Is The Cost Of A Freelance Editor Worth It?

Why bother paying someone to edit our work when we there are plenty of ways to get a critique for free? And how much better is the feedback of a freelance editor anyway? Is it really worth the cost?

As with all my posts, I can only answer these questions out of my own personal experience. I don't have the final word and am most certainly not an expert. So while I may share my experiences and thoughts, ultimately you'll have to investigate what's right for YOU.

When I finally got to the point in my writing career where I realized I needed feedback (as we talked about in the last post), I had two primary choices: find a critique group or hire a freelance editor.

Naturally, I decided to try the crit. group first. After a short stunt, I backed out of my group and began to mull over the idea of hiring an editor. I'd heard other authors talk about the benefits, and I'd started reading several blogs of editors and authors who offered freelance services.

I hesitated to plunge forward for many reasons:
  • What about the cost? I wasn't published, not even agented. How could I justify spending a TON of money on something that had absolutely no guarantee of payback?
  • How would I know who to pick? With all of the writers hanging out a sign and claiming to be editors, how would I find someone qualified and experienced?
  • What exactly would an editor do? And would the help really be good enough to justify the cost?
  • What about the working relationship? What if I didn't agree with the changes? What if our personalities didn't mesh? What if I didn't like the editor's style of editing?

Fortunately, I stumbled upon a contest critique special. And since I was gearing up to enter a contest, I decided to send in my first chapter for a critique. I figured it would help me polish up my contest entry and give me a flavor for how editing worked as well as this editor's style.

It turned out to be an excellent experience. Later I went on to have the same editor critique two full manuscripts. And what did I learn? What were the answers to all my questions? Today I'd like to tackle the money question since that's the biggest concern for most of us. (I'll get to the other questions in the next post.)

So, what about the cost of hiring a freelance editor? Is it really worth it?

First let me ask this, are you willing to pay to go to a writer's conference? Do you see conferences as worth the money? I'd venture to say most of us have paid or would pay to go to a writing conference. They're often very expensive (national ones can range around $500 just for the conference fee excluding transportation and hotel).

We don't view them as a waste of money because we realize they help us grow in so many ways. Going to a conference doesn't guarantee publication nor do we expect to recap the money.

And the same is true of paying an editor. It's absolutely no guarantee that our work will ever reach publication level. We may never get a payback for the money we spend on it.

But it is an investment in our writing career. It's one of the best ways to help us grow in our writing skill. It also gives us the ultimate critical and objective feedback we need. An editor tells us like it is, minces no words, and doesn't tip-toe around trying not to hurt our feelings unlike well-meaning critique partners.

An editor can scrutinize our work much more thoroughly than a critique partner. When we're reciprocating critiques for other writers, let's admit, we just don't have the time to give it our fullest effort. We barely have time to squeak in our writing let alone read and edit for others, and the same is true for the partners reading our manuscripts. Perhaps their feedback is helpful, but does it probe deep enough to move our writing to the next level?

But when we're paying an editor, it's their job. They take hours and hours to study and mark up our manuscript.

If I had to choose between attending a conference or paying an editor, I'd hands down pay the editor. Conferences are great for networking with agents and editors and are worthwhile at some point, but why not wait until our books are ready before starting the conference circuit? I'd save the money and instead put it toward an editor.

I personally don't believe a conference or editor are necessary too early in a writing career. The best thing for beginners is to write several books and learn the craft by reading great writing books. Hiring an editor before we reach a certain level of skill could only make the experience frustrating and too expensive.

Obviously, not everyone can or should hire a freelance editor. But I think all too often writers tend to toss aside the option without giving it more serious consideration.

What's your opinion? Has the money factor stopped you from hiring a freelance editor? Are you willing to invest in other writing-related expenses--like conferences? So why not an editor? Just curious!


  1. Well, I did pay for a harlequin full manuscript critique, which was about three hundred bucks. That was a really good investment, even though that book may need to be shelved.
    Funny you mention conferences. I'm beginning to think that, craft-wise, it's better to spend the money on a reputable editor. Still mulling that over. :-)
    Thanks for sharing about your experience!

  2. Interesting questions. I don't have the experience to answer them, but I shall follow the responses that you get. (Interesting blog, too.)

  3. I'm not that far in the writing world yet, but it is good to have that information for a later date. I have heard about several writers visiting conferences, and of course there are no guarantees!

