How to Decide Between Self-Editing and Hiring a Professional Editor


Pen on white backgroundShould You Self-Edit or Hire a Professional?

As an author or writer, a business professional, marketing or advertising expert, you have created a book manuscript, document or promotional copy that will soon be published or otherwise distributed to its targeted audience. You have a daunting task: Do you perform the proofreading and/or editing exercise independently and release your content for public consumption/purchase or do you hire a professional textual editor/proofreader to execute this phase that will bring your content to its critical and polished best presentation?

Decision Factors

That is a loaded question and not one that you should take lightly. Consider these factors very carefully when making that decision:

  • Are you publishing your content for retail purposes?
  • Who is your targeted audience and does that audience include the potential for business revenue development?
  • Is this your first of such published/distributed materials or one of many and what has your audience response been so far? Has your content been response-driven? What is the metrics of reader response indicating to date? Have your documents or published materials performed as anticipated? Did your results meet or exceed your objectives?
  • Has your audience response in terms of actions taken been measurable and as intended? If not, what will you have to do to change your audience response?

When you are creating content for a company and/or client project or for direct revenue purposes, there is a considerable amount of pressure (internal/external) for optimum results in terms of the foregoing questions, how effective your content was in stimulating audience response and to what degree that response met or exceeded expectations.

Consider what is at stake if your content is not the best it can and needs to be. What efforts in terms of time, resources and investment have gone into the project? Has your return on investment (ROI) met and exceeded your expectations?

Objectivity

First, make sure that in making a decision your perspective is an objective one. Take an honest look at your content and be completely honest about self-assessing your capabilities with respect to your writing skills and equally as important, your level of knowledge and skills to effectively analyze and revise your work as necessary to bring it to a professional polish.

Seek an Outside Opinion

Have a colleague, family member, friend or other parties take your content for a test drive. Ask for their unbiased impressions of your work without any sugar coating thrown in…a straight up assessment or review, thumbs up or thumbs down! Avoid negative results by thoroughly examining your content before taking it to the next level. Beyond the surface level of the content and its delivery, are your reviewers finding a significant number of issues that require rewriting or correction?

Editing Decision Touch Points

The following is a series of keywords or phrases which need to be considered when deciding whether to engage a textual proofreader/editor for your content. These are the skills and expertise level indicators to consider as an expandable list (not all-inclusive) of the many elements of content development and revision that I do as a professional proofreader/editor:

authors               bibliography           book manuscript editing

bookmarks             border design          caption

change                markup charts          citations

clear formatting      cohesion               column orientation

columns insertion     content development    content layout

content sequence      copyediting            copywriting

cross-reference       developmental          document comparison

drop cap              editorial role         endnote

English editing       Flesch-Kincaid Standards

fluid progression     font face              font size

footnote              formatting             grammar

gridlines             headlines              hyperlinks

hyphenation           image alt text         image insertion

indentation           insert footer          insert header

line spacing          lower case             macro

margins               mark entry             mobile content

multiple page viewing outline level          page break

page breaks           page orientation       pagination

paragraph structure   postscript             problems

proofreading          publishing             punctuation

quick parts           readability           reader engagement      

reference navigation  references            review                 

reviewing pane        revision balloons     ruler                  

section breaks        sentence structure    signature line         

solutions             source management     special indents        

spelling              split window          storyline consistency

strikethrough         style guides          styles

subheads              subscript             substantive

symbols               table of authorities  tables

tables                text align            text box insertion

text wrap             thesaurus             track change review

trim size             typos                 upper case

watermark             web layout            word count

Common Misconceptions

A writer/author/creator’s greatest fear is that their content will be changed by the editor to the extent that their storyline, intent, meaning, and objectives could be seriously altered or compromised. Avoid such issues with a proofreader or editor before any editorial project gets under way.

The editor’s contract should clearly reflect that the integrity of their client’s work will be maintained during the process without clear and advance discussion and authorization from the client otherwise. The primary objective of the editor is to clarify any evident ambiguities or inconsistencies to content copy to enhance its delivery to the reader and to effect revisions that will correct typos, spelling errors, discrepancies in grammatical correctness, punctuation and sentence composition.

The ‘polish’ that an editor puts on a document, known as ‘proofreading‘ is meant to incorporate the correction of errors in spelling, grammatical and punctuation issues. More extensive ‘editing’ of a developmental or substantive nature is an analysis of the content through which to consult with the client to alert them that there are inconsistencies in the message delivery or storyline. The editor role does not incorporate re-writing of such content elements unless there has been an advance extension to the services agreement for the editor to do so. That kind of change, which involves greater involvement by the editor, will naturally add cost to the services agreement.

Good Story or Message Composition vs. Bad

As the writer, you need to be aware that if your storyline or copy content is mediocre in its development and does not pack the punch that it must have to achieve the desired results, resolving such issues is the responsibility of the author/writer/copywriter. I am writing this article for the various types of client projects I specialize in but the premise in this regard is the same. The writer of the content must develop their own individual skills in content development and delivery in order to realize the maximum possible success that they might achieve.

