One topic of contention in many author groups is whether a professional edit should be completed on a manuscript prior to submitting that story to an agent or a publisher. After watching much of the back and forth, I'd like to provide my two cents.
Part of the allure of traditional publishing is the absence of out-of-pocket expenses self-publishing authors have to plan for: cover art, formatting, illustrators, editing, and marketing. But in recent years, it's become necessary for authors looking to publish traditionally to take on the lion's share of their marketing efforts. It's definitely one of those conundrums we encounter in the corporate world, where one needs three years of experience for an entry-level position but you can't get that entry-level experience unless someone will hire you. Does the chicken come before the egg? How do you obtain a reader following unless your publisher helps you with marketing, or are you expected to have one prior to being published?
Do non-self-publishing authors need to take on editing as well?
Of course, the majority of feedback I've seen in author groups is that the answer is "no", that any editor who says otherwise is simply attempting to line their own pockets, speaking from a personal bias that doesn't take into account the best interests of the authors. I call this a completely damaging and erroneous assumption.
So, do authors looking to traditionally publish need to have their work edited prior?
My answer? Yes.
However, I do have caveats. Are you absolutely sure your narrative arc makes sense? Is your writing relatively clean, with no major grammatical errors that would take the reader out of the story? Have you enlisted the help of multiple—aim for 10—beta readers who have provided honest feedback concerning your story, your sentence structure, the novel's cohesiveness, and hook effectiveness? If the answer to these questions is "yes", then I'd actually discourage the use of an editor, except to help with your query letter or requested synopsis.
But if your answer to any of these questions is "no", then it comes down to your publishing mindset. A writing hobbyist isn't going to experience the anxiety, sense of urgency, or the weight of expectation a business-minded author will. A writing hobbyist doesn't approach publishing with the intention an author would who is looking to make a career from their craft. And it's that intention that ultimately determines the amount of personal investment needed to get the ball rolling.
You're a career-minded author?
Well, then my question for you is, why wouldn't you hire an editor for your manuscript before you begin querying agents and publishing houses?
Football players hoping to get selected during the draft go to practice, run drills, and hire personal trainers. They give themselves every possible advantage, hoping to eliminate any weakness in their game, because the potential gains are worth more than the temporary
inconvenience. The number of football players who are eventually accepted onto an NFL roster?
The number of authors who are published traditionally out of the pool of yearly submissions?
1%. Not much better. The odds are not in your favor. Why wouldn't you want to improve those odds if you could?
Yes, if your story gets accepted by a traditional publishing house, they'll provide you with an entire editing team. And each consecutive book can go directly to your agent, then to that editing team, per your contract. You may never have an out-of-pocket expense again. But how do you ensure your story gets accepted? What can you do to make sure your story is the strongest it can be? To make sure all plot holes have been addressed? To make sure your characters come alive on the page? To make sure supporting details have been added to elevate any flat areas of your narrative arc? To make sure your hook is effective and attention-grabbing? To make sure your story's conclusion is poignant and memorable?
You hire an editor.
I find the claims that an editor suggesting you present a professional quality, ready-to-publish manuscript to an agent or publisher you haven't worked with before, putting your best possible foot forward and increasing your odds of acceptance, as self-serving on the editor's part outrageously absurd. Does this have the potential to put a project on our books? Yes. Absolutely. But when we take on a client who is looking to publish traditionally, we recognize that we're helping an author fly, an author we might never work with again. Once that author has their foot in a door with a publishing company, they're set; they've accomplished their dream. We've done our job and done it well for them, and there's no greater satisfaction in that. How can it be self-serving when we're setting an author up to possibly not need us anymore?
I've said it countless times, but a professional editor is a good person to have in your corner, no matter your publishing goals. Not only are we capable of making your manuscript shine, but we're also confident, ready, and steadfast in our advice and guidance. It all comes down to vetting the editor you're speaking with and taking that advice from. Ensuring you include a professional, experienced editor in your circle will always make a difference in the successfulness of your publishing ventures.
So what editing service would I suggest if you want to get traditionally published?
Again, that comes down to your current position in your craft. How experienced are you? For most new authors, I would suggest a manuscript evaluation. This will go over the strengths and struggles of your manuscript, including hook effectiveness, satisfactory conclusions, strength of your narrative arc, literary elements usage, character analysis, etc. It will also give you guidelines for improving some of the areas where your manuscript might not be hitting the necessary benchmarks for your success. Not every author needs a full developmental edit, and if an editor is attempting to push one on you without really reviewing your manuscript, then I might suggest something foul afoot.
But likewise, I might not suggest a full line and copy edit. Many publishing houses will request the first three chapters of your novel prior to requesting a full manuscript. And the timeframe between that query submission, request for the first three chapters, or the request for the full manuscript might be a number of months. Do I think it's necessary to hire an editor for a full line and copy edit on the entire manuscript immediately? No, not if the financial investment is an issue. But would I advocate for a line and copy edit on the first three chapters? Definitely. Again, it's simply about putting your best foot forward. It also gives you an extended period of time to save money toward editing the rest of your manuscript. If you aren't able to, you do run into the possibility of having the agent or publisher be startled by the contrast in quality, but if the editor you hired for the first three chapters is professional, you can safely implement a few of their more obvious grammar adjustments to help clean up the rest of your manuscript to the best of your ability.
Just remember, editors aren't the scammers of the publishing community. That title goes to the vanity presses who attempt to extort money from you with little to nothing in return. What a professional editor brings to the table is quantifiable and advocated for, even by some of the top names in horror.
Even Stephen King once said, "To write is human, to edit is divine." - On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
"No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published." - Russell Lines, former managing editor of HarperCollins Publishers.
So I suppose it comes down to this: What are your publishing goals, and what amount of time and effort are you willing to invest to make sure you accomplish those dreams?
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Interested in Horrorsmith Editing's services? Go to our Services Page!
Worried about Artificial Intelligence's involvement in the writing community? Check out our response!