So, should you hire an editor to look at your MS? In my opinion, if you are looking to be published traditionally, the short answer is “yes.”
Just so you know, I’m not an editor and I don’t get any brownie points for recommending you have one look at your work. Then why am I so quick to suggest you use an editor?
Because if you find a good editor, they will make your writing better. Notice I didn’t say they will guarantee you find an agent or get a publishing deal. All I said is they will make your writing better (which if you think about it might actually be worth more than finding an agent or a book deal.)
I’m a new writer and when I started out, I was pretty much completely lost. Sure, I felt like I could write fairly decent, but I also had this misguided notion that a writer’s natural talent would guide them in the right direction.
If I was meant to be a writer, then my “writerly instincts” would take over and somehow that would just shine through on the page. Basically I thought writers are born and not made. Oh, how we can delude ourselves.
Ok, so I honestly believe some people are born with an innate ability to write and it just “comes” to them. I’m here to tell you I’m not one of those people. And most likely, if you’re reading my little blog, then you aren’t either. It doesn’t mean we don’t have talent and potential. It just means we’re going to have to mix in a good helping of hard work with that talent if we want to reach a level where our work is publishable. I’m not afraid of a little hard work, and you shouldn’t be either.
What I’ve learned is that writing, like a lot other things, is in part a craft (a large part). Yes, a great musician needs to have talent, but even they have to learn proper technique and practice their little hearts out. But the good news is because writing involves learning a craft, we can get better at it. Working with an editor is a great way to do that.
But wait, you say. If I do find an agent, won’t they act like an editor and read over my work? Yes, some agents will, but they are busy people too. They aren’t looking for clients they have to invest a lot of time in, just to get the writing level up to where it needs to be. We’re writers. It’s our job to have our writing at the level it needs to be.
But wait, you say. Once I get an agent and I get a book deal, then the publisher is going to have me work with an editor anyway. So why hire one now? Yes, the publisher will most likely have an editor (or a team of editors) scour over your work. That still doesn’t get us off the hook. The only way we ever get an agent and get that book deal is if our writing is already of high quality.
But wait, you say. My book is so unique, the idea alone will have agents jumping at it, even if the actual writing leaves a little to be desired. Uhmm…Ok. Look, having a great book idea is awesome and there are some agents willing to invest the time to work with you. But for the most part, agents will pass on a story if they see the writing is lacking. Again, writing is a craft and it’s something we can work on. So work on it.
But wait you say. No offense, JD, but you’re just a poor schlump who got into this writing thing later in life after you were old and dried up and useless. (Sure, no offense taken **makes angry eyes **). But what if you happen to be a writer, armed with a college degree and a long list of university courses where you already honed your skills? How could an editor help someone like that?
Look, there’s no doubt going to school for writing is a real benefit, and I’m honestly jealous. You have a leg up, but that’s not a guarantee of success. Far from it in fact. In school, the only thing on the line was your grade. Yes, professors can be tough, but they aren’t looking at your writing in a commercial sense. They are going to get paid whether you get an “A” or an “F”.
That’s not true for an agent. If an agent decides to take you on, they don’t get paid unless your writing is good enough to interest a publisher. And the publisher doesn’t get paid unless your writing is good enough to sell. That’s a whole another rung on the ladder and a professional editor can help you get to that next level.
Why? Because frankly, editors (at least the good ones) aren’t going to treat you with kid gloves like a professor or a teacher (or a critique partner) might. Yes, editors can certainly be nurturing and supportive, but you are hiring them to make you a better writer. If they’re a good editor, then they’ll do that even if it means stepping on your ego.
I’ve worked with a couple of editors in my journey and in part 2 of this post I’ll talk a bit about some of the feedback I’ve received. I don’t come out and recommend any specific editors because that isn’t my intent, but if you’re interested in my experiences, you can email me directly.
And as always, I’d love to hear your comments.
All the best,