You may not possess the ultimate writing skills and technique to deliver that stellar content the first time around but if you are doing due diligence to do extensive research, studies and content refinement, your content quality and how it is received by your audience should improve as you gain experience. An editor or proofreader is NOT a ghostwriter. He or she will provide content analysis and revision. Writing better, more exciting or convincing/engaging content remains the job of the author/writer/copywriter.

Do Not Take Critique Personally

Repeatedly I have heard stories or, at times, experienced first-hand, that a client has taken an editorial comment as a personal affront. As the originator of that written content, own your responsibility as the content creator. Accept their role as editor for the objective analysis that they provide for the writer during the editing process. Do not allow that assessment to become personal or confrontational. The editor/proofreader is on your side! This seems a little off track for this article but the point is that you do not want to lose perspective to the extent that it dissuades you from engaging an editor for future projects. They are indeed there for a purpose.

Self-Editing Is Important

The first step to take once your content is completed, in a draft, is to set it aside for a few days, refresh and come back to your project to undertake a self-editing process. Take your time with this process. If you tear through the proofread at a break-neck pace only for the sake of meeting your publishing submission target date, the result is missed issues that require correction. Be very cautious about establishing hard deadlines for submission. Make sure that you have adequate time for the entire proofreading and editing process to be completed. That process is as important as the writing of the content itself.

Anticipate problems with the editing and polishing phases of your project. Base that anticipation of adequate time on the length and complexity of the project itself. Refer back to previous projects as a reference point and judge accordingly. If you do engage a professional editor to undertake the final analysis and revision process, establish a timeline that they anticipate they will require to do their part and wherever possible, keep your submission date a soft deadline.

I have seen clients get terribly anxious and stressed because they did not meet their original submission date. Maintain perspective on what is more important: a deadline for submission or the best possible quality content possible. In the case of a hard and fast deadline for submission in conjunction with a collaborative project involving a multiple of contributors, make sure that your advance lead time is more than sufficient for all of these processes to be performed thoroughly.

If issues of a more extensive nature arise such as storyline inconsistency, structural or copywriting revision is required, the time to do so is often greater than the original composition. Again, the priority has to be on the content quality first.

Multiple Round Editing Process

Be aware that the professional proofreading and editing processes involve several rounds of focus on specific elements of content analysis. Typically, that process, especially where the client elects both editing and proofreading services, are three or four separate rounds for complete, front to back content analysis and revision. The process is separated out into a multiple of rounds so that numerous elements of the analysis can be more effectively and efficiently addressed rather than an exhaustive all-in-one round which could result in issues being missed.

Type of Editing Services Needed

Editing can be considerably more extensive in the process that proofreading. They are two clearly defined and separate processes. Proofreading includes checking for typos, spelling errors, grammar, punctuation and sentence composition analysis. The author/writer needs to decide their writing strengths vs. what services they engage through an editor. If the author/writer were unsure of the extent of services required, the editor would most often seek a representative sample of the content to review in advance of starting a project. This advance review will give the editor some assurance that the content before him/her is consistent with the quality of content throughout the manuscript or document. Where the editor sees more than average issues in the sample they may ask for a larger sample or assess a greater fee structure that will reasonably meet the additional work that will ensue with the project.

If the author/writer were unsure of the extent of services required, the editor would most often seek a representative sample of the content to review in advance of starting a project. This advance review will give the editor some assurance that the content before him/her is consistent with the quality of content throughout the manuscript or document. Where the editor sees more than average issues in the sample they may ask for a larger sample or assess a greater fee structure that will reasonably meet the additional work that will ensue with the project.

Selection of an editor should be one of the first things the client determines so that they are comfortable with cost and can plan accordingly. There will still be a review of that representative sample to help alleviate any concerns on the part of the editor. It is not unheard of that extraordinary issues crop up well into a manuscript or document that was not evident in the initial review. In that case, there is usually a provision in the editor’s contract for a fee adjustment if deemed necessary.

Proofreaders and editors should always address any extraordinary issues as soon as they become evident by discussing those concerns with their client. The editor should never undertake to do extra work without first having obtained advance permission from their client to proceed. In doing so, the relationship between the editor and client does not become strained or compromised.

An author or writer can always obtain more than one content sample review before deciding on whom to engage if they feel the need to do so. Obtaining a referral from a fellow author or writer can also go a long way to minimizing any issues that might arise during the course of the editing process.

Research to Find Experienced and Highly Regarded Editing Professionals

Taking the time to locate successful and highly regarded proofreading and editorial professionals will pay huge dividends in the long run. Most often people conducting a search for products or services will seek to find local professionals, failing which they will expand their search. Remember that editing professionals provide their services for clients around the globe.

Essentially all services for document proofing and editing/publishing are currently completed electronically on a laptop or desktop computer, often including client communications by email or online video calls through Skype, Google Hangouts or Facebook Video Calling. When long distance separates the editor and their client, communication by telephone is much less frequent for obvious cost control.

