Should a Writer Pay an Editor?

I recently became involved in a discussion on the topic of paying an editor to review writing prior to publication. It surprised me to read the remarks from one of the posters who was dead set against the idea of writers enlisting the services of a professional editor. This person had the idea that anyone who charges to editor a manuscript is exploiting writers. This line of thinking actually shocked me. What was even more shocking was when this poster indicated that any writer who is not good enough to be published without the benefit of a professional editor is not good enough to be published in the first place.

The question now is this: are professional editors taking advantage of authors when they charge them to edit manuscripts before they go to publication? Is it only authors who are contemplating self-publishing who should go to the expense of hiring a professional editor? In the mind of the poster I mentioned, this is indeed the case: only authors contemplating self-publishing need to bother with a professional editor.

Where is the mindset of the aforementioned poster? The biggest problem appears to be he/she feels that when you have a piece edited by a professional that person will take away from the voice and style of the original author. While this could certainly happen, the job of an editor is to help an author turn a manuscript that may not be salable into something that will make money for the author, publisher and agent. This need not involve changing the voice of the original author nor should it do so.

First time authors should certainly take the time to hire a professional editor if only to make sure their manuscript is as perfect as it can be before they send it to an agent or publisher. There is nothing worse than sending a manuscript full of errors to an agent or publisher; it is also the easiest way to find your hard work in the slush pile without a second glance. That doesn’t mean once you are published you can depend on your own self-editing skills. Remember, you are close to the writing, and you are likely to miss things. As writers, we tend to read what we intended to type rather than what we actually typed thus missing some errors.

The final answer to the question whether a writer should pay an editor depends on whether you are a hobby writer or a serious author looking for publication in the traditional market. Even if you aren’t looking for traditional publication now because you are writing something in the niche market that will not appeal to the average publisher, you want to make sure you don’t submit anything that is less than perfect because publishers communicate with each other. If you submit something that is full of errors you will not be well-received in the publishing industry the next time you are ready for publication.



18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. CW64
    Oct 30, 2010 @ 14:28:02

    Professional Editors provide a pair of fresh eyes and objectivity, both of which are important–that’s why editors exists. It doesn’t matter how talented or skilled a writer is; even the most experienced and famous writers rely on the use of editors.

    That said, the more experienced a writer becomes, the less she or he will rely on said editor, but that doesn’t mean the writer will ever dispense with a reviewing committee altogether. Editors, sometimes two or three, primarily proofread a work to make sure that attention is allotted to everything. Further, editors know the markets and what sells, when, where and why. They provide guidance with the writer along those lines to ensure that the piece is developed to optimize being received positively in a given market.

    When I served as an editor on two publications (one I help found), I went through all submissions not only checking grammar and phrasing, but also discerning as to if and how a particular piece would fit into the journal’s overall scheme and how said piece would be received. I offered assistance to ensure that the writer’s work be prepared with regard to quality, readers perception and interest, as well as its effects on the market in which our publications were respective involved. All three are important, and if a submission doesn’t meet this criteria, its release will be anticlimactic and hurt the writer. No one wants this to happen, least of all the editors and certainly not the writers.

    It’s in light of these points that professional editors serve a crucial purpose in the publishing process and why every writer is obligated to employ the services of one. No writer is perfect, but that doesn’t negate her or his talent or skill. It’s human nature to miss things. Besides, whenever a writer submits a work, it is automatically reviewed by at least one editor anyway, so writers cannot get passed it. This reality just reflects how important editors are in the writers’ careers.



    • Brenda Coxe
      Oct 30, 2010 @ 14:48:23

      Neither my post nor the discussion that preceded it are referring to editors for magazines or books. It is relative only to professional editors, namely those who make a living editing either as a freelance editor as for a company that provides editing services to writers. The person who brought up the original discussion indicated that since traditional publishers provide editing services as part of the publishing contract (or so he/she believes) there is no need for any author to pay for a professional edit unless that author is self-publishing. I disagree with that concept which is the purpose of the post.


  2. CW64
    Oct 30, 2010 @ 15:45:58

    I know, and so do I; I concur with you. I was merely expressing the importance of editors in general. It’s crucial to submit a well-polished manuscript to even an editor representing a publisher or publication. It makes the writer look good and cuts down on an the overall tasks on which the receiving editor needs to apply her or his attention. This is why employing the services of a freelance editor beforehand is always a wise and therefore preferred idea for any writer.


