Professional Editor: Luxury or Necessity?

Last night I read a thread about securing a professional editor during the writing process.  It read something like this:

A professional editor is a crucial step in the writing process because writers cannot possibly self-edit.

In the context of this statement, Commenter A said that writers needed the services of an editor prior to sending the manuscript off to agents and editors. 

In circumstance such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, language barriers or learning disabilities, I agree that professional services may be necessary pre-submission.

However, this comment was hallelujah-ed as gospel by other writers.  Commenter A continued on, and I paraphrase ever so slightly to keep the context in tact: A writer’s job is to write a great story.  An editor’s job is to take care of the problems such as character development and plot holes.

This sentiment is one I’ve read/heard often enough to address on my blog.  To keep the conversation on a level playing field, I’ll clarify the two types of editors that might be discussed.

  1. The Pre-submission Editor who is secured before submission to polish a manuscript for submission. 
  2. The In-House Editor who is hired by the publishing house to polish your manuscript after it has been accepted for publication. 

These are two completely different animals.  The one referred to in the conversation thread was of the Type 1 Variety.  The pre-submission editor. 

And so I ask you: is a pre-submission editor a necessity or a luxury?  Why?

Are writers capable of editing their own manuscripts to the point of submission, or are they exempt from things like grammar and plot holes?  Is telling a story our only obligation, or should we be expected to learn the craft so our written work is stronger and more well-rounded?

Further, who the heck will revise with our agents or in-house editors should an offer ever grace our inboxes?  Us or the pre-submission editor?

If an agent or editor stumbles across this post, please comment and identify yourself as a professional.  Your input will be greatly appreciated.


26 responses to “Professional Editor: Luxury or Necessity?

  1. I can guess where you read this – on one of those LinkedIn writing professional groups. Right? Where freelance editors perpetually chum their services? You can’t possibly be successful without them! Nonsense.

    It is NOT essential to pay an editor to clean up your manuscript. Some writers might need more TLC than others, but that’s what crit partners are for. It IS essential to have crit partners, and more than one – especially for things like plot and character development. Heck, if you choose your crit partners carefully, you’re getting the quality of an editor for free. Well, not free, because you’re paying for the services in trade by doing the same for them.

    • Pete,

      : ) Tell me how you really feel!

      Incidentally, I believe the same thing. A pre-submission editor is, in my opinion, an unnecessary luxury. Like you said, crit partners are invaluable in the process. Additionally, a writing workshop or community college class can work well to help us learn how to edit our own writing. And I think that is the ultimate goal–becoming better writers through editing, practice and more editing. It’s an evolution that we must go through naturally if we want to produce quality work.

      On a personal level, I would hate to have my manuscript returned all prettied up with someone else’s idea of what it should look like. I would rather take an editorial cue and run with it to fix my problem areas. At least then the writing is still my own.

      Ironically, I did NOT get this thread from a professional group of editors. It was a discussion between writers (presumably new ones to the playing field based on their comments) who firmly believed that contracting a professional editor prior to submission was the only way to go.

      I’m curious about how agents view this idea.

  2. I see a manuscript as a rough cut gem — everyone is going to have his/her own idea of how to polish it. If a pre-submission editor is used, the story might inadvertently veer away from what an agent or in-house editor would like. I think it’s best to just go with your gut, and trust the process.

  3. I don’t believe writers need pre-submission editors. No way. Of course there’s going to be polishing/changing to be done once a publisher has been chosen – that’s a given – but I think the basic editing is the writer’s job. Crit buddies and beta readers are invaluable – and part of the writing process. But I totally disagree with that commenter.

    • Ditto those sentiments. While we all know that once a manuscript is accepted for publication countless edits will be required to polish it for the public, pre-editing is the responsibility of the writer. And if we never do it, how will we succeed for the in-house editor later on?

  4. Oops – I got involved in my comment and forgot to tell you I have an award for you at my blog 🙂

  5. Yeah, I agree with everyone else, there was even an agent’s blog, I can’t remember who now though…, who wrote that she did not believe a writer should have their ms pre-edited by a hired editor, while it is only one opinion, at least one agent agrees, lol.

    • Comments always strike me as interesting. There are so many different viewpoints and undoubtedly much conviction behind each opinion. So far, we are five for five in favor of nixing the pre-sub editor. That kind of support must mean something.

      Great minds think alike. Birds of a feather…


  6. Just my opinion, of course, but a pre-submission editor is a luxury most of us can’t afford. And not just because of the money. As you pointed out, the writer MUST learn how to spot errors, big and small, on their own. Now if they want to pay for the privilege of having someone point out their mistakes, by all means go ahead. Make sure you get a good, reputable editor and check their credentials.

    • Hear, Hear.

      Also, make sure you correct the error of your ways yourself. Otherwise it is just money out the window and you’ve still not learned a darn tootin’ thing about the process.

  7. Yeah, I think a person can get the same sort of “service” from several fresh sets of eyes as they could get from a professional editor. That being said, I am a professional proofreader (on occasion), but I don’t charge for my critique or opinions. Those are always free. ^_^

    • Barbara,

      Proofreading is different, IMHO, than a full on edit as was suggested by Commenter A. I have a great writing buddy who has a critical eye for all things grammatical. She is my professional proofreader, if you will. Before sending out my full, she diligently spotted my comma’s, typos, etc. That’s different than writing a rough a draft and passing it on to someone else to fix.

