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When Should You Hire an Editor? 3 Professional Editors Weigh In

Want to write the best possible book? You need an editor. They are critical for making your writing “tight” and immersive. But before you do, you need to understand when to hire an editor.

Want to write the best possible book? You need an editor.

Editors are critical for making your writing “tight” and immersive.

(Immersive idea generation.)

But before you hire one, you must know the answers to these questions:

  1. When should I hire an editor?
  2. Why am I hiring them?
  3. How do I find the right editor?

I can’t answer these questions. So I found three professional editors who could. Here’s what they said:

When to Hire an Editor

“For novelists, an editor should be hired when the author believes the manuscript is as good as it can possibly be,” says J. Thorn, founder of the Author Copilot. “Editors should not be a substitute for the planning, writing and hard work that goes into writing. Handing the cleanest manuscript possible to an editor will keep her focused on the big ideas rather than having to make corrections on mistakes that could have and should have already been fixed.”

So how do you clean up a manuscript…

… before hiring an editor?

Ellen Brock, a professional novel editor, says, “It’s a great idea to have at least two or three other people (preferably not friends or family) read your manuscript in its entirety before hiring an editor. This will help you address any obvious problems so your editor can focus on more advanced problems.”

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When is it too early to hire an editor?

Ellen strongly suggests that you“exhaust all free resources (like beta readers and writing groups) before hiring an editor.” This will reduce costs while you are trying to polish your book.

But if you want help in the early stages, she says some editors can help you there too:

“Some editors, myself included, offer outline review services and mentoring services to help steer the writer in the right direction before they even create the first draft.”

Thorn wants you to think about why you’re hiring an editor before your manuscript is finished:

“Editors typically help writers who have an outline, proposal, or draft. It doesn’t mean you can’t hire an editor in your work’s developmental stages, but seeking feedback that early in the process means you’re probably looking for a co-author or collaborator instead of an editor.”

Why are you hiring an editor?

There are three broad areas of editing:

  • Line editing focuses on the flow and feeling of your language.
  • Proofreading seeks to fix only grammar, spelling and factual errors.
  • For fiction writers, a developmental or structural edit will focus on the plot, the characters and the story as a whole.

Generally speaking, an editor will specialize in one of these three fields.

So, you need to figure out what kind of editing will give your manuscript the most powerful impact.

Ellen Brock warns that you should PAY ATTENTION to what services your editor offers:

“Make sure to carefully review what is and is not included in the services you purchase from an agent so that you know what you’re paying for. Many writers initially believe that editors will make major changes to their novel for them, but this is rarely the case.

“Developmental editors will give you a letter or report that discusses potential issues in your novel and possible solutions. It will be up to you to dig in and do the nitty-gritty work.”

Tip for new writers: you will get the most from an editor who combines both line and developmental edits. This way, you’ll get a strong structural look at your manuscript…

...and your editor will explain what works (and what doesn’t) in your book.

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What does the editing process look like?

Thorn stresses that each editor will have their own process.

“Paying for an edit on your work means you’ll receive an editorial letter and/or commented manuscript. Some editors do this work in a single, intensive pass while others make multiple passes but only focus on one aspect of the work at a time.

“Once an editor has completed the work, her obligation to you has been met. Most editors will gladly look at specific scene, section, or chapter revisions, but they will not edit the entire work a second time. Many writers, including the biggest publishers in the industry, optimize the revision process by using a team of editors because one will almost always identify issues another may miss.”

He adds that it’s important to remember that “editors are human.” The more eyes on your story, the more mistakes you can catch.

How do you find the right editor for your book?

“Maybe you’ve gotten yourself as far as you can on your own,” says Amy Bennet, a professional freelance editor.

“You want to move full steam, but maybe you’re not sure what direction to go in to get your work published. I’ve worked professionally in the publishing industry for close to two decades, and I’ve found that most writers will show their work to someone whose taste they trust before they move forward to publish it.”

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So how do you actually choose an editor?

According to Amy, there’s an easy answer:

Trust your gut. Great editors won’t over-promise what they can do for you. Only hire someone whose credentials you trust, and whose style you like.”

Thorn offers this as a strategy:

“Start by reading and researching your favorite works in the genre or style you want to publish. Once you discover who edited those books, contact that person. The editor may or may not be taking new clients, but she might be able to refer you to another editor who is accepting jobs.”

But watch out, Ellen says. There are warning signs that certain editors might not be worth it…

  1. Are they “immediately available?”
  2. Are their prices “too good to be true?”

“Most professional editors schedule clients months in advance so an editor available immediately can be a red flag. As with most things, you get what you pay for. An editor with suspiciously low prices is probably too good to be true.”

One Last Tip to Get the Editor You Want

Ellen said this is one of the most common mistakes editors see writers make:

“I wish more clients would get in contact several months before they need editing services. Editors often book several months in advance so when clients ask for immediate editing services, it’s rare that experienced editors will be available.”

So start researching before you get to the end of your writing process, otherwise you’ll delay your book a few months.

A massive “Thank you!” to these three editing experts:

Ellen Brock is an editor, writing coach and plot consultant. You’ve probably seen her YouTube channel if you’ve ever had an editing question. Right now, she’s most excited about her upcoming Novel Boot Camp—which is a free workshop and writing course for aspiring writers. Starts on July 30th, 2018!

J. Thorn is a co-host of several writing podcasts, and co-host of several writing summits and retreats, and is a certified Story Grid editor. Find him at The Author Copilot. He has mentored over 10,000 students and published more than two million words.

Amy Bennet has worked for Locus Magazine and Clarion Workshop, and has a long career working in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror genres. Find her at Book Editing Associates, a group of seasoned and vetted professional editors. I’ve worked with her before, and she is fantastic for developmental edits (we’ll get to that in a moment).

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