professional editorBy Jim Dempsey

With e-books selling for such low prices and tight profit margins in self-publishing, there’s constant pressure to keep costs down. As a result, authors can be tempted to cut corners in editing and production to save money.

That’s risky because the quality of the final product can suffer. A poorly edited and produced novel risks being unread.

A well-edited novel will stand out from the crowd and command attention – and even help boost sales. Professional editing will not only correct errors, it can clear away the clutter, tighten up the plot, invigorate characters, and strengthen the author’s voice.

Here are five reasons why you need a professional editor for your novel:

1. Investing in a professional editor is money well-spent

Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done.

Professional editing is an indispensable, not just a desirable, part of a novel’s journey to publication. Editing can make all the difference to getting a novel noticed by a prospective publisher and audience alike. An editor will make sure the reader remembers the dazzling plot and characterisation, and not the problems with grammar. Authors need editors. It takes teamwork to craft a polished and captivating work that could become tomorrow’s bestseller.

2. Honest, objective feedback

Lots of authors ask friends and beta readers to take a look at their novel. Most people are flattered by the request and are happy to help.

While any feedback is welcome and can help improve the manuscript, friends tend to give a lot of positive feedback and encouragement. They can gloss over some of the novel’s shortcomings to avoid causing offence. And there could be those who are just a little bit jealous and who will gladly recount a whole list of failings.

Professional editors, on the other hand, are experienced at giving criticism. They are systematic and thorough, covering not only familiar issues of grammar and punctuation, but also matters of style, pacing, dialogue, plot twists, and fact checking (to name but a few). Above all, the feedback they give is honest and objective.

Like the author, editors want your readers to be focussed on the narrative and not be distracted by misspelt words or absent apostrophes.

3. Editors work together with authors

Authors are proud of their work. They have spent many hours perfecting the text, gone to great lengths to check the spelling, grammar and punctuation, and reacted to comments and corrections from their beta readers.

But that’s unlikely to be enough.

Friends and beta readers will do their best, but they have their work, family and other obligations to consider. They can probably only get to your book in their spare time, reading a chapter or two a night.

Professional editors, however, will spend their entire working day on a single novel. And the next day too. And the next, until they have a thorough understanding of the work. They are, therefore, in a much better position to point out contradictions in the characters’ behaviour, inconsistencies in syntax, and irregularities in the flow and formatting.

None of this is done in isolation. Editor and author have to work together. It’s the editor’s job to be honest with the author when suggesting improvements (such as rewriting, restructuring or cutting sections) while respecting the author’s message, meaning, tone, and style. Both author and editor have a shared interest in producing a work that gets – and keeps – the reader’s attention. What’s more, with experience and knowledge of the book-selling market, an editor can suggest ways to take the novel in a direction that might better attract the eye of a publisher or agent.

4. An editor is a sounding board

Authors often pour their deepest feelings, and even secrets, into their novels. And, for that reason, they are often cautious about who reads their early drafts. They put a lot of thought into selecting beta readers, and they do this with some trepidation: friends could spot some of the more autobiographical elements in the novel, or they might think they recognise aspects of themselves in the characters (however tenuous). Some might even wonder why they’re not featured.

In such cases, authors can benefit from the impartial opinion of an editor. By taking a bird’s eye view of the novel, the editor can identify those elements that work and those that don’t and suggest the necessary changes. While the editor will get to know you throughout the editing process, especially in the case of full, substantive editing, they are not concerned with your private life. Friends and family can wait till they read the finished novel to discuss your personal touches.

5. Editing is a skill

It can be tempting to ask a friend to edit your book. Someone who is not an editor but who is good with language and is prepared to do the job for little or no cost.

The issue here is one of thoroughness. Editing is a profession like any other. Editors do much more than simply spotting errors in the text. They see it as their job to help the author produce a work that will keep the reader turning page after page of your novel.

Not convinced? Why not give a professional editor a go. Any good editor worth his/her salt will offer a free five-page sample – judge the difference in quality for yourself.


Jim Dempsey is an associate editor at Novel Gazing. Novel Gazing offers professional editing services for self-publishing authors.

