Embarking on the journey of writing a book is a thrilling adventure, filled with moments of brilliance and bouts of uncertainty. One question that every new writer grapples with is: When is the right time to hire an editor? There is no one right answer; there are many moments in your journey to publication when the perspective of a trusted professional editor can move you forward. Here’s how editors can help at various stages of your manuscript’s development.

1. The Ideation and Outline Stage: Conceptual Development

Surprisingly, one of the most advantageous times to engage with an editor is right at the beginning of your writing process, when your book is still a budding idea and your outline is taking shape. This early collaboration can help you refine your concept, ensure your ideas have a coherent flow, and identify potential challenges and opportunities in your outline. This proactive approach not only saves you time in the long run but also enhances the quality of your manuscript from the very start. Perhaps most importantly, an editor who is well-versed in the marketplace can help you find a unique and compelling angle for your book to increase your chances of commercial success, and this is a square-one creative decision best taken at the project outset.

2. The Writing Stage: Book Coaching

Writing coaches specialize in helping authors clarify their vision, set realistic goals, and develop a structured plan to navigate the writing process. A book coach’s insight can help you stick to your deadlines and get the manuscript finished, but more importantly, they can help you become a better writer along the way. A good book coach will identify what’s working in your writing and encourage you to lean into your strengths while offering advice where there’s room for improvement, whether that’s in the flow of ideas, your argumentation, voice, storytelling skills, and more. It’s like having a personal trainer for your writing practice.

3. When the First Draft is Complete: Developmental Edit

Once you’ve completed the first draft of your manuscript you are ready for the next phase—developmental editing. This is big-picture editing that deals with structure and content. Expect your developmental editor to help you ask and resolve questions like: Does the book deliver on its intended promise? Is the progression of ideas clear? Are your claims well supported? And, crucially, is it an engaging read? It’s not uncommon for the book’s chapter structure to change at this stage. Typically, the developmental edit is delivered in the form of an editorial letter and comments inserted into the manuscript, which you then implement as you revise.

4. When You’ve Taken Your Manuscript as Far as You Can: Substantive Edit

In the substantive edit, your editor works directly on the manuscript in a hands-on line edit, cutting and condensing overwritten material, recasting sentences to improve their flow and comprehension, and suggesting insertions to make your transitions, beginnings, and endings more powerful. They may also insert comments to ask for clarity or flag statements that require more explanation or evidence. You’ll know you’re ready for a substantive edit when you’ve done all you can in the developmental edit and are struggling to improve the work on a closer level.

5. Before the Manuscript Goes into Production: Copyediting and Proofreading 

Many novice writers use the terms copyediting and proofreading interchangeably, but in professional editing practice, they are distinct. Both deal with fixing errors (rather than developing ideas and stories), but they happen at different times. The purpose of copyediting is to eliminate grammatical or spelling mistakes before the words are put on the page. The copyedit is also the stage at which consistent style is applied and can include making discretionary edits on a word and sentence level. Proofreading is done only after the pages have been typeset. It’s the last chance to catch typos before the book goes to press.

6. When You’re Ready to Invest in Your Writing

Deciding to hire an editor is a significant step in your writing career, symbolizing a commitment to your craft and a willingness to grow. This readiness isn’t just financial; it’s also about being prepared for collaboration, feedback, and the work required to refine your manuscript. For many new writers, hiring their first editor is the turning point when they begin to truly take their project—and themselves—seriously.

As you can see from this article, there are many points when bringing on a professional editor can enhance your work, from the embryonic stage of your book’s concept to preparation for publication. The best place to start is wherever you get stuck first.

At Wonderwell Press, we believe this collaborative partnership between author and editor is a cornerstone of successful writing. Whether you are early in your writing process or polishing a complete draft, consider how an editor’s guidance could be the key to unlocking the full potential of your work.

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