DO I NEED AN EDITOR? Good question. Short answer? It depends. Are you self-publishing or looking for an agent? How much help does your manuscript need? (There are many levels of editing-each with different costs)
Before you even think about hiring an editor, do what you can to polish it on your own. Here are some basic steps most authors follow:
- Polish your manuscript to the best of your ability. Check for SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar) errors, doesn’t drag anywhere, has great characters and dialogue, and enough description to help people get into the story, but so much they get lost in it, etc. Do your best.
- Hand your baby over to your Beta Readers. 3-5 is all you need. Betas are carefully selected readers who are familiar with your genre and can communicate honestly with you. Don’t ask them to line edit – just give you big-picture feedback. What did they love? Where does the story drag or get confusing? How was the dialogue?)
- Once you compile the feedback from your Beta Readers, look for patterns. Be confident enough to use their feedback to improve your writing, but don’t try to please everyone. It’s your book.
- Let is Sit. For me, a month or two works – long enough that when you get back to it, it’s with fresh eyes.
- Read it all the way through – ALOUD. You’ll pick up on awkward spots you didn’t see before, redundancies, POV issues, dialogue flow. You’ll even laugh at the funny bits (damn, I’m good!) Very valuable part of the polishing process.
Here’s where you have to make a decision. Do I need a professional editor?
If you’re going to self-publish, the answer is a big, resounding YES! End of story. Don’t throw more junk into the Amazon pile. There’s enough there already. Besides, no one can edit their own work well. And take the advice of someone who has cut corners in the past. Don’t. Don’t hire your cousin, a grad student, or someone who says they’ll professionally edit your 85,000-word novel for $200. You’ve spent a year or more of your life writing this. Make sure it’s in good shape before you offer it up to the public.
Anyone can call themselves an editor, so if you decide to hire one, check references and experience. A good editor will not accept just any writer’s work – they’re picky. If they like the sample chapter you send them, they will do a sample edit of one chapter. Then, if you’re both happy, you’ll draw up a contract with deadlines and limits to how many back and forths you get.
If you’re going to query agents in hopes of going the traditional, publishing route, it’s a tougher decision. It may come down to budget. Substantive and Copy Editors average around $1,500 for a 70,000 word novel. If you don’t have the money, you’ll just have to send it off and hope for the best. But the competition’s steep. It doesn’t hurt to have the best, most polished version of your work for an agent to shop around.
That said, many agents say that if your work is in pretty good shape, you can skip this step. A large, traditional publisher will have editors that will probably want you to make changes to match their style and audience anyway. Others say it’s a good idea in this competitive market. It’s like dating. Put your best foot forward.
Here’s what Sara Megibow, of the Nelson Literary Agency, had to say:
Great question! The short answer is – whether or not a writer hires an editor, I do think a manuscript should be 100% complete and ready before querying. Some writers don’t need an editor in order to get their manuscript to submissions level. Other writers need or want that editor before submitting. Either way – it’s up to you. When I review query letters and sample pages for potential representation, I don’t take into consideration whether or not it has been professionally edited. For me, the manuscript is either something I love and think I can sell or it’s not – regardless of how it got to that state. Saying “it’s been professionally edited” in the query letter doesn’t add bonus points to the submission and not having it professionally edited doesn’t add a red flag.
In general, too many submissions come through our slush pile that aren’t ready. In my opinion, an editor could have helped many of these books get to the next level. However, I acknowledge that hiring that person is expensive. If you are going to get an editor, don’t skimp – hire someone with credentials and client referrals in the genre of work that you are writing. If hiring an editor is not a financial option, here are some other suggestions:
Suggestion #1 = Read 3-5 books in your genre, published in the past 2-3 years, preferably by debut authors and published by major publishing houses.
Suggestion #2 = Once your book is done, set it aside for 2-4 weeks and then re-read with fresh eyes before submitting.
Suggestion #3 = Attend a writing conference – especially one run by RWA or SCBWI.