Should You Hire an Editor?

No matter how careful you are editing your own work, things will slip through the cracks. It’s a fact of writing that spans from novice to long-time professional. Even if you want to take the traditional publishing route for your novel, agents and publishers are much more likely to take a gamble on you if your book has already been carefully edited than not. But quality editors are expensive. And what about editing software like ProWritingAid or alternative peer editing options like Scribophile? What’s the best option for you?

Here’s an overview of what to expect from each:

Hiring a professional editor:

Pros:

  • Humanity. A human editor will know you and your book. He will read your work in full context and be able to offer advice from a human perspective that will work uniquely for your writing.
  • Experience. Professional editors have done this before and know what it will take to bring your book to the top.
  • Confidence. Everyone will have more faith in your writing if you go with a professional editor–including yourself. If your novel looks good not only to you but also to her, you can be sure that it probably looks good to readers as well!

Cons:

  • Humanity. Nobody’s perfect, including the finest of professional editors. He will have personal opinions and biases that you might disagree with, and that even might harm your novel. He could also miss something technical that your readers will pick up on.
  • Price. You get what you pay for. A dedicated college sophomore might be more affordable than an award-winning publishing professional in New York, but there’s no telling if her advice will be any good. What are you willing to gamble?
  • Time. Though it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to spend years writing and editing your novel, you should be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting between revisions. Successful editors are usually busy as it is, and it will take them time to read your book thoroughly and critically.

Using editing software:

Pros:

  • Save time and money! A lot of quality editing software is completely free or available at a low price compared to hiring an editor. The process is also instant. Instead of waiting weeks to hear back, you wait seconds and can start the editing process immediately.
  • Algorithms. While editing a novel can be a largely subjective experience, there are often technical errors that need to be fixed or words that are used too commonly. Editing software can compare your writing with published novels and give an accurate and objective report on your writing.
  • Flexibility. You’re not keeping anyone waiting. You can work on your novel when you want, where you want, and to whatever extent you want. If you’re sick of working on one scene, you can switch to another until you’re ready to fix it.

Cons:

  • Questionability. I often repeat words or phrases for emphasis in my writing, but ProWritingAid records those words as being overused, repetitive, or boring writing. Are they really? It’s hard to know.
  • Mechanical precision. I once tested a scene from a well-written published novel on editing software, and guess what? It wasn’t perfect. Actually, a perfect score could mean your writing is more awkwardly worded or sterile than it should be–but it’s impossible to know just where to draw the lines.
  • Limits. A human editor could work with you all the way from rough draft to near-publication, editing software only knows how to look for certain kinds of errors. It won’t see your novel as a whole or understand any context. It won’t tell you anything about how well your plot unfolds or how nicely you’ve developed your characters.

Peer editing:

Pros:

  • Friends! Whether you go with people you know personally or with a networking group like Scribophile, you’re with people going through the same thing. You’ll get a measure of encouragement and personal support that you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Multiple views. Instead of a single editor reading and critiquing your work, you can have as many people as you want evaluating your novel. You can get all sorts of feedback from different viewpoints that can reflect accurately on what your readers will experience when they open the cover.
  • Free! You can’t beat the price of asking a friend or two to help out. That being said, you could get hundreds of reviewers with the right contacts and a bit of luck, and edit to your heart’s content!

Cons:

  • Subjective. Your friends will be subjective and opinionated, and unlike a professional editor, none of them will be able to back their views up with so much professional editing experience.
  • Reciprocal. While you don’t have to pay money, services like Scribophile do require you to critique the work of others before you can get any of your own works edited. This can be frustrating if you just want to write and edit, and it will take up a lot of time and mental energy.
  • Low-priority. Once one of my writing friends volunteered to critique a novel I had written, and it took her a year to get back to me. By then the draft she had read was largely obsolete, and a lot of what she had to say didn’t matter.

Chances are, some things will slip through the cracks no matter how dedicated your editing regimen is and how many people and machines scan your novel. There’s no such thing as perfect, and no way to know for sure how much work is left. But whatever you decide to go with, remember that so long as you are editing, you are moving forward–and any of the above services are there to help!

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