Editing, Publishing

What do you mean, you’re looking for an editor?

handwritten manuscript
It’s going to take a lot of effort to turn this handwritten manuscript into a published novel.

Do you need to hire an editor to clean up your manuscript before self-publishing or querying agents? You may be tempted to skip this step to save a few bucks on publishing costs. However, forgoing the editorial process may cost you dedicated readers in the end. Poorly edited books garner terrible reviews, which then decrease the likelihood that anyone will want to purchase your books in the future.

When determining whether you need an editor, it is essential to understand exactly what an editor does. While attending a recent self-publishing seminar, I overheard a fellow writer discussing his need to hire someone to edit his manuscript. At first, I was tempted to offer my services. However, after listening to him talk for a while, I began to get the idea that what he was looking for was a proofreader, not an editor. The more he talked, the less I wanted to work for him.

It’s not that I thought this writer’s manuscript would necessarily be “bad.” I just got the idea that he had not spent enough time on development to justify hiring a proofreader at this time. In which case, the manuscript is probably full of plot holes and other issues that one simply cannot expect a proofreader to fix.

The thing is, this guy wrote his manuscript entirely by hand and has not revised his work even once. His wife typed the manuscript up for him, and now he wants an “editor” to clean it up – quick and cheap – so he can send it off to Random House and become a New York Times Bestseller by the end of the year.

If this sounds like you, then you may need to steel yourself before reading the rest of this post. If this is you, I am about to throw a gallon of icy cold reality over your head. In fact, stop reading and take a breather to prepare yourself if you need to because you are about to be stripped of your illusions.

The harsh reality is that virtually no one can put that little effort into a manuscript, skip the developmental editing stage, and become a New York Times Bestseller overnight. If Stephen King can’t publish his first drafts, why would you think that you can?

If I had offered my editing services to this writer, we would have likely ended up hating each other. I could not, in good conscience, “edit” a first draft without tearing it apart and putting the writer back to work to develop his story. Now, if he wants to hire a proofreader, I suppose I could do that. If he wants to e-mail me his Word document, I could proofread it for spelling and grammar, all while ignoring his story. If that is what he really wants.

However, for me to enter into such an agreement, I would need to make it clear that I am working as a proofreader, not an editor. I would also insist that the writer not thank me profusely on his acknowledgements page for editing his manuscript. I don’t need that kind of bad press.

When you say you need someone to edit your book, you need to get real with yourself and determine exactly what you are looking for. Do you really want an editor to tear your novel apart and give you more work to do? Or are you just looking for a proofreader to pretty it up for you so you can call it done?

If you truly want to hire someone to edit your first draft, then you need to get used to the idea that your manuscript still needs a lot of work. And that you are the one who needs to complete that work. If you want me to fix your plot holes and tie up your loose ends for you, then you had better be prepared to list me on the cover of your book as a co-author. Because those are authorial duties, not editorial.

Want to hire me for editing and proofreading services? Contact me today to discuss your options.

~Amanda L. Webster

10 thoughts on “What do you mean, you’re looking for an editor?”

  1. Yes! I 100% support this! I actually just touched on this same misconception in my post on self-editing. It’s shocking how often writers misunderstand what editors actually do. The first time I ran into it, I think I literally made my tongue bleed, I was biting it so hard.

    Thank you for posting this! (And for linking back to my work.) 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I know I have personally passed on several paying editing projects simply because I got the idea that the “author” had a terribly unrealistic idea about what an editor does. I am extremely careful about accepting editing gigs and even go to the extreme of interviewing the person who is attempting to hire me before deciding whether to work for him or her.

  2. It seems people may want the status of being recognized as a best-selling published author without necessarily having the commitment to do the work of writing well. That being said, I would hire you once I get past page 200 or more, although I guess the finished work in its entirety is really necessary:) Is there such a thing as a writing coach?

    1. I think there probably is such a thing as a writing coach. I have thought a lot about doing such work myself, since I feel like editing and giving feedback is something I am very good at. I’m just not sure how to get started with it, or how to determine what to charge for my services. I have a feeling I could get very expensive though, once I see how much work is involved in doing it right!

  3. I think you could post this every day for the next year and there are still going to be those that won’t listen. I have not attempted publication, because I want my very first published work to be the most professional that it can be. How else will I get readers to buy my next and my next?
    Thanks for this.

    1. And it’s not just about getting readers to buy future books either. When writers publish books without properly editing them, they make all self-publishers look bad. I have bought several self-published ebooks on my Kindle app, and most of them have been terribly edited. One writer thanked her editor profusely at the end of her book… the poor lady seemed clueless that her editor had done an awful job! As a result, I am not as quick to download a self-published work as I once was. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I did download one that wasn’t free.

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