Why Hire an Editor?

Let me count the ways I have tried to get the point across that you—yes, YOU—need an editor: I’ve said so in my book, I’ve made a video, I’ve told you why I desperately needed one… I’ve tried it every which way I can. It does seem like the message is sinking in somewhat, but I still meet self-publishers who think they’ll manage fine by themselves and send their book out into the world without it ever passing by the eyes of a professional editor. Which would be fine, if it wasn’t for the price-tag they’ve put on it. So today, my latest attempt is a guest post from Robert Doran, editorial director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services, on why you should hire an editor. Read right through to the end for some vague hinting at something that’s, potentially, mildly exciting (at best) that starts here on this blog tomorrow. (Oooh, the mystery!)

Take it away, Robert… 

‘Here we go,’ I hear you say, ‘an editor telling us why we can’t do without editors.’ I would say that, wouldn’t I? Well, yes, I would. But I’m not only advocating for the editor here. Your readers deserve to get what they pay for, and your book deserves to be given a chance to compete successfully when you send it out to represent you in a crowded market. Hiring an editor to copy-edit your work is the bare minimum you can do to allow that to happen. But time and again authors decide to skip this step and to publish an unedited manuscript, hoping for the best. Let’s look at why.


Lots of professionally edited books don’t sell. You’re right: having your book edited won’t guarantee you sales. There are thousands of professionally edited books published every year by traditional publishers that sell just a few hundred copies. A quick browse through any bookstore bargain basement will expose the truth that a book can be edited to within an inch of its life and still bomb. But that doesn’t change the fact that readers expect books to be edited in the same way that they expect cars to have wheels and beef burgers to have beef in them. It’s a basic requirement, not a selling point.

It’s not that readers spend much time thinking about the editorial process. They don’t, and that’s as it should be. The editing should be invisible, imperceptible. It’s only when it’s absent or shoddy that it becomes noticeable. And when readers notice it, they like to shout about it – just have a quick browse through a few of the gleeful ‘it was riddled with mistakes’ reviews that litter Amazon. When you open a book you have paid for and begin reading, you expect certain standards to be upheld, just as when you bite into a beef burger, you expect, well, beef. That’s what readers are used to, and they feel cheated when it clearly hasn’t been done.

But it’s expensive. Yes it is. You can reduce the amount of time an editor spends on your manuscript by sorting out as many issues as possible before you hire someone. This will help to keep the cost down. But editors are never going to be cheap, nor should they be. They offer a professional and often highly specialised service. Most editors have spent years studying and honing their skills, and they charge a fair fee based on their experience and expertise. When you get your marked-up manuscript back you’ll understand how much time, effort, and skill went into editing your work.

If you’re going to self-publish, you must, to some extent at least, act like a publisher. This means building the cost of editing, along with the other production costs, into the price of your book. Do you want a horse burger for 10¢ or a beef burger for €1? People do understand that higher standards cost more. Your book doesn’t have to be cheap, but it does have to represent value, and quality adds value to any product.

My friend read it, and she reads a lot. Great. Get as many friends as possible to read your book. Get your GP and your parish priest and Mary next door to read it. Every bit of feedback helps, and you should welcome it all and consider any suggestions your readers make. In particular, I think it’s worth joining a creative-writing group and having your work critiqued by your peers. But beware the nature of these relationships. People generally don’t want to criticise their friend’s work – they’d rather not offend. An editor will always take your feelings into consideration, but you are paying them to help you with your book and that will be the focus of your relationship. Even if your ego gets slightly bruised, your book will benefit, as will your readers.

Also, no matter how well versed your friends are in the rules of grammar, no matter how familiar they are with the vagaries of the English language, only an editor is likely to know and care enough about dangling modifiers, redundancies, hyphenation of compound adjectives, repetition, consistency of punctuation, presentation of numerals, elision, etc., to point them out and suggest appropriate corrections or amendments.

I can edit my own work. Certainly many authors can do a lot of structural editing without the help of an editor, and we’ll talk more about this in the next post. Structural editing can be fun, creative, and rewarding for the author; copy-editing, on the other hand, is essentially a technical task, more suited to those of us of a geekier persuasion. It is nigh on impossible to copy-edit your own work. You’re too close to it to pick up the tiny errors and the stuff that you don’t even know you don’t know. As an editor I have spent a lot of time studying obscure rules, semi-rules, and conventions-that-should-be-followed-unless-you-think-it’s-okay-to-break-them, yet I would never copy-edit my own work; I don’t know an editor in Christendom who would.

