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.



40 Responses to Should You Hire a Freelance Editor?

  1. Niki July 31, 2017 at 5:26 am #

    I am the type of person that wants my absolute best work shown to agents. Every. Single. Time.
    The resources you’ve shared are invaluable, it also helps the “weed out process.”

    When writing non-fiction there is already emotions accociated with the book. Having constructive criticism norrow down and elimated potential problems is imperative to me.

  2. Damon J. Gray July 31, 2017 at 5:27 am #

    This is a fascinating and convicting read, Steve. Convicting because of the strength with which you present your case, but fascinating because I have heard another agent present a case that is 180 degrees out from what you just said. At the West Coast Christian Writer’s Conference, last February, Wendy Lawton told a crowd that she does not want to see edited manuscript copy because she prefers to gauge each author’s writing ability rather than the author’s ability to accept or reject editorial suggestions. It leaves me more than a little conflicted … Your thoughts?

    • Kristi Woods July 31, 2017 at 8:23 am #

      Interesting, Damon. Am eager to hear Steve’s response.

    • Steve Laube July 31, 2017 at 10:51 am #


      Let me take a moment to address what appears to be a conflict. When it really isn’t.

      It is important to understand that each agent is different. Some prefer to do a lot of editorial development and some do not. Most are in the middle somewhere.

      I won’t speak for Wendy. We are good friends and we would probably talk about this and end up saying the same thing, but coming at it from a different direction.

      If you are a sloppy writer or one who is really weak in character development for a novel or organization in your non-fiction…you will probably get rejected…or be advised to “hire an editor” or a book coach or a book doctor or find a collaborator or a ghost writer.

      It is never a one-size-fits all situation when it comes to hiring a freelance editor.

      I suppose my bottom line here is to put your best work in front of anyone, whether it is an agent, a publisher, or the public.

      In that sense I suspect we would all be in agreement.

  3. Katie Dale July 31, 2017 at 6:02 am #

    Thanks for answering my question Steve. I’ve bought your Christian Writers Market guide for the year and so far I have a good idea who I want to edit my book. I think it will behoove me to get it edited freelance, since a traditional publisher may not want to see it at this stage (it’s a memoir), until it really blows them away (again, memoir). And at the end of the day, if I self publish (because…memoir), it will be vital. Otherwise I’m happy to have the publisher’s editor take it on. Thanks again!

    • Steve Laube July 31, 2017 at 10:53 am #


      So glad to hear the Market Guide was a helpful tool for you!

      It is hard to know where to start. Having a curated list is much better than typing in a search into a search engine online!

  4. Edward Lane July 31, 2017 at 6:17 am #

    Thanks, Steve! Great thoughts!

  5. Bryan Mitchell July 31, 2017 at 6:24 am #

    I never thought about hiring an editor. I was a high school English teacher and I completely agree. When I would have to, grade essays it was, for the most part, the same level of quality, with a few very bad and very good in the mix. It was always fairly short work too (five paragraph essay, synopsis, etc). I think I’ll reach out to an editor. It couldn’t hurt. Thanks for the article.

  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 31, 2017 at 7:28 am #

    In setting up hostage scenarios in shooting houses, trainers always use a simple ploy, and the shooters always fall for it…a nasty-looking thug will be a hostage, and the terr will be an attractive young woman.

    We see what we expect to see, and the point of the exercise is to step away from the enculturation that says a pretty girl can’t be evil, and to look at the situation objectively.

    Same for writing. We write what we want to write, and we expect to see what we intended to produce. Even if what’s on the page isn’t what we are ‘seeing’.

    QED, hire an editor.

  7. Brennan McPherson July 31, 2017 at 7:39 am #

    I have an author friend whose first book was a run-away best-seller, and on his third book, he’s still hiring a freelance editor before pitching to agents/publishers.

    I think that if you haven’t had your entire work edited by a professional editor before, it’s the best investment you can make in your career. It certainly was the best thing that’s happened to me. It also led to a very solid, long-term relationship with my editor, who is a saint.

  8. Christine Malkemes July 31, 2017 at 7:40 am #

    Thank you. I was just sitting here thinking of rewriting the book and this time send it to an freelance editor. If I value the reader and the craft then this is what I will do. Thanks again.

  9. July 31, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    Really nice post, Steve. It’s funny–I edit for NY Times Bestselling Authors, and also award-winning ones (one of my authors won a Spur last year). And they come back to me for developmental editing for their next books.
    As you say as well–finding the right fit is paramount!
    Thanks for posting this.

  10. Traci Hilton July 31, 2017 at 8:04 am #

    This is the number one message I preach to indie authors! Thanks for this post. Also, I have always wondered about the editing process for submitting to agents, so I was glad to learn that the better the book, the better the response to it all around.

  11. Nelson Martin July 31, 2017 at 8:17 am #

    Susan Malone, who replied to this post, has served extremely well as a proofreader and development as well. Susan is the best!

