When is it time to hire a professional editor?

I’ve seen so many conversations in the Writing Community on if writers should invest in having their novels professionally edited, and so I decided to weigh in!

My answer: It depends. But first before we dive into how to decide if it’s the right time for you and your novel, let’s talk about the types of editing.

There are two main categories of editing: developmental and copy. Developmental edits are for bigger picture items like plot holes, character development, pacing, etc, whereas copy edits focus more on grammar, punctuation, repetition and flow. Most editors will offer both, but I personally don’t recommend doing both at the same time. Developmental edits have the potential to change so much, so it’s better to wait to do copy editing after your plot, characters and pacing are in better shape.

Both developmental and copy edits will almost always greatly benefit your novel, but I caution writers against going for this option too soon.

Since I do offer editorial services, it may seem counterintuitive for me to say this, but it’s can honestly be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. There are a few steps you can take and questions you should ask yourself first before pursuing professional editing.

Note: If you plan to self-publish, I absolutely recommend having your novel professionally edited as one of the final stages before publishing. However, these are still great guiding questions to get your book to where it needs to be before engaging with an editor.

Have you been through multiple drafts?

If you just finished your first draft, it is not the time to hire an editor. For me, first drafts are the time to just get the story on the page. It’s usually a bit messy, riddled with typos and requires work to get it to look anything like an actual book. Revising your first draft – and other early drafts – on your own is going to be a better strategy than hiring an editor right off the bat. If you aren’t sure where to start, I recommend this eight-step process.

Have you already gotten feedback CPs and beta readers?

Whether you are considering a professional editor or not, I encourage all writers to get feedback from critique partners and beta readers. They will be able to spot issues from a fellow writer and reader’s perspective. You can even swap novels, and I’ve learned as much if not more about writing just from reading and critiquing other books. Not only will this method not cost you money, you can form close working relationships – a key part of a writer’s life and toolbox.

Don’t have a CP or beta reader? Here are a few places to find them and what questions to ask.

Is your word count in the right place?

Word count can be a writer’s worst enemy, but it’s a valuable metric that agents and publishers alike will consider when evaluating your novel. Generally, you’re safe in the 80-100K range for adult novels, but it very much depends on your age group and genre. Writer’s Digest has a great guide if you’re unsure where you should be, and below I’ve included two resources on how to get your word count to the right place if you’re a little on the low or high side:

Have you received rejections on your query letter or partial/full requests?

Rejections are never fun, but they are an essential part of the writing process. But if you continue querying without any traction, it can be hard to know how to improve. A few years ago when querying my first novel, I was lucky enough to get several full requests which meant my query letter was working. But every single one of those requests was eventually rejected, telling me that my novel as a whole needed to be improved. If an agent is thorough enough to provide feedback, you can definitely deconstruct those rejections and bounce back with a plan of your own, but without it, it’s also totally normal to feel like you’re at a loss and have done everything you can.

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to the questions above and still feel like your novel needs help, then it may be a great choice to hire a professional editor. Just be sure to ask plenty of questions, do your research and find an experienced editor with a proven track record. You want only the best to partner up with you to make your novel the best it can be!

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