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  • 5 Reasons To Hire a Professional Editor — And 5 Reasons To Wait On It
5 Reasons To Hire a Professional Editor — And 5 Reasons To Wait On It

If you’ve recently completed a manuscript, whether for NaNoWriMo or simply to fulfill a personal goal, congratulations! You’re exponentially closer to becoming a published author than you were when you began, especially if you skip over the rigmarole of traditional publishing. 

But before you proceed with your self-publishing journey, you have to determine one more thing: to hire an editor, or not to hire an editor? A professional edit may be just what you need to turn an unpolished manuscript into an unmitigated success. However, you should consider all the relevant factors before you opt for one route or the other — otherwise, you could end up wasting valuable time and money when your book isn’t ready for (or doesn’t require) a pro edit.

To help you make this important decision, here are five reasons you should definitely hire a professional editor, as well as five reasons you might want to hold off, at least for now.

You should hire a professional editor if… 

1. It’s your first book

Though writing your first book is a remarkable achievement in itself, the truth is that no matter how careful your execution, you’re bound to make some mistakes. This is true to some extent for every book you write, but especially for your first book, simply because you’ve never done it before! You’ll have gone in with little meaningful experience and few reference points, and likely emerged with a manuscript that’s a little (if not a lot) muddled and misconstructed.

An editor will not only fix these inevitable first-book mistakes — which may be as small as passive voice or as significant as gaping plot holes — they’ll also guide you through the process so you can avoid similar issues down the line. This will be key to keeping certain mistakes out of your future books, and knowing how to fix others when they do arise.

2. You’re not totally sure about your story

This one’s fairly intuitive, but worth mentioning in case you’re in denial. Look closely at your manuscript and deep into your heart: do you feel absolutely satisfied with your story as it stands, or do you still feel like something’s missing?

If a tiny voice in your head insists on the latter, don’t ignore it. Instead, hire an editor to help you nail that missing piece, whatever it might be. Every story is fundamentally different, and every flawed story will require a different set of fixes to perfect it.

You’ll probably need a developmental editor to help you with this, but if you’re really unsure about the state of your manuscript, consider getting an editorial assessment first. An editorial assessment is much less expensive than a full-blown edit, and hugely beneficial if you don’t know where to start with your story edits.

3. You can’t trust feedback from other sources

Another hot tip for authors in denial: just because your friends gave your book glowing reviews, doesn’t mean it’s going to win the Pulitzer. In fact, unless those friends are characteristically honest and/or sociopathic, they’ve surely told a few white lies about how much they loved your book. Beta readers are usually more blunt, but even they might not be able to articulate how to remedy the problems they perceive.

A good professional editor is one who’s both a) completely honest and b) genuinely helpful when it comes to feedback. They’ll give you concrete, actionable suggestions that you can incorporate into your next draft, and they won’t mince words for fear of hurting your feelings. (Of course, if you’re quite precious when it comes to your writing, this might be a reason to refrain from hiring an editor — but do so at your own risk.) 

4. You’re relying on good reviews for publicity

Perhaps you already have an existing fanbase you can leverage, various other promotions in the works, or perhaps you simply don’t care about visibility. But for the majority of self-publishing authors, reviews are the lifeblood that enable readers to discover and purchase their books.

Editors know what works on the market and what reviewers want to see. They won’t edit your book with reviews in mind above all else, but they can definitely help you craft a tighter, more widely appealing narrative that readers and reviewers will enjoy. Again, this will be particularly valuable if it’s your first book, since these initial reviews set the stage and define expectations for your entire literary career.

5. Typos are your worst nightmare

Reason #5 is another obvious one that’s still worth stating — because what author hasn’t thought “I’m 100% sure there are no typos on this page,” only to notice a typo once the piece has already been submitted? (Cue sinking feeling, frantic correction email, existential doubts about validity as a writer, etc.)

If you’re terrified of typos and other minor-yet-mortifying textual errors, get a professional editor. Specifically, invest in a proofreader, even if you choose not to professionally edit the rest of your book. A final proof is relatively affordable compared to other types of editing, and it will save you the stress of wondering whether there’s a typo somewhere in your book… not to mention the incomparable agony of finding one after it’s been published.

You should wait or skip the professional edit if… 

6. You haven’t done a self-edit yet

It might sound counterintuitive, but for most authors, self-editing their book is the first step in a lengthy editing process — and if you want to save money and time, you should absolutely perform a self-edit before getting a pro to take a look. You’re likely to catch problems that you can easily fix alone, while an editor would give you feedback on the exact same problems for a price. Do your due diligence, fix what you can, then hire an editor to point out your blind spots.

7. You’re on a limited budget

Publishing a book can be expensive, and editing costs are no small part of that. If you don’t have the budget for a lineup of professional editors, you’re well within your rights to skip them (though you’ll want to be extra diligent with your self-edit in this case). That said, keep in mind you can always split the difference and spring for just one editor who you think would serve your book best — say, through an editorial assessment or proofreading — to avoid paying for a whole roster of editing services.

8. Your book is extremely niche

Complications can also arise when you’ve written a book that requires specific expertise to understand and evaluate, as this will impede “typical” editors from providing helpful feedback. For example, if you’ve written a collection of poetry, a standard literary editor won’t be much help. You’ll need a professional with poetry editing experience, ideally someone who’s a poet herself, who knows how to refine the text of poetry while still preserving its distinct voice.

This doesn’t mean you can’t find a serviceable poetry editor, or an editor for whatever your niche might be, somewhere on the market. But it will take some time, as you don’t want to compromise on an editor who doesn’t truly grasp your subject matter. If you’ve been searching for weeks or months and still haven’t found a suitable editor, we certainly couldn’t blame you for abandoning the search and forging ahead alone.

9. You plan to publish traditionally

Thus far, we’ve operated under the assumption that you’ll be hiring your own editor(s) prior to self-publishing your book. However, if you do plan to publish traditionally, the trajectory of your book’s journey will change dramatically — and once you have a traditional publisher on board, that journey will probably involve one of their in-house editors. This means that any editing you do before your book gets picked up by a publisher may become moot. Of course, the catch-22 is that it might need a professional edit to get picked up in the first place! But at the end of the day, only you can decide which way to go. Which brings us to… 

10. You’re very confident in your abilities

The final reason you might not want to hire an editor is probably the most common: you’re confident that you’ve done everything that can be done for your book, and a professional editor won’t be able to improve upon any of it.

Hopefully, the first five reasons on this list will have given you pause regarding this justification — but still, it’s entirely possible that you’re right. If you’ve published before, you’re a champion typo spotter, and you’re self-aware about your own shortcomings as a writer (and/or have extremely reliable beta readers), maybe you don’t need an editor after all.

Again, you’re the only one who can make this decision for you and your book. Just be sure you’re making the right call, because you only get one shot at this before putting your book out into the world — and we want it to be a smashing success just as much as you do.

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  • Paula Lozar

    The article touches on this briefly, but I think it's crucial to decide first which TYPE of editor your book needs. Especially with a first book, it's best to start with someone who can look at the big picture -- continuity, pacing, consistency, etc. A few years ago I wanted to hire an editor for my first novel, but the first one I tried looked at the details. I didn't want to pay someone to rewrite a scene if, in fact, it added nothing to the story and should be deleted. It took several tries, but I finally found an editor who did what I was asking for, and the book is much better.