When to hire an editor: A checklist

www.inkthinkerblog.com — When’s the right time to hire an editor? In my professional-editor opinion, you shouldn’t hire an editor until you’ve finished at least the second draft — and after the third draft would be better.

You wouldn’t just wake up one morning and decide that you’re going to run a marathon that day. You’d make the decision and then you’d start training. It doesn’t just happen overnight — and neither does writing a book. You can find an editor to work with you at any stage of the game, but the more work you do for yourself, the less costly editing will be in the end.

Don’t hire an editor until…

  1. You run Spell Check and personally review every single item it calls out as a possible error. If you don’t know whether it’s right or wrong, look it up.


  • You get rid of passive voice in every instance unless you’re using it intentionally for effect. For example, “The ball was thrown by Joe” should be “Joe threw the ball.”



  • You delete verbal tics; that is, just because you like a word doesn’t mean it needs to be on every page of your manuscript. For instance, in the Left Behind series (which, incidentally, I hate), the word “niggling” is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. It’s distracting. Get a thesaurus already!



  • You remove pointless details. If it’s not critical to the story, take it out. If it is critical to the story, show me, don’t tell me. (Click here and here for more info on showing vs. telling.)



  • You inject action into the story. Switching from passive voice to active voice will be really helpful, but pages upon pages of backstory and setting are going to drag you down anyway. Don’t start with 1,000 words about the building where the explosion happens (especially since it’s going to blow up anyway, duh); start with the explosion.



  • You look at other books to make sure you’re doing simple things like timing and organization correctly. If you’re in the United States, which most of my readers are, punctuation goes INSIDE the quotation marks, people. “Stop that!” Janis exclaimed. “Are we going to the mall?” Joe asked. “Let’s get a puppy,” Sue suggested. Please don’t screw this up. It’s correct in basically every book you’ve read your whole life, so seriously, there’s no excuse.



  • You get feedback from a critique group on what’s working and what’s not working. I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve read that simply don’t make sense. It’s like, “Dude, has anyone read this but you? Do you want anyone else to read this? Because if you do, they’re probably going to want to have some clue of what the heck you’re talking about.” Join a writing group! Get online and hit up the Share Your Work forum at Absolute Write Water Cooler! It’s free. It’s helpful. You need it. Trust me.



  • You repeat steps 1-7 at least three times. I’m not kidding. Wanna know why it’s so hard for new writers to get published? Because they don’t get that a lot of work needs to go into crafting a publishable manuscript. And yes, it is a craft. Knowing how to type does not make someone a writer. Knowing how to type 180,000 words and insert “Chapter X” every 20 pages or so does not make someone a writer, either.


Why on earth would you want to spend literally thousands of dollars on editing and coaching services when all of these steps are things you’re completely capable of doing? Don’t complain about the cost of editing — do something about it. Improve your manuscript. Educate yourself as to what “publishable” really means. Read good books. And I don’t just mean books whose covers you like so you pick them up in the check-out line at the market. I mean classics, too. I mean books like these. Study the pacing, the dialogue, the characterization, the length. Learn how the pros balance background with action. Practice your skills. Be a writer instead of just a person who writes.
I know you can do it. And if you’re feeling lazy, I’d be happy to take your thousands of dollars.
Finalist in 2006 Writer’s Digest Best Writer’s Website Contest

Contents Copyright © 2006-2014 Kristen King

2 comments… add one
  • Dec 15, 2006

    That was a great post. I hear all the time that the majority of manuscripts and proposals submitted to agents and editors are disgraceful, but I still can’t quite believe it. I guess I feel like it should be easier for real writers to get published if this is true. Maybe there just aren’t that many truly talented writers out there, but tons of people who write and editors who take their money (as they should!). I also completely agree with you about ready some great books, as opposed to the trendy ones with great covers and an outrageously expensive marketing/PR machine behind them.

  • Dec 15, 2006

    Thanks, Julie! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. There’s nothing wrong with the trendy books per se, but that shouldn’t be the only thing people read. Just as you need a balanced diet in what you eat, you need a balanced diet in what you read. That means a little bit of everything.

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