Why You Need an Editor

If you’re an author on a budget, you might think that hiring a professional editor is an extra cost that you can do without. “I’m a great writer,” you might say to yourself, “and I spell-checked my manuscript, so I don’t need an editor.” This would be a big mistake. Even the most talented writers hire editors. (If it weren’t for the advice of his editor, F. Scott Fitzgerald might be best known today for writing a novel called Trimalchio in West Egg or The High-bouncing Lover.[1]) But editors do more than just fix spelling errors—although they do that, too. There are different kinds of editors, and they can work with you at every stage in the publishing process.

Structural (or substantive) editors

What they do:

Structural editors evaluate the big-picture aspects of a manuscript. They aim to improve content and organization and make the manuscript suitable for the intended audience, medium, and market. This can involve reworking elements such as plot, character, and major themes. 

Why you need one:

Structural editing is often the first stage in the process of editing a manuscript. At this stage, a structural editor evaluates the viability of your project and highlights any issues with the story itself—not just your writing—that need to be addressed. What kind of issues are these? For instance, if there is an important character who is underdeveloped, or if one of the subplots is unrelated to the main storyline, or if the ending seems to undermine one of the story’s main themes. If any of these kinds of issues are found, a structural editor will identify how best to resolve them. Working with a structural editor is also a great way to gauge the readiness of your manuscript for publication, since they are aware of the expectations and industry standards for books of different genres.

Copy editors

What they do:

Copy editors focus on the correctness, consistency, and clarity of a manuscript. They fix errors and inconsistencies in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style, and improve word choice when it clarifies meaning.      

Why you need one:

All professionally published books are copyedited, and there are many reasons why you can’t do this job yourself. First of all, copy editors are experts in the rules of grammar and usage and so are much more likely than you to know, say, when to use the personal pronoun “who” versus “whom,” or what kind of dash to use for inclusive number ranges (the answer: an en-dash). As the writer of the manuscript, you’re also way too caught up in the writing process to catch all of your own mistakes. Since you have probably gone through several drafts in writing your manuscript, you may overlook changes you have made and since forgotten about. This can lead to embarrassing mistakes, such as inconsistent descriptions of characters or settings, or missing or repeated information. A copy editor gives you a fresh pair of (professionally trained) eyes to catch these sorts of things.


What they do:

Proofreaders examine the manuscript a final time before it is sent to the printer or e-book converter to correct any remaining errors in textual or visual elements.  

Why you need one:

Proofreaders are the last line of editorial defense. If you look closely in any book, you can probably find a mistake of some kind, but a proofreader’s job is to make it as hard as possible for you to do so. “What’s the harm of a few typos here and there?” you might ask. Don’t underestimate the possible negative effects of even a few minor typos or spelling errors. They not only undermine your credibility as an author, but also can be very distracting to the reader.

Whether you’re self-publishing or preparing to send your manuscript to an agent or traditional publisher, it’s important to submit the best work you possibly can, and working with an editor is the way to do that. Editors want the exact same thing as you do: to create an amazing book. Working with an editor is a step in the publishing process you can’t afford to skip.

Where can you find an editor?

Most writing and editing associations have directories through which you can hire a professional editor. There are also online databases—such as PubLaunch—that allow you to search for an editor based on the specific needs of your project. Here’s a list of places to check out:

  • PubLaunch (in a few months)
  • The Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC)
  • American Copy Editors Society (ACES)
  • EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association)