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It's one of the questions I hear all the time: should you hire an editor before submitting your book to an agent?
The short answer is yes; but as always, there is a lot of “well, it depends” that goes along with it.
Editing in the Publishing Process
Writing a book is a daunting task. It takes hours of hard work, research, and dedication to bring your story to life. But what happens once you have completed your manuscript? Once the words are finally down on paper, your work is just getting started.
Now you've got to do everything in your power to turn that story into a book worth publishing. And this includes editing.
Most authors instinctively read through their manuscripts to look for mistakes, typos and any plot holes they might have missed. This self-editing is the first step in the editing process—a process of refining and improving your writing so that it's polished and ready for publication. Without editing, even the most exciting, original book can fall flat with readers or agents.
And most authors understand that if they want to self-publish a book, they are going to need to either hire an editor or get really good at self-editing. But when an author wants to explore traditional publishing, things aren't quite so clear cut.
One of the biggest differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing is that because editing is part of the publishing process and not necessarily part of the writing process, traditional publishers include it as part of their workflow. That means they will find one of their favored editors to do the developmental edit, line edit, copy edit and even the proofreading for the book before the book is formatting and finished. But does that mean you don't have to worry about hiring an editor at all?
Well, that gets a little complicated.
While definitely not required, hiring an editor before submitting your manuscript to an agent can improve your chances of getting published successfully.
There are several benefits to working with an editor and different types of editors who may take on different roles in improving various aspects of your manuscript such as plot development & character building or grammar & syntax errors correction while keeping up with conventions in writing for specific genres.
Hiring an Editor Before Submitting to an Agent Can Make All the Difference
While you may feel confident in your writing, editing plays a vital role in the publishing process.
I know what you're thinking, editing is so expensive, shouldn't I know for sure the book is going to be published first before I hire an editor?
But here's the thing: if your manuscript hasn't been accepted yet by an agent, then hiring an editor can make all the difference. And if you haven't even tried to submit your manuscript to an agent yet, hiring an editor can give you a huge advantage over other submissions. An editor can strengthen your manuscript, giving you a better chance of finding an agent, in key ways:
Enhanced Story Structure and Pacing
One of the biggest benefits of hiring an editor is having someone who can provide objective feedback about story structure and pacing. Depending on the type of book that you're writing (fiction vs non-fiction), there's only so much one person can do when it comes to ensuring that their story makes sense or flows well from beginning to end.
And as the author, sometimes we're too close to our story to really see what's happening. There are sometimes thoughts in our heads that don't make it onto the page, sometimes we are so familiar with the story that we can skip entire sections while we're reading and not even notice, and sometimes we're just so dedicated to telling the story the way it has formed in our head that we don't recognize when certain pieces might need to be left out or moved.
This is where editors come in; they provide fresh eyes on your manuscript, helping identify places where there might be plot holes or sections that drag on too long. By working with a good editor early on in the process, they can help shape your story into one that readers will enjoy reading.
And if readers will enjoy reading the story, agents like to be a part of that.
Improved Writing Quality
It might go without saying, but one of the primary benefits of hiring an editor is improved writing quality. Editors are trained professionals who can help identify common mistakes such as grammatical errors, run-on sentences and awkward phrasing.
They can offer suggestions on how to improve your writing style and make sure your manuscript is polished and professional. Your editor will also challenge you to take your writing to the next level by pushing you out of your comfort zone, helping you develop ideas further, playing around with sentence structure, and choosing better words for metaphors or similes.
Professional book editors understand what's happening in the publishing industry. They understand genre expectations, industry trends, and what agents are looking for. They know what's working and what's not which means they can do more than just make your book grammatically correct—they can help your book match each of these standards.
The ultimate goal for any author wanting their book traditionally published is getting accepted by agents or publishers. But, as you know, this isn’t always guaranteed. In fact, most agents receive hundreds of manuscripts weekly, and not all stand out in the way that they should.
