A good editor isn’t going to be cheap – especially if they develop your manuscript as well as copyedit it. Why bother? Here are nine reasons (focused on nonfiction, as that's the type of writing I know anything about).
1. Provide a fresh, objective perspective on your manuscript
You might have spent months writing and rewriting and at times doubting every word. When you’re so close to your own work it can be really hard to step back and take an objective look at it. If you’ve reached this point then it can be invaluable to get someone else to look at your manuscript with a fresh, critical and trained eye.
Not sure if you’ve left something important out? If your argument has come across clearly? If your tone is friendly without being condescending? A good editor can help to tell you.
2. Help your book fulfil its purpose
Often nonfiction books want to solve a problem for the reader. For example, to help the reader overcome depression or learn how to start a small business. Or perhaps you simply want to entertain family and friends with a memoir about your teenage years. Your book will have a purpose and a good editor can help to make sure this purpose is fulfilled.
3. Help your book meet reader expectations
A good editor will try to provide an objective assessment rather than a personal opinion. Rather than asking ‘What do I want from this book?’, they’ll ask ‘What does the reader want from this book?’ They’ll help to pin down who your ‘reader’ is – the type of person you want to pick up and read your book. Every suggestion they make will be in aid of making the reader love your book.
4. Help your book to sell
This follows on from the previous two points. If a book fulfils its purpose and provides readers with what they want then it is much more likely to sell. Of course how well your book is marketed will make a big difference to how well it sells, but any successful marketing has to be built around a strong product that is perfectly tailored to its audience. A good editor can help to make sure your book is marketable.
5. Help make sure your book won’t damage your reputation
Nonfiction books are often used as a type of business card where the book is used to help sell yourself or your business. The last thing you want is for your book to do the opposite of this. From large inconsistencies and unsubstantiated claims to small typos and ballistic punctuation – there are so many things that can add up to making a book feel less professional. A good editor will help to make sure your book doesn’t embarrass you.
6. Help make sure your argument or message is strong
A development editor will focus on making sure the main thread of your argument runs clearly and consistently throughout the book. They’ll help to make sure readers don’t get to the end of your book thinking, ‘What did I just read?’
7. Help you become a better writer
A good editor will more often than not explain why they think something needs improving. They’ll help you to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. This can be particularly useful if you’re planning to write more books in the future – investing in a good editor now can make the next book less painful.
8. Help your writing to flow
Clunky writing will make it difficult for the reader to understand what you want to say and you’ll lose their attention quicker. A good copyeditor can help to make sure every sentence supports your message rather than detracts from it.
9. Help motivate you on your writing journey
It’s so easy to lose motivation. A good editor will provide encouragement and cheer you on even as they’re picking apart your writing. They’ll give you a roadmap through the revisions you need to make and keep nudging you closer to the finishing line of holding your own actual book in your hands (or on your Kindle).
Why not just use beta readers?
A beta reader is someone who ‘tests’ your book by reading it and giving general feedback on it. Beta readers can be really valuable but they’re unlikely to provide the same depth and objectivity as a professional editor.
A beta reader is likely to give you their own personal opinion. A good editor, as far as possible, tries to keep personal opinion out of it. Instead they try to think about what your target audience as a whole wants from your book – not just what one reader likes or dislikes about it. A good editor has the experience and training to be able to critically dissect your book and provide detailed, comprehensive feedback on how to improve it.
Why not just use Grammarly or a spell checker?
As I hope the list of reasons above has shown, there’s so much more to a good editor than acting as a glorified spell checker. Even a copyeditor does much more than this – they’ll tighten up your prose, make sure your writing comes across as professional, and catch inconsistencies that a spell checker would miss.
What about losing creative control?
A good editor will respect your style and voice. They won’t try to turn your manuscript into something you don’t want it to be.
If you’re a self-published author, then a good editor works for you… but they also work for the reader. So they might make suggestions they think will benefit the reader but which you’re not sure about. No problem – consider them carefully and then reject them if you like. You keep complete control over what ends up in your finished book.