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 nataliehanemann.com for more information.

25 Responses to Do You Need to Hire a Professional Editor?

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson June 4, 2020 at 4:57 am #

    Natalie Hanemann has been my go-to editor for four full-length novels and a set of novellas. As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve only ended up wanting to invest more into editing. So, she’s right. Everyone needs editing. And Natalie’s top-notch.

  2. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson June 4, 2020 at 5:48 am #

    Thank you for this valuable information. I have a story with an editor and am learning a lot about the editing process. Frustrating at times, but definitely worth the investment.

    • Avatar
      Natalie June 4, 2020 at 8:47 am #

      It can be frustrating. There’s a balance between knowing when to listen to the advice of your editor and being able to stand firm in what you want. It’s situational, but just be ready to reconsider what you’ve held as sacrosanct. Be able to reasonably defend your position. No professional editor should force you do something with your story you aren’t comfortable with. This is your book. Having said that, a little trust goes a long way. Be willing to have a full discussion so both of you understand each other.

  3. Avatar
    Denise June 4, 2020 at 6:15 am #

    Are developmental editors genre specific? On a website for an editor named in the Christian Writers Market Guide, for example, the editor gives a sample of published books her company has edited. None of them were in the speculative fiction genre which I am writing. Could employing such an editor lead to disastrous results (like using a beta reader who doesn’t quite get your genre)?

    • Avatar
      Natalie June 4, 2020 at 9:04 am #

      If you’re writing fiction, yes, you want to partner with an editor who has expertise in the genre you’re writing. (BTW, it’s important to hire an editor who specializes in fiction because it has its own set of guidelines that differ from nonfiction). An editor can specialize in more than one genre–I like working in women’s fiction, general fiction, and historical fiction. Each genre has its own set of reader expectations. It’s important for your editor to be familiar with those. Of all the genres, the ones I find most niche are fantasy and sci-fi… these stories require an editor who has specific experience with those.

  4. Avatar
    Bill Conger June 4, 2020 at 6:28 am #

    I appreciate this article. I know it will depend on the editor, years of experience and other factors. But what is the price range that could be expected for editing services?

  5. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 4, 2020 at 8:16 am #

    I would gladly hire
    an editor to help my work,
    to goad and to inspire,
    and find out where the errors lurk.
    But life’s become Charybdis
    on this course my days have taken,
    and beloved tenets of existence
    have been so sadly, badly shaken
    that confidence has crept away;
    is my message valid now?
    Is the man I am today
    even fit to steer the plow
    through the literary field
    in seach of some Elysian yield?

    • Avatar
      Natalie June 4, 2020 at 9:08 am #

      Andrew, lovely words. Is your message valid? No way to say unless you hire one and see. Don’t give up on your dream.

  6. Avatar
    Nick June 4, 2020 at 8:48 am #

    Thank you for including everything in the article in your email. I don’t usually click-through to sites I’m subscribed to because I don’t have the time. Your email was helpful.

    Do you have any advice on someone breaking into the editing business as an editor? I love my writing, but I’ll starve if I try to live on the money it makes me, haha. Editing for a house pays the bills, but it’s difficult to break into this field.

  7. Avatar
    Claire O'Sullivan June 4, 2020 at 10:22 am #

    Amen.

    I avail myself of books and everything in my arsenal (I have more than 2, including Strunk and White and Spunk and Bite). I have a list of catchy phrases, behaviors, overused words on the side. The list (longish) assists me with changing up to more intelligent words (I don’t believe in dumbing down my work), nor do I ever use the same behaviors twice… but that comes later.

    First, I write the synopsis. This seems to gel up bizarre scenes that need to be outed.

    When I get to the MS, I use an eReader (catches my doubles), Grammarly, ProWritingAid (all of which supplement my books and list). Then critiquers, beta readers, and back to the eReader it goes.

    Then I send said MS to my Grammar Nazi before I fire it off to my editor, back to the MS, one more eRead, then off to the editor.

    It sounds like a lot. But my publisher said my first MS is one of the cleanest copies she’s had to edit. I’m slogging through my second novel and on the Grammarly/ProWritingAid stage.

    Much of what I have learned has come from this agency. I cannot thank the agents enough!

    “How to Steal a Romance” comes out in July! Yay!

    claireosullivan1.com

  8. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks June 4, 2020 at 12:02 pm #

    I love working with my talented critique partner and some wonderful beta readers. But yeah, the opinion of a professional is gold!

  9. Avatar
    Patricia Iacuzzi June 4, 2020 at 1:06 pm #

    So thankful I have Natalie as my editor! Had a list to choose from, but trust is a big factor and now I’ve returned to her once again for her professional opinion of my work. I thought I should be writing historical romance. Not so. I discovered the Lord has led me to write women’s fiction–and Natalie to help clear the path.

  10. Avatar
    Deb Watley June 4, 2020 at 2:22 pm #

    I also want to sing Natalie’s praises as an editor! She has helped me refine my writing and deepen my stories. After spending months or years on a story, I can’t see it with objective eyes. I need an editor’s professional opinion!

    • Avatar
      Natalie June 4, 2020 at 3:16 pm #

      Thanks, Deb! I appreciate you!

  11. Avatar
    Jenni Hayes Ryjewski June 4, 2020 at 9:00 pm #

    Great blog post! There is so much helpful info here for anyone looking to improve their manuscript with a second set of eyes. Natalie has been invaluable to me. She helped edit my first manuscript that is now ready for submission. Without her professional guidance, my message wouldn’t be as clear or polished.

    • Avatar
      Natalie June 5, 2020 at 7:54 am #

      Thanks, Jenni. I enjoyed working with you.

  12. Avatar
    Natalie Hanemann June 5, 2020 at 7:58 am #

    Hi Nick,
    You could try a site like Reedsy, which has a bank of editors that authors can pick from. The pays not great but it’s a good way to get some experience.
    Good luck!

  13. Avatar
    Carol Voelkel June 5, 2020 at 10:22 am #

    Great blog post! Natalie, you have been AMAZING to work with and have truly enhanced my writing journey with your natural ability to coach and through your honest and unbiased editing of both my fiction and non-fiction novels. We just completed our 3rd book together and I’m already looking forward to the next one. I love you as my editor, but I’m also blessed to call you my friend!

  14. Avatar
    Louise Sedgwick June 9, 2020 at 11:24 am #

    Thank you for this helpful blog. I am new to writing and the learning curve is steep. I have a question regarding the use of a developmental editor. Should a writer submit their completed work to a developmental editor before turning in a book proposal to an agent? The advice I get from published authors varies on this process. Any insight you can give would be helpful.

    • Avatar
      Natalie June 10, 2020 at 7:30 am #

      Hi Louise, definitely. You want to show a potential agent your very best so getting a developmental edit before sending an agent the proposal is your best plan of action. The risk of doing it before is that the agent reads unpolished work and thinks you aren’t ready to be shopped to publishers. Or, if they request the full manuscript, you’ll have to tell them it’s being edited and risk losing their attention. Published authors who already have some books in the marketplace may choose to turn in a proposal before a developmental edit. In that case, the agent can look at past performance. But for new authors, the best first step is a dev. edit.

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