Posted On February 27, 2013 by Print This Post

When is it Time to Hire an Editor? with RU Contributing Editor Heather Webb

Help me welcome RU’s newest contributor – freelance author and writer Heather Webb!


When is it Time to Hire an Editor?

Most writers wrestle with novel revisions and at some point find themselves asking—when is it time to work with an editor? Some of your writing buddies have, some haven’t. Are they worth their weight in gold? How do you know if you really need one? Since every writer’s process varies, knowing when it’s time can be tricky. To begin, make sure you’ve…


You’ve read craft books, worked with critique partners, layered your manuscript with symbolism, foreshadowing, and subplots. The dang novel has been dissected so many times the words blur and you’re convinced there aren’t any issues. Yet you keep getting…


Beta readers gush about your manuscript, but agents or editors say “it just lacked the magic they were looking for”. Or worse, every reader or agent who reads your work gives conflicting feedback. Who’s right?

Maybe rejections aren’t the issue. Maybe you’re just plain stuck because you’re having…


You’ve hit a wall! The subplots are tangled like gum in a toddler’s hair. You can’t make sense of how to weave them together.

Then there’s the other big issue writers run into—it’s not the manuscript, it’s the way you’re selling it. Somehow you’ve managed to make your medical spy thriller sound like a non-fiction ecology manual. That’s when you realize you’re having…


No one has requested pages after sending out query after query. You need help shaping it into something that catches an agent’s eye.

Then there are always the perfectionist types who want a little…


Your manuscript is in great shape, you think, but you want to be SURE. A little extra polish never hurts, and who knows, maybe the editor will unearth some major issue you (and 47 readers) have missed. It happens!

If you fall into one of those categories, then you want an editor, so now let’s take a look at…


Like anyone else, each editor has their process, but a GOOD editor runs through a checklist of sorts to assess each element. Perhaps the plot is strong, but the dialog is anemic. An editor will diagnose the problem! What most editors look for is:

  • Craft Issues: grammar, punctuation, syntax
  • Pacing & flow problems
  • Lack of voice and mood
  • Unnatural dialog
  • Plot holes or dangling plot threads
  • Melodrama as opposed to realistic situations & emotional reactions
  • Cardboard characters
  • Inconsistencies with all elements

Finally, it’s possible the manuscript just hasn’t found the right home—it is a subjective business after all—and this is something an editor can assess immediately.

Now you’ve decided to hire an editor, but don’t have the slightest ideas how to find one. There are loads of posers out there, even with so-called credentials so let’s look at…


  • Word of mouth is key to finding any service or product from a good book to a plumber. Unearthing a good editor is no different. Ask around. Check in with your writing groups, forums, or writing blogs. These are great sources for all types of writer services.
  • Twitter:  The number of professionals on Twitter grows by the day. It’s a convenient place to find editors, not to mention eggroll eaters, belly dancers, and every other random job on the planet.
  • Try or look into the Editorial Freelance Association, but keep in mind, just because an editor is registered with the association and has five million credentials does not guarantee the editor you choose will be the right person for the job. Which leads us to our next point. It’s essential to…


  • Examine the editor’s website. Many so-called freelancers have websites riddled with grammar errors, awkward phrasing, or general clutter that make finding their information difficult. While this may not be an accurate depiction of the editor’s skills, consider it a MAJOR red flag.
  • Choose an editor based on specialization. Skilled editors can tackle any project, but usually they have genres they prefer. An author may receive more useful feedback if they choose someone who has a lot of experience with their genre.
  • Request a sample of their work to get a feel for the editor’s process.
  • Talk to their past clients.
  • Start with a small sample of your work, rather than the entire manuscript. If you aren’t happy with the insight they have offered, move on to another.

Like writers or any other profession for that matter, some editors are highly skilled, others well, suck eggs. Do your homework. The time you spend working with an editor may not only improve your manuscript, but often improves your craft tremendously. So when you feel as if you’ve taken your manuscript as far as you can, it’s time to look for help.