An experienced editor can give your manuscript the edge it needs to stand out from the rest. By improving your manuscript's writing quality and enhancing its story structure and pacing, editors can help turn your book into a polished masterpiece that has a higher chance of getting accepted by agents or publishers.
Hiring an editor before submitting your book to an agent is a wise investment that can help you save time and money in the long run. Editing improves writing quality, enhances story structure and pacing, and ultimately increases chances of getting published.
Don't Agents Want to See Your “Raw Talent”?
I have been ghostwriting and editing since 2002, and have never heard an agent say that they wanted to see unpolished, unedited manuscripts.
I have heard a couple (like, three) authors at different points tell me their agents told them that they prefer unedited manuscripts so they can get a measure of the author's raw talent; but again, I've never been able to actually confirm that claim as no agent has ever said it to me.
Of course, I haven't met every agent out there. Maybe there are some who do, but I doubt it (or, at least, I doubt there are very many).
Agents don't generally care about raw talent. They care about whether or not the story is something that will sell:
- Will a publisher buy it
- Will the market buy it
- Will a television or movie studio buy it
They don't need to know what your raw talent for writing looks like for any of those scenarios. Sure, having a natural talent for clean writing can definitely make getting to some of these answers easier, but you can also get to them with editing (either by self-editing or hiring an editor).
But Hiring an Editor before You Submit Your Manuscript is Not a Requirement
If you ask just about any agent out there, they will tell you that hiring an editor to go through your manuscript is not a requirement to get picked up for a traditional book deal. But it is a highly encouraged step that can give you a huge advantage over other authors.
So, what type of editor should you hire? Well, that really depends on where in the process you are and what you're struggling with as you query. Before we get to that, let's get a brief look at the different types of editors and what they typically do.
Types of Editors and Their Roles
Developmental Editor: Helps with Plot, Character Development, and Overall Story Structure
A developmental editor helps an author develop the storyline, characters, pacing, and overall structure of the book. They are involved in the creative process from start to finish. The editor works with the writer to ensure that the story is well-paced and that each plot point is leading to a strong conclusion. The developmental editor also ensures that the characters are fully developed throughout the story.
Overall, working with a developmental editor can make your book stand out from others in your genre. They can help ensure that your story is engaging and keeps readers interested until the very end.
Line Editor: Helps with Voice, Character Presence, and Overall Tone
A line editor helps the author define the overall tone and vibe of the story.
The way I describe it, if a Developmental Editor helps with what you said, the Line Editor helps you figure out how to say it.
Once the overall structure and plot of the story and character arcs are in place, a Line Editor helps make sure that each character has a unique personality, motivations for their actions, and distinct voice that helps give them an individual presence within the story. The Line Editor will also help make sure that the tension and pacing deliver the emotional impact the author is after.
Copyeditor: Focuses on Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation Errors
A copyeditor’s job is to focus on grammar usage in sentences as well as spelling errors and punctuation mistakes throughout a manuscript. Copyeditors might check for adherence to grammar rules (e.g., not ending sentences with prepositions), avoid spelling errors or typos (such as “their” instead of “there”), ensuring consistency of style across sections (e.g., using American vs British spellings) etc.
Copyeditors often work after most major revisions have taken place but before layout or typesetting has started. Their goal is not to make changes to structural problems but rather polish language at sentence level so that it reads smoothly.
When looking for a copyeditor for your manuscript it's important you find someone who knows your genre – why? because many words can be spelled differently based on context given by different genres e.g medical terms could have proper names which would differ from novels which may have a more informal tone.
Proofreader: Checks for Typos and Formatting Issues
A proofreader ensures that your manuscript doesn't have typos, grammar mistakes and spacing or formatting issues. They review the final version of your manuscript, looking for any errors that might still be present after editing and copyediting.
Proofreading is important because it helps catch any minor mistakes before the book goes to print. A single typo or spacing issue can make a book look unprofessional – even if the content is great.
