Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

Should I hire someone to edit my manuscript before sending it out to agents? If so, do I want an editor or a writing coach?

It never hurts to have another set of eyes on your manuscript before you send it out for consideration. Readers are an important part of the revision process and can help you see weaknesses you’re not seeing on your own. Writers go about finding these readers in different ways. Some will exchange work with other writers they trust to improve their manuscripts. Other writers who are looking for structured guidance, or who may not have the good fortune to have helpful readers in their life, might hire someone who works in this capacity. If you go this route, finding the appropriate person can seem overwhelming. How do you know the person is reputable? How do you know if the person will understand and work with your intentions? And with all those titles out there—writing coach, instructor, editor, proofreader, book doctor—how do you know who to call?

Start by clarifying what you need. Do you want someone who will help you strengthen characterization, work out plot tangles, and comment on believability? Or do you want someone who will only clean up the grammar, catch typos, and correct misspellings? Once you determine your needs, start your search. People who do this kind of work use many different titles and offer different levels of service, so make sure you are clear on exactly what a particular organization or person is offering, so you don’t end up disappointed.

Begin with reputable writing organizations to see if they offer such services or if they can recommend people who do this work. And ask your writer friends for recommendations. If you come across someone who seems to fit your parameters, but still aren’t sure, ask for recommendations and contact those former clients to ask about their experience.

With longer projects, like a short story collection or a novel, start with an initial consultation of just one story or one chapter. That can give both you and the editor a sense of how well you’ll work together. If it’s not a good match, either of you can bow out gracefully.