Do You Need to Hire a Professional Editor?

Recently, a blog reader sent the following question:

Tamela, as everyone knows, writing can be a desperately lonely pastime. The biggest thing I struggle with is direction or coaching. That is, “Have I developed a good story, concept, or theme? Or, am I seriously off the rails, a hopeless case?” I realize I’m talking about developmental editing but how can a writer find critical review without spending mega-bucks? Please forgive my naïveté!

I took this question to my friend, Natalie Hanemann, who happens to be a professional freelance editor. Here is her response:

Writing is indeed a lonely sport. Without a sounding board, writers don’t know if they’re headed in a good direction. Getting feedback from critique partners or beta readers can be helpful, but getting a professional perspective is what writers need most. Why? Because it increases their chances of landing a book contract.

Using a professional editor is an up-front investment–no doubt about it. But, writers, consider what you’re investing in. Books are salable products. If what you’re offering is top-notch, easily consumable, entertaining, and inspiring, you’re likely to sell more copies and grow a fan base. This can lead to subsequent books, more success, and possibly a full-time writing career. But without putting your best content out there to begin with, you may never get the opportunity to see your first book published. An experienced editor can help steer you in a direction that accomplishes two primary goals: One, they will strip out the unnecessary parts of your manuscript while building up the essential areas. This results in a solid story that is well-crafted. Two, they can use their experience to direct your content away from areas that may be more challenging to sell.

Writers need a partner–someone with whom they can bounce off ideas, who will give them honest feedback and direction, who will encourage them during times of doubt. Developmental editors do this. Honestly, there is no substitute for this. So if a writer is serious about what they’re doing, they’ll need to consign themselves to hiring a developmental editor at some point.

Before hiring a professional editor, consider these tips, which will make the editing process more efficient and possibly save you money along the way:

  1. Read at least two books on writing. I have a list of recommended titles on my website, but there are many helpful books out there.
  2. Do the hard work. Just reading a book on writing isn’t enough. Work the examples. If you don’t understand what a term means, Google it. Figure it out. For instance, many writers may be able to tell you what “Show Don’t Tell” means, but very few new writers properly incorporate this technique into their craft. This is another way a professional editor can help you. A good one will take the time to explain exactly what these writing terms mean and will give you examples. They will also call you out when they notice you slipping by leaving comments in the Word doc.
  3. Go through your manuscript and make sure it’s tidy. Use proper capitalization, punctuation, check for missing words. Reduce your use of adverbs and strengthen your verbs. Trim the fat the best way you know how. If something isn’t necessary for the plot–if scenes aren’t accomplishing 3 or 4 things simultaneously–rework them! Make it a game to cut out 100 words a day from a chapter. Trim, trim, trim.
  4. Make sure who you’re hiring to edit your book is a good fit for you. Ask for an estimated cost and timeline. Be flexible! If it would make you more comfortable, ask if you can have a preliminary phone call–20 minutes max–just so you can hear about the editor’s experience and you can briefly share what your book is about.
  5. After you get the estimate from your editor, if the cost is way out of your price range, ask them about payment plans or if they can possibly reduce their fees a bit. You have nothing to lose by asking!

Lastly, a word on the difference between a story coach and a developmental editor. Story coaching is a stage of editing that precedes the developmental edit. Not every author needs a story coach. You may need one if you’re having trouble writing the first draft of your book. Or if you only have an outline but have lost your motivation to start writing the chapters. Or if you don’t feel confident in your current outline. A story coach will help you come up with a plan, help you set some deadlines, and hold you accountable to meeting these dates (that’s not to say you can’t ask for more time, of course, if you need it). Typically when I story coach, I ask for an author to send me each chapter as they complete it and wait for me to give feedback before they proceed. This is a more efficient use of their time and mine.

A developmental edit is done on a completed manuscript. The editor reads the manuscript and provides an editorial letter that lists the areas that need improvement. Usually the editor will mark up the manuscript Word file–leaving comments or noting specific areas that need more attention.

For a complete description of the different kinds of editing (developmental, line, and proofreading), visit my website and click on the tab “Detail of Services.”

Natalie Hanemann has been a professional editor for sixteen years. She started her own freelance business in 2012 and has worked with hundreds of authors on their manuscripts. Her specialty is Christian fiction and Christian living titles. Visit her website at for more information.
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