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Monday, September 08, 2014

Why You (Probably) Don't Need an Editor

2008-01-26 (Editing a paper) - 19 by Nic
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Nic's events

A trend I've noticed recently among writing blogs and websites is a growing consensus that to succeed as a writer, you MUST engage an editor for your work.

This is an assertion that I feel needs to be challenged. Yes, a good editor is a wonderful thing to have, but there are two major stumbling blocks.

First, finding a good freelance editor isn't as easy as you might think. Bear in mind that anyone can call themselves an editor. As well as the genuinely good ones, there are plenty of deluded amateurs and some out-and-out fraudsters. Sorting out the good from the bad and the ugly is by no means a simple task.

And even if you are lucky and find a good editor, their services aren't cheap. For a full-length book you can expect to pay several thousand pounds or dollars. If you are self publishing - on Kindle, for example - you need to think carefully whether any boost in sales that may result will cover this.

Self-publishing authors sometimes believe that a freelance editor will be able to help them with the deeper, structural aspects of their book as well. This is akin to the role performed by developmental editors in traditional publishing houses. Whether a freelance editor can realistically offer this service is in my view very doubtful, however.

Developmental editing tends to be a slow, iterative process. The editor typically reads and reflects carefully on the manuscript, then raises queries and offers suggestions to the author. The author duly reflects on this and gives his/her reactions, and so on. This can work very well with a salaried editor who is employed by a publishing house, but it is not really compatible with freelance editing, where you are charged by the page or the hour. If you hire a freelance editor, what you are basically getting is a copy editor. They may (or may not) make the odd structural suggestion as they go, but it is a long way from the in-depth feedback you will get from a developmental editor in a publishing house.

My advice is therefore to ignore anyone who tells you that you MUST hire an editor. Instead, I recommend a two-pronged approach. First, be sure you are fully up to speed with the basics of grammar and punctuation (my course Essential English for Authors might be helpful here - just saying!). Aim to be your own best editor (and proofreader) rather than relying on someone else.

And second, make full use of free and low-cost resources such as beta readers (other authors are often happy to reciprocate in this role) and online forums such as myWritersCircle. Off-line resources such as writers' groups can be a big help as well. By this means you can get a lot of valuable feedback about your work without spending a fortune.

If you hear of a good editor and can afford their services, by all means use them too. But be realistic about how much benefit you are likely to get from their input, and weigh this carefully against the costs involved.

Remember, also, that with e-book (or POD) publishing, if someone tells you about a mistake, it is a very simple matter to correct and republish. Getting everything 100 percent correct before publishing, while still desirable, is therefore no longer so essential.

Of course, if you're aiming to get published by a traditional publishing house, some of the above comments may not apply. But still, bear in mind that in-house editors provide their services free of charge if the publisher sees potential in your work. Your objective as an author should therefore be to ensure that your manuscript demonstrates such potential. No freelance editor will be able to 'fix' your manuscript if it is basically unpublishable. But that won't stop them taking your money, of course.

So that's my view, but what do you think? Should all aspiring writers be told to hire an editor for their work, or is this (as I think) unrealistic in many cases? Please post any comments you may have below!

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OpenID sallyjenkins said...

This is food for thought, Nick. If I thought I'd could recoup the cost of an editor through book sales then I'd definitely go down that route. But it's unlikely so maybe beta readers are the answer.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Sally. Indeed, for many authors I tend to think that beta readers and/or writers groups (online or offline) are likely to be a better solution than hiring a freelance editor.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Debbie Young said...

Hi Nick, I agree with you that not all editors were created equal, and it's important to check the credentials of any you plan to use. I also agree that beta readers are an invaluable and under-used option that many new writers simply to do not realise exist, which is a real shame. Using beta readers will certainly save any author a great deal of money before they submit their ms to a paid editor, as the task of structural or line editing will consequently take the editor much less time.

But I'd be really wary of assuming that it doesn't matter if you have typos in your book when you launch it on the basis that they can be easily corrected. Yes, they can - but you won't have the power to remove any low-starred reviews that you may get in the meantime due to your errors, and it'll be hard to win back the confidence and interest of the readers you might lose that way.

If submitting your ms to a trade publisher, they'll also be less likely to offer you a contract if your manuscript is riddled with typos and grammatical errors, as they'll think you're going to be hard work and time-consuming.

Perhaps the best middle course is to use free beta readers for structural editing but to pay for proofreading. I'd advise getting a quote defined in terms of £ per 1000 words, rather than an hourly rate, so you know exactly what you're committing to.

Thanks for sharing this interesting debate! Looking forward to seeing what others have to say about it.

Best wishes, Debbie

8:29 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for your in-depth response, Debbie. I agree with pretty much all you say, really.

I wasn't thinking of typos so much when I made the comment that an e-book/POD book didn't have to be perfect before it was published. I was thinking of less obvious errors, e.g. inconsistencies in word choice or even minor factual errors.

I absolutely agree that nobody should publish a book full of typos for the reasons you state. The use of spell-checkers and dedicated editing software can help with this, as can beta readers. There is certainly a case for using a proofreader as well if you can afford one. It should cost significantly less than a freelance editor would.

The question of how many typos are acceptable in a published book is a vexed one. Ideally you want none at all, but most readers will accept one or two without complaint(and many won't notice). My view would be that you should do your best to eliminate typos before publishing, but if the odd one sneaks through it's not the end of the world. If a reader brings one to your attention, just thank them profusely and correct it immediately in the source file!

Any other comments are welcome, of course.

9:27 AM  

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