  3. Linda Lycett
    Oct 31, 2010 @ 20:17:03

    No, editors are not taking advantage of authors to ask for payment for editing. Would those same people expect no payment for the work they do if they were in another profession or job? I think not.

    No matter which way you look at it, editing is time consuming and there are only so many hours in a day, and not to be paid for your time working on a manuscript is not on. Even when a manuscript is ‘read’ by the editor, and some errors are picked up, its when the editor comes to actually edit the script that more changes are noticed and made.

    If any author thinks their manuscript is ready to be presented to a publisher without any editing they are sadly mistaken but I have come across a few of those people. An author writes, as should be, and does not notice the errors to enable them to edit their own work in the same way. I am no different – I prefer someone else to look over my work to ensure it is correct, even if I have gone over it myself.
    One instance comes to mind and the author and his wife decided they could do a better job. No idea how that turned out. I’ve also had authors request editing for their hobby manuscript and quite happy to pay, but others think its not worth it especially if payment on a previous edit was cheaper. I’ve also had other authors pay me to edit the manuscript before sending to a prospective publisher, where they know it will more than likely be re-edited by their staff.

    Some authors just don’t think…


    • Brenda Coxe
      Oct 31, 2010 @ 20:56:58

      Absolutely, Linda. I don’t know why this person thinks editors who charge for their services are exploiting writers. Granted there may be some editors that overcharge, but that’s where knowing the average fees in the industry is good knowledge to have. It’s not fair for a writer to expect an editor to do all that work to help them prepare a manuscript for publication without reasonable compensation.


  4. CW64
    Oct 31, 2010 @ 22:49:31

    I am right with you there, too, Linda. As a matter of fact, I heard a long time ago (although this might have changed since) that THREE different editors should review a work instead of just one. This would bring forth the accumulated insight of various objective perspectives, not to mention that even one editor might miss something that a second or third editor might discover. That added insight can only help.

    As for editors’ rates, yes, the expense might be high, but that expense will be worth it because the review performed on the manuscript in question just might make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

    In the end, hiring an editor is more of a(n) [unspoken] requirement or mandate in procedure rather than a choice. If not, it should be, for every writer’s sake.


  5. Trackback: The Essential Space: Creating Distance between Writer and Work « Creatiwriter64's Blog
  6. Stanford Roach (@lovescardboard)
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 15:26:24

    So, a friend suggested I use one of our mutual friends to edit my first book for $300 – $400. He has never edited a book. He was, however, an editor for a few magazines and he does good work I guess. The magazines he edited are quite different than my book. But my suggestion was to use a professional editor, a company that is known, and he thinks it’s a scam. He only thought this when I told him the professional company suggested a consultation prior to editing that would run $300/hr. The consultation would discuss the first two chapters of the book and any trouble areas we might see.

    So, the question remains: do I trust our mutual friend to edit well and pay him a third (and quite possibly less) than the professional company, or do I pay the professional company the price they want for something I know they will do well? I don’t know their asking price. My friend thinks professional editors are for writers who fancy themselves as writers. He thinks I should use my own resources and pay cheap. And I think professional editors are for writers who want the best for their work. You pay cheap and you get cheap. What do you think? Email me and discuss: My name is Daniel. Thanks.


    • Brenda Coxe
      Feb 26, 2014 @ 16:10:39

      Daniel, this is very hard to assess. I would definitely say to run as far as you can run from the professional company, but using a mutual friend can also be a bad idea. Can he be objective? Quite often people you know well do not have the ability to to be objective because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. They tend to say what they think you want to hear rather than honestly editing your work so it looks professional enough for publication.

      Another thing you want to consider is while your friend may have been an editor for a newspaper, that is a long shot from editing a book. There are certain things you can do when writing a book, especially a fiction book, that are simply not allowed in newspaper editing. Also, the style for newspapers is different–they adhere to AP style while most creative writing, both fiction and non-fiction, use Chicago Manual of Style, and there are some very distinct differences. You need to choose an editor who is familiar with the genre of your book and actually reads in that genre.