Editor’s Note: TeleRead has no personal experience with Novel Gazing, and this article is not to be construed as an endorsement or recommendation of their services. His points, however, were, in our opinion, worthy of publishing.


  1. These days with such poor editing at the major publishing houses, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for an author to pay for some editing before their book is published.

    The latest egregious mistake I spotted from a major publisher. The heroine follows a noticeable blood trail to a body. The victim had been strangled with hands so there was no open wound. Aaaargh!

  2. A talented editor can be amazing. There’s one who works for a publisher I do layout for who’s nothing short of amazing. He sees issues, including logic flaws or loose constructions that I’d never see. I’ve learned a lot working with him.

    But I question whether most editors are that good. Perhaps the real rationale for including them in a work flow isn’t that they’re that great, but that today’s high schools and colleges are so dreadful, most writers need a lot of help.

    I saw that myself. When I started college in the summer of 1966, the two professors who taught honors English used Albert Camus as an excuse to attempt to force-feed us their French existentialism. Fortunately, Camus is so dreadful, they had the opposite effect on me. But from what I have heard the decline of Camus has been replaced by still worse examples of what George Orwell called ‘smelly little orthodoxies’–meaning rigid, simplistic ways of looking at the world. And that means what colleges ought to be teaching–good thinking and good writing–aren’t being taught. And editor who can do both becomes a real plus.

    But there’s a reason why many writers can’t afford editors. The first paragraph gives the problem: “With e-books selling for such low prices and tight profit margins in self-publishing, there’s constant pressure to keep costs down.”

    For that, I don’t blame most ebook retailers. In the past, writers were lucky to find a publisher who’d pay 10% royalties. Now companies such as Apple pay a full 70%, something that makes those low retail prices a bit more bearable. The $2.10 that a couple of my iBookstore ebooks are earning isn’t than much less than the roughly $3 that I earn from the $15 print versions and they’re far more likely to sell at one fifth the price. And if those same books were being sold by a traditional publisher who paid 10% royalties, they’d need to retail for about $21 for me to earn that $2.10. Again, that means fewer sales.

    No, the real problem with authoring today isn’t the market itself. It’s the market’s 800-pound gorilla, Amazon. The same ebook whose sale earns me $2.10 from Apple only earns me about $1.55 from Amazon. That is thanks to the latter’s grossly inflated download fees. Those fees are a bit over 10,000% more than what Amazon charges their AWS customers for identical file downloads. Is their any other service on the planet where the markup is that high? I don’t think so. And I’m “fortunate.” Those ebooks are in the $2.99-9.99 range where Amazon pretends to pay 70% royalties. Outside that range, it only pays a miserly 35%.

    Putting an actual income behind that makes matters even more chilling. Assume an author whose modest novel earns him $1000 from Apple. The same number of sales from Amazon might only earn him $700. There’s a lot an author could buy for that $300 difference, including at least some editorial services.

    But that’s not the full story. To get the full story, we have to take into account market shares. An ebook that’s bought on Amazon is one that isn’t bought from the iBookstore. It earns him less. To see just how much less, assume sells 1,000 copies from either Apple or Amazon alone or from what’s estimated to be the market split between the two companies. And take one of my books as an example.

    Apple Only:

    1000 copies at $2.10 royalties each = $2,100 in income

    Amazon Only:

    1000 copies at $1.55 royalties each = $1550 in income.

    That’s a substantial (for a poor author) difference of $550 and every penny of the latter is money taken out of the pockets of authors and placed in the hands of Amazon. Multiply that by tens of thousand of authors and that’s the harm Amazon is doing to writing. It also means kids going hungry.

    And finally, assume a typical sales split in today’s market with 70% of those sales going to Amazon, 20% to Apple, and 10% to other outlets that pay like Apple.

    700 copies sold by Amazon at $1.55 each = $1085
    200 copies sold by Apple at $2.10 each = $420
    100 copies sold by others at $2.10 each = $210
    TOTAL: $1715

    In this market-realistic case, the author is earning $385 less, although he is perhaps deceived by the fact that the check from Amazon is bigger.

    That’s not of money for a Jeff Bezos, but it is for a struggling author. And multiply that by perhaps five books and it become $1925. As someone who often lives on a tight budget, I can say that’s often the difference between just getting by and absolute misery.

