Paying for an Editor

Recently there’s been discussion around the web about whether or not writers should pay to have their novel edited.

On his blog Nick Daws puts forward a very good argument against paying for an editor. Instead he advocates making sure that your written English is up to scratch and also taking advantage of free resources, such as beta readers, writing groups and writers’ forums offering feedback on work. Nick also points out that an editing service is likely to only provide copy-editing. A thorough structural edit is an iterative process requiring the manuscript to go back and forth – which can’t be done if the author is paying per 1,000 words.

Similarly there has been discussion on the Writing Magazine Talkback forum, ‘Writers On-line’. It was pointed out that any suggestions coming from an editor are subjective and are only that particular person’s point of view. Also, be prepared for a damning report – if a paid-for edit is to be worth its money, it has to be honest and therefore may not be what you want to hear. And of course editing services cost a lot of money.

So, now that I have a completed novel manuscript and a self-publishing package prize, where do I stand in the ‘paying for an editor’ debate?

The answer is – I don’t know.

Like everybody, I want my book to be something of which I can be proud. I don’t want to worry that people will buy it and then be disappointed. So ideally, I’d like a professional to give my work the once over.

But I’m also aware that it will be very difficult to sell enough copies of a self-published book to recoup the expense of a quality editing service.

Currently my book has gone off to its first beta reader – and I’m feeling very nervous about the outcome. Also I’ve taken advantage of the free sample chapter edit offered by Jefferson Franklin. I was pleased with the result – the things that their reader highlighted improve the text and I wouldn’t have spotted them myself. It would be good to have that experienced critical eye over the rest of the manuscript.

What does anyone else think? Are editing services worth the investment?


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  1. #1 by Debbie Young on September 16, 2014 - 7:41 am

    Hi Sally. you raise a really interesting and important point here.

    As a self-published author myself, I’d really caution anyone against thinking they can edit and proofread their own work. We’re all too close to our own work that they won’t be able to spot every error. Nor do we “know what we don’t know” about grammar. Beta readers may help spot mistakes but they’re usually more interested in checking the storyline and plot details. Most authors that I’ve beta-read for categorically say “don’t worry about proofreading”.

    I’d also guard against assuming that friends such as former teachers, English graduates, etc – will be great proofreaders. (I’ve got an English degree myself, so am not being disrespectful here!) I’ve seen some real horror stories where this approach has resulted in damning reviews.

    But I also know of people who have paid for services that have proved inadequate or disappointing. It’s important to ask for references and qualifications and agree precise charges – £ per 1000 words rather than per hour – and what kind of edit they’re doing, e.g. structural, line or basic proofreading.

    Agree ground rules in advance. If you have a specific stylistic preference that you don’t want changed, advise them before your editor at the outset, otherwise you’ll find yourself changing their changes back again! A friend of mine likes to throw in the odd sentence fragment as a defining feature of her personal style, and had a run-in with an editor who told her this was not allowed! I can personally recommend Alison Jack ( whose charges are very reasonable, her service is fast and she’s lovely to deal with.

    As a writer of short stories – a genre that’s never going to sell huge numbers – I know what you mean about it being hard to financially justify professional editing. In cases like this, a good middle-course is to get as much structural advice for free as you can, but pay for proofreading. My experience has been different to Nick Daws’ – I’ve found editors are perfectly happy just to proofread if you ask them.

    Typos are one of the reasons that self-published books are sometimes dismissed as shoddy. Don’t let it happen to yours, folks! The best self-published books are the ones that are indistinguishable from trade-published books, because the authors have given them the professional treatment before they’ve hit the publish button – and the overall standard of self-published books is going up all the time as more authors realise this.

    I’m drawing not only on my own experience here, but on thousands of other indie authors, via the self-publishing advice blog which I manage for ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors (/, Anyone who’d like to know more about the group is welcome to drop me an email at debbie [at] There are also a couple of useful blog posts about how to find and use beta readers on my own website here:

    Sally, sorry to go on at such length here – please feel free to edit my comment if you like! 😉

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on September 16, 2014 - 12:16 pm

      Debbie, thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed comment. It’s all great advice so I haven’t edited a word of it! I totally agree that as writers we get too close to our work and therefore can’t see the wood for the trees. So it’s essential to get a fresh pair of eyes to look at the manuscript. But whether that’s a paid professional or a helpful friend we all have to make our own mind up. And it’s not easy. Time to have a look at those links you’ve mentioned …

  2. #3 by Karen on September 16, 2014 - 8:50 am

    Having the same dilemma. Six books written and would like a professional eye on them all before I publish as ebooks but it’s so expensive and the points you raised are all valid. What to do!

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on September 16, 2014 - 12:18 pm

      Exactly, Karen. I wish I could give you a definitive answer – but have a read of Debbie’s comment, it might help.

  3. #5 by funnylass on September 16, 2014 - 4:22 pm

    Hi all – ah… such an important issue! I am pretty good at reading my own stuff, improving, editing and all of that (Mind Games and Ministers stands at over 100k words and had 10 full re-drafts.) And then it went for a professional edit (well – two actually) and it was definitely the best thing that I did.
    I actually tested the water with it as an ebook – put it out there before the pro edit to see what a few trusted people thought. And sure enough – flaws were picked up. So I went for the full pro edit.