      Another thing you want to consider is whether you want content editing or copy editing, and this will be based upon how you plan to publish your book. If you plan to seek an agent, copy editing is probably sufficient since the publishing houses still perform some editing, but if you are self-publishing you need to absolutely perform content editing or structural editing. Since your friend is not an experienced book editor, $300-400 sounds a bit on the high side to me unless your book is rather long. As a copy editor I charge on average $2-4 a page depending on how much work seems necessary.

      In closing here let me suggest you assess the following before you make a decision:

      How long is the book?
      What genre is the book?
      What type of editing do you need?
      How do you plan to publish your book?

      if you have any further questions, please feel free to ask me.


      • Stanford Roach (@lovescardboard)
        Feb 26, 2014 @ 16:45:48

        Hi Brenda,

        I must say, I think love you for your reply. The book is 300 pages – a little over 72K words. The genre is part crime, horror and fantasy. It’s about a waiter who murders his worse paying customers, and there at the restaurant, is the largest colony of cockroaches who want him stopped. They need customers to survive!

        I know there are plenty of typos. I can’t see my own typo to save my life. Maybe some of the sentence structure can be tweaked. And, I plan to try and get an agent or send it to a few publishing houses. I also thought of publishing it myself on amazon. I once had a fantasy dream of starting a publishing company and publish my own material – and maybe two titles a year.

        One good thing I can say about the mutual friend is that my book also encompasses newspaper clippings, which is something he has edited before. I would feel a lot better if I saw him read a book. There are tons at my house. One can see I’m an avid reader. I never saw a book at his house. I think I should quiz him before making a decision.

        Perhaps I will avoid this particular company. Now that I’m thinking about it, most of the titles they publish are self-help books.

  7. Glen Spangler
    Jul 13, 2014 @ 12:30:38

    Are there freelance editors who will work on a manuscript knowing it can’t be made salable?


    • Brenda Coxe
      Jul 13, 2014 @ 12:52:46

      I’m sure there are otherwise we wouldn’t have so much junk out there. This isn’t to say it’s the fault of the editor but rather that the writer is not following the suggestions of the editor. This also depends on the type of editor. For instance, the job of a copy writer such as I am is not to make a book salable–that is the job of the content and/or structural editor. Some will work on a manuscript either way while others feel they have a reputation to protect and will not work on something they believe will not sell.


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  9. Kenneth Passan
    Jan 14, 2015 @ 01:03:33

    I have a literary agency considering my manuscript but states it needs editing to improve and strengthen the characters before it’ll move forward with it. This agency has its own editing and marketing service as well. No fees have yet been told to me, so the answers to my questions to them about this are pending. This editing and marketing service is not listed on P&E, although the agency itself is. Appears quite legit. Wondering if the overall reasonable rates for editing are $2-$4.00 per page, as mentioned above, or is it really$250-$300. per hour? This latter possibility is really costly.


    • Brenda Coxe
      Jan 14, 2015 @ 01:27:50

      Kenneth, I have to say that any literary agency that also performs editing services for which it charges is a red flag for me. An agency either performs the function of a literary agency or that of an editor but not both, and this is not just my opinion but that of many multi-published authors as well. As for the cost, that seems rather expensive to me, and not a cost that the average author can afford. The marketing part is fine–that is what a literary agency should be doing, marketing your work in order to find you the right publisher, but it should NOT be performing the services of an editor. You should never have to pay a literary agent until/unless they find you a publisher, and then it is a percentage of the sales and not an hourly or other type of fee.


      • Kenneth Passan
        Jan 14, 2015 @ 01:41:10

        Thank you Brenda. I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right there and I’m glad I checked here as well as other sites. I did find a couple of outside editor websites that does one time free sample editing of a manuscript. One charges a “discounted” rate of $1598.45 for an 88,800 word manuscript. The other site I sent the ms for a free sample edit there also, but the quote from their service I won’t get until tomorrow or the next day. I’m just trying to get a feel for what’s being charged out there.

  10. Brenda Coxe
    Jan 14, 2015 @ 01:52:19

    It is very sensible to work with someone who offers a free sample edit of a few pages. This gives you the opportunity to analyze that editor and determine if he or she is a good fit for your work. You’re talking about around 300 pages double-spaced, I assume, and for that I would charge no more than $1500, but you have to remember I am a copy editor, not a structural editor. Good luck!


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