Do you need an editor? Here’s everything you need to know.
If you’re an aspiring writer, or you’ve already self-published on Amazon and the like, no doubt you’ve asked yourself the question, “Do I need an editor?” There is no simple answer. Instead, I’ve put together some things here that you should consider that’ll help you figure it out.
For quite a while I’ve been doing copy-editing and proofreading for other writers, and so far I’ve got nothing but praise from all the authors I’ve worked with – except, to be honest, one writer who had a minor grumble, but there’s one in every crowd. Lately, I’ve rebranded my editing services as Words Worth Editing, so you won’t see a lot of that at all on the internet, but trust me – I’ve been doing this for years.
So, do you need an editor?
Okay, first up I’ll acknowledge that there is a growing school of thought amongst self-published writers that editing isn’t worth the expense because so many readers don’t care. They don’t give a damn about commas and spelling and grammar as long as the story is great. It’s an interesting argument, and for sure there are some genres that have such a voracious readership that you can get away with … ah, murder. If you simply can’t see any benefit, or feel you won’t recoup the costs from any editing or proofreading, that’s fine. There are risks (see below), but it’s fine. I wish you the best of luck.
Maybe You’re a Crap Writer?
Now, before you get all huffy, understand that I’ve worked with plenty of authors who are brilliant storytellers, but they’re terrible at putting the words on the page. If you identify with having some awesome tales to tell, except the writing process is a real obstacle, a good editor can help. You’ll likely get charged a higher fee because of the extra time involved, but by us working together, your dream will come true. The alternative is that you are a crap writer – you’re rubbish at the whole thing. In that situation, I’ll let you know … gently. Maybe you need to try some writing courses.
The Internet Review System is a Bastard.
This is a serious problem. A lot of reviewers on the internet – Amazon is the obvious example – just love to put the boot in. It doesn’t take much to prompt a savage one-star or, worse, a two-star review (because a lot of people ignore one-star and five-star reviews nowadays) with a comment like “This writer needs a good editor” or “I hated all the spelling and punctuation mistakes” and they punish you with a low-rated review. You might think, I’ve got a thick skin, who cares? Well, Amazon cares … you’ll get a lower average rating, the dreaded algorithms will kick you in the teeth, and you get dropped lower and lower down the page in any search engine results. Amazon loves a winner, and it doesn’t like to pester customers with losers. Harsh, but true. Not using an editor can mean the difference between avoiding those damaging reviews or not. Yes, you can ignore them, but Amazon won’t.
Yes, Because You’re a Writing Machine.
What? You’re a one-person James Patterson book industry and you still need an editor? Yes, because like several authors I’ve worked with, you’re more successful by constantly writing and releasing new books than by getting bogged down editing them. I’m part of the workflow – the business model, if you like – and it’s my job to polish and fix your early drafts while you get on with the new stuff.
You’re Going to Submit to a Publisher or Agent.
If you’re going to try your hand at attracting a publisher or a literary agent – you need an editor, no argument. Publishers and agents combing through their enormous slush piles of unsolicited manuscripts only need the smallest excuse, the slightest reason, to chuck your years of hard work in the bin and move on to the next submission. It’s not just about mistakes, but how much you care about the writing craft , and the effort you’ve made to present them with the best manuscript you can. Send them a mess of typos, errors and grammatical soup, and you can forget it. You plainly don’t care, so they won’t either. Trust me on this one.
Okay, What Does It Cost?
I try to keep costs to a simple formula. We’re talking US Dollars here since the majority of my clients are in America, but if you’re Australian (like me) we can haggle, because it’s not your fault if the exchange rate has gone down the toilet. For proofreading, you’ll normally pay 0.0060 per word, so the easy ballpark figure is US$60 per 10,000 words plus change. For copy editing, it’s 0.010 per word or US$100 per 10,000 words. Normally? When I assess your manuscript, if it’s going to take seriously extra time or work, I’ll discuss this with you and the quote might reflect that. It doesn’t happen often, and you won’t get any nasty surprises on the invoice because we’ll chat about it beforehand. Bottom line – the prices above will most likely apply.
What Genres Do I Work In?
I’ve done almost everything in both fiction and non-fiction, so try me. Science fiction, thriller, cozy mysteries, not-so-cozy mysteries, and before you ask, yes, I’ve done period romance, millionaire romance … quite a few of the more traditional romance genres. However, I’m not interested in erotica, or what you might call the more explicit genres of romance. I don’t have a problem with these – whatever floats your boat – I’m just not interested in these styles. The good news is that I have a few colleagues who are very good at editing explicit romance and erotica, so if you’re here looking for an editor in those genres and I just burst your bubble, still get in touch and I’ll pass you on to those folks.
What Sort of Editing Do I Need?
There seems to be lots of different types of editing, like proofreading, copy editing, line editing, developmental editing, comprehensive editing … the list is long, and no one can apparently agree exactly what each method of editing is supposed to provide. A good way of looking at this is how much you’ll allow the editor to do. With a proofread, I’ll assume your MS has already been edited and just stick to the basics of typos and small errors. A copy edit is pretty thorough, checking everything, while a line edit gives me your permission to shift entire paragraphs or even chapters and question things like plot line, character development and your overall writing “voice”. Again, we’ll chat about this before any agreement is reached.
Do I Supply Samples?
Absolutely, it’s really the only way to properly assess if you will benefit from an editor. It’s a small risk for me – some people use editing samples as a kind of “free lesson” on how they should fix their writing. But for genuine enquiries, a sample is a must. Usually about 2000 words will do it, and it’s best to give me something from the middle of the book, not the start. I work in Microsoft Word and use its Track Changes function. On your end, any version of Word is okay – Track Changes works across all of them – but I definitely need a Word document. Beware, some specialist writing programs don’t Export a .docx file perfectly. Get in touch and I’ll explain more.
US or UK Spelling?
It’s up to you. Some Australian/UK writers decide to use US spelling to cater for that market. I can help with that. General rule-of-thumb is the Chicago Manual of Style when you’re aiming at largely a US readership, or if UK spelling and grammar is preferred, that’s no problem. Most important, I always want to point out to authors that CMOS and any UK equivalent is primarily a journalist standard and sometimes shouldn’t be applied too strictly to long-form writing — especially when a writer’s unique voice and style, and a smooth narrative flow, needs to be taken into account.
By the way, as a copy editor I’m not looking just for poor spelling, bad grammar or missing words. I’m on the lookout for anything that might prompt those unfortunate online reviews or negative comments from a reader. As I said earlier, you know they can be mercenary.
I’m always happy to discuss your editing needs in more detail. Some authors have concerns about genre-specific styles and standards that certainly need working through. It’s a difficult decision at times, and I can help guide you through any options.
To get in touch, you can use the Comments section here or send me an email at email@example.com. Please ensure the subject lines clearly state it’s an editing query – I get a lot of spam. And if you haven’t seen it elsewhere on this site, I’m in Western Australia on GMT +8:00 time zone, and people on the other side of the planet are generally twelve hours opposite to me.
Good luck with your writing., Graeme Hague.