If you’re a part of any of the online writing communities, then you will know that the topic of professional editing can be pretty “hot button”.

Twitter is filled with professional editors who will swear by the power of their mighty red pen when it comes to getting you published. Likewise, hundreds of successful authors proudly tout their own grammatical prowess by securing contract after contract without the early eyes of a professional editor.

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So what is it? Do you need to have you manuscript hacked apart by a pro in order to get that six figure deal you’ve always dreamed of? Or can you go it alone? Becoming the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King by sheer will power alone.

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What a Professional Editor can Offer You

Let’s just start with the facts. Can a professional editor get you published by their own work on your manuscript alone? Not really. Getting a pro to take a look at your manuscript will definitely give you some major advantages if you’re seeking traditional publishing, though.

  1. They have an industry advantage.

    If you do your homework and pick the right editor, they’ll have years of insight and experience in the world you’re trying to leap into. Finding an editor with perspective in your genre can be an invaluable source for budding authors. You’ll be able to increase your knowledge of what the editorial process looks and feels like, as well as increasing your knowledge of what your genre actually requires.

  2. There’s no better submission preparation.

    If you’ve taken your manuscript to the end of the road and you’re ready to begin querying, then an editor is a great way to go. Publishers have long emphasized the importance of submitting a flawless manuscript and editors can help with that. Having a professional editor can increase your chances of getting your manuscript accepted, or at least requested. But can they really make a mediocre story stand out?

  3. Editors provide a great learning experience.

    Working with an expert can really help you grow as a writer. Editors have the ability to take a distanced look at our writing and help point out its strengths and weaknesses. Their specific feedback can do a world of wonders when you’re in those final stages of revision or trying to take your work to the next level. The skills we learn from editors are skills that not only apply to one manuscript, but our entire craft. Editors hold the kind of knowledge that we writers just don’t always have. (Tough pill to swallow, I know. We writers don’t know everything.)

What a Professional Editor can’t Offer You

We might as well pull off the bandaid now:

An editor cannot wave a magic wand and make a bad story good.

If your manuscript is a true dumpster fire with no originality and a million plot holes, then there is no way for an editor to turn that into a publishable manuscript — no matter how much you pay them. We often have the misconception that third parties can fix our work. They can’t. A good editor can help make a good story better, but they can’t make a terrible story good.

As writers, we get really caught up on the publishing process. We start to see dollar signs where we should see edit marks and that can blind us to how good our work actually is. While your motivation might be to get a publishing deal, an editor cannot provide that to you. There is no editorial formula for pasting together a bestseller, so if you want to get to those dollar signs, you’re going to have put in work until your fingers bleed.

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So What’s a Writer to Do?

There’s not actually a straight forward answer — despite what I might have promised you in the title of this article.

There are many writers who have succeeded in securing a publishing contract without an editor. There are many writers today who would not exist without the hard and dedicated work of a team of editor. All it takes is a brief scour of Twitter to find parties planted firmly — and justifiably — in both camps.

It’s not a secret that editors are expensive, and for many this can be a discouraging barrier to entry. Many editors require upfront payments of 50% or more (rightfully) and depending on the size of your manuscript, prices can soar into the thousands of dollars. What’s more, you could be looking at multiple rounds of revision, so the price tag continues to rise over time.

Make no mistake, though — editing is hard work. No one likes to do it, but it is a necessary and critical part of the writing process. Editors cost a lot because they do a lot. They spend hours pouring through your manuscript and, depending on what type of editor you choose, spend double that time analyzing your story and its overall viability and concept.

Whatever you decide to do (or not do) there’s a couple of things to consider before you even start approaching the professional editor idea.

  1. Make sure you have come to the absolute end of your ability to improve your manuscript. You should have exhausted all your abilities on your work before sending it to a third party to “clean up”.
  2. Know what type of editor you need. In order to do that, you need to have a true understanding of your work inside and out, as well as a self-awareness and honesty about where in the revision process you are. If you’re an unpublished writer with a few rejections under their belt and no access to solid critique groups or continued education — an editor can be a great way to go. But you need to be entirely sure about what type of editing you need.

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Putting it all together… 

So, do you need an editor in order to get published? Short answer: no.

There have been many well-known authors who got their start without the early critical eye of a professional editor (see Stephen King’s book, “On Writing”.) By working diligently on your manuscript with an open and critical mind, it is possible to clean up your own work enough to get it accepted by the publisher of your dreams.

Editors do, however, provide a few key advantages which can help boost the chance of your manuscript getting accepted or at the very least requested. They offer invaluable industry and genre knowledge which can prove critical to your development as a writer. Working with an editor is a learning experience like few we get in the solitary career of writing, and investing in the right one can really help improve your overall submission package.

What it really comes down to is knowing yourself as a writer, as well as your place in the process and the true quality of your work. An editor can help give you foot up into the dream world of professional authorship, but they can’t polish a turd. If your story is weak, there is little an editor will be able to do to improve your chances of publication.

The choice can only be made by you. Be honest with yourself and make the best decision for your work. Publication takes investment. How willing are you to invest in your dreams?

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