    Great advice! Thanks!

  4. I think I mentioned on Monday that I'm considering hiring an editor. Like you did, I'll probably hire someone to do a small portion and see if we work well together before I would send them the whole manuscript. The toughest part for me is knowing whether I'm ready to make that investment, like you alluded to. In terms of experience, I've only been writing for a year, but a contest final has me wondering if I'm ready sooner than I think.

  5. I, like some of the above, am not to far into the world of writing, so I don't think I'm at the point of needing an editor...yet.

    Also wanted to let you know how helpful I think your blog is! I've learned lots from your posts, and will continue to follow it :o)!

  6. I've done conferences, online writing critique classes, writers' groups, and workshops, and all have been helpful. As far as money spent, though, hiring a freelance editor was the single best thing I've done for my book. If I had found her earlier, I could have eliminated the conferences and online classes. I cannot say enough about what she's taught me. Not only has she helped me rework my WIP, but she's given me the tools to apply to future projects.

  7. It's so funny how our experiences dictate our inclination toward one thing over the other.

    Our experiences were opposite. You hired a freelance editor, which led to a super polished manuscript, which led to an agent and a contract.

    I went studied a bunch of craft books, got critique partners, and went to a conference, which led to an agent for me.

    You're SO right when you say it's such a personal journey. There is no right way.

    With that said, I definitely think you need to ask yourself: What do I want to get?

    If you want to get an improved manuscript...editor, hands down.

    If you want to make connections...writing conference, hands down.

    It all comes down to how ready our manuscripts are.

    Great post, Jody!

  8. I did the whole bit: conferences, reading books on writing, studying the work of other authors, writing book after book (I wrote two...don't be picky). Then an editor at a mid-level house told me if I'd work with an independent editor, he anticipated giving me a two-book contract. He suggested an editor, and I proceeded. I learned a lot of basics from the independent editor, and several months and a hunk of money later I re-submitted the two novels. Sorry, still not good enough.
    Was it worth it? Maybe. As I said, I learned some basic things that weren't in the books or the lectures. I got more experience rewriting. And I learned that, in publishing as in life, a verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on.
    Thanks for an interesting post.

  9. I believe we emailed about this once upon a time, and so far I just haven't been ready. I do think our manuscripts should be as ready as we can possibly get them before spending the money to hire someone. I hope to hire an edior to pick my story apart and show me how to make the story itself stronger. I hope to be pretty confident that I'm showing, not telling and not using too many adverbs way before I send the manuscript to a paid editor.

    So, I see the point to paying an editor, but I also see great benefit to going to contests and making contacts -- again, when i am ready.

    Great post, Jody!

  10. Hey Jody,

    I think what's sometimes overlooked is how hard it can be to find quality crit partners. (Though I'm guessing you may have had that experience since you backed out of your group.) Since starting to write my book full time a year ago, I've found only one great critiquer -- and I've tried. I feel lucky that I have lots of friends from my journalism career who are excellent at helping me improve my work. Otherwise, I would've gone the hire-an-editor route for sure.

    One of the reasons it can be hard to hire an editor is because new authors may be investing in a book that'll never be published, one that will never return that monetary investment.

  11. P.S. I blogged about this topic a while back, too... got a few interesting comments.

  12. I've only been to two conferences. They were both a blast and I got a lot from them.

    As for hiring an editor, I could never convince my lovely ad wonderful (though extremely cynical) better half that I wasn't somehow getting fleeced.

  13. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jody. I want my work to be as polished as it can be before I make a public display of it.

    Editing, revising, critique groups, and professional editing services supersede conferences in my book. I have one chance to WOW!

    Would you mind sharing who you sent your work to?

  14. Okay, Jody,say you've sold me on this. :0) Now what? How do I know that I know that I can find a reputable one? I know of one, but she quit doing this. And I know you'll go into this in another blog post, but I'm just full of questions. Bursting really. I would have to get a crit done by someone who works solely in Children's books, right? And I've heard that it can run into the thousands. That I wouldn't be able to do. How long does it usually take? :0) See? Bursting. I will be back to find out these answers and many more I'm sure. Thanks Jody.

  15. I have to admit I've never considered a freelance editor. Maybe I should! I have no problem paying for a national conference ... the last one was so valuable and hey! I got to meet you face to face, so totally worth the $ :)

  16. I'm open to it. I'll consider it. I'm working to pay for the two conferences I plan to attend this year, so I see the value of investing in my MS.

