“My manuscript has been professionally edited.”

It’s common to see this sentence somewhere in query letters, and I always wonder why authors think that’s an important inclusion. In truth, I would rather they leave this out because it’s not a selling point for me, and here’s why:

Editorial Blunder

When you state that you’ve enlisted the services of a third party editor, you are subconsciously raising my  expectations. That means that I’m double-secret-scrutinizing your manuscript, and any misplaced commas, poor syntax, misspelled words, lack of transitional sentences, pacing, flow, or plotting will have me clucking like a chicken loaded on too much grain alcohol.

Just last weekend I read a submission from an author who revealed that his work was beyond reproach because he had been “professionally edited.” Let me tell you, it was a hot mess, and I could only wonder at this “professional’s” qualifications. Needless to say, the author had two strikes against him…one, for revealing his editorial “help,” and two, for delivering an editorial mish mash of mush and not realizing it.


“Professionally edited.” Now, what does this mean? In truth, anyone can hang their shingle out and call themselves a “professional.” There are no state boards or licenses one must obtain to be labeled thusly, so this whole idea of “professional” is a bit of a misnomer.

There are many thankless souls who have spent years making their living as editor. They have edited many well-published books, possibly have done freelance work for solid publishers, and have excellent reputations. They are the precious darlings who I consider “professionals.”  When we had the Great Publishing Implosion of 2008-9, lots of talented editors lost their jobs, and they turned to doing freelance work.

But mixed in with this group, are those who have a barely-passing handle on grammar and/or know very little about content editing. If you, the author, don’t know the tools of your trade, then how can you know when your third party editor is as under-schooled as you are?

Because of this, it’s impossible for me to take this whole “professional” thing seriously. Out of literally thousands of submissions I’ve read, I signed one author who I feel got her money’s worth, We barely touched her manuscript when we signed her because it was so clean. And at that, I know the author really didn’t need to hire third party help because I’ve seen the writing brilliance on her blog.

And this brings me to my next point:  who gets the credit?

To Whom Should I Place My Faith?

When you tell me a “professional” has done the holy cross over your work, I have to consider whom to thank…you or your third party editor.

Case in point, an editor friend of mine wailed on about the editing nightmare she was having with one of her authors. The manuscript was pretty clean, but she wanted the author to make some rewrites to flesh out a couple sub-plots that would enhance the overall story. My friend made her suggestions and awaited the rewrites – which came back and were horrendous.

Missing was the fabulous signature voice that carried the book and convinced my friend it was a “gotta have it.” In its stead was clunky writing, missing transitions from each paragraph to the next/from one scene to the next. My friend was flummoxed. “It’s as if a whole different person did these rewrites.” A hot mess.

My friend was naturally suspicious about who actually finessed it to the point of being publishable because the author appeared ill-prepared to handle simple editorial rewrites.

So, you can see that this isn’t merely a matter of whom to thank for the clean manuscript, but it’s a red flag to editors because we’re wondering if  the author has the chops to handle the editing process. Having experienced this many years ago with an author who is no longer with us, I can attest that it’s enough to make me want to pull my hair out.

I appreciate authors who are honest with themselves. If you think you need to hire an indie editor, then do you believe your writing skills are evolved enough to be publishable? If it’s a matter of getting feedback, then join a writer’s group, or get a group of beta readers who will offer objective critique.

But if you feel that your grammar isn’t up to speed, then you really need to learn this aspect of your craft. It’s like a surgeon saying, “I’m really good at heart transplants, but I get all icky at having to crack someone’s chest, so I’ll hire someone else to do that.” You’re either a heart surgeon, or you aren’t. You’re either a writer and know the tools of your trade, or you don’t.

When To Use a Third-Party Editor

If you’re self-pubbing your book, then it’s mandatory to hire a good editor. There are so many horrible DIY books flooding the marketplace, and you want to make sure yours is glorified for its fabulosity, not its horrorosity. Make sure that the editor you hire has a solid background and has edited books published by solid commercial presses.

Another reason is, Why the hell not? If you have the disposable income and you don’t feel confident about your abilities, why not hire a third party editor? You can treat the experience as a private education, so you’ll be that much better with your next book. But always be aware that if this book is published, you’ll need to have the chops to handle rewrites. No running home to Mama.

It’s important to learn ALL aspects of your craft, not pick and choose the things that are fun. Otherwise, at some point, you will be found out – probably during editing phase and your editor is ready to jump off the Empire State Building. Be smart; save an editor from certain death or margarita-dependance, and enhance your brilliance.

And don’t include this in your query.

11 Responses to “My manuscript has been professionally edited.”

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    So, question for you…what’s the best way to find a good editor? How do you know if the professional editor you are hiring is any good and has the *right* experience? You need an editor who knows the genre you are writing in and the expectations of readers, too.

  2. Always enjoy your no-nonsense posts. Breath of fresh air and all that. When a writer says his ms has been professionally edited, it actually LOWERS my opinion of the writer because (a) he sounds desperate, (b) he sounds naive and was probably scammed (blind leading the blind etc), and (c) he probably wasn’t ready to submit his ms to publishers and agents.

  3. Pelotard says:

    “Your editor is ready to jump off the Empire State Building”? Heck, your editor is ready to throw you off the Empire State Building…

  4. Ninjie, that question is akin to “How do I go about finding the right agent…or publisher?” It’s all about research. Ask around, follow the writer’s sites.

    I know of several lovely editors, but that doesn’t meant they’d be right for you. Not all editors are created equally. Some specialize in certain genres. Some are better with content editing, and others prefer copy editing. And there’s also personality to think about. Hiring an editor can almost be like getting married. I’ve heard of personality clashes, and there are no winners in that scenario.

    It’s important to quantify exactly what your needs are first. Writer’s conferences are a good place to talk to third party editors because there are, invariably, a few there who give talks and one-on-one meetings.

    Avail yourself to fellow writers and see if they know of anyone. I know this answer sounds feeble, but there is no one answer…just as there isn’t with finding the right agent or publisher.

  5. NinjaFingers says:

    Yeah. I was more fishing for any warning signs you personally know of. I might need somebody to re-edit some reprint short stories of which the published version got lost before I can post them. (My own fault about the ‘got lost’, for the most part).

  6. Adonis, I can’t begin to get inside an author’s head and make any assumptions about the whys of hiring an editor.

    For example, my brilliant author who hired a third-party editor before querying was far from being desperate, naive, and had never been scammed. She simply wanted to make sure her work was the best it could be. And it was/is. She was more than ready to submit her work to editors or agents.

    It would have been presumptuous of me to draw any inference to her motivations. And really, I don’t care. The reasons are many…my point with this post is to talk about WHY it’s not a selling point, and to entice authors to think about their reason for seeking outside help.

  7. Ninjie, the only warning signs I’d look for are the editor’s background. What books have they edited? How long have they been doing this gig? You want to avoid getting an editor who mainly works with newbie authors and, therefore, has very low expectations regarding ability. Does that help?

  8. Frank Mazur says:

    Your piece reminded me of a professional dietician who refused to work with my employer and myself because she said I didn’t even know how to spell the word. I regret I didn’t acridly respond to her and point out that ‘dietician’ and ‘dietitian’ are both acceptable, and in fact I might use the t on Monday and the c on Tuesday. My point is that beware of the word ‘professional.’

  9. Ok, I see, Lynn. But from where I stand, a good writer doesn’t pay. He gets paid.

  10. Linda English says:

    I am glad that I stumbled on this blog and will hit the PAUSE button before farming out my manuscript to a “professional.”

  11. DexterDavis says:

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful things on manuscript proofreading.keep posting.

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