I want it to be all my own work. Naturally you want your work to sound like you wrote it. An editor is always conscious of the fact that it is your name that will be on the cover and that it is your work they are editing. They will intervene only as much as you ask them to. The editor’s aim is never to remove the author’s voice but to enhance it and allow it to shine by introducing structure and consistency, and by applying rules. It is when you get these things right that they become invisible to the reader, your message is amplified, and the quality of your writing is appreciated. Good times!

I always find mistakes in edited books. And you always will. Editors are not perfect, neither are proofreaders. The job they do is difficult, and, unfortunately, things will always slip through unless the manuscript is exceptionally clean in the first instance. It’s always worth noting the number of errors that were caught before going crazy over the couple that weren’t. And remember that a copy-editor’s job is much broader than catching typos – but more about that in a couple of weeks.

I’ll just download an editing program and use that. Go on, I dare you! These programs are so rubbish they make me want to cry. They might pick up a few typos but they consistently make odd suggestions on usage and, in my opinion, they serve only to confuse and delay.

Hiring an editor may or may not pay financial dividends: you will never know about the books you might not have sold or the bad reviews you didn’t receive. But the bottom line is that an editor will make your book better, no matter what point you’re starting from. Before you hire one, talk to a few and see who you’re most comfortable with. Ask them to prepare a short sample to give you an idea of what they can do for your manuscript and discuss the level of edit you feel would be appropriate. Ultimately, the author–editor relationship can be very rewarding for you, for the editor, and for your work.

Robert Doran is Editorial Director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services (www.kazoopublishing.com), a one-stop shop for indie authors who want to publish industry-standard books. He has nearly twenty years’ experience in bringing books to market and has worked as an editor, project manager, sales manager, and bookseller in Ireland and in the UK. He is a big fan of the Oxford comma. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEdits.

The mysterious bit: tomorrow is the three-year anniversary of a very exciting day in my self-publishing adventures, and to mark the occasion I will be (a) showcasing something new and lovely, (b) writing a new post every day for a week and (c) giving YOU the chance the win stuff. Be back here tomorrow with a coffee in hand for the start of… superfluous drumroll please… MOUSETRAPPED MADNESS! 

71 thoughts on “Why Hire an Editor?

  1. claudenougat says:

    Love this post, Catherine, thanks for sharing and letting us know about Robert Doran! I’m TOTALLY CONVINCED one needs an editor and I’m equally convinced that as a self-published author it’s damn difficult to find a good one!

    There’s an institutional reason for this: publishing houses have editors and they have to be good to stay on and make a career of it. In other words, the institutional setting (read: the publisher who’s the boss) means that the quality of the editing is under control (read: the boss watches how well you do and whether the books you edited are selling smoothly or getting flack from irate readers).

    For indies the institutional situation is completely different. Indies have to shop around for editors, pay for their services but there’s no way they can control the quality of the editing. They can’t find the editor: he doesn’t care, once he’s done with you, he walks away.

    The way out? Use editors recommended by fellow writers whose work you respect. Yes, Catherine, that’s where you come in!

      • catherineryanhoward says:

        It’s just the law of the universe that we all put typos in our comments on a post about editing… I’ve put them in *posts* about editing. But that’s okay, but these aren’t our books…! ;-D

    • rondaswolley says:

      There is a flip side to this one.
      I am a copy editor and do most of my work for an established company as a sub-contractor editing college textbooks. This means I don’t have a lot of contacts in the world of fiction other than authors I have done beta reading for in the past.
      I don’t work in-house (for a publishing company) and don’t want to. I like working from home.
      Trying to build a new clientele list in a totally different area of writing has been interesting. Every time I agree to edit a book for an indie author, I am going out on a limb. I am very good at what I do, so I decided that I would do my job first and get paid upon completion. I then decided that if an author doesn’t pay me, or delays payment beyond a reasonable limit after receiving the manuscript back – I won’t work for them again.

      Since I have been mostly editing books that are already electronically published (having been self-published without the benefit of a copy editor), or are part of a series, I have had only one author fail to pay me. And that one tried to contact me to work for her under another name, sending me the next book in the series!

      But that one book represented approximately ninety hours of my time spent on something I didn’t get paid for. I love to read, but I could have been working on someone else’s manuscript. So sad, really…

      • Melissa Breau (@MelissaBreau) says:

        Hey Rhonda,
        As a fellow editor, here’s what I do, which I think is fair to everyone.
        I ask for 1/3 of the estimated fee up front with the rest due upon completion. For a book, 1/3 is typically enough that I know the author is serious about hiring me and will follow through with payment. And yet it’s not so much that the writer feels I’m going to make off with their money and never deliver the edited MS.