RU Writers – have you thought of hiring an editor to help you make your story “sparkle”?

Join us tomorrow for weapons expert Adam Firestone


Bio:Heather Webb writes historical fiction, but reads about anything. As a freelance editor, she spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found Twittering helpful links, or on her blog sharing writing advice and author interviews for readers. She is thrilled to be a contributor to this excellent community at!

When not writing, Heather ogles cookbooks and chases her beloved gremlins. You may even catch her gobbling the odd bonbon. She lives in a small town in New England with her family, close enough to city hop, but far enough away to hear the frogs chirp at night. She can be found at her blog, Between the Sheets (, or Twitter @msheatherwebb (

Heather’s debut novel, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, will be published by Plume/Penguin in 2014.

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13 Responses to “When is it Time to Hire an Editor? with RU Contributing Editor Heather Webb”

  1. Hi Heather,

    Editors are the unsung heroines and heroes of publishing. Going through and weeding the good from the bad is a thankless job. Their work is well worth the extra effort.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | February 27, 2013, 7:52 am
    • It can be thankless at times, especially when a writer is hotheaded over the feedback they receive. But I will say from my end, I really enjoy helping writers create a book they can be proud. Helping them follow and realize their dreams is a definite reward for me.

      Posted by Heather Webb | February 27, 2013, 10:10 am
  2. Morning Heather and welcome to RU!

    I recently hired an editor, not to so much edit (good lord woman! why would you put a comma THERE????) but to content edit my story. She gave me lots of ideas, good ones! and basically shaved off the last 1/3 of the book. =) So yes, I have my work cut out for me, but the story will be better for it.

    I won’t be afraid to do it again either, otherwise I just slow spin in one place, never quite sure how to move forward.

    Thanks for a great post!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 27, 2013, 8:27 am
  3. Hi Heather – This is a very timely post. I know quite a few writers who are debating taking this step. After I do another round (or two) of revisions, I may go this route, too. Thank you so much for breaking it down into manageable topics. It doesn’t seem quite as intimidating now!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 27, 2013, 10:22 am
  4. Hiring an editor was one of the best things I could have done for me and my MS.

    After several revisions, spinning wheels, query rejections, et al I sought out a content editor. After 3 quotes I made a selection.

    The result was 22 pages of typed notes, page by page and comments on the draft MS. The price also included an hour with the editor to ask any questions or receive clarification.

    The eye opening feedback really put me on the right course and I’m confident I will use an editor again. The added plus is that the 22 pages will be used in revisions for the next MS.

    Posted by Mona AlvaradoFrazier | February 27, 2013, 11:21 am
  5. Great post, Heather. It’s so important to know “when to say when” – and to realize that editors are there to help us, as authors, make our work the best it can be!

    Posted by Susan Spann | February 27, 2013, 1:25 pm
  6. Welcome to RU, Heather!

    Aside from punctuation and grammatical errors, is there a common issue, i.e. plot or pacing, in the manuscripts you edit?

    Not sure you can answer this, but given the advent of self-publishing, has there been a rise in demand for editorial input?

    Thanks for an enlightening and informative post!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 27, 2013, 1:44 pm
    • Jennifer,
      That’s a good question and somewhat difficult to narrow down as the writers I work with are at all stages of the game–novice, agented, and even published. One of the most common issues with newer writers is making their protagonist’s goals clear. My more advanced authors usually need help with a plot thread or layering a particular character a bit more, sometimes the climax needs a little more punch, or the voice needs a little tweaking. It varies.

      In terms of the rise in demand for editorial input, I suspect in the next few years we’ll see more of it as it becomes more difficult to breakout in the self-publishing market. Better quality books attract more customers after all. If I went down the self-publishing path, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire an editor. At the end of the day, we all need a reader with strong editorial skills to help us find the peccadilloes that we’ve missed.

      Posted by Heather Webb | February 27, 2013, 2:22 pm


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