    I have been banging the ‘Go Indie’ drum for some time now. Readers of my own blog and various wibblings are used to hearing me witter on about the fact that 90% of the time ‘it’s not what you know it’s WHO you know’ in the world of publishing. I’ve taken a few steps recently to try and turn all of this on it’s head. To stop the indie from feeling so powerless.
    I’m keeping a couple of these developments back for blog material (Top Secret! Keep Out! etc 😉
    But I would challenge the indie who cannot afford the pro edit to think creatively about all of this. Turn it on its head.
    For the cash strapped and worried at being at a huge loss before they even begin – here’s an idea – try and find someone who is newly qualified (or on the way) in editing. Offer to be their ‘first’ piece of fiction. Offer to blog and tweet about how fab they are when they’ve done a good job for you. Offer to find them paid employment via friends/ others who need editing services.
    Or help them out ‘in kind’. Decorate, mind their kids, give them a reference, let them stay in your caravan. But don’t sleep with them (that would just be silly.)

    Just an idea. This can be used to a great effect.
    But as always a) check the quality of any previous (ie non-fic) work before hand b) check agreement/deadlines with them

    And of course – and various similar sites often afford much more affordable editing services (often by the kind of people that I have suggested – who want to build their own editing CVs following new qualification or working towards it) but as above – ALWAYS check their past performance.

    Sorry to bang on a bit – but I feel strongly that indies should NOT let the side down, or let the snobs have any excuse to say that our writing is of inferior quality. You WILL need that edit. Haven’t we all read some utter tosh ….in terms of poorly edited books by the big publishing houses? Yes indeed. But it’s still no excuse for our own work to be sloppily presented.

    And I feel strongly that money should NO LONGER BE AN OBJECT for a successful writer. You really can get round this thorny problem – if you put yourself out there and ask for help or broker an unusual deal!

    Thanks for raising these subject, Sally. And take heart folks!

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on September 16, 2014 - 5:56 pm

      Thanks very much, FunnyLass, for such a useful comment. Although I’m not sure I would trust someone on Fiverr to come up with quality advice – but I suppose it’s nothing ventured, nothing gained and if you don’t like what they say then it’s only $5 wasted.
      I do totally agree that we indies have to make sure we quality control our literary output – if we want to encourage readers to try independent authors.

      • #7 by funnylass on September 16, 2014 - 7:37 pm

        Gosh no – is somewhat misleading as ‘title’ per se!! It ain’t simply about a ‘job for a fiver’ when it comes to putting your writing project out there….!
        I should have clarified that one! 😉

        I have used absolutely brilliant artwork though – for various different projects (things I am involved with beyond my book) and also for book design, spine work et – but from what I know of the editing offers on fiverr – what a lot of the folk out there offer is something like ‘a fiver for editing X amount of words’ (see what I mean? Can still add up – and definitely best to check out the satisfaction of previous clients and get as many testimonials as you can. But usually can end up being an interesting route to investigate. That’s for sure. I was so chuffed with all of the work that I have asked for help with via fiverr)

        Having said that – if you are in the UK – you might well prefer some of the more UK based ‘outsourcing sites. Have a go at googling these keywords. But also look up – you might even find someone near to you who is willing and able to give you a good edit.

        Either way – I would say – never EVER compromise on the quality of your work. Join a local writing group and look to someone such as yourself (if you don’t mind me saying) who has experience and will offer a sound critique. You need at *least* three pairs of really clever eyes. And yours will be the 4th… that’s my experience anyway.

        Smashing blog Sally!

      • #8 by Sally Jenkins on September 17, 2014 - 12:21 pm

        Thanks for clarifying that, Funnylass. I obviously need to investigate these sites further. Glad you like the blog – I’ve been over and enjoyed yours too!

  4. #9 by susanjanejones on September 16, 2014 - 6:51 pm

    Hi Sally, don’t you offer an editing service? If so, be confident, you have published enough e-books to be your own editor I think. Good luck, I didn’t win on Saturday night, but I’m going to finish and send it out asap.

    • #10 by Sally Jenkins on September 17, 2014 - 12:16 pm

      Commiserations on not winning, Susan but the fact that you got so far means you are a good writer! Yes, I do offer critique for shorter length works – but when it’s your own stuff I think you often get too close & can’t be objective. A fresh pair of eyes always helps.

  5. #11 by Sharon Boothroyd on September 17, 2014 - 12:12 pm

    It’s down to each writer to pay or not to pay, but I like the advice given by funnylass. I run an online fiction group and suggestions are always made for edits for work sent round. I’m sure us writers in our online community could help each other out in this area, in some low- cost way. Even if we’re not experienced editors, it may worth a try!

    • #12 by Sally Jenkins on September 17, 2014 - 12:18 pm

      Absolutely, Sharon. It’s certainly worth getting comments from fellow writers either on a reciprocal or low-cost basis.

  6. #13 by funnylass on September 17, 2014 - 12:43 pm

    and I’m still hoping that someone will offer babysitting services in exchange for a critique. But in all truth I would never feel comfortable with inflicting my two on any fellow writer. No matter how desperate they are for help! Great blog Sally!

  7. #14 by hilarycustancegreen on September 18, 2014 - 9:30 pm

    Well, I have spent the money twice over to have in-depth editing from two different literary consultancies. One of them was particularly good, but, as you pointed out, the advice stops when they return the MS. I find this very frustrating. I also had in-depth advice from an enthusiastic agent, rewrote, resubmitted and was (after a long wait) dropped without further interaction. Again, I would have loved more feedback. Meanwhile friends are divided, one close writing friend is convinced the original was better than all the re-writes. I only hope she is wrong as 300 print copies arrive tomorrow and the ebook will be done in a few more days. You are also right that I will never recoup the money spent on the consultancy editing, however I have learnt a lot and I hope my writing is improving. For copy-editing I did rely on bribing as many people as possible to read, and I still had to resubmit the MS to the printers after checking the soft text, because I found errors.

    • #15 by Sally Jenkins on September 19, 2014 - 4:01 pm

      Hilary I’m sure what you’ve learnt from having this book edited will help you with future novels. I wish you every success – and do let me know when the ebook is out.

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