    • Susoyev says:

      IF ONLY institutional publishers maintained editorial staffs devoted to fact-checking, precise and clear language, narrative consistency, and all those other factors that readers care about. Even large publishing houses ignore most of this, and use their editors for marketing tasks. One of my favorite nonfiction books, “Opening Skinner’s Box,” from W.W. Norton in 2004, contains different spellings of a well-known psychologist’s name in different sections. A friend’s recent novel from Counterpoint Press contains “principle” where the author intended “principal””–twice! The author cannot count on a publisher to prevent these embarrassments.

  2. Writer / Mummy says:

    I always feel slightly sick when I read these posts because I KNOW I need an editor and a proof-reader for my ebook. But I just genuinely cannot afford it. It’s a lovely idea to build the cost into future sales of the book, but if it doesn’t sell and you’ve run up a couple of grand of debt, that’s a difficult position. It’s why I’m still pursuing the traditional route as well as dipping my toe in the self-publishing pool. It makes me ache inside to think of anyone thinking my book is amateurish and full of mistakes (it hasn’t even had the benefit of a critique group. I know, I know, don’t tell me!). But I don’t see a way out of the catch-22. Unless I get an agent and/or publisher that believes enough in my writing to assist in the editing process for free or my book sells really well without being professionally edited (or I win the lottery) I think I’ll be stuck in the cycle forever. Right now I’m trying to justify spending £50 on a decent photograph for my front cover! The best I can do is read every book / blog / article like this that I can and hope my bad reviews aren’t too awful!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I’m sorry to be harsh but if you can’t afford an editor, you can’t afford to self-publish. It’s as simple as that. The example I use when I speak to self-publishers is what would you do if you were opening a restaurant? If you couldn’t afford tables and chairs and crockery and cookers and the rent, would you still do it? Of course not. There is no difference between that and self-publishing a book—both are start-up businesses. The book is a product. Again, sorry to be harsh but if you aren’t prepared to invest money in your book, how can you expect someone else to pay for it? (And I know you may be perfectly prepared to do it and just not have the funds, but it’s the same thing to the eventual reader.) I would urge you not to do it until you can afford to. You can’t take it back afterwards and if you really want a writing career, publishing an unedited book could do more harm than good.

      • Writer / Mummy says:

        Thank you for the advice! That’s why I follow your amazing blog. You are right, I wouldn’t open a restaurant without chairs and tables, but I might go and work in one to learn the ropes and be able to prove to a bank manager that I was worth the investment of a loan. I have thought about the risks of ruining a reputation I don’t even have yet (and I even thought about writing under a different name just in case!). I guess I’m taking a gamble instead and trying really really hard not to give self-publishing a bad name in the process. 🙂

      • David Michael Williams says:

        Alas, in this DIY world, people seem to think that just because they can do something on their own, they should. And that’s fine if you’re the only one going to sit in the chair you cobbled together with driftwood or drink from the mug you shaped out of clay. But what about the reader you expect to purchase and (hopefully) enjoy your book?

        Thanks for posting this article. Hopefully, over time, DIY authors will realize that they owe it to themselves and their one-day readers to put only their best work out in to the world.

    • rinellegrey says:

      While most of the big companies charge in the range of thousands of dollars, there are a lot of other ways of finding an editor. Many English majors offer cheaper editing. Many other people do. It’s worth looking around in forums where writers hang out, and seeing what you can find. While an editor that costs only a few hundred dollars might not polish your manuscript to quite the same degree, they can still make a huge difference to the finished product.

      • Writer / Mummy says:

        Thank you, that’s really helpful advice. We live near Cambridge and have ex-students among our circle of friends so I’ll ask around and see if there’s someone willing to earn some extra beer money! 🙂

      • Writer / Mummy says:

        Actually, you’ve reminded me that one of my mummy friends did linguistics at university, I wonder if that qualifies her to be an editor? She’s a Costa addict so a few hundred quid would make her year!

  3. rinellegrey says:

    I don’t regret for a second the money I spent on editing. Friends and family just don’t pick up the same structural story problems, and notice less of the grammar issues. Editors are worth every cent.

  4. Jean Fullerton says:

    I could not agree more. I’m published by a traditional publisher but have a number of novels which wouldn’t fit with my current genre so I’m considering self-publishing them. Having worked with terrific editor for the past six years and see the way they help me polish my book to the absolute best it could be I wouldn’t dream of putting my name on a book that hadn’t gone through the same rigorous process. And yes it cost but then if your serious about giving your readers the best possible reading experience I don’t see how you can’t send you work for professional editing.

