Only if you need to.
It’s essential for authors get some sort of editorial feedback on their manuscript and/or query letter from someone they trust before trying to find an agent. That could be a significant other, a critique partner, a friend, a mortal enemy… someone.
The advice should be positive, useful, strike you with the occasional, “Why didn’t I see that?!” moment, and, perhaps most importantly, should be consistent with your vision for the project. In other words, the critiquer shouldn’t simply be telling you how they would have written it. Here’s how to know if you have a good editor.
On the other hand, if you don’t have someone you can show your work to and you need feedback or if you would like some input from someone who has worked in the business: by all means, consider a freelance editor. There are some wildly talented editors out there who can really help authors with their manuscripts for a fee. (Including, well, me)
However, before you mortgage the farm to pay a freelance editor, keep the following in mind:
Don’t spend money on a freelance book editor you can’t afford to lose
If it feels like too much money it is definitely too much money. Feedback is helpful, but not at the expense of funds that could be better used elsewhere. If you can spare it and it won’t hurt a whit, go for it. Otherwise: there are plenty of free ways to get good feedback.
Check the editor’s credentials
Find out what their experience is, who they’ve worked with in the past, and whether the amount they are charging is commensurate with their experience. Do your research and only work with an editor with whom you are completely comfortable.
Here’s how to find a freelance book editor.
Keep your expectations in line
Bear in mind that the mere fact that you’ve worked with an editor is not going to boost your chances with an agent (or at least, not with me). A few agents I have been on panels with feel that it is a benefit if an author has worked with an editor. Me? Not so much. I assume an author received feedback and edited accordingly to make it better. I don’t think you get a bonus because you paid for it.
Agents don’t care about typos
Copyediting is not really very necessary prior to submitting to agents. Barring a learning disability, your own grammar and spell-check-assisted spelling skills should be sufficient to ensure that your manuscript has only the occasional typo, which an agent will not worry about.
Do not let an editor submit to agents on your behalf.
When I was an agent, I would occasionally get submissions directly from paid editors who submit for their clients. Opinions vary on this, but in my opinion this is a bad idea. I want to hear directly from the author I’m potentially going to be working with. If you’re going to engage an editor, do so only for manuscript feedback. You should be handling the rest on your own.
An exception to this would be if the agent and the editor know each other extremely well on a personal level and the editor is just facilitating the intro.
Know what you’re paying for
Make sure you have a very clear understanding of what you’re paying for and what you’re getting up front. Make sure you and the editor have a clear understanding about what you hope to get out of the edit. And make sure you’re communicating well.
Watch out for scams
There are quite a few unscrupulous fake agents and fake editors out there. Google the person you’re thinking of working with, and, again, check their credentials. Beware of anyone overpromsing what they can really deliver.
There’s no magic bullet
Keep your expectations in check. The editor is helping you with your manuscript: it’s up to you to make the changes, and their help is no guarantee that your project will find representation or publication. The goal is to help you improve your manuscript, but the rest is ultimately up to you.
Basically: Do your research, keep your eyes open, but don’t be overly paranoid either. There are freelance editors out there who provide a valuable service, and assuming you find the right match their feedback can be a real help as you keep on plugging away toward representation.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: The moneychanger and his wife by Marinus van Reymerswaele
Katharine O'Moore-Klopf says
Here are some directories where you can search for professional editors:
Bookbuilders of Boston
Editorial Freelancers Association
Editors' Association of Canada
Northwest Independent Editors Guild
Society for Editors and Proofreaders (UK)
Society of Editors (NSW) Inc. (Australia)
Directory of CE-L Freelancers (these are copyeditors from around the world who subscribe to the Copyediting-L e-mail discussion list)
Can anyone who has used iUniverse please reply. They sound genuine, I've seen their books, Lisa Genova's Still Alice was one of theirs that migrated to Simon & Schuster. They use Harper Collins and other publishers editing professionals, so does anyone here that's used them, think they are a good alternative to us newbies?
Geez, I wish I'd read this three months and a few hundred dollars ago 🙂 I just discovered this blog when I recently joined an online writing group, and I have to say, this blog is a treasure trove of information and tips!
