The Unexpected Problem with Book Editors – Getting Editing Right

book editing

If you’re wondering if your chapter sucks, it probably does. That’s ok. Keep writing. The first goal is to just get it down on paper and then you bring in book editors to help.

We like to tell our clients the first order of business is creating a bad first draft. Once you’ve got a bad first draft, there’s something to work with to make it good, and then great. That’s where the most important members of your team come into the picture:

The book editors!

But, here’s where way too many well intentioned authors go so wrong!

Don’t Waste Your Money on the Wrong Book Editor

Too many authors send me their edited manuscripts telling me they are ready to publish … and they have hired professional editors, but the book still is not good. What’s gone wrong?

First, let me be clear … 100% of authors need editors. Professional writers need an editor. There is no level of experienced writer that just no longer needs an editor.

You CANNOT edit your work. Your brain plays tricks on you and you will only see how something is supposed to be written not how it’s written. Also, stuff that makes sense to you quite likely doesn’t make sense to other people.

While some experienced writers can skip a developmental edit, those situations are rare. Most non-fiction books will be improved from a two or three-star book to a four-star book with a good developmental or content edit. Then the copy edit takes it from four stars to five stars.

Even when you understand this and you realize that you have to hire professionals for this not just your aunt who edited your papers for university, you might still go wrong when you hire editors and here are the four most common places I see it go all wrong for well intentioned authors.

3 Ways Authors Mess Up When Hiring a Book Editor

1. You hire an editor, but your book needs someone who will help you develop the idea further.

Editors are not the same as writing coaches. In fact, editors often are more analytical than a writing coach. The best line or copy editors are detail oriented and process driven. A good writing coach is going to be driven to influence and communicate in a way that is engaging. They are typically creatives.

Your book might need someone who is more creative first … someone to develop the concept further and make sure you’ve made something that is compelling and interesting above all else. Editing improves the writing but it’s not usually going to develop the core message and idea enough to make the book really great. Even content editing,  which does focus on the structure and content of the book, is sometimes premature if the book doesn’t have a well enough developed hook. Don’t know what makes a great hook? Watch this video:

If you’re not really sure where your book is at ask a few colleagues or friends to read your book (commonly called beta readers) and ask them to answer a few questions like:

> what do you think this book is about?
> what’s the main benefit you get from this book?
> what would you change?

If your beta readers are coming back with positive and consistent answers to the above then you’re probably ready for editing.

2. You hired an editor but weren’t clear on what you expected the result of the edits to be.

I hired an editor but she didn’t make my book better she just made it grammatically correct.” More than one client has brought me their manuscript with this complaint.

If you hire a copy editor – you’re going to get a copy edit.


Some great copy editors will flag areas of your book that need improvement, but their job is to follow a list of rules and make sure your book follows those rules.

If you want an editor that is going to make your book better, you may need a story expert (See point 1 …). Or you need to hire a developmental editor and make it clear that you’re looking for someone to dig in and help you figure out how to make this book better. Spell out what that looks like – do you want them to actually write out how to make a paragraph read better or just, flag it with questions for you to do the work? The more you can lay out the expectations of your editor in advance the more you set yourself up for success.

3. You hired an editor without checking their experience.

Someone may have a great eye for mistakes, but that is not the same as being an experienced and professional editor. Your Uncle may be handy around the house, but it’s not the same as hiring a licensed carpenter or electrician.

If an editor hasn’t edited a bunch of other books in my genre (non-fiction, ideally business books or memoirs) and doesn’t edit for a living, I move on and unless you’re on a tight budget, you probably should too.

Editors are the most expensive part of your book publishing process (unless you’re working with ghostwriter … then the writer should be the highest paid person on your team). Make sure your investment is going to making your book better. And, often this means you need different people to do different roles. It also means you need to hire true professionals.

At Book Launchers we have a story expert or writing coach help with the concept before a different person does the content edit, then a different person does two rounds of copy editing before another person does a proofread. My margin on our book projects would be much higher without involving all these experts, but then the books we produce wouldn’t be half as good. Every professional is worth it but make sure you’re getting the right people at the right time in your book publishing journey.


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