Some proofreaders use a style guide to ensure all formatting is consistent as per publishing norms, while others simply look for inconsistencies in font size, margins, spacing or kerning issues. It’s important to note that proofreaders do not check for plot inconsistencies or character development since their job is more focused on catching surface-level errors.
Finding the Right Editor for Your Book
If you've already tried to submit your manuscript to a couple of agents, hopefully you've already received some sort of feedback that you can work with to help you determine which type of editor you should be looking for and what you need them to do:
- If an agent never responds to your query letter at all: this is a sign that your query letter was not compelling enough to them to ask to read your full manuscript. Double-check that your manuscript is in their preferred genre; if it's correct, then hire a copywriter or copy editor to help you improve the query letter before you send it to the next agent.
- If an agent gives you feedback about your query letter but does not request your full manuscript: depending on the exact feedback given, talk to either a developmental or a line editor about applying the feedback directly into the sample chapters you sent along as part of the query.
- If an agent responds to your query letter asking for your full manuscript and then rejects the manuscript: this is a sign that your initial query letter was intriguing enough, but your manuscript didn't quite deliver on the promise. And this is where hiring an editor before you submit to another agent can benefit you the most, to make sure your manuscript does what your query letter says it's going to do. Again, depending on the feedback you receive, hire either a developmental editor or a line editor to help tighten up and improve your manuscript.
The internet has made it easier than ever to find potential editors for your book. A simple search will yield dozens, if not hundreds, of professionals willing to take on your project.
But how do you decide which one is the right fit for you? The first step is to take a look at their website or online portfolio.
A professional editor should have a website that clearly outlines their experience and qualifications. Look for things like the type of editing they specialize in, any awards or certifications they’ve received, and testimonials from past clients.
Check Their Credentials and Experience
Once you’ve found a few potential editors that seem like a good fit, dig a little deeper into their credentials and experience. Make sure they have relevant experience in your genre or subject matter.
I should point out here: experience is not the end-all be-all determining factor for a good editor. I have met plenty of new editors who are really good at what they do but haven't yet built up enough of a client base to get those sorts of credentials. So while this is a good thing to look for, a lack of a portfolio isn't necessarily a red flag, just something to consider.
Reach Out to Writing Communities for Recommendations
Don’t be afraid to reach out to other writers and writing communities for recommendations on good editors. They can often provide valuable insight into the editing process and may have worked with someone who was a great fit for them.
You can also join writing groups on social media platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn to connect with other writers who may have helpful recommendations. Remember, finding the right editor is crucial to the success of your book, so take the time to do it right.
The Best Way to See if an Editor is a Good Fit is to Talk to Them
Most editors will offer free consultations that you can sign up for. The point of the consultation is to help them identify your needs, get to know you, and find out more about your project. And for you, you want to use this consultation as your chance to get to know them and see if they are a good fit for you.
Here is the secret to finding a really great editor: if they can match your energy during the consultation, they can match your voice in your manuscript.
During the consultation, get them talking in a back-and-forth conversation. Ask them questions about their experience, their process, and their styles. You can ask them things that aren't necessarily related to your book, just as long as you get them talking.
How much does editing cost?
In fact, book editing can be the most expensive step in the entire publishing process. It's that important and that big. Now, at this point in your journey, you're probably not aiming for the final edits that will hit bookshelves: you're aiming for “catch their attention and sell the book” level editing because the publisher is going to do the final editing. But editors don't typically change their rates based on where you are in the process.
That's why it's so important to know exactly what you need and the level of editing you're after before you hire an editor at this stage, so you don't end up paying for a service that isn't actually going to help you.
Factors that affect the cost of editing services
There are several factors that can impact the cost of editing services, including the level of editing needed, word count, and turnaround time. The type of editor you hire will also affect the price. A developmental editor typically charges more than a line editor, a copyeditor, or a proofreader because their work is more intensive.
