When Is My Manuscript Ready for a Freelance Editor? A Cost-Effective Look at Polishing Your Novel
When Nikki asked me to write an Editor’s Take, I was nervous. Book Internet has been out here for ages, which means many topics have been covered by the best brains in the business.
Take this question on for size: When is my manuscript ready for a freelance editor? You can find fifty [million] different answers online, so keep in mind that this is just my answer, and because I come from a middle-class background where we ate a pretty steady diet of Hamburger Helper, I answer it with cost-effectiveness in mind.
Wait. Who Says I Even Need a Freelance Editor?
Ah. The loophole guy. I was told to be expecting you.
If you’re wondering why you need a freelance editor in the first place, it all boils down to the fact that literary agents and indie readers alike have stated and demonstrated their tastes for polished, professional-level manuscripts. Both the trade and indie markets are supersaturated with content right now. So whether you want to get an agent or enjoy a solid indie fan base that reliably gives your books five stars and preorders new ones, you need to edit your manuscript. If you don’t, you’re essentially shouting into a very crowded, very loud room. And you’re shouting off-key.
Loophole guy, was that good enough for you?
Yeah, Okay, I’m Convinced. So, When Do I Need an Editor? And How Do I Hire Them Cost-Effectively?
In my estimation, there are two times in the publishing journey that hiring an editor is at its most effective.
In General, Before Self-Publishing or Querying.
First and foremost, your manuscript is ready for an editor if you’ve reviewed it, your beta readers or critique partners have reviewed it, and you’re ready to either self-publish or query an agent.
I’ll say it again: You and your betas or CPs should have reviewed your manuscript first. Don’t assume that you should book an editor the second you’re done writing. I mean, you could, but likely they’d uncover obvious concerns that you and your writing friends could have uncovered on your own for free. By waiting to hire an editor until you’ve done all you can do first, you are ensuring your manuscript has an extra level of professional polish.
An added bonus to waiting to hire a professional editor is that hiring them once you’re a few drafts in tends to be more cost-effective. Look at it like this: the earlier in the revision process that you approach an editor, the more likely the manuscript will need higher-level work. This may lead to a higher overall cost—or multiple rounds of supervised revision—as many editors price their more intensive services at a higher price point. If cost is a concern for you, see if you can’t find a good critique partner or beta reader who can provide you with most of your structural feedback, then pivot to an editor for line editing.
For Experienced Writers, After Several Failed Attempts at Publishing.
If you’re a stronger writer (e.g., have a degree in creative writing, have written several books already), and have submitted your work to agents or other gatekeepers to no avail, hiring a professional editor could be helpful to you. Pro tip: If you have a revise-and-resubmit rejection from an agent, send it to your freelance editor along with your manuscript. It can help us clue into what the industry wants you to fix more than anything else.
Most freelance editors won’t be upset if you ask questions about cost or what to expect from their editing packages. If money is a significant concern for you, I recommend approaching a handful of editors (no more than five to keep your life sane) and explaining upfront that you are trying to build a budget for a collaboration down the line. Have a list of questions and a budget in mind as you reach out to these editors and find your best fit. Ask each editor for an honest price quote, and then press pause on the conversation, save up for the collaboration, and come back to them when you’re ready.
If the pricing tiers editors share with you are simply untenable, consider that they might sell other products at a more affordable price point than their individualized services. Ask them about this. For instance, I offer coaching calls on querying best practices (www.hatch-books.com/coaching) and online courses on the four basic steps in writing a book (www.hatch-books.com/shop) at just 8.5% of what my editorial services cost on average. What’s more, absolute rock stars like Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA offer grad-school caliber training to make you a badass writer for a mere fraction of the student loan debt (https://diymfa.com/team/gabriela-pereira).
For a long time, writers with financial resources have been the ones able to devote their time, energy, and sage advice to their work, which is one of the many reasons why so many of the books out today privilege one kind of narrative. (Systemic racism is another, but that’s a whole other blog post: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/11/opinion/culture/diversity-publishing-industry.html.) With this information in your pocket, I hope you can move forward savvily, cost-effectively, and in the way that best serves you, your book, and your bottom line. Keep writing! You’ve got this.
Jessica Hatch is a professional freelance editor with a decade of publishing experience. She worked her way through the slush pile at New York-based literary agencies like Writers House, New Leaf Literary & Media, and Fox Literary Management, and learned what attracts readers to a book at St. Martin’s Press. Now, her clients win national awards, hit bestseller lists, get book deals, and, most importantly, publish books that they’re proud of. Learn more at www.hatch-books.com.