Learning to write books is hard. Earning money from books is even harder. So some writers figure they’ll bypass the expensive stuff like hiring an editor.
This is not a good idea if you’re planning to self-publish. We are all blind to our own mistakes. And newbies especially need help in shaping and polishing a book.
But what if you’re going the query route? Do you need to hire an editor before you start sending out a book to agents and small presses?
What an Editor Can (and Can’t) Do
Newbies often aren’t clear about what editors do. When I worked as a freelance editor, I was amazed by the number of people who came to me with over-inflated ideas of what I could do for them.
They’d arrive with collections of transcriptions of court proceedings, notebooks full of verses and random jottings, or stacks of old letters they wanted me to make into a commercially viable memoir or novel.
One potential client actually brought a pillowcase full of ancient cassette tapes and dumped them on my dining table and asked me to “edit” them into a book.
I had to tell these people I couldn’t help. Editors polish a manuscript. They don’t create it.
There are people who spin raw verbal straw into book gold. They’re called ghostwriters. If you have a story to tell and don’t feel you can do it yourself, a good ghostwriter can do it for you. I can recommend an excellent ghostwriting service–Your Memoir–where M. Summerfield Smith works with many clients (some high profile) to turn their memories into books.
But a ghostwriter does more (and costs more) than an editor.
Unless you have deep pockets, if you want to write a book, it’s best to take writing courses, go to conferences, join a critique group and write it yourself. (For memoirists, read my post on writing memoir.) Then hire an editor.