Hiring an Editor for your Book

So many writers treat their editors like gods, all fire and brimstone one day, angelic the next. They’ve written their tale, and are eager to either self-publish it or submit it to a traditional publisher. Next they hire an editor, believing that their god will find all the mistakes and fix them. If not all that, the editor will point out the shortfalls and talk the writer through a rewrite. Right or wrong?
Wrong. Editors are not gods. They’re human beings like the rest of us, and have the weaknesses that go with the territory. It also depends on the editor you’re hiring. A typical publishing house will hire an acquisitions editor, content editor, line editor, copy editor, and sometimes, a proofreader.
The acquisitions editor winnows out manuscripts from their stack of submissions for their house to publish. In addition to finding these manuscripts, they must convince fellow editors, salespeople, and leaders of the publishing house that this book is worthy to appear in print. If you’re self-publishing, you become your own acquisitions editor, having decided to publish your own work.
A content editor is gold. I had a great content editor for Steel Rose. He or she will point out holes in your plot, not enough at stake, weak or whiny characters, melodrama, point of view errors, weak opening, lackluster tension on every page, heroes and heroines who don’t behave in realistic ways, an antagonist who’s too evil to be believable. Content editing can run thousands of dollars, but you can get around this if you’ve got beta readers or belong to a writer’s group. The beta reader group might be the way to go if they know your genre.
If you decide to go the beta reader route, listen, really listen, and read between their critiques. The critiques should be done privately, not in the group. If the reader said the book got good once he got going, your opening may be weak. If the reader says he put the book down, and forgot to get back to it, the book is boring. Revise, revise, revise. If your reader gets mad and that’s what you intended, you’ve succeeded. The question to ask is if he would read another book like it.
If you decide to go with a content / line editor, get sample edits from people familiar with your genre. Many editors won’t charge for sample edits. Editing is a subjective job, and the editor may miss the mark because he or she has their own perception of your genre. If you’re satisfied with the sample, find out the charges up front, and whether you can afford them before you commit to the project. I know of one writer who hired an editor, loved the critique, but ran out of money during the project, so he only got part of his book edited. It won’t work, especially if you’re self-publishing, so pony up. Most editors are willing to work out payment plans. With City of Brotherly Death, I did the instalment plan, getting my edits on each short story as I finished them.   
The copy editor is a must for self-publishing authors, and you won’t need to spend thousands of dollars. He or she will catch the typos, the missed words, the differences between “lie” and “lay,” tense inconsistencies, and other grammar issues. The line editor makes sure there’s consistency with your characters. If your heroine starts out as a brunette, the line editor will make sure she doesn’t become a blonde without using hair dye. In some cases, your copy editor can make a great line editor, too.
The proofreader will make sure that the copy edit doesn’t introduce new errors. He or she will inspect the layout and compare the text to the final manuscript, making sure that your name and title are spelled correctly and that the pages are numbered. After all that, mistakes on the manuscript may still happen. Editors, after all, are human.
As a self-published writer, you’re the boss. You’re hiring these people. You get the final say on changes. All the decisions are yours, and that’s scary. You can decide not to hire an editor. You can hire an editor and ignore his or her advice. You can follow the advice to the letter.
The choice is yours.
Barbara Custer lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she works full time as a respiratory therapist. When she’s not working with her patients, she’s enjoying a fright flick or working on horror and science fiction tales. Her short stories have appeared in numerous small press magazines. She’s published Night to Dawn magazine since 2004.

Other books by Barbara include Twilight Healer and City of Brotherly Death. She’s also coauthored Alien Worlds and Starship Invasions with Tom Johnson. She enjoys bringing her medical background to the printed page, and then blending it with supernatural horror. She maintains a presence on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and The Writers Coffeehouse forum. Look for the photos with the Mylar balloons, and you’ll find her.

Visit her at:


  1. This is a very fair article about editing. Copy-editing and proofreading most definitely are the crucial steps and can often be carried out by the same person. And a good copy-editor will pick up content issues too and bring them to the author's attention.

  2. I appreciate the lovely showcasing you did with my blog and book.

  3. Nice post, Barbara. As many of us move into the indie camp, the need for a good editor cannot be over-stated. The last thing we want is to appear unprofessional. I especially like your statement about "reading between the critiques". As with most things, the freedom we gain is not free.

  4. Very informative post

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  5. Barbara...I'm not a writer, but as a reader (and librarian, and English teacher), I appreciate your comments. Copy editing and proofreading are vital. Nothing turns me off more as a reader than poor editing--typos, grammar mistakes, internal inconsistencies. I recall a book I was reading recently where the heroine was driving a certain make and model car, but just a little bit later in the same scene, it's a different model of car. There's just no reason for that!
    catherinelee100 at gmail dot com

  6. Thanks for sharing! Very important information for authors to know :)

    andralynn7 AT gmail DOT com

  7. I know the importance of a second and even a third set of eyes. Some good advice.

  8. Thanks for the great post Barbara. Editors are very important, and it's crucial to get a good editor.



I love to hear from you. So feel free to comment, but keep in mind the basics of blog etiquette — no spam, no profanity, no slander, etc.

Thanks for being an active part of the Writers and Authors community.