Do You Really Need An Editor?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Yes. Yes, you do. 

But my editor would probably prefer an actual post here. And I’m pretty sure I can hear some of you muttering, “Well, Miss Bossypants, you don’t always need an editor.” 

Y’all, I’ve received texts that could have benefited from editing. But for the purpose of today’s topic, I’ll keep the focus on novel-length manuscripts (fiction or non-fiction). So on to the actual blog post (and your arguments). 


That’s wonderful! Unfortunately, it does not say that your work is ready for publication. Even if your critique group is made up of all published writers (Gosh, that’s an enviable critique group!) or even if your beta readers also happen to be editors (Wow, that’s the jackpot of beta readers!). As professional as your people may be, they’re not working professionally for you. No doubt, a great critique group and/or beta readers can help you get your manuscript close to ready. But it’s not their job to line edit or developmentally edit. 


Yep, editors are paid to do that job. But one has to sell the book first—and that sale is based on the manuscript submitted. 

Take Manuscript A, with its unique concept and a query/pitch that grabs an agent. But oh, dear, the manuscript is rife with grammar errors and sloppy syntax. That’s a hard no most of the time.

Manuscript B, on the other hand, is a grammarian’s delight and the concept is interesting. The agent (or the agent’s reader) is enjoying the story in the first 25 pages (which have been workshopped to bits!), but around page 45 or so, things start to fall apart. Confusion and chaos creep in and not in a good way. What a shame, thinks the agent, who might send a personal note along with the rejection. 

You simply can’t count your edits before the sale. 


Yes, editing can take a chunk out of a writer’s budget. Which, let’s face it, may be pretty meager when a writer is starting out. So what’s a struggling writer to do? A few ideas… 

 Are you in a professional writer’s organization? Use their resources; ask other writers for recommendations. 

Check out writing how-to websites, like here at WOW. And look for courses/editors that fit your book’s genre. 

Explore options like Fiverr. The range in fees for editing can vary widely so be careful choosing based strictly on price. Check reviews and/or finished products. 

Reach out to your accomplished friends. You know that writer, the one in your critique group who writes beautifully and has an eye for commas? She may jump at the opportunity for editing experience. You may be able to negotiate an introductory fee, but even if your friend offers to edit for free, insist on payment. It keeps the relationship professional (and allows you to count the editing as an expense for taxes). 


 And I understand. I know how easy it is to look at a ledger sheet with all the publishing costs involved and then think that editing is surely one cost that can be cut. You’re a professional writer, for heaven’s sake! You’ve got this part, right?

Well…if you’re publishing books from your own backlist, books that were professionally edited and published before, then fine, you can skip editing. But if it’s the beginning of the venture, and especially if you’re DIYing the process, hire an editor. Your initial product should be the best it can be to snag readers! And then keep readers by keeping your professional editing edge. 

 Of course, there will always be those writers who waltz in to a conference and sell their half-finished manuscript. Or the writer with a highly polished gem of a manuscript that gets snatched up in the first query. But most of us can’t count on being one of those Unicorn Authors. We’ll need to earn it the hard way (and that means getting an editor).


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--I've had Margo Dill edit two of my pieces. One later got published (by Margo). She was above top-notch, gave wonderful, specific suggestions, and praised what was praise-worthy. She was also quite reasonable.

If a pile of rubbish can be rewritten and revised into something publishable, and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg? Well, from my perspective, it's well worth it.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I admit that I envy people who have editorial agents because I know my work always improves once an editor gets involved.

And, yes. I had to delete this comment once to fix things. Proved my point, didn't I?

Angela Mackintosh said...

Editors are my heroes! After writing a piece, I typically workshop it with published writers and editors, then make revisions and hire a freelance editor before submitting it. Yes, it's expensive, but well worth it since the piece will probably live online forever. Or if I pay for a workshop and have peer workshopping and instructor edits, then I don't need to hire an editor afterward. But not all editors are equal and you have to check out their style and work and see who is the best fit for your project.

Renee Roberson said...

You will get no arguments from me on this one, Cathy! Unfortunately, there are way too many writers out there who think they don't need editors. When I judged a batch of self-published novels that were part of a national contest a few years ago, it was very eye opening and disheartening how many people didn't utilize a good editor.

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