Something to Consider Before You Hire a Book Editor

Like eating fire, writing takes a healthy balance of confidence and humility.

I know, because I do both.


cherie-dawn-haas-featuredgirl-on-fire-cherie-dawn-haasThis guest post is by Cherie Dawn Haas. Haas is the author of Girl on Fire and loves all things that involve creativity. She has taught and/or performed fire eating and more, and is the Senior Online Editor for our sister sites, ArtistsNetwork.com and ClothPaperScissors.com. She lives with her husband and two sons in Kentucky, where they manage a small vineyard and take care of their two dogs, Hazel and Dammit Rusty. Visit her at cheriedawnlovesfire.com.


We have to be confident enough in our work to share it with others on any level. And yet we must be humble enough to make the necessary changes when we receive feedback. When it comes to eating fire, for what it’s worth, my humility bows to the element and it’s self-confidence that makes the act possible at all.

But this isn’t Fire Eater’s Digest. We’re here to talk about writing. Having just self-published my first novel, Girl on Fire, I can look back at the years that led up to its actual birth (and final bill). It’s time to reflect on what I did right and what I will change when I go through the process again for book number two.

First, it should be noted that I’m frugal, although I think it’s important to invest in one’s art and creativity. After working with a few beta readers I wanted honest feedback on my novel at that point. I asked a friend (we’ll call her Gwen) with professional editing experience if she’d be interested in taking a look at the work. We agreed that I would pay her $100 for big-picture suggestions. “Don’t worry about copy editing it,” I remember saying because I figured she would have some major feedback on plot points and characters. I expected that she would tell me anything that was “wrong” with the work so that I could fix it before presenting it to agents or self-publishing it. What I got back, after much back-and-forth past our agreed deadline, was a copy-edited version of my novel, with less than $100 worth of feedback about the story itself.

I wrote the check, made Gwen’s edits, and moved on.

[The Lie I Told Myself About Self-Publishing]

After working with a couple more beta readers who gave both constructive and supportive feedback, somehow I got to the point where I felt all the novel could possibly need would be simple grammatical fixes that I might have overlooked. Now I realize that was completely hilarious.

Hire a Book Editor For Honest Feedback

I did eventually hire a professional freelance editor that wasn’t someone I knew. Together, we worked through a few more rounds of complete edits with massive changes that, while painful at first, brought the best out of my story. The markups were honest and ruthless. Just as importantly, my editor supported the project in a way that helped me stay the course through completion. Actually, a beautiful friendship has come from our working together.

My advice for you, dear fellow writer, is to make sure that your story is as close to perfection as you could dream. Do what your friends, writing partners, and beta readers say to do (perhaps) and let it sit for a while, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Then hire a professional to work with you on it. If possible, work with someone who isn’t in your circle of friends to begin with; that way there won’t be any hard feelings if things don’t go the way you anticipated.

I’m still friends with Gwen, by the way. I chose to look at the situation with humility and understanding that perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, or perhaps we should’ve had a signed agreement, or perhaps I made a mistake in my choice to begin with. It was just part of the challenge of self-publishing, and that’s okay. You’ll experience challenges in your writing path, and you’ll either overcome them and succeed or you won’t. The good news is that you haven’t given up—I know because you’re reading this.

Keep writing and rewriting, and stay humble and confident.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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2 thoughts on “Something to Consider Before You Hire a Book Editor

  1. CherieHaas

    Hi Wael! You’re lucky to have a beta reader that you can rely on time and again, and I’m happy that it’s worked for both of you. I lovingly refer to my editor as “ruthless” because some of the edits she had were jagged pills to swallow, but like your case (and for many, many of us), I needed to make those changes to improve the story and characters.

    Thanks for adding your advice about hiring the specialized beta readers – it’s a great point! My story began as a memoir and is based on much personal experience, so I didn’t have to worry about checking on facts like how to actually eat fire, for example. I have much respect for writers like you, who have the additional work of doing research. Best wishes to you!

  2. Wael

    Great advice, thanks. When I first began writing full time about six years ago, I was publishing online. I had a friend who consistently read my work and offered insightful comments. I began asking her to review the stories before publication. Her comments were sometimes difficult to take, as she would point out serious flaws in the story plot and logic, but my work always came out stronger as a result.

    Now, six years later, I am writing novels and I pay my friend to edit. As I have grown as a writer, she has grown as an editor. And because she’s been working with me for so long, she knows where I’m coming from and where I’m trying to get.

    One point I’d add that it’s useful to hire beta readers with specialized knowledge. For example, I wrote a scene where a girl is attacked by a hyena. One beta reader, Kea, trains dogs for a living. She pointed out that the types of injuries I described were not exactly what would occur from an attack by a canid.

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