When do you need a manuscript editor?

You’ve finished your novel or short story but are beginning to think that maybe someone else should look it over before you send it off. You do an Internet search and find Web sites for manuscript editors – also known as book doctors – who will proofread and critique your manuscript for a fee.

So is a manuscript editor necessary?

First, some full disclosure: I offer my own manuscript editing service.

Having said that, for many writers having someone else look at your novel or short story is a necessary step to getting it in shape before sending it to a literary agent or editor. For beginning writers, an outside editor is a useful step in helping develop your craftsmanship. After all, no apprentice becomes a master without a mentor. Unfortunately, many editors and publishers just don’t have the time to serve in that role. A manuscript editor can help fill that need.

Many writers simply don’t need manuscript editors. They’re understand punctuation, grammar, mechanics and the art of storytelling well enough that a book doctor at best simply will point out what they already know or would have caught on their next draft. Many writers simply could turn to a friend or colleague who could provide an excellent read, or they might attend a writing workshop.

So, which kind of writer are you? You need to make an honest self-assessment of your skills and talent.

Often the reason a writer seeks out a manuscript editor is because a literary agent or publisher recommends it. The agent can’t sell the book in its current condition or a publisher wants to print a book can’t in its current form (many publishing houses don’t retain editors, or if they do, the editors are overloaded with work). If agents and publishers do make such a recommendation, by all means follow up on it – it means you’re very close to getting in print.

What keeps most writers from using a manuscript editor is the cost. Most charge by word or page. For a 75,000-word novel, be prepared to pay a few hundred dollars for the close edit and critique. That’s beyond the reach of most single moms, college students and many others who hope to turn writing from a hobby to a profession. So you have a decision to make: Do you tighten your belt now with hope of book sales later, or do you wait it out and see if someone else will pick up the book (or your next one)?

When selecting a manuscript editor, keep this in mind:
• Be careful of those book doctors who also are literary agents or publishers (or both) – That represents a significant conflict of interest. It’s also a great money-making racket for some.
• Don’t pay fees to a literary agent or a publisher for a referral – Or vice-versa. When the manuscript editor receives money for referring you to an agent or publisher. That’s called a kickback, and it’s not giving you an honest appraisal of where to send your manuscript so it can be published.
• No manuscript editor ever should guarantee publication – That’s a decision only a publisher can make.