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Smart Writers Seek Smart Editors for Their Best Work

Updated: Oct 12, 2019

A plumber's hands holding a wrench and working on a drain pipe.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to talk about this issue of self-editing and the necessity of hiring a professional editor. Yes, I know! I have already touched on these topics at least twice in my blog, but honest to gosh, the writers’ pages on social media are still awash with writers fretting over how they can’t afford to hire a pro editor for their manuscripts. I always give them the same polite advice: if you don’t have the money right now to pay a professional editor, wait until you do.

That’s great advice, but it is unappreciated. Some bad advice I see offered includes:

“If you’re smart enough to write a book, you’re smart enough to edit it.”

“Just use lots of beta readers and let them catch the typos and mistakes.”

“Grammarly and spell checkers are all you need.”

Let a Pro Editor Read Your Work

I’ll stop here, because my head is starting to pound. Now look, I’m not saying that self-editing, beta readers, and automated grammar and spelling programs are bad. They’re great. Writers should self-edit, find beta readers, and use the latest writing-assistance technologies. But these are not replacements for experienced human editors.

And it’s tough to be in a profession where people are often telling you that you charge too much for what you do or “Your work could be done just as well by my next-door neighbor Charlie who reads a lot and my Aunt Margaret who was a substitute school teacher for 10 years.”

Even Editors Get the Blues

Everyone who writes needs editors and proofreaders. Editors and proofreaders need editors and proofreaders. I will give you a real-life, personal example I should be ashamed to share.

I sent an email to a small business in my town last week, noting that it creates training manuals and policy and procedure handbooks for its clients. When my career started, I did that work, I tell them. I’m an experienced writer, editor, and proofreader, I tell them. I crafted a compelling case for them to consider me for freelance writing, editing, and training. I read through it three times, tweaked it a bit each time, read it one final time, and clicked SEND. Immediately after I did, I stared at it as if for the first time and saw this:

My resume is attached but here some highlights that might interest you.

Holy s**t. Are you kidding me? Do you see it? I left out the word “are” after “here.” Each time I had re-read it before sending, I swear that word was there. Well, it was there—in my mind.

And that’s what happens with self-editing. You see what you think you wrote, not what you actually wrote.

I debated how to handle it and decided to acknowledge my faux pas in a follow-up email. I went for a humble, self-effacing approach and hoped I would get points for noticing the mistake and having the courage to point it out.

Face it, I’ll never hear from them. And I probably shouldn’t. I didn’t follow one of my own pieces of advice: step away from what you’ve written for a day or an hour or even a few minutes and come back to it with fresh eyes.

You Need an Editor? Hey, That's What I Am.

Like any area of business, editors have best practices and standard pricing. I can assure you, my rates are comfortably in line with other editors doing the same kind of editing and with the same amount of experience. I’m not the most expensive and I’m not the least. So it pains me when someone tells me that I get too much money for what I do, the implication being, editing and proofing are skills that can be done just as well by the average man or woman who can read and write.

Low water pressure, high water pressure, leaky pipes, clogged shower or toilet drains, and corroded pipes—these are the most common reasons people call a plumber. The cost of a plumber ranges from $175 to $450 for a typical job, with the average cost per hour ranging from $45 to $200. We have all complained about the cost of hiring plumbers. Yet we hire them anyway. Why? Because they can do something we can’t do that needs to be done.

I submit that editors are the plumbers of the written word. I might even have a bumper sticker made:

Clean the clogged pipes of your manuscript. Hire an editor.

I like it. What do you think?

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