Five Things You MUST Know Before Hiring an Editor By Clayton Jones

Five Things You MUST Know Before Hiring an Editor By Clayton Jones

The Value of Consulting with a Professional Before Hiring an Editor for Your Book Project.

Clayton Jones is a professor of English at University of Tennessee Chattanooga and he holds an M.F.A. from Georgia State University. You can read about his editorial review services HERE and his editing services HERE.

One of my favorite things about working with writers is helping them to find their own writing process. I am a scholar of creativity, and I enjoy seeing that process unfold.

At this point in my editing career, I would love to say I’ve seen it all, but I know I haven’t. As the saying goes, I learn something new every day. I’m not talking about Microsoft Word tricks and AI detectors. What I’m referring to are the manuscripts that make me want to tear what’s left of my hair out. These manuscripts are usually by first time authors—but sometimes very seasoned ones—and they just aren’t ready for editing. In the following article, I’m going to share with you five things you must know before you submit your manuscript to an editor.

  1. Your Editor is Not a Magician

Many first-time authors have a dream: they sit by the shore drinking piña coladas while typing on their MacBook Pro. The words flow through their fingers like river water. Just a few more sentences and it is done. Viola! The next step is to email it to an editor and they will “fix it.” The thing is, your editor is not a magician. There is no “poof.” There is no magic. There is only hard work.

Just because you’ve given your manuscript to an editor won’t make the manuscript “good.” You have to do the writing work first. You can’t write a first draft and expect an editor to make your book great. Sorry, gang, but that’s not how it’s done—at least not by seasoned writers. Before you zip your manuscript off to an editor, you need to do as much editing as you can by yourself. And yes: there are plenty of good working writers out there who clearly aren’t the best wordsmiths, but that doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is that you have put the time and effort into your manuscript to make it the best it can possibly be.

A word about expectations: don’t expect your editor to do it all for you. What I mean is there is a level of accountability you must have on your part. Humans are human. We aren’t perfect. Thus, don’t expect your editor to catch 100 percent of the typos within an eighty-thousand word manuscript. Computers can’t even do it that well. In fact, the best a computer can do is around 88 percent. The best proofreaders are in the mid-90s, but I digress. . . .

  1. You Are Your Best Editor—At Least Up to a Point

We can’t do it all. That’s true, but there are several benefits to doing your own editing—especially in the early stages of the manuscript. First, you become more familiar with the material and will by default uncover flaws in the manuscript. It is never done right the first time, so you can’t expect an editor to do your second draft revisions for you. Next, you will identify the weaknesses in your manuscript. This is a great benefit when you do hire an editor. You will be able to talk about what’s wrong with the book. Finally, doing your own editing gets you that much further along in the writing process. What I mean is that the better your manuscript is before you get it to an editor, the better the manuscript will be in the end.

Now, some of you may ask, “Doesn’t this mean I don’t need an editor?” No. You need one! I promise you do, no matter how “good” you and your book are. Think about it like this: when one builds a house, they hire someone to build the foundation, then the frame, then someone else for the roof, then an electrician, and so on. If the foundation is bad—or not complete—then the rest of the house will not stand. Thus, writers and house builders must pay great attention to detail—especially in the beginning—so that they create something that stands the test of time and serves its intended purpose. Great books have great foundations. Those who wrote them put their time in to ensure the foundation was sound.

  1. You Must Have a Good Foundation

What does that actually mean for a manuscript to have a good foundation? We could certainly get into that (i.e. strong concept, engaging structure, round characters, thematic depth, pacing, etc.) but that isn’t necessary. The important thing is that you do as much as you can before you hand your manuscript over to an editor because if you give him or her an unfinished manuscript, you will have an unfinished edit. I guarantee you will be unhappy with the result—that is if you even find someone to edit it. If you do, it will be very expensive. In a lot of these cases, you might as well have hired a ghost writer. Thus, the better the manuscript is before you give it to an editor, the better it will be in the end.

  1. Know the Editing Process

The editing process—the professional one—is different than you might imagine. There are different levels of editing, and some editors offer different services. At any rate, the question of “How do you get to know the editing process?” is definitely one of those trick questions—sort of like when you’re out on the job market and all of the entry level positions require experience. How are you supposed to get that experience?

This is simple: order a consultation from the editor first. Many of the best editors I know will offer consultations (for a fee). Consultation packages can range from a single hour Zoom conference, or even a series of weekly email discussions or phone calls over the course of a couple of months. No matter the duration and the style of the consultation, you want to do this for a few different reasons. The main reason is that the writer isn’t sure if they are ready for a full-fledged edit; or the writer has already edited their book, and they need a professional to give them truly objective feedback on specific issues. Another benefit to ordering a consultation is that you gain clarity on your editing needs and goals. You get real, personalized advice on the best editing approach for your manuscript. Consultation packages may sound expensive, but in the end, you will save time and money. This is much like taking a used car to a mechanic before you buy it: you figure out what you’re in for before you make an investment.

  1. Your Editor is Your Friend

Like I’ve mentioned above, there are many different levels of editing: there are line edits, content edits, proofreads, surface edits, etc. The point is this: no matter the depth and duration of the edit, you have to remember you have hired your editor to be on your team. This means your editor is looking out for your best interests.

For example, I personally do a lot of comprehensive editing. This means I edit at multiple levels. Depending on the work required, a project can take several weeks to several months. I work very closely with my writers, and I get to know them well. They are my clients. They are my friends. I know them better than they might like to admit, but in the end, we are friends.

That being said, I like to help my friends. I look out for their best interests. Thus, I wouldn’t tell my friend to do something I didn’t think would help them. This doesn’t mean that they have to take my advice, however. If my editorial advice goes against their vision, that is okay. We will work together to find a solution.

The real crux of what I’m getting at is this: in the end, you as a writer must be accountable for the work. At the end of the day, it is your book. Thus, be informed. Be inspired. Work hard—harder than ever before. Then, don’t publish. Hire yourself an editor. And, if you’re not sure if you’re ready for a full edit, get a consultation.

Clayton Jones is a professor of English at University of Tennessee Chattanooga and he holds an M.F.A. from Georgia State University. You can read about his editorial review services HERE and his editing services HERE.

He offers editorial reviews, content editing, line editing, and proofreading services. C. Jones specializes in fiction and non-fiction (most of his experience is with Christian books). He has also edited academic dissertations, poetry, and much more. Clayton also offers web content writing and ghostwriting services.


“Clayton is an experienced editor who is very personable with his clients. He works hard to cater to my needs and is always available. I’ve worked with him on two books and would highly recommend him.”

—Dawit Muluneh

“Clayton was easy to work with; forthright in his dealings; professional in operation; and produced a good product.”
—Gil Gadzikowski

“I’m very impressed with Clayton Jones. His suggestions are right on target. This version of my book is so much better thanks to Clayton’s attention. Thanks for recommending him. He is great to work with.”
—R. Wisehart


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