One in a series of articles written by various professionals who provide editorial services.

To Edit or Not to Edit: That Is the Question

by Nicole A. Bentley

Editor-in-Chief at A-1 Editing Service

March 2004

To edit or not to edit, that is the question. And indeed it is. "Why should I have my manuscript edited?" many clients ask? "Why can’t I just submit a synopsis and a couple of chapters to an agent or publisher and see what happens?"

Sure you can, and there’s nothing to stop you. However, keep in mind that these folks no longer employ in-house editors to polish up a manuscript as they did in the “good old days.” Therefore, it is up to you to make your work the best that it can be if you hope to get past the front desk and have the glimmer a chance to have an agent look at your first three chapters and subsequently, the entire manuscript.

An experienced professional editor will focus on:

Punctuation; Spelling; Sentence structure; Good story flow; Plot and character development; Smooth transition of scenes and paragraphs; Use of active voice vs. passive; Proper word usage; Clarity of meaning; Subject/verb agreement Overuse of words or phrases and redundancies; Tight writing

What your editor will NOT do is rewrite your work—unless you are seeking a ghostwriter rather than an editor—because your manuscript must convey your individual voice and rhythm and they should be protected and nurtured. Your editor will always respect your choice to accept or reject his suggestions since it is, after all, YOUR manuscript.

Unless your novel is almost letter perfect, it will have practically no chance of being considered. Having an editor review your cherished work–over which you have undoubtedly slaved and agonized for a good many months or even years—will guarantee you that impartial, extra pair of eyes you need to spot the flaws that you, as the author, are too close to see. And you should do so before you submit the manuscript to the scrutiny of an agent or publisher, not after you have received ten rejections and wonder what’s wrong with your work, which can be pretty hard on a writer’s ego.

The comments we receive over and over again after we complete the editing of a client’s manuscript are often along the lines of “Why didn’t I see that? It makes perfect sense.” Or “I guess I was too close to the project to see that I repeated myself three times to say the same thing.”

Yes, two pairs of eyes are better than one. Remember that family and friends, when asked about the merit of your work, will usually be lavish with praise, and few will have the fortitude to tell it like it is. Also, almost none will be a trained editor who can spot the problem areas that agents or publishers surely will, or suggest possible solutions. Although family and friends will offer well-meant comments freely, they lack the expertise to know what agent and publishers are looking for and cannot give you the edge you need in today’s tough publishing environment.

A good editor is invaluable in spotting problems areas, and if he is doing his job, he will be honest in his suggestions to chop unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs, or even entire chapters, or conversely, to amplify on what needs a bit of “beefing up.” Sometimes the truth will hurt, but that’s what you pay him for and doing less would be unfair to the client who expects the best for his fee.

A good editor is worth his weight in gold, but choose the person carefully. Ask for a sample edit of several pages and a brief critique of ten to fifteen pages. Check out the references and credentials of the firm you plan to employ. Make sure you understand exactly what your fee includes. Look over the qualifications of their editors on staff. You should feel comfortable with the person who will be in charge of your novel and with whom you must, by necessity, develop a rapport. And don’t be afraid to ask for references or ask questions.

If you follow these guidelines, you will have a document you can be proud to offer to agents and/or publishers and a long-lasting relationship with your professional editor for many novels to come. And you will know that you have done your best to ensure that your manuscript may have a chance at being considered by having the benefit of that second, trained pair of eyes to help you reach that goal.

About Nicole A. Bentley

Nichole Bentley is Editor-in-Chief of A-1 Editing Service, and is listed in the Editorial Services section of