You’ve probably read or heard that you should have your manuscript edited. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?

I’ll get to the editing part in a moment. There’s something else to cover first. Something you really need to know, especially if you’re a novice author. You see, it’s the best of times and the worst of times for authors, especially first-timers. The worst is that the traditional publishing industry has been topsy-turvy for a while, and it’s going to be that way until the dust settles, however long that may take and whatever form it takes. It’s the best of times because self-publishing is available for anyone, and, agents and publishers are now reconsidering their opinion about authors who’ve self-published and are selling. The thing you have to ask yourself is which path is the one for you. Or is it both?

There are writers who are adamant about being traditionally published. These are the hearty souls who will wait the two or more years it usually takes to land an agent then a publisher, and to get into print. If they’re really hearty, during this process they start their next book. There are writers who want to get their book out as soon as possible, and maybe they don’t want to travel the trail of traditional publishing, for a variety of reasons, timing and lower percentage of royalties, for example. There are writers who by choice are both traditionally and indie published.

What does this have to do with the question about needing an editor? A lot. If you intend to go traditional, you have to erase the antiquated notion that you send your manuscript, errors and all, to a literary agent who lands a publisher for you, or to a publisher that doesn’t require an agent, and they’ll fix everything for you, excluding theme or plot and character development issues, if there are any, which they’ll expect you to address. An agent expects quality work to be submitted for consideration, for him or her to agree to represent you. A smaller publisher may agree to take you on without an agent, but may or will charge you for editing. A large publishing house expects to do some tweaking, but nothing extensive.

If indie publishing is your chosen route to Authordom, you need to know there’s something of a stigma attached to that, though frequently from writers still trying to get traditionally published. One comment often made about indie books is that the quality is poor; that the author should have worked with an editor. A surprising number of indie authors publish without ever having an editor or proofreader so much as look at their manuscript. Readers will comment if a book is riddled with typos or if a novel’s characters and or plot are not compelling.

So, you need an editor if you intend to go indie and want good or excellent reviews that lead to more sales and build your reader fan base. You need an editor if you intend to submit your manuscript to an agent or smaller publisher so they’ll consider you and possibly sign you on. Here’s another reason you may need or want an editor: You want to improve your skills as a writer. This last one applies if you really love writing, find it fulfilling, and intend to keep on writing. If this fits you, you need to find an editor who includes instruction as part of the editing service, as well as you personally doing what it takes to develop and expand your skills.

You want to find an editor you feel comfortable working with and trust. Let’s assume you’ve found this person who cares about your manuscript almost as much as you do. Now we bump into one of the facts of life about of working with an editor: Monetary investment. It can cost, and you need to be prepared for this. International best-selling author Andrew E. Kaufman had this to say: “An editor with a fresh and critical eye will bring things to your attention you never knew existed, both developmentally and in the line/copy editing. These are people who will help bring a novel to the next level. . . . And for those who say they can’t afford to hire one—I say you can’t afford not to. If you’re serious about selling your book, then this is a step you simply must take.”

There are things you can do first to reduce this expense. You can keep future editing costs down by not engaging an editor to work on a manuscript that needs extensive revision during the editing phase (unless that level of service is what you actually want and are willing to pay for). For example, are you someone who feels pretty darn confident about the creative and technical aspects of writing? Be honest. Whether you are or aren’t confident, maybe what you need is a manuscript evaluation, also called a critique, so you know how well your book is going, creatively and technically. Be sure to find out what the evaluation will provide; you want guidance, not just an opinion.

Maybe you know your skills aren’t what they could be or need to be. Maybe you want to learn how to develop these skills. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you prefer to rely on an editor instead. Only you know how much you’re personally willing to do to get your book into the best shape possible for readers, and what you aren’t prepared or skilled enough to do. Although, after nearly twenty years as an editor, I’ve learned that novice authors, more often than not, don’t know how much they don’t know about writing and revising a manuscript. If you’re skilled at writing non-fiction, these skills do not readily transfer to writing fiction. Fiction is a wholly different arena.

After discussing a new client’s project (his first novel), he told me another editor had said he could edit the still-in-progress manuscript for $300. There are novice authors who believe this is a fair price for editing an 80,000+ word manuscript. It isn’t, and especially not for developmental editing. The client decided to use my services. As we got going with the novel, which he wrote several chapters at a time, and with me as a developmental editor and ghost rewriter (and sometimes ghostwriter, at his request), it became clear to the author that he would never have received the same value and result for $300. Not even close.

The author chose the indie route. His debut novel received five stars and outstanding reviews from professional reviewers, as well as from readers, with readers becoming self-proclaimed fans begging for the sequel. I don’t like to imagine what level of service or outcome the author would have received for $300. This author has a number of books planned. He wants to improve his writing skills but doesn’t have the time it takes. So he relies on the skills and expertise of his editor. Skilled writers rely on an editor. Every best-selling author works with and relies on an editor.

Whether you need a critique, developmental editing, or ghost rewriting/writing, you want to find someone who provides what will help you accomplish your desired outcome for your book or books. The more intense level of service you need, the more expertise your editor needs to have and the more time and monetary investment it will take. Now I’m going to be frank about this: if you don’t want to pay for a reliable editor but want good results, you must learn what it is you need to know if you intend to continue as a writer who gets the reviews that keep you writing and fans reading. However you get to your goal, it’s a worthy adventure.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.

Author's Bio: 

Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a special focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Basic and Comprehensive Manuscript Evaluation/Critique and Basic and Comprehensive Developmental Editing, with an option for Ghost Rewriting/Writing services. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Learn more about how to make your book one readers rave about at