Hiring Editors and Traditional Publication – Data Survey

Ok so this is going to be a rather odd, and possibly contentious post about hiring an editor to help you with your unpublished manuscript. I recently ran a poll on the Fantasy Faction website for authors to respond to. In total, 75 fantasy authors responded. I want to be clear about some of the limitations of the data pool that we’re looking at here:

  • 75 is not a huge sample size. It’s not bad, however, given the stark nature of the data. Increasing the sample size would be fantastic and if you have a way to do that then let me know. A similar Twitter poll I ran only received 4 votes.
  • It’s not possible to know for sure that everyone answered truthfully.
  • It’s not possible to know whether anyone was influenced to answer a certain way, having seen how others were responding.
  • I checked every author who claimed to have distribution to ensure that they did. Every author in the 18 counted is with a Big 5.
  • “Distribution” was specified to mean that you could find their books on an average bookshop shelf.
  • This poll targeted fantasy authors specifically and may not have any reflection on other genre writers.
  • There was no way in the poll of determining a difference between authors who would have preferred to self-publish anyway and authors who were determined to find traditional publication.

What I have no data on is authors who have hired/not hired an editor and then both not self-published, and who also have not been published by traditional means.
So, I asked authors to indicate whether or not they had hired an editor prior to publishing or self publishing. These are the results: I have removed three possible results that had zero acknowledgements from this graphic, which were “I have vanity published and did/did not hire an editor” and one result that was “I’m on submission and did hire an editor.” So, the data:
Poll Results

Author Poll Graphs

What does the data suggest?

  • Of all of the authors who achieved traditional publication with a major publisher, only 10% hired an editor to look at their work before submission.
  • Of all the authors who achieved traditional publication with a small press, only 13.3% hired an editor prior to submission.
  • Most self-published authors have hired an editor (more than 90%)

So, this leads on to an interesting hypothesis:For some reason, it would appear that there are a substantial lack of authors with traditionally published books who have hired an editor. This *may* imply that hiring an editor negatively impacts your chance of traditional publication. Why?

  • What if, by hiring an editor, an author is jumping the gun? Is the work really ready?
  • What if, by hiring an editor, an author fails to learn how to self-edit? It’s an essential skill, but is the book being passed off to someone else too early?
  • What if, by hiring an editor, an unwanted creative force is entered into the equation and actively harms the writer’s work?
  • The above may all be nonsense and it may simply be that authors do not think/choose to hire an editor if applying for traditional publication.

I can’t say that I have any answers for anyone on this, but if you’re an aspiring writer considering shelling out money to an editor, then consider that it does not seem to have made any difference to the published authors who responded to this survey – and a cynical reading of the data would imply that actually, there must be many who have paid editors have failed to obtain traditional publication, and very few that did hire an editor to whom it made a difference.

Again, a reminder that this is a small sample size. But it makes for interesting reading nonetheless.

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Published by EdMcDonald

Ed McDonald is the author of The Raven's Mark series of novels. He currently lives in the UK. Find me at www.edmcdonaldwriting.com

3 thoughts on “Hiring Editors and Traditional Publication – Data Survey

  1. To me, it seems slightly more likely that those who are self-published hired an editor after deciding to self-publish, because once you’ve gone that way, you have no one else to do it. Obviously, there are different levels of edits, too: structural edits, copyedits, proofreading.

    I do agree, though, that there is little benefit to a conventionally-published author in hiring an editor. Most purchases are on the basis of a good, compelling story. An editor is unlikely to be able to bring that to a book that doesn’t have it, and a book that doesn’t have it won’t get published no matter how well written it is.

    All IMO.

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  2. This is interesting data, but it begs the question: How long ago did the trad authors make submissions? I know we have some seasoned authors in the Fantasy Faction group. Did they submit their first work in a time before self-publishing was as acceptable or as wide spread as it is today?

    I’m a new author trying to decide what to do. I would be tempted to have an editor go through my work before submitting for trad. Not developmentally mind you, but at least a copy edit.

    However, what I am doing is self-publishing a short story here soon. I am hiring an editor. This short leads up to my first novel. If the first one does well, I will publish more.

    It is my hopes that the short story will either lead to a trad deal or at least make seeking representation that much easier.

    If it does really well, who knows, I may stick with the self-publishing route. It’s an ongoing dilemma.

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    1. At least 50% of the authors who responded as “didn’t hire an editor, traditional publisher with distribution” had been a debut in the last 5 years (and most of those within the last year).

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