Do You Need a Pro Editor?

More and more new writers are being encouraged to hire an editor before they begin submitting to agents or editors at conferences or via the slush pile. How did anyone sell their work before hiring a pro editor became fashionable or necessary? How can you tell if you need a pro?
Writing Tip for Today: At the dawn of the computer age (when dot matrix was state of the art!) I remember worrying about possible typos in my manuscripts. Ask any writer who’s been at it more than 20 years and they always say, “White-out was my best friend.” Nowadays, we have spell check and little red/green squiggly lines under words to alert us to possible boo-boos. But an editor’s expert eye might mean the difference between an acceptance and another rejection. Here are some thoughts:

  • Do You Love to Parse? Are you a grammar/spelling/usage whiz? If not, a good editor can, at the very least help clean up any errors. Remember, homophones (sound alike/spelled differently) and other errors aren’t caught by Spell Check. When you deliberately write a sentence fragment, the word processor will dog you to change it. A good editor understands the difference. And all agents and publishers prefer a “clean” manuscript, devoid of errors and formatting issues.
  • Use Your Crit Partners. Do you meet regularly with other writers? If you workshop your work regularly, chances are better for spotting not only errata but structural problems. Far better to remedy story problems or character hiccups with a group of peers than with the one you hope to sell to. If you are confident of your group’s ability to smooth out these issues, you may be able to forgo the editor. If not, use Internet editors with great reputations, or ask some of your writing friends for referrals.
  • Know What You’re Paying For. There aren’t really any licensing requirements for editors the way there are for barbers and electricians. Even an English degree doesn’t necessarily translate into a superior editor. Personal recommendations are one way to vet an editor, and be sure to ask what sort of editing the recommend-er has had done: a line or copy edit is light-years away from a good substantive edit.
  • Comparison Shop Before You Sign. Finally, you can get an idea of what a reasonable cost is by comparing several editors. Many will give you a free phone consult or even a few free edited pages. Again, ask for recommendations and follow up on them. Ask the editor to drop names of that editor’s authors with published books or award-winning writing. For a good comprehensive edit (both line or copy edit and substantive edit) be prepared to pay $30-100/hour or ask for a per page flat rate, which runs between $3.00 to $5.00 per page. Only pay half up front, so you’ll have a little bargaining power when the job is finished. On the other hand, you can’t expect an editor to go over your concerns more than once before they charge extra. Good Luck!
  • Disclaimer: I work as a freelance editor, but I’m pretty full for the present. Ask me in a few months. 🙂

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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