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Why You Need to Think Twice Before Hiring an Editor

This blog post has been adapted from my popular Twitter thread on the subject.

A hand grips a pencil, poised on a sheet of lined paper, next to a pile of pencil shavings.
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I saw some bad advice today about how authors seeking traditional publication should pay for developmental, line, copy editing before submitting to agents. My credentials: I'm a professional editor with lit agency and publishing house experience, and I'm now an agented author. Let me say: NO!

First a disclaimer that YMMV, I can't speak for every agent and every publisher, there are certainly people out there with MORE experience than me, etc., etc.

However, I DO make a living off of editing other people's work. Most of my editing experience has been in fiction. You'd think that I of all people would want to encourage ALL authors to pay for editing services, right? WRONG!

Hiring a professional editor is most beneficial to authors who plan to SELF-PUBLISH.

If you're seeking TRADITIONAL publication (first getting an agent, then hopefully landing a book deal with a publishing company), hiring a professional editor is usually unnecessary.

Quality editing services can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the length of the manuscript and the level of editing required. Editing is detailed, highly skilled work! Trained editors absolutely deserve to get paid well.

That said, because a professional editor will cost you a pretty penny, I really only encourage self-publishing authors to pay for these services. If a self-publishing author doesn't hire a professional editor, their book isn't getting properly edited.

In contrast, an author seeking traditional publication will MOST LIKELY see their manuscript through multiple rounds of revision and editing: first with an agent—especially the more editorial agents—then with their editor at the publishing house once they get a book deal.

So in traditional publishing, it would actually be redundant to spend thousands of dollars on a professional editing service.

Your agent and then publisher will STILL want to comb through the book and make their own suggestions and revisions, whether it's been edited or not.

Now, that's not to say you should rush through a couple of quick drafts of your book and send it off to agents without first polishing the manuscript to the very best of your ability! You most definitely SHOULD do that. Read, reread, even swap with a critique partner!

Once you've nailed the story and the characters and those bigger issues, then you should focus in on polishing the prose, making it really sing. And finally, devote at least one thorough pass to what most non-editors call a "proofread"—catching typos, misspelled words, etc.

Now, you MIGHT really struggle with spelling, punctuation, or something like that. If you're keenly aware of a big gap in your knowledge, and if you truly believe that it will impede reader comprehension or make your manuscript look poor next to more polished ones—THEN it might be worth hiring a professional editor before you send the manuscript out to agents. For the average author who is fluent in the language of the manuscript, this is probably unnecessary.

Most agents I know can overlook a few technical mistakes. They want to connect with the STORY, the CHARACTERS, the overall TONE. If they connect in those big ways, they'll be happy to overlook smaller details & get the book polished before submitting to publishers.

I'm working on revisions with my agent right now! The manuscript I submitted was pretty polished, after several drafts. But I'm still catching typos, inconsistencies, and so on as I revise. And guess what? My agent didn't care about that! She just connected with the story.

The TLDR is that if you want to get published traditionally, you should think twice before you pay for professional editing services! If someone tells you it's always necessary, don't listen.

Follow me on Twitter for more spontaneous threads about writing and publishing (and a whole mess of other nonsense).


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