There are tons of freelance book editors who can do wonders to help you improve your writing, give you crucial feedback at key junctures in your journey, and provide a final gut check before you pursue publication. I am one of those people.
I recently posted about what to expect when you work with a freelance editor, which includes what editors do and what you should look for if you decide to hire one.
But when should you hire one?
In this post I’m going to cover some key moments in your writing career where it’s a good idea to consider hiring a professional to help.
But first, let’s start with why you might not need a freelance editor.
Only hire a freelance editor if you can afford one
Hiring a freelance editor is by no means a guarantee of finding publication or successfully self-publishing, and good feedback comes in many forms. You don’t necessarily have to pay someone to edit your work.
Good editors are fairly expensive, and the ROI can be murky when every book project faces uncertain prospects. Paying an experienced editor to do a full manuscript edit will likely cost in the thousands of dollars, and it’s inevitably going to be unclear if you’ll really make that money back.
Only pay an editor if it’s money you’re not going to badly miss. There are other ways of getting feedback from friends, loved ones, and critique groups.
Also: even if you can afford it, only pay for an edit if you’re genuinely open-minded and ready to do the resulting work. There’s no sense in paying someone if you’re not actually interested in their feedback.
Now let’s get to some scenarios where you should consider hiring an editor.
The ideal: you have a completely finished and polished manuscript
This way, the editor doesn’t take up time pointing out things that you know are issues, and they can instead help you spot and resolve the things you can’t see (or else you would have fixed them). Asking for an edit at this stage is the most efficient approach and can help elevate your writing to the next level because it will focus solely on weak spots in your writing that will help you improve.
That said, it’s okay if you need help before you get all the way through a manuscript!
You’re stuck or you want a gut check
Sometimes writers get stuck. You might know that your book went awry at some point, but you don’t know where or why. Or you might be struggling with confidence and need to get out of your own head.
Definitely remember that no editor can (or should) tell you whether you should keep going or not or be able to tell you our odds of successfully publishing with very much precision. If you want a crystal ball, you’re better off consulting a psychic.
But there can be some real benefit to getting some feedback and getting a sense of where you’re at if and when you’re stuck. An editor might be able to pinpoint where you went astray or spot some underlying weaknesses that are making book difficult to write. Once you have a sense of the issues it can then help get you unstuck.
Sometimes even just a phone consultation with an editor to talk things through can sometimes get things unlocked, or maybe you might want an editor to take a look at what you’ve written so far. Try first to get a sense of the issues you’re dealing with, then think through what you think you need.
You’re ready to start querying literary agents
Sending out your query letter is a crucial stage in a publishing journey, and it really pays to get a gut check from a professional to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
Many freelance book editors, including me, also offer query + sample pages edits, such as the first 20 pages, so you can get a sense of how well your query and the opening of your book are working.
I can’t stress enough how important your query letter and first 20-30 pages of your manuscript are to your future chances if you’re pursuing traditional publication. Even if you can’t afford to spring for a full manuscript edit, this is an area where I would really try to get a professional’s perspective.
(Note: barring some truly serious spelling and grammar issues you don’t need to have your book copyedited for typos and consistency prior to querying literary agents).
You’re ready to self-publish
In order to successfully self-publish and put out a professional-feeling book, you should plan to have your full manuscript edited at least two, or ideally three, times:
- A high level critique from a developmental editor – Ideally you would start with some high level feedback on structure, shape, and your overall approach. Then, once you’ve incorporated those changes…
- A line edit from a developmental editor – This is a more in-depth edit where a developmental editor gives you line edits in additional to more high level feedback. Then, once you’ve incorporated those changes…
- A copyedit from a copyeditor – A copyeditor will help you with consistency issues, grammar, and typose.
Steps 1 and 2 can be compressed depending on how strong your initial draft is and your budget, but do not mix up steps 2 and 3.
Get developmental edits, incorporate the changes, then move on to copyedits.
Trust your instincts
I’ve seen this business from every angle for nearly 20 years now, and the more I learn, the more I ultimately defer to writers about what they feel like they need throughout the writing and publishing process. Every writer is different, and writers tend to be at their best when they’re open-minded but ultimately trusting their instincts.
So as a writer: embrace this! It’s okay to need what you need. You know your work best and you know your journey best. There’s no one way to go about this process.
Particularly when you’re just starting out, you might feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing or what to ask for. You might fear that you’re going to break some rule you didn’t know about.
Set that aside. You’re the writer. You know what you need. This is your writing journey.
If you need help: reach out to an editor! Professionals are standing by.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Landscape by Thomas Cole