Writing Debates: Do I Hire an Editor?

A series exploring the writing world's most divisive topics

Many in the writing community love to debate, so why not give the people what they want?

This series will explore some of these divisive topics. Of course, none will be especially controversial and never triggering. Yet they will address questions many in the industry wonder about, and I’ll take some stances that some will disagree with. At the end of the day, we will remain friends and move on.

So, without delaying the fun any further, should you hire an editor if pursuing traditional publication?

Why do I single out traditional pub? Well, I’m of the opinion that if you decide to go down the self-publishing route, you should definitely hire an editor. Although I am not referring to the world-class editors employed by publishing houses, I must note that as a freelance editor and an author with my own editor from HarperCollins (you’re the best, Megan!), I can assure you that there is no way I can catch all the typos or plot holes in my manuscripts.

Don’t take my word for it, however, there are plenty of respected self-published authors who will emphasize the importance of having an editor they trust.

Now, back to traditional publishing…

Should you get an editor? Again, when I say an editor, I don’t mean the ones provided to you by a publishing house, but a freelance editor that you pay for out pocket. When it comes to this question for authors pursuing traditional publication, the answer truly depends.

Okay, I know that’s somewhat of a cheap answer, but hear me out. There is two reasons I say yes, absolutely get an editor and one reason I’d say no. I’ll start with the second option.

Do not get an editor if you lack the financial means for it or simply don’t want to spend the money on one. You can do it without an editor, though you must be able to get other eyes on your work regardless. Whether that means critique partners, beta readers, or members of your writing group, getting eyes on your book is critical.

Note: Be sure to get the right folks looking at your work can be a challenge. If you’re early on in your writing journey and are working with other inexperienced writers, the feedback can be damaging rather than productive, so watch for that and choose critiques accordingly.

Now, onto the two reasons to hire a freelance editor, and both require you to have the financial means (they aren’t always cheap)…

Reason 1: you would like a reliable, experienced person to assist you with a manuscript, query, synopsis, etc. Editors tend to have testimonials that speak to their experience. If they have a few authors with agents or published authors on that list, it’s likely they have some level of experience that’s been valuable to other writers. If they themselves are published, then that’s an even larger indicator, as they’ve been through the trenches!

Reason 2: you want to improve your writing. This is a controversial reason because you might be asking how can getting an editor improve my writing? That’s a fair question, and the reason is that when you review someone’s edits in your book, you take away details on how they might tighten/change your writing style. A good editor will show you how to improve your writing, especially in their developmental notes.

If you want an editor, how can you tell they might be a good fit? Well, prior to soliciting their services, do one of two things…

  • Get a smaller edit, something like 5-pages. If you follow me on Twitter, I do these types of critiques regularly. Gauge how you feel about that critique and then proceed if you’re satisfied!

  • If you plan to edit your whole manuscript, ask for a 5-page sample!!! Yes, you can do this. If you’re going to invest hundreds, or thousands of dollars into an editor’s feedback, they should be confident enough in their service to provide that sample. I certainly do.

So, that’s how I would answer the question of whether you need an editor! or not. If you have any questions, want to say something on the subject, or have an inquiry about my editorial services, feel free to drop a comment or email me directly!