Discussion on Paid Editors


Hello everyone, I was listening to a video at work today by an indie author mainly discussing what they thought the pros and cons of paying for editors are and their experience in the industry as having been an editor themselves and as an indie author. I was really curious about peoples thoughts on what he said. Here’s the link to the video:

To sum up some his major point, he was talking about how paying for edits can hurt authors more than help them on their first books if they don’t have a “sellable” book to begin with. You’re wasting money you won’t earn back on copy edits, and that book structure is arguably more important from a profit standpoint. Some other points included:

•The rarity of good editors that can make a sellable story, and how many copy editors may be good at grammar and prose but not selling books.
•The difficulties in determining a good editor verses a bad editor that face the industry today. Someone may be a great editor but not good at making a business of themselves, cheaper can be a sign of poor quality, you don’t necessarily want someone that goes too fast because it might mean they’re only skimming the book, etc.
•First time writers might have a better profit if they invest money into a good course of how to write sellable fiction than to but copy edits on their first book.
•Sending cleaner drafts to editors with the help of betas and your own edits in the first place to better catch all those typos if you’re going to pay for them. He quoted that statistically, an editor is going to miss around 5% of edits, so if you give them a manuscript and there are 1,000 typos, even the best editor at their best is likely to miss a lot from the sheer quantity of mistakes.
•Argued that having a good relationship with your editor and someone that “gets” your story isn’t as important as an editor that can sell your story even if they’re harsher.
•Made a point that an editor at an outline stage could be more beneficial in most cases than copy edits after.

I’d just love to hear multiple perspectives! My sum up doesn’t do the video justice, it’s better to watch it, but it IS pretty long. I’ve asked about editing before and it’s been brought up a lot. What really struck me was his point of paying for copy edits for a book that won’t sell anyway and investing money into learning the craft. (Ultimately sounds like he recommends developmental editors over copy editors for first time authors). He offers a course on how to write fiction that sells, so I’m certain there’s some unintentional bias in there in terms of recommending someone pay for a course on writing before paying an editor. BUT it does make me wonder if he still doesn’t have a point, in a roundabout way, of where to spend your money.

(Dear moderators, if YouTube video links aren’t allowed, I deeply apologize! Please edit my video to remove the links and I’ll try and better summarize the points of the video for discussion and link people interested in the video through private messages).


I’ll watch tomorrow when I have half an hour. (Just got in from two very cold hours in the barn, and I need dinner.)

Based on your summary, I think the advice is solid. It hadn’t occurred to me to come right out and say “You’re better off learning how to write a better book than putting lipstick on a pig,” but I do think he’s right.

My personal opinion is that writers should be LEARNING from their editors. They should find out what mistakes they’re making and FIX THEM in the future, so an editor doesn’t have to fix them next time. Writers who say “Oh, my editor will fix that” have entirely missed the point.


As a professional copyeditor, I’d like to weigh in.

There are three types of editing, which it seems this guy is lumping all into one—not advised. You should have three different editors who each specialize in a separate phase.

1st Phase: Substantive

This is the one who can help you with plot, characterization, marketability.

2nd Phase: Copyeditor

There are actually three levels of copyediting under this step. You agree with your editor which they will pursue when you sign a contract:

  1. Basic/light—grammar, mechanics, spelling only

  2. Average—everything in basic plus correct word usage (affect/effect, etc.); usually creates a style sheet for the project, too.

  3. Heavy—everything in basic and average plus line edits. They will suggest stronger verbs and nouns while trying to maintain author’s voice. They will also check formatting and proper non-sexist verbage.

3rd Phase: Proofreader

Goes through last set of edit markings from copyeditor and makes sure that the ones that were accepted by the author were actually changed correctly in the final manuscript without creating any additional errors.

No person should do more than one step in the editing process. You need fresh eyes each time.

Now, from my experience, the cleaner the manuscript, the easier to edit. Also, there’s a link to a Google sheet on my Wattpad profile of problem words either to change or delete from a manuscript. Every user should make a copy of that sheet and then search his own document and deal with them before handing it off to a copyeditor.

So, if you try to skip substantive editing and go straight to copyedit, don’t blame the copyeditor if your book is unmarketable. That’s not their job.

Also, don’t expect your copyeditor to do your final proof. Any copyeditor worth their salt should know better. Again, you need fresh eyes.

Edit: I’m specifically addressing self-publishing editing process here. Sequence and job descriptions may vary slightly with publishing houses.


Good comments above.

There’s some confusion about what trad book editors actually do. A copy edit (correcting errors) is one of the last steps in publishing a book.

