Why You Shouldn’t ‘See if It Sells’ Before Hiring an Editor

Sophie Playle

Editing costs money. I get that. But self-publishing your book and ‘seeing if it sells’ before deciding whether to hire an editor is a bad idea. Here’s why.

You can’t tell how a well-edited book will sell by comparing it to its non-edited counterpart

It’s a logically flawed concept. If your book needs a thorough edit, any marketing you do will be a wasted effort once readers buy your book, realise it’s not in a publishable state and either a) don’t finish reading your book and never buy anything from you again, and/or b) leave a bad review.

Both of these things will negatively impact your sales. (And that’s assuming people buy your book in the first place – they might look at the preview, judge it unfavourably, and not buy it at all.)

You will damage your reputation

You only get one chance at a good first impression.

When it comes to choosing a book to read, there are a lot of options out there. Your readers won’t want to spend the time or effort looking past poor editing in hope of a good story.

No, instead they’ll think you’re an amateur, and won’t waste any more time on your book, or subsequent books. They’ll swiftly move on to one of the professionally published novels out there. Ouch.

You have a responsibility to your readers

Some writers think that they can just re-publish their books once they’ve had feedback from their readers.

Here’s the thing: a reader didn’t just buy your book and invest their time and energy into reading it in order to help you improve as a writer.

They bought your book because they want an entertaining read. You wouldn’t be happy to go to a restaurant and get a sub-par meal, tell the chef why the meal wasn’t up to scratch, then leave happy in the knowledge that at least the next paying customer might get the meal they’re expecting. That’s crazy talk. Don’t do the equivalent to your readers.

If you’ve chosen to be a self-publisher, part of that role is accepting the responsibility of producing good quality work. If you want to achieve the same level of quality as a traditionally published book (and compete with those authors in the marketplace), you have to think of self-publishing as a business, not a hobby.

Lots of self-published writers approach editors after their books have been on the market for some time. Later is better than not at all, but it’s a shame that some of the damage mentioned above will already be done.

So I encourage you, for all the reasons above and more, to give your readers what they deserve. If you want to self-publish professionally, consider hiring an editor before you publish.

… And if you just can’t afford an editor?

You still have options.

Don’t put a completely unedited book out into the world.

  • Call in a favour or skill-swap with someone you know who is really, really good at spotting spelling and grammar errors.
  • Educate yourself on grammar and punctuation, and learn about the craft of sentence composition. There are loads of good books out there on these subjects, many likely available from your local library.
  • Read through your whole book, multiple times, in multiple formats. Change the font, print it off, use voice-to-text. These tools and technique will help you weed out typos.

Doing these things probably won’t bring your book to the same level of a professionally edited book, but if you’re meticulous enough and your story is good enough, perhaps your readers won’t mind.

Have a budget but aren’t sure what kind of professional editing to get? Read ‘Where is Your Budget for Book Editing Best Spent?’

And be sure to check out my free guide, ‘Self-Editing Your Novel‘.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more: liminalpages.com

Sign up to Liminal Letters

Insights into the world of fiction, from the desk of an editor

Editorial considerations, creative revelations and the occasional existential lamentation – sharing my experiences and personal recommendations exclusively with you.