I think it’s pretty obvious where I stand on this one, but don’t take my word for it—let’s look at it in greater depth. Should you always get an outside edit?
The rule ‘always get an outside edit’ is reiterated over and over and actually, my research shows very few people arguing against it. Very few, like, almost none. Actually, it’s none. The thing is, hiring an editor can be a bit of a minefield to newbies. There are so many different things to consider. There are different types of editing, and there are different ways of looking at things. I honestly believe that most of the time, when people denounce the need for an editor, they don’t fully understand what editing involves. It’s not a blind search for typos—but even if it was, the editing process is still important.
So why is ‘always get an outside edit’ such an important writing rule?
“I don’t need an editor, my writing is perfect”
Thinking you’re at the top of your game—no matter what you’re doing—is foolish. There’s always something to learn. As an editor, I regularly study style guides, read articles, and scrub up my skills. As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing.
Of course, editing isn’t only about hunting down errors in spelling and grammar. There’s more to it. It’s about looking at the big picture and examining your manuscript as a whole too. Even if your writing is perfect (which I highly doubt), there will be things you’ve missed. Even the best writers make mistakes, and you can’t be an expert on it all.
“My baby is the best baby.”
Isn’t funny how parents always think their child is the smartest/cutest/funniest kid in nursery? Authors can be a bit like that—and there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve got to love your baby, you created it. It’s perfectly natural. But because of that, sometimes the negatives can be a bit… skewed, perhaps? Blurred. You’re too close to your manuscript to spot all the issues. Sometimes, too, we find the negatives endearing, a bit like we do with a new love.
You’re too familiar with it, as well. You know what’s coming next, what words you picked to go where, how the characters are going to evolve, and because of that, you can’t necessarily see the problems that arise early on, or the bits that don’t make sense to a reader.
“My mum/friend/aunt’s dog groomer read it and thinks it’s perfect.”
It takes time, experience, and training to be able to read and critique constructively, and to be knowledgeable in any subject. Even if your mum/friend/aunt’s dog groomer is a professional editor, however, it will be hard for them. Trouble is, no matter how much they promise to be objective, it will be hard for them to genuinely critique your work. It may even be the case that they can’t see it either—you’re their baby, after all. My mum critiques my work, and I know she’s as honest as she can be, but there’s still stuff my editor picks up that she misses. That’s entirely normal.
Don’t get me wrong, getting your mum, your bestie, or the weird guy down the road to read your book will never be a bad thing. Everyone will have a different view, and everyone will have something different to say about it. The more opinions you can get, the better, especially if you can’t afford a proper edit. But if you can afford one, get one.
“I know what I’m doing.”
I have absolutely no doubt you know what you’re doing. The editing process is not about doubting your skills and abilities. It’s not about putting you down. Quite the opposite, in fact, but taking advice from as many people as you can, then choosing which to take and which to leave, will get you much further than being closed and refusing help.
Besides anything, professional editors have the advantage of having worked in the industry. Did you know, self-published authors who invest in professional editing and cover design see an increase in sales of between 13% and 34%? If that’s not enough reason to get an outside edit, I don’t know what is.
When not to get an outside editor
- An outside edit is not synonymous with a good edit—don’t do it if you don’t trust your editor to do a good job.
- Editors can’t magically turn a bad book good—if your book isn’t good enough yet, don’t bother paying for an edit.
- An editor can’t do anything with an unfinished book—if you are yet to finish your book, including a number of self-edit passes, don’t bother giving it to someone on the outside. At best, an editor would only be able to provide some advice on how to continue.
- Manuscripts need to breathe—as part of your self-editing process, you should give your book a break. Put it in a draw for six months, a year even, and don’t even think of it. When you come back to it, you’ll be fresh and you’ll see things you didn’t before.
- You may not recoup your money—if you can’t afford an editor, don’t get one. This one is a little contentious. After all, you’ve got to speculate to accumulate, right? Right, but speculation doesn’t guarantee accumulation. If you can’t afford to not recoup the money you spent, don’t do it.
How to make an outside edit work for you
- Know what you need. Are you looking for someone to examine the big picture in a developmental edit, or are you ready for a copy-edit? Having a clear idea of what you’re looking for will help you get the most out of an outside edit.
- Hire a pro, if you can. This one is hard if money is tight, but when hiring an editor, make sure you hire one with training and experience—and check their feedback, too. It’s better not to have an edit at all that go for a bad editor simply because they’re cheap.
- Keep control. Whatever you do, remember that your manuscript is yours. Take advice, be open to suggestions, but take and leave what you want. Your editor will make changes and offer opinions but ultimately, the final decision is yours.