The first step is that an editor who does acquisitions (or an intern) likes your book well enough to offer a contract, either straight up or based on a set of revisions, with a deadline.

Once you’ve signed a contract, your manuscript will be edited for content, theme, and other large-scale elements. You might get an overall critique, marginal notes, or comments that refer to pages and lines. An editor who’s engaged with your work might say things such as: “You’ve written a conventional romance novel, but the handling of your main characters makes me think there’s more in it. Could you rewrite it to emphasize the conflicts? At this point, I’m more interested in what keeps them apart.”

Next, there’s a line edit, with the editor actually marking up your manuscript page-by-page. This used to be done on paper. If your editor uses a certain software package, get it in advance and learn how to use it.

Once the line edit is done, it goes to production, for design, layout, cover art, etc. It also goes to a copy editor, which can test your temper: every punctuation mark, formatting, quotes, any possible nitpick. Copy editors are like mean English teachers. Don’t take it personally– it’s not meant to be.

Reading the proofs (printouts of the final text) is usually a mutual effort. The author reads a set of proofs and marks them up, while someone at the publishing house is doing the same.

Being able to self-publish online has eliminated a lot of critical interaction and quality control that publishers used to exercise. A last-minute copy edit can be exactly like lipstick on a pig. P’raps on the wrong end thereof.


Thanks for bringing this up! I’m aware of the different kind of edits, and in the video he also brought it up as well (but didn’t go into as great of detail). It’s actually one of the things that I was hoping people would discuss.

His point, or at least his experience as an editor, was to say that even paid developmental edits are an almost “too late” effort (this I did find rather confusing because the kind of help he was talking about sounded like the substantive edits you talked about). In the end of the video, he stressed that he’d actually rather edit someone’s outline to better it then to take money for editing the manuscript because it’s just way more work and too late (or at least that’s the impression I got, I might have misunderstood.) On this point I’m not sure what to think because he sounds both right and wrong. As mentioned previously, paying a good editor for substantive edits is in itself a learning process that can teach someone to write better books for the future. Is it really a waste of money to buy developmental edits if you’re learning in the process? It seemed a weird point to me for him to be stuck on. Like I said earlier, he does workshop classes where he teaches these writing techniques that would be pointed out by developmental edits. It sounds like he does these developmental edits on his students outlines/manuscripts as part of his course. So I’m wondering if part of his point in “don’t buy a developmental editor” was a sneaky way to say “buy my class instead”, framed with a “give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for life” sort of philosophy.

I don’t really know if this guy’s course is really all that, but I do wonder if there is SOME truth to the idea of it, if you pay for the right services from experienced professionals. I’ve noticed as indie publishing is becoming more common, that a lot more of these kinds of “classes” and “workshops” are popping up. I’ve always thought of most of them as equivalent to vanity publishers and really just bleeding eager and gullible writers out of their money. But, if the course paid for included professional individual services for a writers book (professional edits) in combination with information on better novel writing and how to build an author platform, maybe there is something to it? (Assuming such a course even exists in reality) Like, I think enough of the information is out there and free that you can find out how to do your own mailing lists, your own formatting, etc. I don’t say this as “this is the new frontier every aspiring indie author must take to be successful”. I don’t see myself ever paying for a writing course like this period. But maybe there are a few rare unicorn classes that actually do what they say they do for writers that might be worth the money in lieu of edits, if you were going to spend the money anyway?


I was basing my reply off your notes. Yes, a developmental edit is another term for a substantive edit.

Yes, it is better for it to be handled early on like outline or first draft. Then it should be edited again as you approach your querying time.

Copyedit before query, too.

Edit: it will still go through more editing when you agent up and get a publisher. Flexibility is the key.


I didn’t watch the video so I’m responding to your summary of it.

I don’t want my Beta readers doing editing, so if he thinks that’s part of their job, he and I don’t agree on the process.

A copy editor missing 5% of the errors, to me, sucks at editing.

I agree it’s a waste of time to pay an editor to correct typos on a lousy manuscript. But if you’re going to publish that lousy novel, you at least better have it typo free with good grammar. Your name is on the book’s cover.

I do agree that you need to learn the craft of writing fiction first. But what’s that have to do with editing?

Saying that, you can learn from the right editor. Of course the Development Editor can help with structure, plot holes, etc. That makes the story better. But there are two aspects of a novel — 1) the story and 2) how the story is told. The right editor can help with #2 as well. An acquaintance of mine gave an editor a sample of his manuscript basically to interview her. He passed the results onto me. The editor pointed out how he should show vs tell, how he used unnecessary words, etc. An author could learn a lot about writing fiction by working with an editor like that.


