Hiring a Professional Editor vs. Getting Amateur Critiques

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Today I gave a live online class on The First Five Pages—how editors
evaluate your manuscript in an instant. It is one of my favorite
classes to teach because in one page, you can easily show the
tremendous improvement that can be achieved usually by cutting alone.

Here's a small example of what I mean (and thanks to the writers
today who bravely offered up their first pages to my knife!).

[Note: The opening paragraph says that Danny, while off-duty, stumbles into the
restaurant where he works to see a friend.]

Original:

“Hello, Liesel,” Daniel said as he grinned, brushed fresh snowflakes from his wavy brown hair.

“Danny, what are you doing here so late?” Liesel asked from behind the hostess stand. “Look at you. Are you drunk?”

“It’s
wonderful to see you, too. You look exceptionally lovely tonight. 
Hey, is Andre still here? What kind of mood is he in?”

“He’s in the back room. He’s bearable tonight,” she whispered. “Danny, seriously, why are you here?”

“Tonight deserves one more. Then I’ll be on my way home,” Danny replied.

“Oh? What’s the occasion? A Christmas party? Your birthday?”

“It
is an anniversary of sorts. But I’m not celebrating. It’s a day to
forget, and so far, alcohol is the only way I’ve found. Just a little
something for the pain, you know?” Looking around, he asked, “Who are
all these people?

Edited:

“Hello, Liesel,” Daniel said as he grinned, brushed fresh snowflakes from his wavy brown hair.


“Danny, what are you doing here so late?” Liesel asked from behind the hostess stand. “Look at you.

"Danny! Are you drunk?” Liesel stood with arms crossed behind the hostess stand.

“It’s wonderful to see you, too. You look exceptionally lovely
tonight. Hey, is Andre still here? What kind of mood is he in?”

“He’s in the back room. He’s bearable tonight,” she whispered. “Danny, seriously, Why are you here?”

“Tonight deserves one more. Then I’ll be on my way home,” Danny replied.

“Oh? What’s the occasion?" A Christmas party? Your birthday?”


“It is an anniversary of sorts. But I’m not celebrating. It’s a day
to forget, and so far, alcohol is the only way I’ve found. Just a
little something for the pain, you know?” Danny looked around.
“Who are all these people?

When I do classes like this, it's often the first time writers have seen a professional go through their work with a fine-tooth comb. And so the question arises, "Can you recommend an editor?"

It's always tough to make a recommendation—there are so many variables!—the editor's background/experience, the kind of editing work you need, the editing approach you have in mind, your sensitivity level (yes, it matters!), the personality of the editor, and so on.

But 3 things are critical:

  • Make sure you know what kind of editing help you need: developmental, content, copyediting, or proofreading. The editing I've done above could be part of a developmental edit or an extensive content edit, which are far more expensive than a copyedit or proofread. A developmental edit will give you high-level feedback on how to rewrite and revise (on your own), often with major structural changes or complete redirection. A content edit may be just as thorough, but may not require a lot of new material or restructuring. Copyediting and proofreading looks at your material at a surface level (grammar, syntax, punctuation, typos).

Another option is to take online classes with a professional editor/author that includes a critique component (like our own WritersOnlineWorkshops.comAdvanced Novel Writing Workshop is one of the most popular classes).

Never forget: A professional editor can make a good manuscript great, but they can't work miracles if your story line is weak or not marketable. If you want an editor who can speak to market concerns in your work, select one who has a background in published and commercial authors.

Not everyone has the money to hire a professional editor, but many writers, if they put in the time and effort, can benefit from a critique group. (We have a book coming out this December on working with critique groups.)

Some online critique groups and writing communities worth checking out:

Do you have recommendations for excellent free (or paid) online critique groups—or how to start a local/regional critique group? Please share in the comments!

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