Should You Hire a Professional Editor?

All self-published authors must face this question at some point in their publishing journey. I am no exception. I have toyed with the idea of simply going through a few beta reader rounds and utilizing a program like Grammarly premium before finishing off the process with a proofread from a professional.

I have also contemplated hiring a professional editor for every stage of the process – copy/line editing, structural editing, proofreading etc…

In the end, it comes down to budget.

How much professional editing can you afford?

I would bet that most writers (if they had the money) would jump at the chance of hiring an expert – you would be crazy not to. But what if you will never be able to afford a professional editor? Should you throw in the towel and return to submitting your manuscript into that void filled with silence and a litany of rejections?

For me, no.

Long ago (and for various reasons) I decided I would travel down the self-publishing road, the one filled with obstacles innumerable. My dream of being an indie author is the very reason why I created my blog in the first place.

Despite my initial goal of self-publishing, in 2016 I submitted my manuscript to a large number of traditional publishers and at least 20 agents. My search & submit resulted in a contract from a shady, small publisher who ended up being a scammer of sorts.

My bad experience (with the shady wanker who trashed my dreams) ruined my confidence. I have not submitted to any traditional publishers since, and certainly not too any small US publishers, even if they are considered reputable. It’s not worth it for me.

Sadly, all this rejection made me think I had no right to self-publish my books and inflict my shitty writing onto unsuspecting readers. Yep, this is why I still haven’t published my novels.

To think I now have two novels (complete with professional covers) sitting there on my desktop waiting to be uploaded to Amazon. I could do it tomorrow if only I had the money for an editor! The confidence issue I will need to defeat on my own…

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So what the hell is a girl to do?

I have just enough money to hire a professional editor for a copy/line edit for one novel only – my first. Yeah, a structural edit and proofread would be fantastic, but it’s simply not in my budget. I have a mortgage to pay and animals to feed.

Many published authors have told me I should wait until I can afford to put my novels through a few rounds of editing. Well-meaning advice yes, but not realistic. “Forever” is how long I may be waiting… and that’s not an option for me. Publishing sooner rather than later is my only hope. I fear if I wait too long, I may never realise my dream of being a published author.

I’m under no illusion that my first novel will make enough money for me to afford an editor for my second novel. My plan? Take it one book at a time and see how things pan out.

I would love to hear from any indie authors and prospective self-pubbers out there who are facing this same dilemma. Shoot me some advice, I’m all ears!

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24 thoughts

  1. A lot of the advice above is excellent, but have you considered a temporary publish using the entirely free on-line publisher, Lulu? You could put your book out there – in either (or both) hard copy or e-book, whilst retaining your copyright, and with the ability to pull it from sale any time you want. If you sold twenty copies, that’s twenty more copies than you’ll sell if it stays on your shelf. Just a thought.

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  2. Talk about perfect timing. I just posted an interview with my editor. Without her my book would still be sitting in my hard drive of neatly typed out and hiding in a binder. A small publisher signed me. It was an amazing day when I signed the contract. When my book arrived you can only imagine the feeling.

    None of that would have been possible without my editor. Go to my site. Check it out. Contact her and see what she says.

    https://acrackinthepavement.com/

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  3. Hi, Millie – sorry to hear of your dilemma! I have edited a couple of books, one in particular for a stand-up comedian who was planning to self publish a book of short stories. He was so funny that I didn’t mind the editing for the ridiculously low compensation. While I am not a “professional” editor I have spent 30 years in marketing which requires a great deal 0f editing. I f I can help you please PM me and we can work something out – I am sure of it!
    Katherine

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  4. Milly – such a dilemma! I have edited a few books, mostly for people who are planning on self-publishing and have no budget. My latest project was with a stand-up comedian who had a book of short stories. I actually enjoyed the reading so much that I gave him an unrealistic quote! While I can’t claim that I am a “professional” editor, I have been in the marketing field for more than 30 years, which, obviously entails much editing

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  5. Get an editor. There are many place to cut corners when publishing, but an editor will make sure your story will be told clearly and ensure readability.