  5. Musings on the writing life says:

    I read the “if you can’t afford an editor, you can’t afford to self-publish” in your book Self-printed Catherine, and at first I was annoyed, but after 2 seconds I realised how right you are.
    I guess this is where patience comes into the picture. Instead of releasing the book we have worked hard on right here, right now, why not save money for an editor and release a much finer product later on?
    I used to be very impatient, but posts like these reassure me it’s better to wait until the money is there to hire a copy-editor.

  6. Chontate Brown says:

    Thanks for the great advise. I just hired an editor for my book and no it was not cheap, but it is good to have one because when I tell you that my edited version had many needed corrections. I never saw much red in my life! LOL I can tell you it is well worth it.

  7. jjtoner says:

    I agree with all these points. I’m madly fanatical on the subject, and everything I’ve published so far has been extensively edited. BUT I was disappointed to see that Robert’s emphasis was on copy-editing which I take to mean grammar, spelling, missing words, poor use of commas etc. For me, having read about 100 indie eBooks now, these factors are secondary. The primary reason most fiction authors (indie and otherwise) need an editor is to help get the structure of the PLOT sorted out. (imo).

    • Ron Edison says:

      I agree. For me, copyediting is easy, it’s structure that concerns me. My brain is hard-wired to the story flow as I’ve written it and it’s difficult to step outside that knowledge and pretend I’m being objective. And restructuring a story is a LOT more work than fixing typos.

    • Averill Buchanan says:

      JJ, you’re spot on in your diagnosis of authors’ need for editors. I work as a freelance development/structural editor AND copy-editor. The biggest problems I encounter when I read the work of an author who has never worked with an editor before are ones to do with plot and structure – indeed, problems to do with the entire premise of the novel. There’s no point in correcting the spelling and grammar in a badly plotted novel – it’s just papering over the cracks.

      • catherineryanhoward says:

        I totally agree, but when you’re faced with a self-publisher who is utterly reluctant to spend any money at all, I think a copyedit is better than nothing. Hopefully one day we’ll live in a world where everyone realises how important it is to give self-published books the same treatment traditional published books get (the good ones, anyway!) but for now, baby steps. 😀

          • Robert says:

            I agree that structural editing is hugely important. In the ideal world every book would go through a structural edit, a copy-edit and a proofread. That’s the industry standard and the closer you can get to replicating it, the stronger your book will be. I spend a lot of my time doing structural edits and there’s no doubt that they have the greatest bearing on quality of content. However, I don’t believe they make a book ready for publication. Because a structural edit involves rewrites and (often substantial) reorganisation of the text, you are frequently left with more errors and issues after the edit. And I don’t think that’s a secondary issue at all. The absolute minimum an author must offer their paying customers is clear, correct and consistent information, and if you’re working to a budget, I feel this should be your priority.

  8. Sally Clements says:

    just a comment in here for writer/mummy, covers are very important too, but if cash is a problem you should check out premade covers. Many very good designers offer these, and searching through sites might help you find the perfect cover for your book at a very reasonable price. Check out http://www.goonwrite.com/ to start with…

    • Writer / Mummy says:

      Thanks Sally. I’m (hopefully) a little happier with my cover being DIY than my editing as I come from a photography/art background. I’m not saying some more cash wouldn’t buy a much better cover but I did invest in a gorgeous studio shot stock image and photo-shopped it into my own cover. Thanks for the link though, as I write a monthly novel on my blog and I’m always looking for cheap covers for the free ebook versions! 🙂
      I love the writing community they are a mine of information….

  9. Carla Pais says:

    Sem duvida alguma que, editar sem editor profissional é possível mas arriscado senão catastrófico… Se existem editores profissionais no mercado é porque são necessários a cada fim de obra num trabalho minucioso de pré-edição.

  10. Delana says:

    It is so true that it is difficult to see your own mistakes when you are the one writing the story (fiction or non-fiction). I have always been good at finding grammatical errors in other people’s work, as well as offering suggestions for improvement. When my editor sent back my book “Nine Year Pregnancy” with the initial comments/suggestions/things to change, it surprised me at first. I am so thankful for the time she spent pouring over my manuscript, examining it piece by piece. Invaluable! I must add that prior to sending it to the editor, I had many friends, colleagues, and other readers offer their feedback. After making changes from their collective great advice, it still needed the polish an editor brings to the table.

