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Need an Editor? Maybe Not

Last updated on January 3, 2018

Do you need an editor? As an editor myself, I’m going to take a risk today and talk about some reasons that an indie author just might not need an editor after all.

Hiring an editor can certainly have several benefits for self-published authors:

    1. The right developmental editor will make your story better by helping you find the weaknesses in your story, plot, theme, and characterization. She will also give you ideas for strengthening them.
    2. The right copyeditor will polish your work. He will make sure missing commas, misused words, and misspellings won’t ruin your reader’s enjoyment of the story.
    3. A good editor will help you improve your own writing skills through queries and conversation. She’ll tell you why she made certain changes so that you can learn not to make the same mistakes again. Developmental editing is especially good for this. While it may not be for everyone, I favor the editorial letter for developmental editing over the editorial rewrite. This letter points out the strengths and weaknesses of a manuscript. It gives the author lots of thinking points and lets her use this knowledge to revise or rewrite her book. Using—not just hearing—this new or reinforced knowledge is a great way for a writer to improve not just her current book but also her overall skill.
    4. An experienced editor has likely seen many more books, worked with many more authors, and gained more insight into the craft of writing and the ins and outs of the publishing industry than your typical beta readers and critique partners. If your editor is also a writer, he has probably exchanged his own work with beta readers and critique partners. So, he has the practical knowledge of a writer plus his own professional experience to work from.

need an editor, editorial letter

Why You Might Not Need an Editor

Okay, so you can tell that I think (good) editors are great [see my post on vetting editors for tips on finding a good one]. However, I honestly believe that there are times when you shouldn’t hire one. Here are some reasons to stop and think before you pay for professional editing:

1. You are writing a legacy work.

A legacy work is for friends and family. While you might have buried dreams about making money from it, its primary purpose is to leave your loved ones and descendants a little piece of you when you’re gone. They will tend to be more forgiving of grammatical errors and structural issues than your average reader.

need an editor, legacy

2. You have no commercial goals.

You may be writing simply for the love of it. Maybe you’ve just had this one book inside you that just has to get out, but you never plan to write another. One of the purposes of hiring an editor is to turn out the best book possible so that your readers will keep coming back for more. Your well-edited titles will give you a strong basis for commercial success. However, if this is not what you’re looking for, the benefits of hiring an editor might not outweigh the financial cost. If your pride demands a clean manuscript, you might still need an editor, but otherwise, share away. Keep in mind that services such as Amazon KDP have quality guidelines to which you must adhere to keep your book available on their sites. This doesn’t stop you from using print on demand or sharing your book on your blog or website.

3. You’ve finished only your first draft.

There will always be exceptions, but most first drafts are not ready for developmental editing, let alone copyediting. See “My First Draft Is Done! What’s Next? A Manuscript Guide for Indie Authors” for possible next steps.

4. You know an editor who is willing to barter or edit for free.

Okay, in this case, you still need an editor, but you don’t actually have to hire one. Please do be sensitive and flexible with your editor family member or friend. She likely needs to be doing mostly paid work to survive, but if she is willing to help, great! However, if said editor is a friend or family member, be sure that she is willing to treat you like any other client (a.k.a. not hold back) and that the relationship can survive the constructive criticism you are going to get when she does.

5. You simply can’t afford it, or you don’t feel that the boost in sales will be worth the cost of editing.

Be realistic about your budget. No editor with any sense of ethics wants to be the last straw in his client’s financial downfall. If you can’t find a way to make the budget or don’t have an audience that is big enough to cover the cost of editing, find ways to make your manuscript as clean as possible without professional editing. Go through all the free steps in my Indie Author Guide to Saving Money on Editing series before you hit publish. Would one of the alternative ways to pay for editing work for you? Also, consider crowdsourcing your editing.

6. You believe that writing as an art form is best when it is pure and unedited.

This is a valid opinion. Some writers believe that any form of editing tarnishes a writer’s voice. After all, painters don’t have editors. If this is you, don’t let your friends talk you into having your book edited anyway. Hiring an editor while you have this mindset will likely just lead to an adversarial relationship. It won’t help either one of you. If you want to test out your theory that your writing is better without feedback, use a willing beta reader or critique partner before you consider shelling out your cash and putting your writing under the knife of a pro.

need an editor, success

Success without an Editor

Finally, if your story is appealing enough and the errors aren’t so bad that readers can’t get past them, you might still find commercial success without an editor. You may need an editor later to increase that success. When you self-publish an ebook, you have the option to revise and re-upload your book down the line. You can fix errors yourself or even hire an editor after the book has been up a while to increase its appeal even more. Having your book edited postpublication won’t erase any bad reviews that are already there, but it will show readers that you are willing to respond to their concerns.

Spend some time getting to know yourself and figuring out your goals for your writing career (if any). This can help you figure out which path to take.

So, do you think every writer needs an editor? Why or why not?

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