    For many authors, that difference may determine whether the author can afford the help of an author–and thus has a book that does well–and not having an editor and having mediocre sales. And in the latter case, the difference in income could multiply to tens of thousand of dollars and failure as an author rather than success.

    That’s why some are starting to suspect that Amazon isn’t good for a healthy book market. That 800-pound gorilla is pocketing large sums for doing no more than a credit card transaction and a file download. It’s eating all the bananas and leaving only the peelings for everyone else.

    And that’s also why there’s so little money out there for editors and cover designers.

  3. This same identical article seems to be written at weekly intervals on every indie-publishing blog on the planet. And that’s probably a good thing, overall; many indie books would be improved by some professional editing. But what I’d really like to see is something that goes a little deeper. Notably, there are two important rules that never seem to get mentioned in blog posts like this one:

    First is the rule that not ALL writing by ALL writers will necessarily be improved by an editor. There are, believe it or not, some writers who are hugely skilled at their art, and some random editor pawing over their work is more likely to make it worse than better. This is the “don’t gild the lily” rule.

    Second, and more generally applicable, is the “you can’t polish a turd” rule. Many, MANY of the self-published books out there could not possibly be “improved” by an editor, because they’re just too awful. The author doesn’t know enough about writing yet, and no editor can fix that. Beginning authors should determine if they can write at a basic level of competence before they go throwing money at an editor. Trying to sell short stories to professional markets is one way to do this. But I suspect there aren’t many editors out there who will turn away a customer, telling them that their book isn’t good enough to justify editing. Every time I read articles like this one I envision hordes of hopelessly-bad authors pouring their hard-earned cash into the laps of professional editors, just as such authors once wasted their money on vanity publishers. It would be nice, just once in a while, to see some kind of caveat addressed toward new authors, advising them against wasting their money on an editor. In the list of important advice that should be given to new authors, “learn to write” ranks far, far higher than “hire an editor.”

  4. You make some excellent points, Karl. You’ve even inspired me to write at least two more articles.

    Briefly, though, I wonder if you can really say that your first point is a ‘rule’. I’ve seen a lot of novels in my time as an editor, and even taken a look at early manuscripts by some greats. I don’t believe there’s anybody who can write a perfect novel on their own. I do agree that some works benefit greatly from only the lightest touch by the editor. Personally, I’m always grateful to work with the very talented writers as there’s always something more to learn in this profession and they are definitely the best teachers.

    As for your second point, I agree entirely. And, at the risk of stretching your analogy way too far, although you cannot polish a turd there are people who will roll it in glitter. Either way, I’d say, you get your hands dirty. At Novel Gazing, we don’t take on work that we don’t think is up to a publishable standard. Who am I to judge? Well, as any standard rejection letter will tell you, it’s a very subjective decision. The bottom line is that no good editor would want to ‘dirty their fingers’. And we take the view that we wouldn’t want to have our name attached to something we can’t be proud of.

    There’s so much to say on this subject, but I think I’ll save it for my next article rather than go off on a rant here.

    Thanks for the input from all the people who have commented here so far. I’m glad you took the time and trouble to read the article and respond.

  5. I’ve been a writing teacher for years, and I’ve judged dozens of unpublished contests . I’ve read very few unpublished manuscripts that didn’t need an editor. Heck, I have several English degrees, I’ve taught English, I’ve edited books, and I wouldn’t publish anything without a decent editor.

    I’ve never met anyone who declared their work perfection and genius who wasn’t either totally delusional about the quality of their work or were blind to the errors because of ignorance. Sadly, most don’t recognize this in themselves or their work and continue to blunder on and never learn how to write.

    At the same time, I’ve worked with publishing house editors who were idiots who didn’t know grammar, who didn’t know the difference between editing and rewriting, or who didn’t have a clue about book structure, etc. I’ve also worked with editors who knew what they were doing and improved my work.

    Destination Infinity, join some self-publishing groups to network and seek recommendations. One I found is . I’m not a member so I can’t guarantee the quality of their recommendations.

    On my writing blog, every Wednesday, I link to various sources and resources online about writing, publishing, and self-publishing. Go to my blog and click on the “links” tab to check out information on self-publishing.

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