“Do I need an editor?”
I’ve seen this question countless times on blogs, forums, and Facebook posts. Authors considering self-publishing often wonder whether a professional edit is worth $1,000+ when they don’t “need” it to self-publish.
I understand why authors feel doubtful. The price tag can be steep, and you may be unsure whether the results are worth the cost. Will a professional editor improve your manuscript that much more than a fellow writer or family member who is willing to edit for free?
Last spring, I began sending my short stories to a professional editor. Over the past year, I’ve learned what professional editors are actually like—and how many misconceptions I had beforehand!
Today I want to debunk three of those misconceptions.
Misconception #1: Professional Editing Is Proofreading
I used to think that the goal of professional editing is to repair error-ridden writing. Editors clean up typos and poor grammar—and that’s the crux of the job.
When I began working with a professional editor, I realized how many different types of editing existed. Editing isn’t just about correcting errors—it’s also about strengthening writing. The scope of the changes depends upon the service you choose. A developmental edit diagnoses big-picture story problems. A copyedit addresses spelling, grammar, clarity, and consistency issues. A line edit (which I use) focuses on honing an author’s style, word choice, and syntax. Here’s what a professional line edit can look like (from my story “The First God-Blessed”):
As you can see, my editor is doing more than fixing errors. She’s aiming to bring my prose to the highest level possible—not just an acceptable one. This is one of the reasons a professional editor outmatches a friend or family member. Not only are professional editors sharper at catching mistakes, their revisions are more comprehensive than the average person’s. My mom likely wouldn’t encourage me to have Clare push “through” doors instead of “past” them, or recommend “I was about to summon you” over “I was just planning on finding you.” I wouldn’t receive most of these suggestions from anyone except my line editor.
It took me a while to grasp that editing is about improving writing, not just fixing problems. However, the more I’ve collaborated with a professional editor, the more I’ve learned about the various types of editing, and the more my writing has grown.
Misconception #2: Professional Editing Is for Experts
I didn’t search for a professional editor until I started writing short stories for my website. After all, why would I need a professional editor before I was ready to publish my stories online?
However, I soon realized that I should have hired an editor much earlier. Why? Because working with an editor taught me how much I needed to learn. On my own, I never would have noticed some of the foibles my editor pointed out, like my tendency to use character filters and repeat the same word multiple times in one sentence. I regularly asked why she made certain changes, and as she explained, my understanding of strong writing expanded.
Working with a professional editor is similar to a one-on-one teacher/student course on writing. My stories and writing skills improved, and that’s why professional editing isn’t exclusively for experts. Amateur and intermediate authors can enhance their skills through it as well.
After working with my editor for about a year now, she knows my writing style and mannerisms better than I do in many ways. She’s able to detect when my author voice bleeds into my character’s voice and has shown me aspects of my style that I wasn’t aware of—such as turns of phrase and sentence constructions I frequently use.
Professional editing has been one of the biggest catalysts for my writing growth over the past year. That’s why it’s beneficial whether you’re ready to self-publish or not.
Misconception #3: Professional Editing Is Optional
This is where I’m going to get controversial.
If you’re publishing online, professional editing shouldn’t be optional.
Yes, I know the price tag can be scary and isn’t feasible for every author. But here’s the issue. Between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published in the USA alone every year. Self-publishing allows anyone to publish anything in any condition. Readers have millions of options. In addition to this, self-publishing has a stigma you’ll need to fight if you go that route.
What does this mean? To be a successful author in today’s world, your work must stand out. Every detail has to be top-notch. If you plan to self-publish, you need to set high standards so readers will see you as credible. You can’t risk a reader picking up your book and not caring for it because your writing style is subpar. You must wow readers on every level. That requires deeper polishing than your average friend or family member is able to offer.
As author Dave Bricker puts it in his article, “Why You Need a Professional Editor,” “No matter how capable you are as a writer and proofreader, you can’t accomplish your best writing by yourself.” You need someone objective and professional to look over your manuscript. Editing may not be a “requirement” of self-publishing, but you do need it.
This is one of the reasons we have a professional editor on staff here at Story Embers. Too many “fine” or “good” writing craft sites fill the internet for us to publish mediocre material. We need to publish the best content we can so we’re distinctive and we edify our readers as much as possible. Part of that is achieved with a rigorous acquisition process. The other part is with a rigorous editing process.
How to Choose an Editor
Let’s say you’ve gotten some misconceptions cleared up, understand why a professional editor is helpful, and want to hire one yourself. How do you go about it?
The first step is to find someone who’s qualified (not everyone who advertises themselves as a professional editor actually is). Browse sites like The Christian PEN for editors who interest you, or consider filling out the form at the Christian Editor Connection to be matched with an editor who’s been professionally screened. Pay attention to the formal training the editor has received and how many years of experience she has (she should have both). Note whether she’s worked with publishers before and verify that she’s familiar with the industry-standard style guides. Finally, make sure the content on her website and social media is written well!
Once you’re confident in the editor’s expertise, request a sample edit. Most editors offer this for free, and it gives you the opportunity to ensure your personalities and writing styles are compatible so you can work as a team. When you have enough information to decide wisely, take the plunge.
I was a bit daunted when I started working on my stories with a professional editor a year ago. But I haven’t regretted that move. The more stories that are published, the more important it is to stand apart from the crowd in every way possible.
What are you doing to stand apart from the crowd?
Josiah DeGraaf is the summit & marketing director at Story Embers and the program director of The Young Writer. He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations and loves to take normal people, put them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then force them to make difficult choices. Someday he hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, and themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s. In the meantime, you can find him teaching young writers at the Young Writer’s Workshop or writing short stories at his website as he works toward achieving these goals.