    I'm still waiting for that check your sending me in the mail. ;)

    Great insights.
    ~ Wendy

  17. If I didn't have so much on my writing plate, I would loooove to work as a freelance editor. I've done quite a bit of professional editing in the past and really enjoyed it.

    I didn't answer your question, did I?

  18. I believe this can be a very good investment at the right time, with the right person. There are a number of ways to get training, expertise, outside opinions. Every job benefits from expert advice. Even writing.

  19. I didn't even know you COULD hire a professional editor until I started blogging. Since then, I've heard good things from those who have tried it. I wouldn't rule it out in the future if I felt I was stuck and needed help.

    why not?

  20. I've never really given any thought to hiring an editor. I'm part of a really great writing group. We're friends, but we're all writers and not afraid to tell each other just like it is. I've gotten such great feedback from them that paying a freelance editor just, to me, has felt unnecessary. I'll revisit the idea, though, when my book gets universally rejected.

  21. I've never paid a freelancer to look at my work, mostly because I just DON'T have that much money, but I have entered a writing contest for the sole purpose of getting a section of my story (that I know needs help) looked at and critiqued by complete strangers.

    But I'd think it a good learning investment to try a freelance editor if I ever did gain the funds.

  22. Jody, you've given me new perspective on this subject. Thanks. I would be more inclined to consider a freelance editor now. :) But, in defense of conferences...I have to say that my regional SCBWI conference (children's writers) has been a HUGE help to me. I started going about ten years ago and have only missed one, when I was in San Antonio last year. To me, the conferences are as much about the connections as networking. But we're talking regional here. If we are talking national conferences only, I'd agree with you. And of course, as mothers of many, we have to be extremely discerning as to how we use our "extra" time and resources. It's heartening to me that you don't think conferences are an absolute must, in terms of getting published. But I will continue to cheer for regional or more local conferences that bring about vital, IRL connections. :)

  23. It's something I've considered more than once, but yes, the money thing has held me back. I am still hoping to make it to a conference, but I don't have that experience as a basis of comparison. For now, I'll stick with my crit. partners and the help of a few wonderful contest critiques I've won. We'll see where it leads me. Eventually, I know I'll end up at a conference or paying an editor or both.

  24. The money is definitely my main reason for not hiring an editor. I know of some writers that offer editing services, and I think very highly of their abilities. I would love to have them help me if I felt comfortable with the cost. You make a very good point about the writing conferences, because that is something I'm more willing to pay for, but I never made the mental comparison like you do here.

  25. Great point about the writer being reader for an editor. I can see how a beginner might get discouraged. Nice post.

    Lynnette Labelle

  26. I agree that your writing skill and knowledge of craft should be at a certain level before you try hiring an editor. That said, I think an editor is an excellent investment.

    I entered a contest and was told that, while my work was good, I would really benefit from investing in a freelance editor. I asked around in the industry before hiring one. Boy was she worth the money! I learned things I don't think I would have been able to learn any other way. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

  27. I think the money factor would stop me with hiring an editor. But who knows, maybe one day.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  28. Thanks, Jody.

    I've been to three writers conferences but have never thought in terms of using that same money to hire an editor. I guess it partly depends on what you are looking for.

    You make some good arguments for hiring an editor, especially if you have already taken classes, been in critique groups, exchanged manuscripts w/other writers, written several books and are in search of representation but not finding it.
    Or, maybe you've found it, but your book hasn't sold and you're stuck. I guess it's all about improving and breaking thru to a new level.

    Thanks for this new view on hiring an editor.

  29. Hiring Camy Tang to go through my first manuscript was the best $ I ever invested in my career. I think the suggestions she made, dogeared with books/articles to read re the weakness, subtracted a couple of years from my prepub time.

    What is two years of time worth?
    Sigh. The answer varies for every writer!


  30. I love reading about your experiences. I have paid for writing conferences. I find them a valuable use of my money.

    Honestly, I've never thought of hiring an editor. I'm not sure why. Maybe because my critique group has helped me enough? Maybe because I believe my own editing skills are enough?

    I'm not sure. But it is something to think about.

  31. I am interested in going to a conference to meet other writers and connections. Sounds like a good boost to jump start some enthusiasm. :O) Maybe later an editor.....