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  6. My best advice: marry for love, but marry wisely 😀

    For my first novel, Restoration Day, I went through the development edit stage with beta readers, hired a freelance editor (who was also one of my betas) at the inbetweeny level, and then my husband (superpower: spotting errors and inconsistencies) did the proofreading. (Like I said: marry wisely.)

    For my second book I’ve just gone with beta reading and the aforementioned super-husband. It’s not that the editor wasn’t of value (Sara Litchfield is a brilliant developmental editor, putting her finger right on the book’s issues); it’s more that it’s going to be a long time – and more than one book – before I make back the NZD900 the edit cost me: a 100k novel at 1c/word, with a discount because she had seen the earlier manuscript and knew it was fairly ‘clean’.

    A manuscript goes through a lot of work before I even show it to the beta readers (no one sees my first draft!) and it goes through layers of work after that.

    Every writer is different; every writer’s process is different. Learn what you can do yourself (or swap favours with other writers for) and what you need to hire a professional for, and then proceed accordingly. For example, I do my own typesetting, but I wouldn’t dream of doing my own cover typography.

    The one thing that’s very important to remember is that you’re never going to get every aspect of publishing perfect, and you don’t need to. Just be sure that what you present to the world is something you’re proud to have your name on.

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  7. • Take the first 5,000 words and put them out on google docs and invite 10 close friends to edit them.
    • Get them all to contribute to the one document and then save it off as reference.
    • Make a copy and apply their edits to that.
    • Do it again for the next 5,000 words, after having applied what you learned from the first 5,000.
    • After 10k words, you should have a good start to your novel that anyone who picks it up will be treated with the first x chapters of error free narrative. After that? Up to you, but you could continue the process.
    • Or, try Scribophile.com where you can get some harsh/useful/useless criticism.

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  8. Several offer payment plans or a percentage up to their payment. That may come in handy. There are also plenty of upcoming freelance editors that can offer lower cost solutions.

    An important thing to look at when selecting an editor is the sample edit. It offers a chance to see the editing style that the editor uses, and it provides an opportunity for you to have a conversation about potential pricing and direction.

    But yes. The price is always going to be a sticking point, unfortunately. Dont give up, though. Shop around. Find one who would be willing to offer a discount for line and developmental edits together. Or go back through and check yourself now that it’s been a while and you can look at the work with “fresh” eyes.

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  9. I’m glad to hear that there are writers out there who simply cannot afford to hire an editor and understand that it’s not a situation of “I don’t want to pay for quality.”
    It seems like some other writers don’t take you seriously if you aren’t willing to mortgage your house and starve your kids/pets so you can have someone editor your work. But for some of us, it really is not an option. If I had an emergency house or car repair that cost over $1000 I’d be scrambling to come up with the money. So spending cash that doesn’t exist on something that may or may not pan out is a no-go.
    That being said, I know there are some writer groups (online or in person) who offer exchange services, and there are also some freelance editors who are more affordable, as well as college students just starting out who charge a low or sliding-scale rate.
    I hope you find something that works for you and wish you luck!

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  10. I had more money when I published my first novel, so I found an editor and learned a heck of a lot in the process, all of it good. I also had a number of beta readers, all of them fellow writers, who gave me much needed feedback of the reader experience.

    Since then, I haven’t been able to afford professional editing but I have been fortunate enough to team up with another science fiction writer for the beta reading/editing stage. I do his books, he does mine, and because we /trust/ each other, it works.

    My advice? Find another author, in your genre, whose work /you/ admire and see if they would be prepared to do an editing swap. You could also send out a call for beta readers via social media. Whatever you decide, independent eyes of some sort are critical.

    Best of luck, and I really do hope you take the plunge and publish. 🙂

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  11. Hi Milly,

    Also in the same boat as you. I’ve spent money on revisions several times over the last four years and it’s helped me develop as a writer because once the mistakes have been pointed out, I look for the errors in new stories.