      I have nothing but the utmost respect for all editors and proofreaders. I just don’t think it is their job to fix my drivel. Enhance it. Polish it. Give it the old spit and shine. Yes. Throw some tar in the plot holes so my MC doesn’t fall through to Never Land? No way. That’s my job if I ever want to claim myself as a writer.

      Thanks so much for weighing in.

  8. I think perhaps the people who point out the need for an editor, are skipping over the crucial step known as a Critique Circle. It could also be known as a Beta Reader. Occasionally it is known as Putting-The-Damn-Manuscript-Down-And-Looking-At-It-Again-With-Fresh-Eyes. I just call it “Fresh Eyes” for short.

    If you skip all those, yes, you need a pre-submission editor. You might need more than one. >.<

  9. No. I vote no. Learn the craft. Read a lot of wonderful books and keep writing until you are ready to submit.

    I think these high cost services are often (I didn’t say always…) a racket. Writers who are truly proficient and ready to make the leap to commercial publishing do not need a high cost pre-submission editor.

    If you are a good enough writer, an agent and/or editor will help you perfect your MS when sign or make a sale.

    For me, I believe the cardinal rule is that money should flow to the writer, not away from him or her…

    • Jenny,

      Great point of view. Thanks so much for sharing it. You touch on something I feel strongly about. Writers whose work is ready for public viewing have often taken a lot of time and effort to get that far. They have sweated, persevered, sacrificed, been rejected, lost hope, found friends, broken rules and learned tons about themselves and the writing process.

      This part of our education is as important as a perfectly crafted novel. Maybe even more. To skip over those experiences might mean a less mature writer and one who is not ready for the demands of success. Because let’s face it, getting a novel written isn’t even half the battle.


  10. I’m with Pete on this one. I think we have crit partners for a reason and we darn well better be able to edit ourselves. If not we’re in some tall trouble. 😉
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  11. I believe it’s a luxury Cat…
    I’m all for beta- readers, people who can tell you that there is something wrong with chapter 2, the plot doesn’t sound right when you get to the middle or your character is not deep, developed enough.
    But it is the writer’s job to fix it. I think the editor #2 is a necessity but I believe I’m responsible of fixing my plot & characters.

    • Lua,

      We definitely need Editor #2. I look forward to the day I get to work with one (yep, feel free to contact me if you’re reading this–I’m ready!). But I would fear that a presubmission editor would make me a worse writer. It would be a crutch to never have to write unassisted. And what good does that do us?

  12. Post submission editors – definitely. Pre-submission – luxury only.

    Thanks for sharing this discussion though. It was great reading the other comments.

    • Well, so far it is all in favor of editing our own work with the help of betas and critters. And the occasional kind agent who gives great rejection feedback!

  13. Even if I could afford it, I wouldn’t. I don’t want someone reading my WIP for a fee. The motivation is different. The relationship is not as a pure reader.

    Cate, my annoyance was fresh when I posted. I don’t know if you’ve perused those boards, but it’s like a flock of seagulls after the potato chips.

    • Pete,

      So far I’ve steered clear of linkedin. I only have so much time in my day and I haven’t made it through to that social media yet. I think certain atmospheres allow for certain comments. And since LI is a way for professionals to connect, I imagine there is a fair amount of peddling going on.

      And let’s face it, aspiring writers are EASY PREY. We want so badly to get published that we buy into every word offered up by someone more experienced than us. We are the potato chip crumbs on the table, waiting to get picked off by seagulls more savvy (and sometimes less ethical) than us.

      I think for the first time in this conversation a very important point has been brought forward: paying for services changes the relationship. Critters and betas–if the right ones–are honest and open. Their only goal is to help us become better writers through well-though out comments. In return for services rendered, they ask that we help them become better writers through well-thought out comments. There is a power balance at play that mutually benefits both the critiqued and the critiquer.

      When money changes hands, that power balance shifts. We then have a leader and a follower. An expert and a novice. A provider and a customer. Handing over a few hundred (or a thousand) dollars does not guarantee that the edit will benefit the writer in any way.

      Even more damaging is the fact that this is one person’s view which soon becomes gospel. After all, if we paid for it, we’re more likely to believe it’s true and therefore defer to the edit and never learn to trust our own instincts or abilities.

      Ah, a whole book can be written on this topic. And in reality we are preaching to the choir. Those who comment here already have a solid grasp of the writing process. Hopefully new writers like Commenter A and his counterparts will read posts like these and save themselves some heartache along the way. Writing is difficult enough as it is without being a potato chip in the midst of hungry gulls.

      Thanks as always for your insight. Fresh annoyance is always welcome!

  14. For me a pre-submission editor is a necessity, as English is not my mother tongue. My problem is finding the right editor, though. I had a British friend going through the manuscript for a fee, but she isn’t a fantasy reader/writer, so she missed some of the story and her pass wasn’t very useful. If I want only a grammar check, I can ask my British teacher and he won’t charge me… Anyway, I’m joining some online fantasy writers group, so hopefully I’ll feel less the need for that editor before querying!
    I also think that, even if it’s indeed a luxury, self-pubbed authors would benefit of a professional editor (another reason why I’m not self-pubbing novels yet). Even if I’m not a native, I do notice typos and moving commas and weird formatting in most self-pubbed books… but I understand it’s a luxury and some authors can’t afford it!

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