Hiring an Editor: Solid Investment or Financial Waste?

Recently, I’ve been hearing more agents, writers, editors, publishers, etc. urging writers to pay for a professional editor to edit their novel before they query an agent.

Let me begin by saying good editors can improve a novel, sometimes drastically. If you’re at the stage where you can’t revise anymore, but something feels off about your novel, or you’ve been querying and getting all rejections, it would probably be beneficial to hire an editor.

However, hiring an editor is not the first thing you do after writing your first draft. Editors, especially good ones, are expensive. They put a lot of time and effort into editing your work. Therefore, you don’t want them to waste time on aspects you could have seen for yourself and fixed.

There are also different types of editing. Make sure you’re familiar with them and know which one your novel needs. Sometimes, if you’re unsure, you can ask the editor for a sample. This typically means the editor will read 3-10 pages of your work and edit those. This gives you a clear idea of what feedback you’d be getting. (A sample doesn’t mean free. Many editors are willing to provide a sample for a fee.)

Here’s a quick overview of the different types of editing:

  • Proofreading. This is the final stage of the editorial process. Proofreaders catch the errors copy editors overlooked. They see the novel with all of its images and titles.
  • Copyediting. Copy editors are the grammar and punctuation police. They find the spelling, punctuation, spacing, and all those other little grammatical mistakes. They are employed when your novel is in its nearly final form.
  • Line Editing. Line editors work with the prose. They look at paragraph structure, word choice, sentence flow, voice, style, forward movement, readability, etc.
  • Developmental Editing. This is more about the big picture and is more in-depth than both copy and line editing. Developmental editing involves plot structure, theme, tension, pacing, character development, character motivation, etc. This form of editing often involves rearranging, re-writing, trimming, and more.

Not all editors do all types of editing. Not all editors use the same names for the different types of editing. Some will call developmental editing substantive editing. Some will say those are two separate things, where developmental editing is working with the author as they write their novel and substantive editing is once the novel is completed. Others say copy and line editing are the same. Bottom line, you need to go to an editor’s website and learn specifically about what they provide.

Some other questions to think about:

  • How much money are you willing to spend on refining your novel? Many writers get published without hiring an editor. However, getting published is extremely competitive. If you have the money to spend and want to improve your novel quickly, consider hiring an editor. If you don’t have the money, join a critique group, get beta readers, or take free/inexpensive writing workshops. This all takes longer, but won’t cost you that thousand plus dollars you’d spend for a reputable editor.
  • How much money can you expect to recover? Most writers don’t make much money when they get published. Most have to keep their day jobs. Again, if you have the money to spare. Go for it.
  • What about all those scammers out there? Anyone can set up a website and claim to be an editor. You have to do the research. Look for their credentials. See what other books they’ve edited. Ask for a sample. See if they have examples of their editing up on their website. Call them and ask questions. A reliable editor will be able to give you references, will readily provide you with a resume, and is willing to talk with you.

Whether you decide to hire an editor or not, in today’s literary world your novel needs to be pretty close to print-ready for an agent and a publishing house to pick it up. These days, most publishing house editors don’t have time to dig into the nitty-gritty. If your novel has a decent number of mistakes, even if it’s well written, it may not get picked up. It’s a bummer, but it’s the truth.

What do you think? Hiring an editor: yes or no?

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