on comments from the group, and her workshop lasted over a year (we call it the workshop that never ends).
Please note that we are NOT professional editors, but fellow writers helping each other succeed. That said, I promise you will get very detailed and constructive critique of your work. I know because I’m the lead moderator and the biggest complaint I get is that there is too much editing (something I don’t think is possible!). I also took my book through the process. After licking my wounds over the first chapter’s edits, I put on my big girl panties and carefully considered each comment (somewhat) objectively.
Mary, I’m sorry if I turned this into an advertisement, but I’m very passionate about what we do, and we are free! Everyone who is balking at the cost of an editor, please consider joining us. We have a great time together.
you say this, but who can you trust to be reputable? How do you even go about finding an editor?
And, what type of editor…for instance, small book editing as in Love Inspired is going to be different than bigger books, say…Bethany House.
Cheryl, you’re right that editing for a Love Inspired book will be different from that of a Bethany House book. But an editor experienced in Christian publishing will know that.
Google freelance editors of Christian books. Rachelle Gardner also listed recommendations in a blog post here: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2009/03/freelance-editors/
Jennifer, I already sold one of my kidneys on QVC – so what do I do now?
I didn’t get as much as I was hoping for. The market seems to be flooded with them – almost as much as all things – vampirical and zombie like.
I recently aquired two CP’s and the feedback let me know alot about what I was missing in my work and what didn’t come across to my readers; so I believe that an editor would come in handy.
Hi Mary, very good article. You’ve convinced me of the need to hire an editor. However, I’m going to expose my ignorance right off the bat with this question: what do you mean in your first sentence when you state: ” …clients went back into their proposal to update the social media numbers….”?
Lanny, hopefully you are continually working to increase the number of visitors on your website, followers on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and so on. You occasionally should update these numbers in the marketing plan section of your proposal to keep it current. Also, these updates give you or your agent, if you have one, a valid reason to follow up with an editor he or she has shopped your proposal to. Editors want to see robust social media numbers because they represent a quantified projection of potential purchasers of your book.