  12. Kristi Woods July 31, 2017 at 8:29 am #

    More good info to chew on, Steve. Today’s comments certainly support hiring an editor as well. It’s been interesting to read them. Also, I appreciate the links concerning the search for the right editor. That question swirled as I read the post. Thanks!

  13. Natalie Hidalgo July 31, 2017 at 8:30 am #

    I hear what you are saying and I agree with your bottom line. Not everyone can afford the costs associated with hiring a top notch editor. Some can’t afford even a low notch editor. So many people tell me they want to read my draft and will give me honest feedback but they must think that if they get around to reading it in the same year I gave it to them it’s all good. I will need to stick with editorial reviews for now and do what I can to get this done. I feel like I’m stuck at 80% and that gets discouraging.

    • Steve Laube July 31, 2017 at 10:56 am #


      I hear you. I wish it wasn’t an issue of funding.

      However, there is the option of tapping into a local writers group or being a part of larger online communities who may provide excellent advice.

      I have one client who does NOT hire a freelance editor, but instead relies on what he calls his “beta readers.” They are a group of four other writers who meet together on a regular basis and each help the other in developing and editing each others works.

  14. Laura Moore July 31, 2017 at 9:08 am #

    To hire an editor or not? This question has plagued me since completing my manuscript. As a barely published author (poems and awards only), I balk at the price tag associated with a 70,000-word manuscript. On the one hand, it is an invaluable service with skills beyond my own. On the other, it is a costly exercise which may not improve my chances of representation. Perhaps a preliminary service wherein an editor offers an opinion as to what level of editing is required or if the work isn’t even worthy of that costly step. I suppose that puts me firmly in the mentoring world, looking for reassurance and advice. Thank you for your thoughts and resources.

    • Steve Laube July 31, 2017 at 10:58 am #


      As I mentioned to Natalie, consider becoming part of a vibrant writing community that can help you when the costs are more than you can afford.

      The bottom line is to put your best work out there.

  15. Traci Hilton July 31, 2017 at 9:13 am #

    Another thought:

    If you are writing as art, you don’t necessarily need to worry about publication, which means you don’t need to worry about editing either.

    If you are writing for publication, you are actually an entrepreneur starting a home based business, and starting a business costs money.

    If you can’t afford an editor at all, you can’t start independent publishing.


    If you can’t afford an editor you must be willing to accept that your manuscript is competing against edited manuscripts when the agent gets your proposal and might not get accepted.

    The first person to really impress me with the point that this is a business and needs a financial investment changed my life for the better.

    • Laura Moore July 31, 2017 at 9:20 am #

      Fantastic way to think of this expense!

  16. Loretta Eidson July 31, 2017 at 9:36 am #

    Wow! I learn more every time I read this blog. Thank you for your insight.

  17. Carol Ashby July 31, 2017 at 10:05 am #

    I’m in market as an indie with two novels that are doing well, and I have used a free-lance editor. However, there are some things to consider before you take that leap.

    The first thing to ask yourself is whether you’ve already poured many of your own hours into editing and re-editing and re-editing and…(you get it) your work before you start spending money to “polish it.” If you haven’t, then you’re not ready to pay for an editor. An inexpensive rate is 2.5 cents per word ($2K for an 80K-word book) for work that is already polished so the editor doesn’t have to do too much to it. The charge could be higher if your work is still rather sloppy. I have personally edited every sentence in my novels at least 8 times and possible 20 for the more intense sections at crisis points even before I send it to my betas and my critique partner (who is an excellent fiction writer herself). I consider everything they say and make changes before I send anything to my editor. That way I get the lowest rate and the maximum value because my editor isn’t distracted by spending her time trying to fix things I could have fixed myself.

    If you’re not highly skilled with proper grammar and punctuation, I’d recommend getting one of the review books that are aimed at kids who are preparing for the SAT and ACT to refresh your memory on how to do it right. Some rules have changed over the last 50 years. That will help make even your first drafts more polished because you do it right from the beginning instead of having to fix things later.

    Then you want to try an editor to see if she/he is a good match with a partial edit. If you can’t afford a full edit, even that partial edit will key you in on what you should be looking for as you re-edit the book yourself after getting the editor’s input. It’s amazing how your writing can improve as you analyze why the editor made certain suggestions and then use what you learn in your future work.

    I LOVE my editor, especially her godly wisdom in getting maximum emotional impact and believability out of the most intense conversations in my second novel. I’ll be getting her to help me hit the target with my third (and fourth and fifth and…) novels as well. She is worth every penny and gives me confidence that what I’m taking to market is the best I can do and worth a reader’s precious time.

    • Brennan McPherson July 31, 2017 at 10:30 am #

      THIS ^^^ is fantastic advice.

      • Carol Ashby July 31, 2017 at 10:33 am #

        Thanks, Brennan. Sure hope it helps someone.

    • Steve Laube July 31, 2017 at 10:59 am #


      If your editor is willing you are free to tell the community their name. The editor may or may not want the free advertising.

