To pay or not to pay… an editor

When you set out to write a book you start off just writing. Then, once your first draft is finished, the editing process takes over. The thing is, the editing happens regardless of which publishing route you take. Whether you want to publish traditionally (i.e. be published) or self-publish, you will need to do extensive editing on your manuscript before it is ready to go.

So, the question is: should you or shouldn’t you pay a professional editor/proofreader to look over your manuscript? I say you shouldn’t. You can find everything you need to know about grammar and spelling on the internet (if not in school, which is the ideal situation but let’s face it, doesn’t really happen anymore). You can also find there everything you need to know about story structure, character development, flow, sub-plots, devices, cliches, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. There are courses and books on craft. As a last resort you could even read a gazillion other books that have been published and see what works for you and how the author did it. Yes, I know, radical concept, huh?

But my friend Peter Koevari makes the very good point that as authors, we will never be able to get the necessary emotional distance from our manuscripts in order to see what is good and what needs to go. Our ‘little darlings’ are famous in general for being impossible to spot and even more impossible to cut. No one wants to hurt their baby. The idea is that it makes sense to pay a professional proofreader/editor to look over our manuscript with a dispassionate eye and make sure everything flows, there are no plot holes, characters are developed, etc. They can also pick up the ever-present typos and grammatical mistakes which seem to slip past no matter what.

But does it really make sense to pay someone else to do this? Personally, I don’t think so. I think that if we want to be published it is up to us to write our novel, put it aside and then forget that we wrote it. Someone famous said this and I really can’t remember who. This way when we pick it up again, we can see the plot holes, the little darlings that need quietly dismembering or simply beheading altogether. We can see where we flipflopped from past tense to present, where we jumped POVs just because it was handy at the time and a hundred and one other things that make us cringe. No doubt they make agents and editors cringe as well but I would rather be first in line. That way I can get rid of at least some of them before anyone else sees them.

I think if you want to be published you need to take responsibility for making your manuscript publishable. At the end of the day, you should be able to do everything a proofreader does and you should do it. Quite apart from that, if you do it, it’s free.

What do you think?

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About Mhairi Simpson

Writer, dreamer. Magic, dragons, pink mice, cake. Come say hi!
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29 Responses to To pay or not to pay… an editor

  1. alberta ross says:

    I for one would like to think this is so – to a certain extent I follow those lines on working out what ought to go – I can’t myself spot the typos and puctuation / grammar slips as I have dyspraxia but I have a very good friend (who has been so for over 50 years)who is a grammar/spelling/punctuation nerd who goes through my writing (if I give it to her!) with fine tooth comb and who has such an orderly mind can spot the echo words /overused and the change of POV and names that creep in – She does this for FREE – wow am I lucky in my friends – I could not do this without her as there is no money to pay anyone

    It’s like using the spell check – one must take responsibilty oneself for mistakes and not rely on the checker – so at the end of the day when she hands back the manuscript I still have to decide what goes, what stays, and all the other niggles. As you say it’s our baby not someone else’s we have to decide whats best for the story – not necessarily whats best for the book sellers.

  2. I write a pretty clean draft, but even after I’ve gone over something carefully, I can always find something to change right after I send it out. 😉 If I do self-publish, I want a second pair of eyes to go over my MS first.

  3. Scott Roche says:

    As an author that’s about to self publish a novel (and has already self published several short stories) I can say that at the moment I can’t afford to pay a pro or even a semi-pro to edit my work. And even if I could afford the initial outlay I don’t think I’d be able to recoup the expense in sales. So, I do the best I can with good beta readers and tool like this – http://editminion.com/.

  4. Michael says:

    I paid for an editor and it has been an extremely good decision. It cost me about $350 so I thought the services were very affordable. She sends me a chapter on the rate of about one to two a month so it’s going to take a year to get it all edited but that’s fine. It’s not like I’m in a hurry or anything. In the meantime, I can blog etc. She’s about half done and she has been awesome, catching all kinds of mistakes including foreign language ones. It makes me feel really good about my manuscript. I look at it this way, “I’m worth spending money on.” So, given this logic, I feel that my manuscript is just an extension of me. It’s worth spending money on.

