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“Do I need a professional editor?”

This is perhaps the most ubiquitous question in the writing community. When someone finds out they are a writer, they immediately want to know whether or not they need a professional editor, or if they can get by without one. Here’s my spin, no prisoners taken.

1.) The writer in question is asking if they’re a genius or not.

Yeah, I said it. When you ask whether or not you need a professional editor, you’re asking if you’re like everyone else, or if by some miraculous accident, you have ascended to the realm of the gods who write only one draft.

People asking whether or not they need a professional editor are asking, “So, I know that Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and F. Scott Fitzgerald needed professionals to edit their work, but is there any chance that I’m the magical unicorn that can just be like, ‘Nah’?”

No, there is not.

I’ve said this before to artists, “Assume you’re not Shakespeare. You’ll accomplish more that way.” When it comes to how to existentially approach a craft, it’s probably gonna work best if you assume that all the rules apply to you, that you are exempt from nothing, and that you are not the magical miracle story that your friend told you last week of some dude who wrote a 3-year New York Times bestseller in a weekend while high on shrooms.

Sheer numbers suggest that you are not the savant, so just get ahead of the curve, assume that you aren’t, work hard, develop good habits, and yes, get an editor.

2.) But you don’t need a professional editor. 

So, seriously – you don’t need an editor. If you have little interest in selling a lot of books, having your books widely read, having them published in journals or taught in schools, or being on the New York Times bestseller lists, then you don’t need a pro editor.

And I don’t mean this in a snarky, “Well, if you can’t hack it, kid, you just can’t hack it” type of way. I mean it sincerely. If your goals legitimately don’t line up with some of the things stated above, or if you’re comfortable with the level you’re performing at and don’t need more than you have, then you don’t need an editor. It’s true.


I would like to be a widely read author who makes a living on it because people choose to give me money in return for my art. And that means that I need a professional editor.

And you can’t be more presumptuous than to want all that, and think no one needs to check your work.

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[Photo Credit]


Photographer: Nic McPhee