K.M. Weiland

Is a Professional Editor a Waste of Money?

by K.M.Weiland

Writer.ly Notes_Weiland

Should you hire a professional editor? I’m asked that question often, and although my knee-jerk reaction is always a resounding Yes!, it’s a qualified answer. Hiring an editor is a decision that involves many factors, including your level of experience, your intent for your book, and your budget.

3 Reasons Not to Hire a Professional Editor

Let’s be honest. Most of us don’t really want to hire an editor. Above all, they’re bank-breakingly expensive. Plus, we’re often stumped about where to find a good editor. And then there’s the fact that a certain amount of time and agony is always involved, since we’re offering up our precious babies for the specific purpose of being criticized.

Before we go any farther, let’s consider a few reasons you may be justified in not seeking a professional editor.

1. You’re an expert writer.

If you’ve been writing for at least a decade or have written ten or more bestsellers, you may have the experience to continue your career without an editor. Although a writing education is a never-ending journey, there does come a point where we have the game pretty much figured out. But that point isn’t likely to come until after many years of being edited.

2. Your book is a personal project, not intended for a wide market.

If you’re planning to independently publish your book for yourself, your family, or a very small and personal market, you can probably get away without a professional editor. Always weigh the cost of hiring an editor against your projected profits. If you don’t feel a professionally edited project will earn back at least the editing fee, then it would be poor business sense to bother with an editor.

3. You can’t afford one.

This is a tough one. Sometimes, no matter how much we may want or need the services of an editor, we simply can’t afford one. Editors work long hours and deserve every penny they earn, but they’re not cheap. Fees can run into the thousands of dollars, and few starving artists have that kind of money lying around. Although an editor will almost always be a worthwhile investment, if you simply can’t afford one, then your next best option is to spend your time and money advancing your education with writing craft books.

3 Reasons You Should Hire a Professional Editor

With the above exceptions out of the way, let’s take a look at the reasons every author—whether you’re bound for an independent or traditional career—should spend some serious time considering the advantages of an editor.

1. You owe it to yourself.

Hiring an editor is an investment in your future. A good editor won’t just clean up this book, he’ll impact all future books by teaching you to be a better writer. If you want a decent shot at a writing career, you owe it to yourself to hire an editor for at least one of your books. But, remember, even though the education you’ll gain from one edit will be invaluable, every book will have its own problems to solve and its own lessons to teach. I hire an editor for every book I write, and I learn something new every time.

2. You owe it to readers.

Good business sense aside, you owe your readers as polished and professional a reading experience as possible. Your readers are some of the most important people in your life. If readers are going to spend time and money taking a chance on your book, why risk giving them less than your best? Win a reader, and you’ve won him for at least several more books. Lose him, and you’ve lost him forever. Professional editing can make all the difference in that crucial first impression.

3. You owe it to the industry.

Every time a poorly edited book is purchased, an author dies. Okay, so maybe the fallout isn’t quite so dramatic. But it’s close. Particularly with our industry in its current state of gateless revolution, we owe it to our fellow authors to produce only the best. When we publish poorly edited work, we’re not only blackening our own names, but the names of thousands of fellow authors.

What if You Can’t Afford a Professional Editor?

I began publishing independently in 2006—without an editor. But the secret here is that I was fortunate enough to benefit from excellent critique partners. My primary critique partner Linda Yezak went on to be a freelance editor in her own right.

If you decide to forgo professional services, make sure you have the support of beta readers and critique partners who are as knowledgeable, or more so, than you.

And where do you find good critique partners?

Almost all of my critique partners and beta readers are people I’ve met and formed relationships with via online writing venues. Writing forums, fellow writers’ blogs, your own blog, Facebook, and Twitter are all prime places to meet some of the many wonderful and knowledgeable people roaming the online writing community.

No matter your skill level, you will never be 100% objective about your own writing. The experience and objectivity of a professional editor can help you reach the next rung in your writing education—and perhaps even the top of the bestseller list!

K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

17 comments on “Is a Professional Editor a Waste of Money?Add yours →

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    1. Hiring or not hiring a professional editor is a tough choice, especially when you’re at the beginning of your writing career and it hasn’t started to pay. But it’s worth it to hire a good editor when you’re ready to get serious about publishing, IMO.

  1. Hi Katie
    Good post, thanks.
    I think your points about how much you learn from an editor are key to this question. I recently splashed out on a line edit for my second novel and all the little notes have had an immediate impact on my current WIP and on the way I’m editing the third.
    Having that depth of analysis will help you see far more than I think you’re ever likely to spot on your own.

    1. Sometimes, if you can’t afford a full manuscript edit, it’s worthwhile to pay for just an edit of the first chapter. Some of you learn can be applied throughout the book.

  2. It is possible to hire one without totally breaking the bank. One editor offered me a “discounted” price of $1100 because I will be donating the proceeds from my novel to the Harvey Milk Foundation… I live paycheck to paycheck so there was just no way. I found a pro editor for $300 and I also have a grammar nazi friend who is reviewing it as added protection against errors. It was tough to afford even 300, but I care too much about the craft and my characters to skip such an essential part of writing. I don’t think you can have a professional book without a professional edit.

    1. We gotta do what we gotta do, but sometimes personal funds just plain makes the hiring of an editor next to impossible. There are ways to workaround the financial difficulties, however, as you discovered.

  3. Katie–
    I am now a true believer regarding finding/stealing the money to pay for an outside editor. I just got such an editor’s report, and it provides me with an objective, professional take on manuscript of my latest mystery/thriller. The editor has seen things that I didn’t, things that definitely need to be changed. But the editor has also noted things to change that indicate she has misunderstood what I’ve written. This is equally helpful: if someone has misunderstood what I meant, that’s on me, not on the reader.
    I don’t like having to shell out hundreds of dollars to get my manuscript read, but I am now convinced it’s money well spent.

    1. I agree about the value of misunderstandings. It’s possible readers might misread things or just not get them for personal reasons. But we always have to evaluate whether it might not be our fault they didn’t understand what we were getting at in the first place.

  4. I don’t think it is optional, like Barry says. We can find a way to do the things that mean the most to us. Thanks for the advice about getting the support of beta readers. I’m going to focus my efforts that way also.

  5. Excellent article.

    It’s also important to remember that there are different types of editors who offer different types of services. For example, even if you’re a seasoned, expert writer, you’ll still need a proofreader to bring your manuscript to a professional level – everyone is blind to their own mistakes!

    I offer big-picture critiquing to help writers shapes their novels, and copy-editing (line editing) to help writers write clear, correct, consistent prose. Other editors may offer developmental or structural editing. There’s also re-writing for manuscripts that are in particularly bad shape.

    If you’re thinking about hiring an editor, it’s often worth discussing your manuscript with them so they can help you decide exactly the kind of assistance you need.

  6. Thanks for the great article. It was exactly what I needed to see today.
    It was a tough sell to convince my husband to shell out the cash for a developmental editor for my current WiP (back in November). I sent my manuscript sunday night, and I should get a book report back from Jason Black (plottopunctuation.com)in a couple of weeks. I picked Jason because his writing blog was very helpful to me.
    So I sent my baby off to get critized, and I’m pretty much terrified.
    But I really do believe that there are big things that could be better in my story, and I don’t want to stop before it reaches full potential.