Do You Need To Hire An Editor?
Updated: Feb 25
Your friend who’s really good at spotting typos is not an editor.
With the rise and now maturation of the self-publishing market, it’s easier than ever to get your work out there. This has been great for writers because we no longer have to bow down to the gate keepers of publishing. We can publish our work directly to readers, whether it’s through platforms like Medium, Wattpad, Kindle Direct Publishing, Draft2Digital (and various other aggregators) or serial fiction apps, and actually earn money. Sometimes, a living.
But just because you can write a story and put it out into the world doesn’t mean you should without putting in the necessary work. Some readers refuse to read anything self-published, claiming that the quality in story and editing just isn’t there, which is often reflected in their reviews. In short, the author didn’t hire and editor (or hired a poor one), and now their work is suffering for it.
There’s a lot more to editing than just finding typos here and there. Editors are not just out of work English majors and college students working a side-hustle. Editing is a very real profession with its own certifications and standards. But does everyone need to hire an editor?
What even is editing?
Like I said, it’s not just looking for typos and misplaced commas. There are different levels of editing that you need to consider.
Developmental or structural editing
This is your “big picture” edit. It looks at how your story is flowing from one scene to the next. Is your world building convincing? What kind of character arc are you working with, and is it in place? Are there any plot holes?
Line and copy editing
Line editing is sometimes done at the same time at developmental editing. Some editors (like me) do it with copy editing. Line edits look at the sentence structure, word choices and tone of the text. A copy edit makes sure that you have proper grammar and spelling.
There’s a running joke among editors that if a client says, “I just need a quick proofread” a hundred editors groan. Proofreading is often confused with line or copy editing, but it’s actually the very last step of the editing process, right before the document goes to the print. The editor goes through the text with a fine-tooth comb looking for the odd spelling mistakes and missing words, but often is looking for awkward line breaks and making sure the layout flows properly without anything being cut off.
A note about perfection
I’m sorry to have to be the one to say this to you, but nothing is perfect, and your editor will never guarantee 100 percent perfection. If you sent a 200, 000 word manuscript to be copy edited and you still found three typos, you have an excellent editor and should keep them on retainer. Editors are humans, and mistakes slip through all the time even with the aid of AI software. If perfection is your standard, maybe curb your enthusiasm a little.
How do you know you need an editor?
First, consider your work and your skills. Is this the first book you’ve ever written? If so, you might need to go through all stages of editing to really understand what’s working and what isn’t. Second, consider which avenue you plan to publish your work through.
Are you self-publishing?
Yes, you need an editor.
A developmental edit can be incredibly useful, especially if you’re new to writing. Yes, critique partners and beta readers can tell you what they like and don’t like about your story, but if they’re at the same skill level as you they might not know how to fix the slow pacing or why the ending didn’t “land.”
An experienced editor can give you that bird’s eye view of your story from a more objective lens. They are trained in techniques to help fix issues like slow pacing, white room syndrome and inconsistent characterization. I often have several resources that I keep on hand to help steer my clients to the right way to fix their story. I may give suggestions, but it’s never a prescription.
Developmental edits are often the most expensive, so if you don’t have the funds yet at least consider a line or copy edit. Readers can forgive a plot hole or two but clunky sentence structure and a typo in every line is unforgivable.
If you’ve worked in editing, you’re already probably pretty good at knowing what’s wrong and how to fix it. But you also probably know that it’s always a good idea to get another’s eyes on your work because we often don’t see our own mistakes.
Are you aiming for agents and a traditional publishing deal?
You can hire an editor if you want, but it’s not necessary. One of the benefits of traditional publishing is that you don’t have to shell out money for editing, cover design, marketing, etc., like you do in self-publishing (and if a publisher tells you that you do have to pay for it out of pocket, run. They are a vanity press, and they are a scam).
Instead, rely on your critique partners, writer friends or anyone you know and trust to read your manuscript and give you honest feedback. If you land an agent, they’ll go through edits with you before sending you on submission to publishers. If you get a book deal, your editor at the publishing house will go through edits with you again. You’ll be editing your book until you’re blue in the face, so it’s better to keep your money in the bank when it comes to traditional publishing.
If you absolutely don’t have anyone you can rely on to read your work, a developmental edit might be a good idea, but only if you have the money for it. You might think that a copy edit or a proofread would put your best foot forward, but it’s really not necessary. Most agents don’t care about a typo here or there. However, if you know you have terrible grammar, consider taking a course in grammar before hiring an editor, and maybe consider if you’re actually ready to query agents.
Are you a business looking to use content marketing to reach potential clients?
If you have a good content writer on your team, they’re probably pretty good at telling your brand’s story in a cohesive way that’s free of typos, so it’s probably not necessary to hire an outside editor.
However, you might want to make sure that your brand is following Professional Editing Standards and all copy is edited to a style guide, whether it’s AP, CP, CMOS, or an in-house guide, to make sure that your message is consistent and on brand every time.
Beware of editing mills
With the rise in demand of quality content comes the rise of companies promising you editing from professionals with a turnaround time that’s lightning speed. It may be tempting to hire out one of these companies. After all, the editors are already vetted.
But what these companies don’t tell you is that these very professional editors work for peanuts, their pay sometimes equating to less than minimum wage. Often, these editing companies are very exploitative of professionals who’ve worked hard to get certified (and continue to develop professionally) and take advantage of would-be freelancers looking to get their foot in the door. They don’t understand that good quality takes times to produce.
I’m not saying don’t go to one of these companies, but just be aware that the editor on the other end may be getting a raw deal. After all, would you do your job for less than minimum wage?
It can be difficult to know what kind of editing you need, especially when there are so many different kinds. Each project has its own purpose with its own context behind it, which makes it difficult to know what kind of editing you need. But if you know what your goals are and know the different kinds of editing available to you, you can make better choices for your writing career.