  11. Books & Art - Spirit & Soul - Lesley Fletcher says:

    I think there is no doubt that for a novel, using a professional editor is the best course. For books that fall into other categories a copy editor, who charges less is a great alternative. This is especially true for technical, cooking, poetry, art / illustration based books. The more eyes on the better.

    • Elizabeth M. says:

      A copy editor is a (type of) professional editor. I imagine you mean a novelist should seek developmental as well as copy editing.

      • Books & Art - Spirit & Soul - Lesley Fletcher says:

        As I understand it a copy editor is not involved with changing the text so much as verifying the flow as to tenses and factual errors as well as spelling and grammar.
        “The “five Cs” summarize the copy editor’s job, which is to make the copy “clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.” ”
        And an editor to my understanding, yes, will suggest and help to hone the skills of the writer and for this, charge more. Sometimes editors will almost re-write depending on their mandate.

        • Jamie Clarke Chavez says:

          I think perhaps those 5 C’s refer to copyediting nonfiction. I worked for a publisher for 11 years and am now a freelance editor (both developmental and copyediting) since 2004. Fiction is my specialty. A manuscript should first go thru a dev edit; the editor suggests changes (plot, structure, characterization, pacing, etc etc etc) and the author does a rewrite. THEN it goes to a copyeditor, who helps words and sentences be more beautiful, corrects all grammar, spelling, punctuation, and etc. The dev editor doesn’t change text but a copyeditor does. Regardless, it must be approved by the author. And generally those two functions are paid about the same.

            • Jamie Clarke Chavez says:

              Ah, I’ve learned to lay out the terms early, to avoid confusion (disappointment?) later. (That is, it’s happened to me.) 🙂 Price varies around the country (and the world) but it isn’t inexpensive. Barter is definitely a plus when you can work it out!

              • Books & Art - Spirit & Soul - Lesley Fletcher says:

                Again we agree – psssst I have some art if you are interested for my next project 😀
                I do know some who will edit the first 1000 words for no cost. I am a big one for trials but I have to say that with your credentials as you have laid them out here, I don’t think you need to offer a trial.

                • Jamie Clarke Chavez says:

                  Funny, we’ve just been having a spirited conversation about that very thing on my Facebook page (because yesterday someone I don’t know contact me and requested a free sample: “Just start on page 1 — do as much as you want!”). The fact is, the only thing I have to sell is my time and what’s in my head. All of my free advice is on my blog, and I have collected a list of those posts on my website. My blog IS my free sample; my editing philosophy is there, and so is my editorial voice. (Thanks for your kind words.) 🙂

  12. unpackedwriter says:

    Reblogged this on unpackedwriter and commented:
    As I work toward finishing my memoir, which by some accounts is a coming of age in the Alaskan wilderness story, and by others (thank you Dennis) is my journey to becoming a writer, I found this blog article timely. I hope you do too. – Renee

  13. wordsfromanneli says:

    I was so glad to read this post! As a freelance copy-editor I am constantly having to explain to would-be authors why it’s essential to hire an editor. Even an editor who would be an author needs an editor. Thanks to Renee for reblogging this wonderful post.

  14. Louise Harnby says:

    Super article, Robert. As someone who’s just self-published a non-fiction book but who’s also a professional proofreader, I completely endorse this. I think it is beyond the capabilities of most people to edit or proofread their own work to a professional standard – they’re simply too close to the content. I was amazed what the professional I hired picked up – she was worth every single penny. Was it cheap? No. Did I ask for mates’ rates? No. I’ve written a business guide and I’m doing my best to publish in a business-like manner.

  15. C. M. Ruffin says:

    This was truly amazing. I’m walking through the self-publishing process for the first time and welcome all the advice I can get. I just decided on my editor today and am now prepping for the much-needed truth, no matter how harsh it may be. Thanks a bunch:)

  16. mandilynnwrites says:

    People are going to find something wrong with your book regardless so why give them something to complain about. I think at best I would be extremely embarrassed if there were mistakes in my book. When you’re self-publishing it’s almost like you’re making a point you can do this yourself and not hiring an editor isn’t proving any of that.

  17. P. C. Zick says:

    Thank you for this post. It needs to be repeated many times. As an Indie Writer, I want every Indie book out there to be the best it possibly can be, so the books of Indie Writers receive attention and respect.

  18. Shakti Ghosal says:

    I suppose it it is all about the attachment that the author holds towards what he / she has creatively conceived. And it is all about the detachment that a professional editor brings to the table as he goes about reviewing and editing the manuscript.

    I would say that a balanced perspective between the above two aspects would lead to optimal results.


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