In fairness, I did learn a lot from the editor I worked with, and combining that learning with my writing group's critiques and a course I'm taking on writing, I guess I'm a bit more confident now to self-edit before sending my MS to an agent.
Barbara Ruth Saunders says
A great editor I know gave me this rule of thumb for editing: "Don't touch words until the writing is done!"
I think it's important for a writer to know what she really wants or needs the editor to do. Proofreading? Continuity check? Copyedit? Major evaluation of the whole project?
Give a manuscript that does not yet make sense to a person whose specialty is copyediting, and the result is likely to be a fatigued, frustrated editor and a writer who feels he's been taken.
Mary Beth says
Having your work edited is essential. There's no getting around that. That said, the editors making the big bucks (editors who are employed by publishing houses, generally) do their jobs quite poorly. Checking credentials doesn't get you anywhere. Stephenie Meyer's editors have edited a lot of stuff, and have done it poorly.
Instead of checking credentials, you should be evaluating the values of each prospective editor. Determine what he or she loves editing. (I am a fiction editor; I can and will do academic writing, but I hate it.) Do not hire a technical editor to edit your fiction. Seriously. This is where people complain of their pieces losing distinctiveness. Voice is something that technical editors simply do not take into account.
All that said, you need to be responsible for the quality of the piece you submit to an editor. The more you hack at it early, the better the editor will be able to help you. If you're relying on him or her to tell you that your plot doesn't make sense, you're wasting the unique skill set that an editor houses.
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Nathan, thank you for your service. Whenever I can't figure out what to do I search your site until I find an answer. I have one small time publisher who gave me an r&r but what they recommended was paying their editors to help me strengthen my story. It would have been $2 a page or well over $500. I know people who really believe in a book don't charge. If they believe in it they will make their money back in book sales
I have been requesting a consultation from an freelance editor but the price stopped me from signing the agreement. $750 for a one hour phone conversation and any furthur communication is $200 each time. Is this a lot of money? I have hit a brick wall with my manuscript. I had one editor from HarperCollins love it and then I submitted it to another editor there in the company and received a "no". So I wanted some help from a very reputable editor I heard speak at a writers conference. Now I don't know if I should just fork over the money or wait. Will this consultation guarantee a publication or even a deal with an agent or is it a waste of money?
Nathan Bransford says
1) You gotta do your research and seek out more opinions/quotes. Rates vary greatly – how much it's worth depends on how much you can afford and how good the person it is. Don't pay anything you can't afford to lose.
2) Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to guarantee you publication.
Thank you Nathan,
I've published my first novel. I had it looked over my an editor, but I should have hired someone to do copy editing as well. Or, I should have asked that question when hiring the editor. She gave me feedback, made corrections, but didn't go over the novel again after I went back. I am having people tell me they're are finding typos. It makes me feel sick.
Collin Francis says
I am currently publishing my first book, I need an editor however I was thinking of buying a software, I know nothing bits a human touch but can the software really do a master job. I want to try Whitesmoke, does it worth it.
Thanks, I really needed to read this. I've been looking for an editor, I get reviews, that a few of my novels are really good, BUT, I need an editor…soooo, yeah, I'm looking for one I can afford. I loved reading this, it was enlightening,
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Cate Hogan says
A very helpful article, thanks! I've been trialing editors for my current romance WIP, including industry stalwarts from The Big Four, to freelancers and hobbyists, *budget* options and the gurus who cost a pretty penny. From 9 to 5 I'm an editor myself, so it's been great experiencing the process from a writer's perspective. I've documented some tips below on what to look for in an editor (and what should send you running) , which you might find interesting.
Cate Hogan says
A very helpful article, thanks! I've been trialing editors for my current romance WIP, including industry stalwarts from The Big Four, to freelancers and hobbyists, *budget* options and the gurus who cost a pretty penny. From 9 to 5 I'm an editor myself, so it's been great experiencing the process from a writer's perspective. I've documented some tips below on what to look for in an editor (and what should send you running), which you might find interesting.
Is it okay to take paid editing services from an agent, after he/she says they cannot represent you? Their price is almost double of that of a freelance (professional) editor, so I thought I would ask.
Nathan Bransford says
I would be very, very skeptical of that.