    • Fair enough. You have a good point 🙂

    • Scott Roche says:

      Just to play devils’ advocate here, you’re spending $350. Assuming you price this novel at the current hot rate of $2.99 and you sell say 1000 copies (probably generous unless you have a significant online following already), you’ll make about $2/copy at Amazon. That’s a little more than two grand, of which you’ve spent $350. That’s about 17.5%. That’s not counting cover art (I’m assuming you’ve paid for that?) and any other expenses.

      That’s a significant chunk of change. If you charge less than that to garner some eyes on your work (say the equally hot price point of $.99) at $.30 a copy you’d have to sell 1200 copies to break even. I know I’m not counting print copies, but the sales and profit margins of a self pub paperback aren’t much better.

  5. Susan Colvin says:

    I also cannot see my own mistakes. It’s a curse. However, I always manage to find at least one mistake in every (that is EVERY) book I read, best-sellers included. Why can’t I see my own transgressions? Who knows.

    I set out to self-publish so I paid two different editors to work on my manuscript. One’s expertise was children’s books and the other adult fiction.

    I couldn’t trust myself to catch the errors.

  6. Kelli says:

    Great post! This is a debatable topic. I cannot afford editorial services myself so I am going to go with beta readers and such. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is an English teacher, and I have a mentor who is helping with content.

    I want my novel to be as good as I possibly can get it, but even traditional publishers and their editors make mistakes. As mentioned above, I have found several errors in the works of bestselling authors. No one is perfect. I do, however, think that if you can’t afford or don’t want to pay for an editor, you should definitely get others to look over your work. Two pairs of eyes are better than one. As authors, our minds are programmed to what we write. It’s impossible to find all of our mistakes. Thanks for sharing.

    • It’s amazing how the eye misses where you put ‘the’ twice or not at all. Having a number of readers to check for things like that, perceived plot holes, etc, is definitely a good idea. If you could afford editorial services, is it an option that you would take up?

      • Kelli says:

        At this point in time, I don’t know. Maybe to check on my grammar and punctuation only, but as mentioned, even they make mistakes.

        There are different types of editors, ones for grammar/punctuation, line edits, content edits, etc. One of the reasons I’m going indie is because I don’t want someone telling me what should or should not be in my book. I think as writers, we should go with our gut instinct. Though writing a book isn’t necessarily for yourself as much as it is your readers, you know your story better than anyone. My book is part of a series, so what I touch on lightly in one book will go further into detail in another.

        This is just my opinion. Take it for what it is. We all have opinions. It’s what makes us all diverse, and thank God for diversity 🙂

      • Your opinion is pretty close to mine.

  7. Akoss says:

    I agree with you on this. Why pay someone to do what you can do with books and research? Besides you learn a lot and your craft can only benefit from it. However maybe it’s ok to go to an editor as a last resort; like you want this awesome agent very bad but you don’t want to take a chance at a rejection? or maybe you want to self publish?

    • That’s the thing isn’t it? I think Kelli has the right of it – in the end it’s your story. Personally I worry that an editor would want to edit it into what they thought it was supposed to be. In the end, I think my work is safer in my hands, which is why I’m so interested in why other people do pay editors. It’s always great to have another point of view. Could be I’m missing a trick.

  8. Sonia M. says:

    I can see both sides. Stephen King said something (in On Writing, I think) about finishing a first draft, then sticking it in a drawer for awhile. That helps with emotional distance. I agree. How often have we looked at a piece after a long absence and instantly spotted errors and changes that needed to be made. I do think it’s possible for a writer to edit his/her own work, provided the author is able to get the distance and has a good grasp on grammar, etc. Probably having a critique partner is one of the best ways to edit a manuscript. Unbiased eyes.

    I think I’d probably only consider paying an editor if my final draft was being rejected again and again for the same reasons. Since I don’t have any experience with submissions yet, my opinion might change.

    • Good point. Of course, if you were actually getting feedback you would probably be able to edit it yourself. But in the case where you weren’t getting feedback, just constant rejection, I can see how that might justify an outside pair of eyes.

  9. lbdiamond says:

    I tend to agree that hiring an editor is very important when you self-publish, otherwise, finding great crit partners are fab for those searching for a fresh pair of eyes.

  10. Misha says:

    Well… I know for a fact that I will eventually hire an editor. Why?

    Because no matter how often I put down my book, I am blind to my errors. Three years of staring at the same thing did it to me.

    🙂

  11. Debs says:

    I’m giving you the lovely blog award, Anne-Mhairi

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