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To Hire or Not to Hire: Is it better to Self-Edit or Go with a Pro?

Your bestseller is sitting there, waiting for publication. You have written, revised, rewritten, and revised again, and now — you cringe at the thought of more corrections. Every writer experiences the painstaking chore of cleaning up their work before moving forward, but not every writer hires a professional editor. Some do, some do not. Whether you plan to go the traditional route or self-publish, getting a quality book to the masses will require the long and tedious task of editing. So, the question stands, who should do the editing, you or a professional?  The answer lies solely in your goals for the masterpiece you have created.

Professional editors work hand in hand with authors to ensure their book hits the shelves in the best condition possible. As an invaluable piece of the publishing puzzle, the editor’s job is to turn a good book into a fantastic one.

[Do not be mistaken: it is NOT the editor’s job to take a pile of literary goo that you have an idea for and then magically transform it into an award-winning novel. You are the writer — they just make your writing better.]

That being said, at certain times and in certain conditions, it may be more cost-efficient and practical to perform the tedious task of editing yourself. If you are looking to get your writing to the masses as quickly as possible, try out a story idea to beta readers, or test run a particular genre, you may be able to buckle down and take on this job without external help.

If the focus, though, is to propel your career forward and have your work come across as flawless and professional as possible, then you may need to open your wallet and get some experts in your corner. Weighing your writing goals against the pros of both hiring and self-editing will help you better understand which option will work best for you.   


Derek Murphy of Authortube posted an informational video in 2015 stating that he does not always recommend hiring an editor for individuals looking to publish. This does not sound like something a professional editor would say. However, his reasoning rests on the idea that if the story is not good, then editing will not make a difference. You can have a grammatically and structurally pristine body of work, but the writing is so horrible that it puts people to sleep. This logic is sound and reflects one condition where external editing may not be necessary.

Murphy expounds on this, saying that if the story’s structure is good and it flows well, then the smaller nuances and grammatical slip-ups will not matter quite as much. Readers are much more forgiving of a few small errors when the writing captivates them. His modus operandi for publishing is to edit a solid amount himself and then send that work out to beta readers, asking for their help in identifying typos and errors. This method should catch most, if not all, significant errors and problems in the writing. If your plans are not necessarily to have your work accepted as expert material, this should be more than enough to make your book readable and successful if it is written well.

Catherine Turner of Daily House further develops the process of self-editing on her YouTube channel, Bestseller List. Her overarching belief is that hiring a professional will always be best, but she also understands that sometimes paying an editor is not feasible. For most beginner authors, frugality is vital, and oftentimes, hiring an editor is beyond the scope of financial possibility. Adding onto Murphy’s ideas, Turner focuses on the necessity of quality when publishing any written work. For self-editors, free or inexpensive tools such as ProWritingAid and Grammarly are exceptional in scanning the various details of writing structure and grammar usage within the text. Online programs like these can clean things up and make the formatting more professional.

Additional tips that Turner suggests when approaching publication are:

  • Sending selections of the book to a professional editor in pieces versus all at once. This process can be spread out over several months while continuing your revisions and allows you to edit as you go instead of going back to page 1 after you have done all that work. This method does enlist the help of a professional editor but in more affordable chunks. Choosing this route can divvy up editing costs to as little as $100 – $200 a month.
  • Taking advantage of Beta readers who can help with the final proofing process. Again, this can be done in pieces or the book’s entirety.
  • Pricing your finished book lower. While it may seem counterproductive, this trick elicits less scrutiny from readers, as it lowers the expectation of perfection. If the work is of good quality, it will sell regardless, and you can get a better feel of whether the book will be successful. A $0.99 book is held under a more forgiving microscope than a $15.99 one.


Self-editing can save a good bit of money, but it may not always be worth it. There are many situations when hiring an expert is the best decision you could make. Countless authors believe so much in this process that they will opt-out of other typically paid-for services (like professional cover design) to have more of their budget allotted to hiring a quality editor. Content is that important.

Blake Atwood shares his professional opinion on the matter at The Write Life, discussing when a writer should start looking for an editor.

A few of the questions he recommends authors ask themselves are:

  • Have I done as much as I can to make my manuscript the best it can be?
  • Am I looking for an editor because I’m tired of looking at my manuscript?
  • Do I have the nagging feeling that something undefinable isn’t quite working in my manuscript?
  • Do I understand the cost, both in time and money, of hiring a professional editor, and have I budgeted for both?

When hiring an editor, it is crucial to understand just what services they will be offering. You must know why you are hiring an editor before jumping in. Otherwise, you may be paying for additional services that you do not need or need certain ones that your editor does not provide. P.S. Hoffman explains the process in his article “When Should You Hire an Editor?”

Line Editing is when the editor will go line by line to check the flow and feel of the language you have used and the meaning implied.

Proofreading will only fix the grammar, spelling, and factual errors within the writing. It does not look at the flow of the piece or whether things make sense overall.

Developmental or structural editing will focus on the plot, the characters, and the story as a whole.

After you have done all of your own revisions, take a look at what you need the most for your book and hire someone based on those needs. Do you need grammatical help, help with the feel of the story, or perhaps plot structure? Some editors package multiple services into one at a discounted rate. Do your homework and communicate your needs. When everyone is on the same page, the writer-editor relationship will be optimal.


Hiring a professional should be done when you cannot do it yourself effectively, do not have the time or energy to do it yourself, or need your work to be as polished as humanly possible before releasing it for publication.

On the other hand, if you are skilled enough to make the necessary corrections, have an astute attention to detail, or cannot budget for a professional editor, then self-editing might be a better choice for your work.

Regardless of the path you choose to get your writing from point A to point B, the editing process is one that you cannot cut corners on; it has to be done. Whether you hire a professional or choose to do it yourself is up to you. More often than not, multiple revisions must be made before a book is ready for market. If you can do the work of both writer and editor, it will save a significant amount of money, but hiring one will always be worth the cost to convey a professional tone. Perfect as much as you can, and then let your writing speak for itself.  

I’ve reached that final moment of editing a book—the one where the text manifests as a living breathing person and starts slugging me in the face.

Richard Due