Why Hire an Editor?

“I’m going to self-publish because  don’t want anyone changing what I’ve written!”

I cringe when I hear a writer say that. Maybe the published book will be “clean” (no typos, misspellings, or poorly written sentences), but usually it will have sections that are either unclear, repetitious, or totally unnecessary. (I’ve even wished some traditionally published books had received more editing.)

Writers may be able to do a pre-editing, but we need fresh eyes and the opinions of others to make our books stand out.

Even agents, nowadays, want writers to submit (to them) manuscripts that are 90% ready to publish. They won’t take the time to “work” with a writer. They want someone else to have done the pre-editing.

And, when I listened to the panel of self-published writers, they all emphasized the need for an editor. Some suggested hiring two editors: one for line-editing and one for content and continuity. They said writers need fresh eyes on their mss, readers who aren’t so familiar with the story that they mentally fill in the missing parts or skip over the typos and misspellings.

Most writers go through many drafts before feeling they have a finished story. I know, after reading my ms so many times, cutting and pasting words, lines, and paragraphs, I start to gloss over typos, repeated words, and missing sentences. Maybe I think adding the history of growing blueberries adds to the story, but what if that information is  unnecessary and slows the pacing to a standstill? Will I realize that?

So, does everyone need to hire a freelance editor?

No. Critique groups can sometimes fulfill that function. But to be helpful, the group must be familiar with the genre, must feel free to and able to give constructive criticism, and must read enough of the manuscript to be able to detect incongruities. Also, the writer must be secure enough to recognize when more than one member of the group has a problem with something that it probably needs work, and equally confident enough to ignore suggestions that are off mark.

Beta readers may be as good as an editor. Beta readers may be writers or readers or both. They won’t see the story until the writer feels it’s finished or nearly finished. The writer needs to respect the beta reader’s opinion and be willing to listen to their suggestions. Beta readers should know the genre well enough to understand the expectations of that genre’s readers. They will, hopefully, act as both line editors and continuity editors. Writers usually “pay” beta readers with gift cards or special events.

And, there are many freelance editors. If a writer decides to hire a freelance editor, my suggestion is to ask other writers for recommendations, either in person or on-line. Some editors advertise on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Some have ads in Poets & Writers, Writers’ Digest, RWR, and other writers’ organizations’ magazines. Besides asking for references, it’s good to ask the freelance editor for a sample of her or his work. Give them an agreed upon number of pages from your ms and see what feedback you receive. Also, make sure you and the editor agree on exactly what will be provided (are you asking for both line editing and continuity or just continuity?) and the cost.

Finally: Whether you use a critique group, beta readers, or a freelance editor, you must be open to the comments and suggestions given and willing to make changes. If not, don’t waste your time or money.



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18 Responses to Why Hire an Editor?

  1. Solid advice, Maris. I’ve relied on both beta readers and editors, as well as members of a critique group. No ms is perfect the first time around, and we all need a second pair of eyes.

  2. I agree with both you and Susan. My work always goes through numerous edits, both from myself and editors. We human beings are imperfect creatures. The more sets of eyes the better.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Jacqueline, I’ve also discovered it helps to have people from different states read the ms. What’s known (terms) or words used in Michigan, may not be what’s known or used in California.

  3. Melissa Keir says:

    Editors are always a must. Even with two editors, sometimes things are missed. And I hear about it! I believe that when people publish books without edits, it makes the rest of self-pubbed authors look bad. We are all lumped together as less than quality.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Melissa, you are so right. I always read those “Peek Inside” pages. Well written self-published books can be as good or better than traditionally published books, but if I find a lot of errors in those first few pages, I know this isn’t a book I want to waste my time and money on (mentally correcting the errors).

  4. This post is wonderful. You’ve pointed out the NEED of editors and Beta readers and rereading your own Ms a zillion times. Who said writing is easy?

    • Maris Soule says:

      Charmaine, the people who say writing is easy are the ones who haven’t done it. They’re the people who say, “One of these days I’m going to write a book.”

  5. Cece Cox says:

    This topic is exactly why I started my Editing and Proofreading (free-lance) business–because an Author needs “Outside-Eyes” on their work before publishing, and I love what I do.

    Details really can make or break a story… so yes, an author absolutely needs *someone* with fresh eyes and detail-oriented mind to read the story and give honest feedback.

    And if it is a series, in my personal opinion, it helps tremendously if the editor has read all of the preceding books as well, to catch continuity issues over the larger story.

    Excellent topic! Obviously one I am passionate about, too, LOL!

    • Maris Soule says:

      CeCe, sounds like you do an excellent job. For those who write series, that continuity is critical. Some writers have fantastic memories and can remember all of the details from one book to the next. I’m not one of those writers. I’m constantly going back to earlier books in my series to make sure I have my characters acting and reacting as they should. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Diane Burton says:

    I wouldn’t release a book without an editor going over it. Even then, mistakes slip through. Most errors are caught, just not by me. I can read the ms many, many times and still miss typos or missing words. An editor is a must for a self-published author.

  7. paula says:

    I can’t even get a blog post to sound right or not have crummy grammar in it on the first go-around. I ALWAYS preview it and then, sometimes after posting it, I shake my head later, realizing “There’s another boo-boo.”
    When I get far enough into the book I’m working on, my fellow writers will most definitely be helping me out. I need them desperately. I’m too close to the subject, for one thing. Thanks for being so adamant about the need for editing.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Paula, I worry every time I post a blog. Did I use the right verb? I still have trouble with affect and effect. Is the punctuation correct? And so on. I have a tough audience…all of you are writers. You know when I make a mistake.

  8. Beth says:

    A good critique group can replace a proofreader or copyeditor, but never a good content editor. Especially since most critique groups use a chapter by chapter submission policy. 🙂 Pay a good editor to help you make your story stronger then worry about line edits, using an editor or a very good copy editor. 🙂

    • Maris Soule says:

      I agree, Beth. At this stage in my career, line editors make few corrections, and sometimes I wonder if a sentence really needed to be corrected or if the editor simply wanted to prove her worth. That said, content editors are well worth the cost. They see the overall picture. They truly make my writing better.

  9. Add me to the Always Hire a Content Editor! I wrote 20 books with my traditional publisher before jumping into indie, and I can say, in all honesty, that my developmental editor saved my butt more than once. Therefore, I didn’t hesitate to invest in one for my indie work. Yes, your story may be perfectly fine without one, but a content editor can take a perfectly fine book and turn it into a great book.

    Never forget that your name and your writing are your brand. You want your readers to associate the two with awesome, not average.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Excellent advice, Barbara, and I totally agree. My traditional publisher editors have added so much more depth to my work. A simple suggestion here and there can make what my critique partners thought was good a thousand times better.