Congratulations! You finished your book. That is a huge accomplishment and something to be proud of. It can be tempting to tell yourself that you’re done now, but there is still a lot that needs to be done before your book is ready for publication. The next step in your journey is to find an editor.
But my friends and family read the book, and they said it’s great! Do I really need an editor?
YES! Feedback from friends and family is great. It’s even better if you have someone who has a background in English to look over your draft. That doesn’t mean you can get away without hiring an editor, however. Your friends and family have your best interest at heart, but they are also biased. They care about you, and they won’t be reading the story with a critical eye the same way that a professional editor will.
A professional editor will catch the fact that Suzy was wearing a green shirt at the beginning of Chapter Two, but that Mark described her shirt as red in Chapter Nine. A professional editor will notice that Jack’s reaction to dropping his ice cream in Chapter Seven doesn’t make sense based on the personality you developed for him earlier in the story. A good professional editor will be able to offer suggestions to help you fix plot holes or an odd character development. Professional editors spend their lives looking for details like this, where your friends and family have not.
Even having your old English professor, or your friend who studied English in college is not a substitute for a professional editor. This person will probably catch a lot of your mistakes, and their input will lead to your copy being much cleaner than it was before they looked it over, which is great. But it is not a substitute for a professional editor. There are a number of important things that a professional editor is trained to look for that someone with an English degree may or may not be aware of. Critical elements of a good story such as knowing when to show instead of tell, or what type of story arc is suitable for each genre, or industry specific formatting issues will be something that a professional editor is more aware of than someone who has not devoted their career to it.
Additionally, an editor will have spent many more hours editing than your friend with an English degree. Who would you trust more? A surgeon with 1000 hours of experience, or a surgeon with 50? A handyperson who has worked for 100 hours in the field, or one who just graduated from his or her trade school and has only worked as an apprentice for 30 hours? While the 10,000 hours to become an expert rule has been debunked, it is still likely that an individual who has logged more hours in a particular field will provide superior work.
What if I plan to submit to a traditional publisher? Won’t they provide me with an editor?
Yes, they will. This doesn’t mean you can get away with not hiring an editor of your own however. Publishing houses and agents receive so many manuscripts that they often just throw out anything that isn’t polished copy. If you want to increase your chances of having your manuscript accepted, you probably want to have a professional editor look it over. The only way around this is if you are 1) writing non-fiction and you have already been accepted by a publisher based on your query alone, or 2) an author who has already established a working relationship with a publisher and you are writing a book that is already under contract. (Sometimes this can happen for a new writer with a non-fiction book proposal, but you need to have a blog or published articles to prove your writing ability.)If you are a new, unknown writer trying to get your first book deal, then you need to make sure your manuscript is as close to perfect as possible.
It is exceptionally hard to get your book accepted with a traditional publisher. This is because the market is oversaturated and no one wants to take a gamble on a new book unless it is absolutely exceptional. Hiring a professional editor to look over your manuscript before sending it to agents and publishers will greatly increase your chances for success.
I plan to self-publish. Isn’t the whole point of self-publishing to open the way for anyone and everyone to get published?
Yes, yes, and yes! Technically you can self-publish without hiring an editor. However you run the risk of publishing something that looks unpolished and unprofessional. This hurts your chances of getting people to buy your book. It also means that future books that you publish will not be taken seriously. If you are planning to self-publish, you should at least budget for an editor and a professional cover design. This greatly improves your chances for sales and repeat buyers if you decide to publish anything else.
So, I guess I need to hire an editor…
Yes, you do. Stay tuned for articles on what to look for in an editor, and what types of editors there are and why it makes a difference.
Unsure of whether you want to self-publish or hire a traditional publisher? Start with Should I Self-Publish or Take a Traditional Route? Part One!