I’m of two minds on what he says here. Sorry, in retrospect this is kind of rambling.

First, he makes a point that a lot of editors think they are good editors, when in reality they’re not. I think that’s true of just about every vocation (see: dunning-kruger effect -


But it’s also true of writers. Almost everyone who writes a book thinks it’s good enough to be published. In reality, only a tiny, tiny slice of those books are actually good enough to satisfy most readers. I don’t mean this to be cruel, but it’s true. Just telling a story isn’t good enough - to write a book that a lot of readers love you need interesting characters and premise; a good, hooky plot; a topic that appeals to a large number of somebodies, and - and this one is the one that is really suffering in the current publishing zeitgeist - you should be good at the craft of writing. That means having a sense of the cadence and rhythm that goes into quality prose, and also be able to make good choices in regards to verbs and metaphors, etc. The big difference I see between most self-published books and books that are traditionally published is the quality of the writing. Now, for some readers - Wattpad readers, certainly, many KU readers, and casual readers - the quality of the writing doesn’t matter. But if you want to move beyond the Wattpad / KU crowds I do believe many writers would be very well served trying to figure out what good writing is, and how they can emulate it. I actually don’t know if writing well can be learned, or if it’s something innate, or if it’s something that is an accretion of skills drawn from years and years of reading well-written books. There’s certainly a large enough reading crowd out there that you can still find success without writing well, but as I said, I don’t think a writer will move very far beyond the Amazon / Wattpad ghetto without the ability to craft good prose.

And that brings me to my second point, related to the first (and kind of contradicting it), which is that there are countless examples of badly written / plotted self-published books killing it on Amazon. Maybe it’s because they are in a hot genre (LitRPG / Harem in fantasy, let’s say). The topic matters more than anything else. There are books that I’ve opened up to see what the fuss is about and been left absolutely befuddled. Maybe the writer is a great marketer. Maybe the book’s genre is hot. Maybe the cover is fantastic. So I get what he’s saying about many books not being ready for editing, that the core skills are not up to par . . . but you never know what will take off in indie publishing.

My advice: if this is your first book, you must get unbiased feedback. Wattpad is not unbiased. Everyone here is ridiculously positive, even about books that are not done very well. Find a writing group who reads your kind of fiction, seek out beta readers who have no stake in your emotional well being. Then, if the feedback you get is good, consider moving on to finding an editor (or agent) and starting the publishing process.


I believe how to write fiction can be learned. I believe it’s the storytelling that’s innate, the creative side.

I recently read a thriller by a bestselling author. It was horribly written. If it wasn’t the only book I brought with me on vacation I wouldn’t have finished it. It was actually a good story, but awfully written. So it’s not only self-published books.


This is true. I’ve noticed thrillers are often very poorly written - The Da Vinci Code was just absolutely horribly, horribly written. It’s the plot that thriller readers are looking for.

But in most other genres there needs to be a basic level of craft in the prose to make it through the query process. Maybe if you have an absolutely amazing hooky idea an agent will consider taking you on, but I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of books that aren’t written well are immediately junked after the first few pages.


Yes . . . but I don’t think you can sit down and learn it, like from a book. I think the ability to recognize good prose and write it yourself is - like most skills - a mix of nature and nurture. Intelligence and natural ability certainly matter . . . but you also need to read a lot of good writing for many years, and then practice trying to write it yourself.

You can’t learn how to write like Margaret Atwood or Michael Chabon or Vladimir Nabakov. They are immensely, uniquely gifted. Everyone has a ceiling in regards to almost every skill, and it’s based on their natural abilities. Whether you hit that ceiling depends on how much effort you put into trying to improve that skill.


Why do people say that? I loved that book and liked the way it was written.


It’s not written very well, although glancing again at its Look Inside it’s not as bad as I remember. Here’s an example in the first couple pages:

‘Captain Bezu carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest. His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow’s peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship. As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth in front of him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.’

That’s just . . . a mess. 4, 5 metaphors in a single descriptive paragraph? Do angry oxes really carry themselves with their shoulders thrown back? Is his widow’s peak like an arrow or the prow of a battleship? His dark eyes ‘scorched the earth’ - ridiculously overdramatic, unless he’s Cyclops from X-men. And not only do they ‘scorch the earth’ but ‘radiate a fiery clarity’. Ugh.


