When Should You Hire an Editor?

As an all-purpose freelance editor, I field projects in all stages of development: brainstorming, developmental editing, line-by-line polishing, and the final spit-shine of proofreading. However, some individuals who contact me have projects that are not ready for an editor. If I take projects in all stages of development, how can any project be unready?

It depends on the project, and it depends on the author. First and foremost, before writers hire an editor, they should do enough work to make themselves proud. There are three main reasons why you should contract outside help with your writing, and the third reason doesn’t apply to everyone.

1. You have done all you can and you want your work to reach another level.

As per the Looseleaf editorial philosophy, I believe editors should help writers become better writers. That can’t happen if you, as the writer, throw down whatever comes to mind and chuck it at an editor. Chances are, you’ll chuck over a lot of stuff you could have fixed yourself, which means the editor wastes his or her time (and yours) fixing things you already know how to handle.

If you have 20 pages of a novel and a skeletal outline, you don’t yet need an editor: you need to write. If you have a manuscript with a chapter you know how to fix, you don’t yet need an editor: you need to revise.

But if you wrote the whole thing and tightened up all the chapters and sentences you could and you still want to take it up a notch, it may be time to bring in an editor. An editor can find what you couldn’t see yourself.

2. You have a specific change you want to make, and you’re not sure how to do it on your own (or that change would be many times easier for fresh eyes).

Many people rightly hire an editor when they have a specific task they want accomplished, but aren’t sure how to go about it. Some writers need to cut thousands of words but can’t decide what needs to go. Some researchers want to repurpose their work to reach a lay audience but don’t think they can see what needs to be changed. You might also need to condense a cast of characters, streamline your argument, or find where your plot won’t hold water.

This is a good time to get outside help. You have a specific task in mind, which makes it easier for the editor to help you.

This reason also applies to tasks like copyediting and proofreading, which are much easier for fresh eyes to do. For these types of editing, your specific task is taking out grammar, punctuation, and stylistic errors, and it’s easier for an editor to do that because he or she will not already be neck deep in your prose.

3. You’ve done all the work you’re keen on doing, but you need more work done.

The third reason most often comes up with researchers and businesses that are on tight deadlines. If you’re someone who needs to write to communicate, but you don’t pride yourself on your writing, then you might write the basics of what you need and have an editor to fix it up. Could you have done the task yourself? Maybe, but then again maybe you don’t consider writing your best work. Maybe your best work is the research, the ideas behind the business, or the conceptual work. The phrase-by-phrase writing doesn’t concern you as much, so passing that part to an editor or ghostwriter frees up more of your time for the parts in which you excel. You get to do more of the work that makes you proud.

I don’t recommend this reason for individuals who pride themselves on being writers. It’s rare for this reason to apply to a novelist, for example, because novelists are known primarily for their writing. Once you’ve done all the writing work you can, then you’re ready for an editor, and you can claim your own work with pride.

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