Should I Hire an Editor?

I’m going to confess something:

I hired an editor before I sent my manuscript to publishers.

(I DID submit my manuscript to agents before hiring an editor, but only because I didn’t have a good recommendation for a quality editor. My agent introduced me to my editor, Caitlin Alexander. She’s awesome).

Look, I have an MFA in Creative Writing. I have been writing fiction since I was seven years old. I have written feature film screenplays that have attracted high-profile talent and scripts for national TV programs. My husband is an Emmy-winning writer and had already given me notes.

I know what I’m doing.

Which means I know ENOUGH to know just how little I know.

Television and film are collaborative industries. I’m used to working in an environment where NOTHING goes on air as it was written. Numerous people—writers, producers, directors, agents, talent—weigh in and change things… and yes, sometimes those opinions make a project worse, but often, they make it BETTER.

And after years of working in a tough, competitive industry where great is never good enough, I knew my novel had room to improve…

I’m happy to report that working with an editor turned out to be one of the MOST BENEFICIAL EXPERIENCES OF MY WRITING LIFE.

Here are the TOP FIVE REASONS why working with an editor was so great:

  1. Honesty: My husband, best friend, mom, and sister-in-law are great readers who do their best to give me honest notes. But come on. They are never going to be brutal—and I need them to be if I’m going to impress some busy New York City publishing house. An editor isn’t worried about hurting my feelings. It is her JOB to be tough and push my manuscript to a better place. I was happy to pay someone to get a good, solid, professional, no-bull opinion.
  1. Making cuts: As a TV and film producer, I have spent years in an edit bay, cutting out bits and scenes to get shows down to time. I have no problems cutting. But Caitlin saw things that I simply did not see. She did not cut content (it was my story; she left plot points alone), but she removed unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, and passages. In total, Caitlin cut over 10,000 words from my manuscript, an invaluable benefit in a world where brevity is key.
  1. Personalized writing tips: I’ve read countless writing books and blogs, taken classes and workshops. But when a SINGLE SKILLED EDITOR worked through my ENTIRE NOVEL, she targeted the ticks that plague my writing. As I worked through her comments, I came up with a list of “Caitlin notes” and addressed them throughout the manuscript. They made my writing better. Some of you may say: put that list up here! But they were so specific to MY WRITING that they wouldn’t help anyone else. Those tips are tailored to me, not for the masses. And that’s the point.
  1. Cheaper than Graduate School: That list of “Caitlin notes”? I keep it and apply it to ALL of my fiction now… (Not to my blog posts. Sorry Caitlin! These posts seem littered with all of my foibles, but isn’t that the point of a blog?) My next novel will be better because of those notes (then, I’m sure, Caitlin will be able to target different issues)… Working with an editor was like my own little, private graduate school! Only MUCH cheaper. (Okay, not EXACTLY like getting an MFA, but… I’ll write a different blog about THAT soon)
  1. Teammates: My husband keeps a list called, “Team Storey,” so I don’t forget how many people are on board for this journey—how many people are counting on me AND willing to support me. It’s a great list. Caitlin is on that list. We talked about my manuscript. We shared insights and solved problems. I asked questions; she answered them. Any time you can add someone to your team, do it. Teammates are invaluable.

There are many other benefits to working with an editor, but the best one for me? At the end of it all, I got a deal with a great New York publishing house—and without Caitlin, I’m not sure I would’ve landed that deal.

I can’t promise that because you hire an editor you will also get a publishing deal. It’s a tough market out there for fiction—there are no guarantees. But I do know that I learned invaluable tips from my editor that will pay dividends for the rest of my career.

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