When I first submitted my novel to the publisher I got a list of ten points to fix (some were marginal, some not) and an R+R (Revise and Resubmit for those not yet familiar with the process). No deadline. I turned it around within two months and the publisher was actually surprised at the speed.
The novel then got accepted, the editor said she could “work with it”.
Uh oh.
I was prepared for a double whammy, and I got it.
I’m writing cozies, which can be veeery slow, focussed on the relationships rather than the action. She wanted more conflict and tension, she thinks with the type of mystery I write, it will work better.
I got a long list of points to address, both stylistically (she started on the copyedits at the same time) and structurally.
I’m now in the process of retelling the story a different way. I expect one more iteration, then the line editor will get in.
This publisher is incredibly thorough, it’s unusual these days. I’ve had ARCs full of typos and grammatical mistakes, riddled with plot holes. This won’t happen with mine. But it means I have to massively redo what I wrote. It’s okay. I was a bit frustrated at first but I understand where she’s coming from and in the end I want to be read. There’s tons of cozies out there, I need to stand out.
Actually, I’m enjoying the process. I’m learning so much. It’s like little glowy footprints in the manuscript “why is he doing this? it makes no sense” “this is not in character” etc. A lot of the comments are now irrelevant as I have changed things around so much.
But I firmly believe it is a better book.
I sent her the revised first chapter just to check she was okay with my approach.
Got a very qualified response why she liked it.
Now, all she has to do is like the rest…
It’s hard. It’s a lot of work. But necessary and very, very helpful.

I also used a developmental editor for this novel and got feedback from the guild of mystery writers. Perhaps, it was too much. Too many different visions. Also, it was the third novel I wrote, and my first mystery. It suffered from that. I’ve now written seven and it makes a heck of a difference.
Writing, more writing and editing is the only way to make it to the goalpost


I’m sorry, I’m a little confused by the last bit. Did you pay for a developmental editor before submitting to a publisher?


I certainly wouldn’t submit a manuscript to a publisher or agent before I’d polished it to the best of my own ability, and I’d absolutely hire an editor to kill the worst of the issues for me.

I wouldn’t hire a developmental editor because I’m all about measuring twice and cutting once - that is, I will fix my outline’s plot holes before I commit all the time and energy to writing, because rewriting is a waste of time and energy. It’s far more efficient to fix an outline you constructed in one week over about 10,000 words than it is to rewrite a 100,000 word novel that took you months to write.


Which is why I’m a plotter to the extreme. I fix plot holes before they become plot holes!


This is what I have been arguing to people here about paying an editor such and money for your book:

If you can provide a clean draft copy of your book, the edits will go a lot faster and you’ll have fewer mistakes to correct in the end–versus one that looks like a first gen copy of a typical Wattpad story that has close to 1,800 grammar and spelling mistakes and virtually zero sentence structuring–let alone proper dialogue tags.

Those type of books aren’t called nightmare novels for nothing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the editor asks for more money just to play “book doctor” in order to clean up your mess. (Because this happens a lot in the freelance industry.)

And you never go cheap on your edits. NEVER.

Someone offers $100 to edit your book, run. Don’t look back. Same with $500. The bare minimum for a decent length novel is somewhere between $800 and a $1000. Plus any formatting–which is about $300 extra. (And a veritable time saver.)

And the term “sellable fiction” is pretty damned broad (and vague) considering what you have to work with and what you’re writing.

If you’re trying to narrow it down to only mainstream fiction and not indie fiction, then you’re missing the whole point.

Nobody thought Twilight would sell, but it did. People had reservations about whether Harry Potter was going to make it and few if any hedged any bets on the solubility of 50 Shades of Grey.

These days, there’s virtually no book out there that can’t be sold if it’s written well enough. I’ve seen shit on Amazon that would blow your mind and people are snapping up that stuff like crazy.

Even my own books would sell–and the reasons is because if you can write something compelling enough and thought things out to their natural conclusion, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to sell that one book. Or books.

People often use market guidelines as tools to “sell” novels, but the reality is that there a lot of books out there that do not fall under the same industry standards and they have sold pretty well in the past and made those authors a good chunk of money.

Especially, the “niche” novels or series that have no real following in the mainstream, but have a cult-like status with a dedicated group of fans or followers.


If you’re talking about formatting for digital release or to an agent/publisher, that’s WAY, WAY, WAY overpriced. $50 max, and even that’s a waste of money. Easy to learn, and takes about 10 minutes to do. (Heck, ask nicely and someone who has done it before will share their CSS file with you. Boom. Done.

Now, I would pay that amount or more for gorgeous print layout.


Vellum + Vellum Print.

Well worth every penny, and the development team are highly receptive to feedback.