Should You Hire a Freelance Editor?

Katie Dale asked, “I am wondering at what stage should I have my memoir edited? After I have an agent? After I have a publisher? Before? Should I consider ever getting professionally edited before I get an agent or publisher? What’s the process?”

This is a question being asked more frequently. Dare I answer with “It depends”?

I have a client who has utilized a freelance editor for their work for years. The client won’t even let me see a draft until after it has been seen by the freelancer. This client is a very successful author and under contract with a major publisher. The client knows that their work will be edited again by the publisher, but wants to make sure what they put in front of anybody has already been “vetted.”

This is one method. Not everyone can or should use that method. But it illustrates the extent that one writer goes towards high quality craft.

Another author (not a client) recently received yet another rejection, including one from me. I happen to know this person and we had formed a friendship over the years at various conferences. This time the author asked, “I think I need to hire a freelance editor. Maybe even a book doctor/mentor who will walk me through my book so I won’t keep getting so many rejections. Can you recommend someone?” I pointed to the resource section of our web site and mentioned that The Christian Writers Market Guide has over 70 pages of freelance editors listed. The author did the due diligence and found the right person and recently wrote, thanking me for the advice. Said it was the best investment they had ever made.

That is another method. Not everyone can or should use that method. But it illustrates the extent that one writer goes towards high quality craft.

Do you sense a pattern here?


Not all freelance editors are alike. This is where your due diligence comes in. Don’t just use the old Yellow Pages method of opening the book and pointing.

Some editors are expert copy editors. They fix grammar incredibly well. Other editors are better as developmental editors. They work on the big picture, structure, pacing, and more. Other editors are proof readers and incredibly good at it.

Don’t expect a proof reader to excel at developmental editing. They are different skill sets. One isn’t better than the other, but they are different. Make sure you know the difference.

If you are a part of a writers group or email loop, ask for recommendations. Referrals are a good place to start.

Here are a couple articles that can help you find the right editor for you:
Four Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Editor
Five Things You Should Ask Your Potential Editor

I’ve had writers tell me they hired their friend’s English teacher, because they were inexpensive. That may have been a brilliant decision, but it also may not be the level of professional editorial expertise you need. (I am not disparaging English teachers! My mom was an English teacher…) But the pro has seen dozens of books at various stages. They may have even had a career inside a publishing house which helps with their understanding of what that book needs for the market that is being targeted.

Bottom Line

I believe that all writers can benefit from an editor. It is the rare person who can create the perfect book without input. But not everyone can afford the costs associated with hiring a top notch editor.

It is likely that you’ve seen a self-produced book which desperately needed editing. Either the author scrimped on their expenses or thought their work did not need the help. Their readers feel otherwise.

I once sat next to a friend who is a professional proofreader and showed her an article I was writing on assignment for a magazine. She found a dozen mistakes on the first page…in only a couple minutes. I had showed her my final draft and was preparing to send it! I was so glad to have saved myself from the embarrassment of sending a shoddy article.

Our agency consistently see proposals that are okay, but simply not written at a level that is needed to break into the market. Agents are not freelance editors so there is only so much we are willing to do to fix a project. I have said it this way, “If I get something that is 90% ready, I can take it the rest of the way. But if it is only 80% ready I will kick it back to the writer with a rejection. We are looking for the best of the best.”

Therefore the decision is yours.



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