PhotobucketI’m seeing more queries these days where writers claim their manuscript has been professionally edited.

And it’s no surprise. People inside the industry—like myself!—are known for emphasizing the importance of submitting a flawless manuscript.

Rather than a reassurance, though, queries that mention a professional edit can leave me feeling less confident about the work. I’ve heard agents say the same thing.

This seems grossly unfair, doesn’t it?

There are 3 elements at play:

    1. Most writers don’t clearly understand how an editor might improve their work (or to what extent). Writers must have a level of sophistication and knowledge about their work (or themselves!) to know where their weaknesses are, and how a professional might assist them. When writers ask me if they should hire a professional editor, it’s usually out of a vague fear their work isn’t good enough—and they think it can be “fixed.” There are many different types or levels of editing, and if you don’t know what they are—or what kind you need—then you’re not ready for a professional editor.

    2. I review “professionally edited” manuscripts all the time, and I see no evidence of professional editing. And in consultations with writers, I hear about some pretty lousy advice that has been delivered by these “professionals.”

    3. Writers may sincerely seek professional help, but very few are willing to pay for it. You probably will not receive a quality review on your entire manuscript—that will actually affect your chances of publication—for less than $1,000—unless it’s line editing (copyediting, proofreading).

Can you benefit from a professional edit? Maybe. Your work already needs to be very good and deserving of the investment. Even the best editor in the world can’t turn a mediocre work into a gem. But they can make a good work great.

Tips for Hiring a Professional Editor

  • Look for referrals from your writing friends/network first.
  • Look at the editor’s credentials. Has she worked on books that have been published in your genre? Do you see evidence of her experience and know-how in New York publishing (assuming your goal is to get published traditionally, by a commercial press)?
  • Are they asking YOU the right questions? Quality editors will not take any job thrown at them. They look for projects where they know they can make a difference, and feel like they can work with a writer in a meaningful way. Quality editors turn down projects all the time, and can be choosy in who they work with.

If you have trouble finding a solid recommendation, try subscribing for a month ($20) to PublishersMarketplace. Credible and independent professionals have member pages.

For another viewpoint on this issue, check out Jim Adam’s guest post for me over at Writer’s Digest, How to Save Time and Money With Professional Editors.

I’d love to hear from writers about their experiences working with professional editors, and if it has made an impact on getting their work accepted.

Photo courtesy Flickr’s Mr. Wright


About Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman is the co-founder and publisher of Scratch, a quarterly magazine focused on the intersection of writing and money. She teaches digital publishing and media at the University of Virginia and is a full-time publishing consultant. Find out more at her website.