Take advantage of resources that are typically found featured on editorial professionals sites. Familiarize yourself with these resources as a means to enjoy direct benefit when it comes to your content development, editing, marketing and where applicable optimizing for search visibility. There are many free and paid tools for writers and editors that greatly enhance organization, accuracy, innovation, presentation, formatting and much more.

Great examples of highly informative and resourceful editing professionals include An American Editor and Louise Harnby whose sites are richly enhanced through resource and industry links. Both of these seasoned editorial experts are outstanding writers whose on-site blogs are highly informative. They are well worth a visit to advance your practical knowledge base and writing/publishing objectives. Both editors have published as have I.

Self-Editing is an Important Phase of the Project

It is a highly recommended part of the writing and publishing process that the author becomes involved in the editing phase with every publication project. Developing improvement in your proofing and editing skills is important. It will actually help your writing process as you become more aware of your content quality as you write. To a degree, it will help reduce the extent of proofing and editing required by a professional. It will not necessarily result in dramatic savings though, especially if it is your first time working together.

Even when self-editing your work, it is highly recommended that you plan to engage a proofreader/editor for the final analysis. An external, professional analysis of your work helps to alleviate the possibility of issues occurring. Your objectivity can affect how well you proof and edit because the writer tends to be over-confident about their editing capability and thoroughness when self-editing. Your process can become a glaze over because of over-confidence and close familiarity with your work. At the end of a long writing project, the writer’s eyes will be fatigued and that ‘lazy eye syndrome’ results in skipping over content and missing important issues that require correction.

There is also the level of editorial knowledge and skill to consider. In addition, focus on what your overall objective is for your project. Keep in mind, too, that the publisher will also anticipate a quality content submission, as they will not publish inferior products to the buying public. Doing so affects their revenue stream as well as your own. If you begin to receive negative reviews about content quality, consider the valuable lost time to pull the project out of retail, go through another editing process, resubmission and further publisher review before the project goes is finally approved and goes live again for public purchase.

Effective self-editing and proofreading demand that you develop advanced knowledge and skills. The English language is complex and typical elementary and secondary school studies of the English language and grammar are not at the level that is required for content development. Take the time necessary well in advance of any content distribution at a professional or publishing level, especially when self-editing is the sole or only level of editing planned for your project.

My recommendation here insofar as hiring a professional editor reflects what this industry supports wholeheartedly and not in a self-serving way. Whether you are a publishing author, content writer or marketing, and advertising copywriter, if you do not have the in-house expertise, you will have to outsource your proofreading and editing needs. You have enormous competition out there vying for the same market share and anything short of the highest possible quality will fall well short in terms of your bottom line.

Testimonials and Reviews Speak Volumes

Seek out solid testimonials from any editing professional you are considering. Nothing is more powerful than the direct word of previous or ongoing clients of the professional editor under review. You can see examples of my own client testimonials which are featured on not only the Testimonials page but also the Home page. Be aware that even testimonials published online or in print may not be the real deal so be prudent in following up directly with the writer of such testimonials if at all in doubt. Editing professionals will usually be more than happy to seek the permission of their raving clients for prospective client contact provided their client’s wishes as to the means of contact is satisfied.

Not every editorial professional has a university degree in support of and relevant to his or her services. Through years of experience in various vocations, where they possess an exceptional command of the English language, they are solid candidates in their own right. To avoid frustration and disappointment, opt for personal and professional editing for optimum results. Editing takes tremendous commitment to ensure a consistent, painstaking focus and effective process. There is no room to leave your desired results open to chance.

My sincere best wishes go out to everyone in the pursuit of excellence; getting it right the first and every time will help make a significant difference in your bottom line.

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2 Replies to “How to Decide Between Self-Editing and Hiring a Professional Editor”

    1. Thank you, Paul! I have written on this subject before. I often see new authors especially, who are torn between whether or not to hire a proofreader/editor based on their own perceived level of skills in that regard and their strength from a writing standpoint and price points of affordability. There are a lot of wannabes out there calling themselves professional editors and then again there are outright hacks who have no knowledge of the language nor the multiple processes that go into proofing and editing content effectively and objectively. I suppose the merits of outsourcing this process will be an ongoing issue from many perspectives. One thing is certain; in today’s market saturation of new and aspiring authors and publishers who can ill afford to let inferior quality products slip past the inspection stages pre-publication, the imminent risks are increasingly evident. Publishers are getting increasingly stringent about content quality because they have as much a vested interest in an author’s publishing as the author does; if they were to publish sloppy content quality, the author’s sales revenue would be impacted as would the publisher’s, not to mention potential impact in terms of either’s reputation.

      From the elements of proofreading scrutiny (spelling, typos, grammar, punctuation, and sentence composition) to the greater realm of comprehensive editing (substantive, developmental), there remains a growing segment of the reading consumer who expects increasingly better quality for their money. The same holds true for the business, marketing, and advertising world. I look at journalistic media today and just cringe. There is a horrible lack of editing for numerous reasons, basically reduced to financial factors which have seriously impacted media’s ability to engage editorial services even at a cursory proofreading level. Such a shame…this from a former journalism student myself.

      Liked by 1 person

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