      • Carol July 31, 2017 at 3:31 pm #

        I checked, and it’s fine with her. Wendy Chorot

  18. Sheri Dean Parmelee July 31, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    Thanks for the great information and links, Steve. Your posting was very helpful.

  19. Melissa Henderson July 31, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    I continue to learn from you every day Steve. Thank you very much.

  20. Jerilyn Tyner July 31, 2017 at 4:51 pm #

    Did you misspell desperately on purpose to see if anyone would catch it? I did.

    • Steve Laube July 31, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

      No I did not do that on purpose. Nor did I leave a word out of a later sentence on purpose.

      Our inestimable Bob Hostetler caught the errors and they are corrected online. Unfortunately the email feed went out before we could make the corrections. The editor I use to review the posts was on vacation and did not see the post before it went out.

  21. Linda Riggs Mayfield July 31, 2017 at 9:30 pm #

    Great post, Steve! I was already a published writer when I put on those other hats –proofreader, copy editor, and developmental editor. The problem was that I did not think it was ethical for me to see developmental errors and not bring them to the writer’s attention when I was supposed to be just proofreading. So I became a “research and writing consultant” who only offers substantive editing, which includes copy editing and final proofreading. Editing is only a PART of what I do for my clients. You’re so right to advise being sure of what the editor does!

    Most of my clients are writing a doctoral dissertation, thesis, or capstone, and I coach them through designing the research, writing the proposal, analyzing the data they collect, and writing it into a dissertation that will be approved. Two of my first three clients had their doctoral papers (a dissertation in business and a capstone in nursing) chosen as models for their schools. But I’ve edited two books, too. One had already been self-published “as is,” and required a total, do-some-research, fix-the-spelling, rewrite-the-mile-long-run-on-sentences, break-up-the-three-page-long-paragraphs, rearrange-the-chapters, substantive review. The author was delighted when he received the edited draft (although he passed away before paying me) :-(. The other author thought he only needed a proofreader, but he actually needed developmental/substantive editing for continuity and logical sequences and for not making assumptions about his readers’ knowledge and worldview.

    In my experience, most writers don’t think they need the help they really do need, so when a prospective client contacts me, I offer to do a substantive review on the first 3-5 pages at no charge. They’re always stunned at how many things I suggest for correction or improvement and also that they agree with me. Maybe writers checking out prospective editors should ask if that kind of offer is available before they commit.

    I’m not patting myself on the back here–I think having an “editor’s eye” is a gift from God, something like the spiritual gift of teaching, and I’m very grateful to have it. I heartily support the notion that virtually any writer can benefit from collaborating with a group and/or obtaining the services of a good editor–or research and writing consultant. 🙂

  22. sherri August 1, 2017 at 9:52 am #

    Sorry. I tried to delete it but I couldn’t. Sorry for snarky attitude.

  23. Kathy Sheldon Davis August 1, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

    I don’t know if you reply to comments a day after posting but I’ll ask anyway.

    As a proofreader I would help my clients save money by proofing their piece in increments. That way the clients could “take the ball and run with it,” making changes they could find themselves if they chose to. Do you know if freelance editors might be willing to work like this?

    Thanks so much for this valuable information. We should pay you more!

    • Steve Laube August 1, 2017 at 5:43 pm #

      We get paid in other ways. 🙂

      I cannot speculate if a freelancer would do that. Linda, in the comment above, suggests that some will do that.

      • Kathy Sheldon Davis August 1, 2017 at 5:47 pm #

        Oh goodness, Linda’s was the only comment I didn’t read. Thank you, both!

      • Kim Childress August 7, 2017 at 4:04 am #

        I’ve done increments before, but it’s not the best way to edit unless you’ve already edited a round and know the full story. But with every edit, I also try to “teach/help” authors be able to learn more about their craft and areas that could use work-so authors learn more during every round of revision!

  24. Rebekah Millet August 2, 2017 at 5:46 am #

    Thanks for the insight. I’ve been debating for a while on hiring an editor, but always have sticker shock when it comes down to it. Your post has helped to sway me. Now I just need to sway my husband on the added expense 🙂

  25. Christine Dillon August 2, 2017 at 5:07 pm #

    A truly excellent and helpful post.
    I pitched to 6 agents too early and got no response or rejections. One skype call and then rejected. But they were right. I hadn’t allowed enough professionals to see it and couldn’t judge my own work. I’m sorry for inflicting the book on them.

    2 amazing professional editors later and we’re doing the final proofs. I have 28 eagle-eyed advance readers working and they’re excited. I’m excited because know that the book is ready.

    So thankful to God for leading me to those editors. Both different but both excellent and ones that I can stick with for the future.

  26. Dave Anderson May 21, 2019 at 12:44 pm #

    That is a good point that all writers can benefit from an editor. Maybe it would be good to get an editorial consultant for someone who is writing a book or article. That is something I would want to have if I were writing a book or an article.

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