Do You Need to Hire an Editor?

Another article from the archives:

Choose the right editor: 7 tips

The term “editor” has several meanings in the book business. The “in-house” editors at publishing companies--the ones who decide what manuscripts to publish--don’t do a lot of literal “editing” these days. According to agent Jenny Bent, the amount of hands-on work they do, “varies wildly from editor to editor…because many editors simply don't have the time or desire to actually edit.”

By the time it lands on an editor’s desk, a manuscript needs to be close to print-ready. Agents can help, but they don’t have much time for nitty-gritty text-honing either, so most won’t look at manuscripts that aren’t carefully proofed and edited.

The majority of writers learn to edit themselves with the help of a beta reader or two, but if you can afford it, hiring an independent editor is the best way to give your work an extra polish. You’ll can find good editing services advertised through magazines like Writers Digest and Poets and Writers, the Funds For Writers newsletter, or Freelance Writing International, A really impressive editor I’ve recently met is Victoria Mixon (she sometimes offers freebies of first paragraphs or hooks.) I even take on the occasional editing project myself.

But I turn down more clients than I take on, because I don’t feel comfortable working on projects I don’t feel will earn back my fees. Too many newbies hire editors when what they really need is a few basic writing classes and some knowledge of the industry.

Of course, if price is no object, you can hire an editor as your personal writing teacher. A number now offer “writing coaching” services. But most professional writers learn their craft through workshops, extensive reading, critique groups, and years of trial and error.

The writers who benefit most from a freelance editor’s work are:

1) Self-publishers. I urge ALL self publishers to hire an independent editor before going to press. The “editing” most POD publishers offer isn’t much more than a spell-check.

2) Experts whose primary field is not the written word. This includes self-help books by psychologists or medical professionals, specialty cookbooks, local history, etc.

3) Memoirists who have a unique, marketable tale to tell, but are not planning a career in writing. (These people may require a ghostwriter rather than an editor.)

4) Writers who have been requested by an interested agent or publisher to give the book a polish. Many agents will ask a writer to hire an independent editor at this stage.

5) Novelists who have polished their work in workshops and critique groups, but after many rejections, can’t pinpoint what is keeping them in the slush pile.

If you decide to hire an editor, do some research and be clear in your goals. The standard pay scale for editorial services is posted by the Editorial and Freelancers Association at Plan to spend from five hundred to several thousand dollars for a book-length manuscript.

Choose carefully. You don’t want just any out-of-work English major. Check Writer Beware for in-depth advice: The Edit Ink scam of the late ’90s bilked thousands. Here are some warning signs:

1) Extravagant praise and promises. Anybody who guarantees you a place on the best-seller list is either crooked or delusional.

2) Claims that all publishers require a professionally edited ms. Not true. It’s also not true that an edit will get you a read. The Wylie Merrick agency recently blogged, “Just received a query from a writer who stated that his PROFESSIONALLY EDITED book weighed in over 150,000 words. . . Ask for a refund.”

3) An agent or publisher who recommends their own editing services or gives a specific referral. Beware conflicts of interest. Edit Ink scammed writers by giving agents kickbacks for referrals.

4) One-size-fits-all. You need a specialist in your genre. I can’t picture sex with elves without laughing, and torture scenes make me retch. You do NOT want my help with your dark fantasy or horror novel.

5) Direct solicitation. Scam editors purchase mailing lists from writing magazine subscriber lists. Beware.

6) Sales pressure. “Limited time offers” are rarely good deals.

7) No client list on their website. You should be able to get a list of clients and a sample of the editor’s work on request.

There are many kinds of edits, priced differently, so be aware of what you need.
Manuscript evaluation: A broad overall assessment of the book.
Content editing: Help with structure and style.
Line editing: Reworking text at the sentence level.
Copy editing: Attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation and continuity.
Proofreading: Checking for typos and other minor problems.

A good editor can make the difference between a successful book and a dud. Just choose your editor carefully and wait until you have a marketable project before you make the investment.