Should You Hire an Editor to Help You with your Novel ?

February 11, 2013 | By | 8 Comments

Should you hire an editor to help you with your novel?

  • Is the sky blue?
  • Was Moses Jewish?
  • Do you need the help?

Unless your name is already a verb, or the library has named a special book aisle just for you, then probably Yes, you should hire an editor to help you with your novel.

I’m going to share my experience in doing just that, how it helped me, and why I credit it for getting me to my first book contract. But first, let’s talk about why.

Type faster!

Type faster!

I started with a pretty good idea for a story. That’s always been the easy, the fun, part for me. The execution has been the problem.

I wrote a couple of chapters and took the idea to the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference in November, 2011. The editor I wanted to talk to only wanted to talk about completed manuscripts, but I wanted some time with her. So I modified my approach. I asked her, “I’ve got an idea I’d like to run by you. Tell me if you’d like me to pitch it to you when I’m finished, okay?”

(Yes, I felt really sneaky for using this approach, but I was trying to be wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove)

“Okay, she said. What is it?”

So I told her. And then I asked, “Would you be interested?”

She said, “If it was done, I’d want it right now.”

Obviously, I’m cutting the story short. We want this to be about editing. Suffice to say, I ran out of there and started knocking myself out writing the story I had in my head. By summer, 2012, I had it about as done as I could get it. Every time I sat down to read it, it either seemed wonderful, or it seemed like the worst thing I’d ever read. I’d worn out my critique group. I’d come to that place where I really, really needed some help.

Self Editing for Fiction Writers

I started looking for a professional editor. Someone who’d tell me the truth. I went to all the websites, sloughed my way through all the hype, promises and hidden charges, and finally wound up in a happy place. The Editorial Department.

You’ve heard of the book, Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King? Well, the lady (Renni, not Dave) that co-wrote that book, started The Editorial Department. It’s managed by her son Ross Browne today. And they have a staff of very able editors with nice biographical sketches on the website. Before I contacted them, I read through all the bios and picked my best three choices that I’d like to see edit my book. The third of these choices was Beth Jusino. Knowing then what I know now, she’d have been first choice.

It’s expensive. But not killer-expensive. My novel was about 82,000 words. I went for what they offered as an annotated edit. I paid just under a thousand dollars for that edit, and it will go down as one of the best investments of my life.

You pay in advance. They didn’t give me a reason for that, but can you guess why? Who wants to pay for rejection and criticism? I imagine they’ve had their share of thin-skinned writers who get angry and hurt when they receive the very thing they’re paying for. . . an honest appraisal and edit job on their writing. And then they didn’t want to pay their bill because they got their feelings hurt. If I ran the business, I’d do the same thing. So I paid my (almost a thousand dollars) money up front.

That much? Yes. But the result, and the revisions I made, brought my writing to a level that would sell. I got all that back, and more, with the first installment on my advance. I suppose I could have saved the money, joined a different critique group, and kidded myself that I could get it done without help. Be like Frank Sinatra. I Did It My Way.

No, better to toughen up and pay now. So I can get paid later.

Beth Jusino, my editor, was an agent with Alive Communications before she went into editing with TED. Alive represents writers like Terri Blackstock, Philip Yancey and Karen Kingsbury. So, I figured she probably knew her stuff. She took my book and I didn’t hear much for a month. Then she was done.

Here’s an example, just a small one, of what my annotated edit looked like. Let me emphasize that just about every page looked like this. Ms. Jusino really (okay, I got a message saying not to say “really”) knocked herself out, and boy oh boy, was it a lesson to me.

Sample Annotated Edit

Sample Annotated Edit

Do you appreciate honesty? Consider these words from the second paragraph of her cover letter: “As I read through the manuscript, though, I found several ways where the execution of the idea didn’t always live up to its premise. I understand why agents are showing interest in the work, but then choosing to pass on representing it.”

  • Did I like that? It made my skin crawl.
  • Was it true? Absolutely!

Her cover letter was six pages long, and thoroughly professional. It was honest, forthright and — above all — helpful.

I’m not going to tell you that your brother’s wife’s cousin doesn’t know how to edit. I don’t even know your brother’s wife’s cousin. I’m only going to tell you what I know empirically. The Editorial Department did a great job with a flawed manuscript. They gave me the tools and the advice I needed to revise my work successfully.

I took Friend Me to the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference in Dallas in 2012, presented it to three editors, and had a contract a few months later. It should hit bookstore shelves in the spring of next year.

Now I’m working on a second book. It’s extra creepy, and I’m having a great time with it. And do you know what? I’m going to pay for another edit when I’m “done.” Then I’ll revise it and be done the second time. Until the publisher gets it, we revise it again, and I’m done again.

My advice:

  • Don’t be stubborn.
  • Don’t be cheap.
  • Don’t kid yourself.
  • DO invest in yourself and the skills God gives you.

But don’t take my advice when you’ve got this from God’s Word. . .  “In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.”  (Proverbs 14:23)


Category: Christian, Editing, Writing

About the Author ()

Suspense fiction writer. I have a wife whom I love, and five children ranging from college to middle age. I love each one. I've worked a day job as a senior software developer since 1999. Previous to that I spent nearly thirty years as a foreign missionary in Vietnam and China. Yes, I speak Chinese as a second language :-)

Comments (8)

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  1. Deborah K. Anderson says:

    Good post, Jay. I, too, believe in hiring editors. It definitely pays off in the long run.

  2. Judy Bodmer says:

    I’ve heard other people rave about Beth Jusino.

  3. larrywtimm says:

    Thanks for this post. One of the best things I’ve done is to hire an editor. She quickly became a teacher/coach/mentor/trusted friend. I learned so much that I can’t imagine not using an editor before I submit to an agent. Perhaps the only hurdle for me might be the cost.

  4. Rick Barry says:

    I enjoyed reading more details of this manuscript’s journey from mere idea to paper contract. Very glad for you!

  5. Jane Ryder says:

    I’m clearly biased, but what a great post! Jay, may I just say that you are absolutely our idea of a dream client, and we’re so, so happy for your success!

    • Auburn McCanta says:

      I’m also a client of The Editorial Department. Their work is impeccable, always highly professional, and worth every penny! I’ll never work with anyone else.

  6. Sarah says:

    As an editor (though not of fiction), I love hearing stories of appreciation for the craft of editing. When done well, editing helps nudge an author toward the best version of their story. If I ever get around to writing fiction myself again (something I did a lot as a teen), I hope to find an editor as helpful as yours was for you.

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