    But it’s definitely dependent on your budget. I think at some point you need to pick a date and then move forward with self-publishing. For me, I understand I’ll need to do the formatting, final revisions, and marketing on my own but I’m already prepping for those next steps if I don’t get accepted by an agent or publisher.

    Best of luck,
    P.

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  12. Editorial services are my biggest publishing expense as an indie author, but a good proofread is indispensable. Products full of errors suggest amateur work, or worse, indifference. Not only does it risk losing readers and sales for the book (and possibly future titles), it perpetuates the stigma of low quality for all indies. I encourage you to set a better standard for yourself and the community. Many freelance editors have reasonable rates. (I’m happy to share the name of an affordable proofreader I use; DM me on Twitter or email me on my website.) Budget and save for it if you must, but don’t cheat yourself when you’re this close to publication. A clean manuscript is an investment in your business and your writing dreams.

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  13. Do you belong to RWA (Romance Writers of America) or another group like them? They have many chapters associated to them and within those chapters are groups willing to critique your work on an exchange basis. This is an easy way to get numerous sets of eyes on your WIP for FREE! (Or at least, for the price of chapter memberships :))
    I find critique groups to be invaluable. Everyone finds something different to point out, so you’ll get a well-rounded editing experience.
    Hope this helps!

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  14. What I gathered from this post is that you can be a bit of a perfectionist. Welcome to the club. I know some people who do not worry about anything and just upload once their writing is done. Yes, I do that for my blog sometimes, but I cringe thinking of typos and such in an actual book. I’m in the same boat as you. Well, not exactly. I don’t have a cover yet. I tried asking for help on that on Twitter but got no response. I might have to go your route. We shall see.

    Good luck with whatever you choose to do.

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  15. Millie – Just read your piece on WordPress. There is a rather extensive blog called Writer Beware. The point behind it is to warn writers of potential scammers. If you have a book (or two) and you want them published check out potential publishers here. If you know or suspect a publisher of not living up to their name report them here. Here’s the web address.
    https://accrispin.blogspot.com/

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  16. I wrote/worked on my novel as part of a course at university. So I was a student with no income. Yet my professor insisted we hire copyeditors and said that $500 was typical, which horrified me because my book was twice as long as my classmates’ because it was fiction and they all wrote short nonfiction.
    Determined to not pay that much, I searched around on the internet and got some quotes and in the end found this one lady who said she’d do it for like $300 and could do it on my somewhat short timeline (due to it being a school course and whatnot). She said she had a bit of experience and a certificate and all that, so I signed the contract and sent her the file.
    She ended up barely doing any editing. Like there was full pages that she had no edits for, and the ones that did were like make a small word change here. I even found a spelling mistake she missed. There was no time to send it back, though.
    So now I was near having a breakdown because this was my first novel and it was for a grade and what if it was awful because I was a fool who hired a crappy copyeditor? So my mom volunteered to help edit it some more which I’m thankful for but I guess in the process of doing that in a Google Doc to moving it to InDesign for layout and further work/edits, human error kicked in and I ended up with several more errors that I didn’t notice until after I had it printed. I fixed the file on Amazon, but I had all these hard copies that I gave to family and friends that had mistakes in them.
    Because of this, I don’t look at my book with full pride and happiness like I should, I look at it as a bit of a failure because I’m someone who really dislikes errors in writing.
    So to sum it up, a copyeditor may be a good idea just to catch the little things and to reassure you your writing is okay, but it can be hard to justify one on a limited budget and there’s no guarantee there won’t be any mistakes because humans make errors all the time. I probably could have gotten away with not hiring one at all if I did a better job reviewing or not editing at 2am or using other online grammar-checking services, but that’s not to say my writing would have been great. It’s all about what you’re comfortable with and what you want out of an editor.

