Emerging writers often wonder why it’s at all important to hire an editor and how much that even costs. After all, everyone has access to spellcheck on their computers, so why spend unnecessary money? Some writers draw the line at proofreading, not understanding that it is just one of the many levels of editing in which serious best-selling authors invest. Others look for alternatives to hiring an editor.
When your book is published through a reputable traditional print publisher, it will go through multiple stages of editing – starting with developmental editing / manuscript review, and ending with comprehensive editing – before finally hitting the shelves. The entire process from being granted a book deal to starting your book tour can take over five years with a traditional publisher. That is one of the many reasons why modern authors opt to go the self-publishing route and looking for alternatives to hiring an editor. Unfortunately – for many aspiring published authors – professional editing is the most important, most misunderstood and most cost-prohibitive element in self-publishing.
If you want to self-publish, you need to produce a good quality, professional work. You can do this by hiring a skilled editor for the various stages of the process – or at least one comprehensive round of editing. Alternatively, you can request a manuscript review at the start of the process, and follow that up with the most suitable editing package.
Non-fiction books can always be improved with better organization, sentence structure, and word-choice. Fiction, on the other hand, cannot always be improved with mere grammar. It requires more than just writing improvement, which is where an editor comes in handy. An editor can provide comments on a variety of aspects, in addition to language issues, including:
- character development
While it’s not something most writers want to hear, the truth is that polishing your writing alone will not turn a badly-written mediocre book into a beautifully written best-seller. However, you will learn much from the editing process.
Issues With Hiring an Editor
When it comes to works of art (which your book is), it can be difficult to hand your life’s work over to a complete stranger, especially if you’re afraid that they might butcher your book. It’s therefore important to know what you’re in for before you hire an editor or even before using alternatives to hiring an editor.
Your editor might suggest rewrites – If your manuscript has plot holes or if the story line is inconsistent, your editor may recommend changes or rewrites. You may be reluctant to deal with such recommendations in your story, and that’s fine. Rewriting is tough and it can be an eye-opener to suddenly see the flaws in your manuscript. However, some of today’s best-selling authors went through worse – they were rejected by major publishing houses (several times!). At least self-publishing affords you the freedom to get published your way.
Your editor might suggest commercial changes – Remember, an editor views your manuscript from the readers’ perspectives. Most editors are avid readers and consumers. Your book is your baby, but your editor knows that – deep down – you want to make sales and a name for yourself. She might recommend changes that will make your book more commercially viable. Do give it some thought, but if your gut says you should stick with your original ideas, go for it.
Your editor should be a better writer than you – It’s not a matter of knowing your story, or having a vivid imagination, but rather a skill for language and turning ideas into a cohesive manuscript by flagging issues with flow, language, and structure. It’s a matter of making your story as good as possible.
As a writer, one of the issues that stand between your dream of becoming a published author and your decision to hire an editor lies in just how much your book might benefit from editing. It can be difficult to compare editors and to recognize the benefits of editing. In some cases, a higher price does equate to better quality editing, but sometimes, that’s not what you need.
Getting the Editing Help YOUR Manuscript Requires
Many of today’s best-selling authors can get by with a single round of editing – or proofreading. However, first-time writers often benefit more in the long term from more comprehensive editing, which is done in stages. This can be a conundrum for first-timers:
- They lack the funds for several rounds of editing at different stages.
- A first book is often a flop due to a lack of focus on a specific genre of a reasonable size – and nothing to do with the writing or the story.
- Your lack of enthusiasm for writing may be hurt after spending a significant chunk of money on editing and publishing a book that does not earn back the investment.
So what’s a serious writer to do?
Affordable Alternatives to Hiring an Editor
Joining a writing group can be helpful, provided you’re surrounded by more experienced authors. Remember that other novice writers are probably making the same kinds of mistakes that you are making, which can perpetuate your bad writing habits.
You could find some beta readers to work through your book. [However, be sure that you understand their challenges and limitations.] Ask specific questions regarding the type of feedback you hope to receive and questions that will help you ascertain whether they actually read everything. If nothing else, you should get some feedback on the story line.
Add a note at the beginning of your book requesting that readers contact you directly if they find any errors (instead of posting bad reviews!). Provided you have fewer than a dozen (yes, they slip through spell check!), this should not be too much of a problem. It should be ironed out in a few weeks, and you can then upload a new copy of the ebook. Do this before you prepare the print version.
Learn to accept constructive criticism – this applies whether you use an editor or any of the recommended alternatives to hiring an editor. Your readers may leave negative reviews regarding your story or your characters. This is a great way to free feedback that can help improve your writing, but bear in mind that it can make it difficult to republish your book or re-brand yourself as an author in future.
If you’ve set aside a tidy sum for book design and advertising and you’re hoping to use the spell checker in Word or Grammarly for all your editing (as alternatives to hiring an editor), it may be an idea to rethink your decision. These systems do not pick up on the more human nuances that make writing personal, emotional and powerful. They don’t pick up issues such as flow, character development and all the other little details that make up a book.
Yes, you may be able to run spell-check in a few hours for a lengthy manuscript while a good editor will take several weeks to work through it. That will push your target publishing date out. But think about the reasons behind this, and think about the value that brings to your book and your career as a writer. You’ve spent months writing your book. Don’t throw that time away with poor quality editing or using cheap alternatives to hiring an editor.