  32. I can see the value in hiring an editor. Knowing this person is coming without any preconceived notions for you or your work, that they will read your work with a trained and fresh eye tells me that I would be getting the best critique possible. It would also give me insight into what the industry professionals (who I hope will request to read my manuscript) will think when they do.

    Thank you for your insight on this!

    Happy Wednesday,

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. I think the editor is definitely worth it, but you should look for one that specializes in what you write. Also, be prepared for your baby to be put through the wringer.

    When I worked in the art dept. for a publisher, I had an editor friend who marked up a short story manuscript for me. I also encouraged her—to be ruthless. I wanted to become better, and since she was a friend, I was concerned that she might hold back. I'm so thankful that she really marked it to high heaven. Every mark taught me something!

    Hurray for editors. They want you to help you produce your best!

    (I also have a great critique group, and although none of us might be up to an editor's level, I believe we have helped each other tremendously to deal with blind spots in our writing.!)

  35. I don't know. I'm not there yet and I just don't know what I'll do when I do get there.

  36. Money definitely is a factor. But I think it's worth it. Something like that is priceless.

  37. That's interesting that you compare editing to conferences. It's a great point you make about putting money there to grow as an author versus putting money toward a conference. I have never been to a conference and I've never paid for a critique but I think I'm to the point now where I'm ready for that next level. I just have to decide which (editing, conferences, etc) it is. Thanks for your input.

  38. I'm so grateful for your insights and experiences. I've struggled for a while about the expense, but as it turns out, I wasn't quite ready for an editor. The next book I know I will be, and your words are just the encouragement and validation I need.

  39. Great topic. I have and will hire freelance editors. I urge writers to research an editor first, and once you are convinced they are legit it is important to make sure they are a good fit for their particular project.

  40. Hi Jody -

    The money factor is huge for me. I'm considering the Genesis contest because I've heard the feedback is worthwhile.

    Susan :)

  41. I've hired a freelance editor to look at the first chapter of my book just to see what I could expect. OH MY GOSH!!! I was amazed at the recommendations and how much better my work improved as a result. I've since had four more chapters done and as soon as I save enough money I'll have the remainder looked at.

    I live in small town USA and a critique group wasn't a viable option for me. But in my opinion, the money is definitely worth it!

  42. Wonderful advise. I have entered a comp recently to win a first 25 pages critique. I have my fingers crossed cause I'd love some professional feedback. I think editors are worth the money, but I would go with word of mouth recommendations. I hired and editor way to early in my career and what I really needed was to send it out to crit partners and have them pull it apart. It wasn't really ready to be looked at by anyone else yet. I am holding off on this book until I feel there is no more me or any of my beta readers can do with it.

  43. Dear Jody,
    I've seen that you've commented on a few of the blogs that I follow and feel a kindred spirit.

    Thank you for this post. I'll be browsing through your previous posts, too. Lots of useful info there.

    I write nonfiction, and I'm very new to the whole writing arena. Your suggestions here about hiring an editor are most helpful.

    Many blessings,

  44. When it comes to relying on a critique group or individual, I think we need to recognize they may be unbiased but not necessarily well qualified. I welcome their opinions and suggestions, but they can't be as helpful as a professional editor. I do recommend, however, that you research an editor just as carefully as you would an agent. Not all are scrupulous.

    I submitted a portion of a ms to Jessica Morrell and she gave an awesome evaluation. I learned so much from it that could be applied to the balance of the novel that I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. It was definitely a worthwhile investment.

    I've also attended a number of conferences and loved the experience. The workshops, inspiration, networking and pitching opportunities are wonderful but a conference is not the place to get a ms critiqued. IMO, ten or fifteen minutes in a blue pencil session going over 3-5 pages with an editor isn't thorough enough to identify anything except the most rudimentary writing errors.

  45. I hired an editor because I'd re-written my book so many times, there was no way I could see all the mistakes. It cost me a lot, but I think it was worth it. I can send out my ms with pride, knowing that it represents good, professional writing.

  46. Good post! I've contemplated some of this, and I appreciate the thoughts on the other stuff that I haven't. Someday I will need this, so filing it away for future reference.
    Thanks and blessings,

  47. Great information! I never thought before about hiring an editor, but I'm thinking that I would much rather put my money towards this than a conference at this point:)


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!