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  17. I always hire an editor for all three stages (manuscript critique, manuscript editing, proofreading). Nowadays from scribendi.com. I find the service indispensable. I am always eager to get the results, then always disappointed with all the flaws they found, then after thinking about it, always happy to make (most of) the corrections they suggest. I have done that for all three of my books that are now on amazon.
    Now for the bad news. It costs me over $2000 per book for editors. For the tax year of 2018, I proudly exposed my “profit” of $150 (US dollars) of income in my tax returns. However, that did not include the costs for editors and illustrators. I actually lose thousands of dollars a year to support my writing hobby. Thankfully, I have a good day job as an engineer.
    I wish I could contribute to your editing fund and could know you would spend it on editing. I would love for you to taste formal editing from a real professional. I think you would like it.

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  18. When it comes to finding a cost-free way to curb plot holes and such, beta reading/swap can do a lot if you find a good beta. Just make sure they’re reading your genre. And if they’re native speakers in the language you write in, they can even give advice on grammar.

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  19. I spent over $600 for an editor just to catch any spelling/grammar mistakes. (I also emailed another editor who charged over $1,000.) Granted, she did help me out with a few other things like characters saying something out of character or overusing phrases, but in the end, I feel getting a few more beta readers (even paying for cheap ones on Fiverr) could have been helpful as well.

    I’m in a very similar boat. I have piles of rejections from agents (I haven’t sent to any publishers) and am aiming for the self-publishing route (for now.) I’m getting to the point of over-editing and criticizing myself, even more, the more I think about the things I want to change. Then I get pissed because I spent all that money on an editor and my book’s going nowhere.

    I read a post on Twitter that many indie authors don’t hire an editor. They use beta readers for that, but I guess it depends on how much you’d trust them to catch any mistakes. In the end, I don’t regret hiring her but I also cringe when I think about that money which I wanted to save up for a trip.

    Good luck with everything and your books as well x

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  20. How timely and fortuitous that I saw your post this morning! First of all, it is a great read. You get right to the heart of the publishing dilemma. Secondly, I have been going through exactly the same sort of angst. I recently finished a book that I have decided, for the first time in my life, to toss out into the ether to see if I can get any nibbles on, So, I started searching for editors to spruce up the manuscript a bit for me. I was absolutely staggered at how much it costs! I was thinking it would be a few hundred dollars. It turned out to be more like a few thousand dollars!

    Don’t get me wrong. I do not begrudge the editors their money. They offer a valuable service and they, too, have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Still, I was quite surprised at how pricey it can be.

    Furthermore, the sheer number of editors is a bit bewildering. How does one go about choosing one? What if I pick a bad one? Do I have any recourse to get a refund if I am not happy with their work? After all, this is not like hiring an electrician where the work is straightforward and the desired outcome is well understood. This is a work of creativity and is highly personal. Do I really want someone “up under the hood” tinkering with my baby?

    And finally, the editing process itself is a bit obtuse. So many levels! Simple proofreading. Copy editing. Line editing. Structural editing. Yes, I understand the definitions of these things from reading about them online, but what exactly do I need and when? What do agents and publishers expect? I really don’t want to sink $4000 dollars into something and find out I could have gotten by with just the $2000 option. Or the $1000 option.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment. I feel like I hijacked your wonderful post. But I shall keep visiting your site to see how it is going for you, and if I learn anything from my own publishing journey that I think you might benefit from, I will let you know.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I’m sure your writing is far superior to what you think. The first step I’d say is to talk up your writing and avoid limiting your possibilities (my first book won’t make enough to pay for an editor…). There’s a ton of online tools to use on your own initially then do the lowest end of editing for the first book. I’m not sure if the topic, but depending on your audience you may be fine as is. I say push the upload, start earning, promote promote promote!!! The worse you can do is learn! Best of luck to you 😊

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  22. Getting a second set of eyes who knows what they’re doing is always a good idea, in my personal & professional experience.

    The pricing of editors varies quite a bit (in my freelance editing, I tend to be on the low end). But, not all “professionals” are reputable, so it’s always good to ask around, particularly among other writers you know and trust. (I’ve established a long term, positive, editing relationship with one client through a college friend who co-wrote with her and hired me to edit their work.)

    All that said, if you are near a university, I’d recommend contacting their English department. There are usually graduate students (who teach writing) who are looking for a little side income, who know what they’re doing, and who are cheaper than pros.

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