3 Truths You May Not Realize about Professional Editing

July 9, 2018

“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?



  1. Daeus Lamb

    Great article, Josiah. I’ve yet to work directly with an editor, but it’s in the plan.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      Thanks Daeus! It’s a great experience.

  2. Jane Maree

    Absolutely agree with all of this. So often people think that it’s just proofreading but it’s waaay more than that.

    I liked your point about your editor knowing your personal writing style really well, because I’ve actually been finding that with my clients (though I wouldn’t say I’m up to Brianna’s level >.<) and it's just really interesting how that happens.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      Yep. Editing needs to be held in higher regard than it currently is. 😛

  3. Grace Livingston

    Fascinating article, Josiah. I especially liked the part about your editor showing you common trends in your style. I’ve always wondered if there was a type of editor for things like that. Every author has that one sentence structure or little-known word they like to use, and it’s a hobby of mine to pick them out. I have a couple myself I have to watch. XD

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      Yep. I think this happens more-often with editors who work with you on multiple pieces than just one, but they do help to make it harder for readers like you to discover our favorite stylistic notes. 😉

  4. Heather

    Wow, this is really good!! Thanks, I needed that.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      Thanks Heather! Glad it helped. 🙂

  5. Anonymous

    I completely agree that having a professional editor is very important and can improve the manuscript incredibly, however, the prices are more than daunting, and for many self-publishing authors, it just isn’t realistic. Especially when the price of an editor is sometimes more than you’re guaranteed to receive back in selling profits since self-publishing can be a difficult marketing world.
    I’m not trying to be pessimistic, it’s just disheartening to know an editor is valuable but unattainable because of the cost. Not that it wouldn’t be worth the cost, I’m sure – I know editors do a great deal and I don’t want to undermine that at all! But many just can’t afford that.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      Hey Anonymous!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I do understand that the costs of self-publishing a novel can be daunting and that there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to make any of it back. When approaching self-publishing, I think it’s helpful to approach it as an entrepreneur. From a business lens, you’re releasing a product; any product release comes with risks. That’s why it’s important to formulate a good launch strategy and make sure your product quality is good enough (for writers, the latter comes in the form of finding really good beta readers to make sure your book is good enough).

      One of my concerns is that avoiding editing because of the risk can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Higher-quality products do better than lower-quality products. Creating a high-quality book certainly has a price tag on it, between professional editing, obtaining an enticing cover, and possibly professional formatting (though most authors can lean how to do this enough that I don’t think it needs to be a cost). However, these also generally cause a book to sell better. A self-published book that fails without a professional cover & editing may have succeeded if it had a professional cover & editing (there are, of course, a number of other factors that go into this and I don’t mean to imply that it’s only these two qualities… but they can be significant factors).

      I think it’s also important from a business standpoint to view self-publishing costs as an investment at first. It may legitimately take years before you begin to turn a profit. Amazon took years to make a real profit (https://qz.com/1196256/it-took-amazon-amzn-14-years-to-make-as-much-net-profit-as-it-did-in-the-fourth-quarter-of-2017/). Same for Facebook. Successful businesses prioritize long-term gains over short-term gains, and so even if you don’t make a profit with the first book, that may be because you’re putting yourself in the best possible position to make a long-term career as an author.

      The other thing to keep in mind is that authors do always have an opportunity to publish a high-quality book without any costs via traditional publishing. That obviously comes with its own gatekeepers and challenges, but I think when compared to other industries, authors in some cases have it easier. Compared to the tens of thousands of dollars a college degree costs (which most industries require), or the costs of most other entrepreneur endeavors, the costs of editing are more palatable with that frame of mind.

      At the end of the day, I certainly understand why some authors decide to eschew professional editing due to cost. It’s certainly a risk. But if an author has received enough feedback from non-biased beta readers to suggest that their book is a legitimately good story, I’d encourage them to look for ways to be able to afford that cost in order to best further their long-term careers.

  6. Bethany

    This was very helpful in an unexpected way-I’ve always been subconsciously intimidated by the thought of hiring an editor-though I knew I would need to hire an editor eventually. Your experience with Briana sounds amazing! My preconceptions are changing. Thanks Josiah! 🙂

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      You’re welcome, Bethany! Glad to hear you found this so helpful. 🙂

  7. Coralie

    Whoops, read this one when it came out and didn’t have the time to respond. Then I almost forgot to go back and do it later! So, though it’s delayed, I very much enjoyed this article! It was very concise and encouraging. I’ve always wanted to get an editor and looked at the profiles of a few, but I’m always scared to make the jump. I know one day I *will* need one for sure, but now is not the time. I’m not ready. That said, it’s great to have this encouragement for when I *am* ready.
    When beta reading for friends, I think it’s so important to do more than proofread, so, in turn, it makes sense that I should value an editor who looks beyond grammar and technical writing (not that that’s not important too, of course). I love the idea that your editor has gotten to know *you* and *your* writing specifically. I had never thought of that. Such an excellent point. All three were! Thank you so much for sharing!!

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      Glad this article encouraged you, Coralie! That’s a great focus to have when beta reading, and I’m glad this was able to resonate with you. 🙂

  8. Madi Thompson

    I am interested in having an professional editor down the road, but one thing has stuck out to me. The cost. For a young writer who has yet to get a job, what do you recommend? How would I go about getting quality editing for an affordable price? Or, is that even possible?

    • Brianna Storm Hilvety

      Editorial services do vary both in scope and in price, so you don’t need to hire the most expensive editor on the market, but you shouldn’t put your trust in any person with rates that are much lower than the industry standard (which can be found here: https://www.the-efa.org/rates/). Cheap rates (such as only a few hundred dollars for content or stylistic editing on a full-length novel) usually indicate inexperience, insufficient knowledge of the publishing industry, and unprofessional conduct. “You get what you pay for,” as the saying goes. If you want your writing to be the best it can be, you need an editor who can truly help you grow—but, like anything else in life, that’s going to come at a cost equivalent to the result you hope to get. If hiring an editor is out of your reach right now, remember that patience is always a virtue. Focus on honing your skills and saving your money until you can afford to pay what an editor is worth.

      Also, as you’re thinking about (and possibly cringing over) the cost, remember that there’s a person behind those dollar symbols—someone who has expenses of her own to pay. Editing is a specialized skill that requires experience and financial investment to build (whether college or courses). It’s also a time-consuming, mentally taxing, and unglamorous job. But we do it because we’re passionate about the written word and want to see high-quality books on store shelves. Expecting an editor to work for less than minimum wage is no fairer than it would be in any other field.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      I second everything Brianna said here! 🙂 One final thing I’d also mention is that you certainly have time to continue to grow your craft and wait until you have the finances to make this kind of an investment. There’s no pressure on you to publish immediately and you may find that at the point that you’re ready to get a professional editing, your financial situation has changed such that you’re able to afford one.

  9. Madi Thompson

    Thank you! That makes total sense, and I am glad for the advice.


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