Additionally, some editors may charge by the hour while others charge by project or word count. More than likely, the cost would be about the same either way—when I bill a client by the project or by the word count, I calculate it out based on how many hours I estimate that project is going to take. But this can really make a difference in how you budget for the editing and how much (or how often) you'll be paying, so it's important to know that up front.
Editors with more experience and a strong reputation in the industry may charge higher rates. However, it's important to keep in mind that paying a higher rate for an experienced editor may be worth it if they can help improve your manuscript and increase your chances of getting published.
Average prices for different types of editing services
The average prices for different types of editing services vary depending on several factors, including the length and complexity of your manuscript and the level of editing required. As mentioned earlier, developmental editors tend to be more expensive than copyeditors or proofreaders because their work is more extensive. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $0.01 to $0.50 per word for developmental editing services.
For copyediting or line-editing services, you may pay between $0.01 to $0.25 per word on average. Proofreading typically costs less than other types of editing because it focuses primarily on catching typos and grammatical errors rather than improving story structure or character development.
On average, you can expect to pay around $0.01 to $0.05 per word for proofreading services. It’s important to note that these are just average prices and rates will vary depending on individual editors' experience levels and specific pricing structures.
You can find good information regarding average rates for editing over at the Editorial Freelancers Association if you are trying to set up a budget and wondering what to aim for.
What to Expect During the Editing Process
The Big Picture Edit
Your editor will begin by reading your manuscript and evaluating it as a whole. They'll look at the pacing, structure, and coherence of the story. If you've hired a developmental editor, they may give you notes on how to tighten up or expand certain sections of your book.
The Line Edit
Once your story has been evaluated for big-picture issues, your editor will begin line editing. This involves going through each sentence in your manuscript and checking for things like tension and voice as well as errors in grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling. They'll also look at flow and readability.
The Final Pass
After the line edit is complete, there will be a final pass to catch anything that may have been missed. This is where proofreading comes in – looking for any typos or formatting issues.
The Importance of Communication Between Author and Editor
Your relationship with your editor is essential during the editing process – you need to be able to communicate effectively with them if you want to get the most out of their services. So, as you search for your editor, look for one you like.
Be open about what you hope to achieve from their editing services; let them know if there are any specific areas that concern you about your manuscript. To make this process easier on both parties involved, establish clear expectations upfront about deadlines or turnaround times and set up regular check-ins throughout the editing process so that everyone stays on track.
Understand that edits are subjective and sometimes hard to take. You've poured heart into this project so it can be challenging when someone comes along ready to critique it but remember it's not personal – editors have been trained in finding problems so making these changes helps improve overall quality. And everything they recommend is just that: a recommendation. Nothing is required or carved in stone, and you can always choose to reject one of their suggestions.
How Long Does It Take To Edit A Book?
The time required for an edit varies depending on several factors. The length of the manuscript and the level of editing needed are two significant variables that can impact how much time an editor needs to complete their work.
A developmental edit may take a few weeks or even several months, depending on the extent of revisions required. A line edit is typically quicker, usually taking a couple of weeks to complete, while proofreading is often done over just a few days.
The takeaway here is that editing takes time – but remember, it's an essential part of the writing process. If you're working with an editor who has experience in your genre and knows what agents and publishers are looking for, then it will be worth it in the end.
Final Thoughts About if You Should Hire an Editor Before Submitting Your Book to an Agent
What it all comes down to is this: only you can decide whether or not you need to hire an editor before submitting your book to an agent.
While it is not necessarily a requirement, hiring an editor before submitting your book to an agent is an excellent decision if you're serious about getting published. There are many benefits to working with a professional editor – they can help improve your writing quality, enhance your story structure and pacing and increase your chances of getting published. Remember that finding the right editor for your book takes time – do your research online and reach out to writing communities for recommendations.
Once you find someone you like working with, be sure to communicate effectively throughout the editing process so everyone's expectations are aligned. Overall, editing can be a challenging process but know that it's all going towards making your work better!