This question gets asked a lot in writing groups—
I plan on going traditional. Do I really need to hire an editor?
This is a grey area. There is no “yes or no” response to it. So here are somethings to consider:
Traditional publishing is a numbers game. An average agent/publisher (A/Ps) receive over a hundred queries a week, and some A/Ps receive hundreds a day.
Is your manuscript (MS) able to stand up against MSs from others who had their works line/copy edited?
Does your MS have novice mistakes in the first couple chapters that make it more likely to get thrown into the bigger slush pile than the smaller one? (You want to be in the smaller pile.) These could be redundant words, padding the action, etc. These mistakes are not the same as the ones I’ll mention below.
Does your MS start strong or did you do a little too much fluff in the beginning? A good editor can tell you when you’re being too wordy and to cut the fluff to make for a stronger start.
Working with an editor and making necessary changes prior to submitting shows that you can work with professionals. A/Ps can tell if a story has had a basic edit to it—It’s okay. They want to see what you’re capable of, but at the same time, they need to see that you are serious.
A/Ps expect some issues, but if your MS has more issues than someone else’s, whose MS do you think they might settle with—The person whose book needs less work or the one that needs more work?
To overcome that work difference, your story must be amazing, captivating, able to make a professional ignore the issues and be consumed. Does your MS do that?
Did you make novice mistakes that show that you don’t take your craft seriously? Example— Did you punctuate dialogue correctly? Are multiple people talking in the same paragraph? These issues are different than the issues mentioned above. These are mistakes that make a work look sloppy and the writer look rude/uncaring/uneducated. These mistakes make A/Ps think you are wasting their time. You won’t make it through the gate-keeper who trashes most of the MS that come in.
Just like in publishing, a well edited MS has a better shelf life for submitting. It doesn’t become “was the MS that bad, query letter not right, synopsis weak, and did I query the right publisher for the right fit?” If it’s well edited it becomes “This story just hasn’t found the right publisher yet …” Of course you might need to tweak your query letter and synopsis to fit the A/Ps, but it isn’t an issue of the MS as much as your marketing to the correct A/Ps for it, and that becomes obvious if you’re submitting query/synopsis and getting immediate rejections and no request for x-amount of pages.
I used betas …
Betas are the cross section of your target reader. That doesn’t make them qualified to be a guideline for what A/Ps are looking for. Betas may be behind the curve as far as trends, they may not be able to be objective, they might lack experience in what is correct among other things.
The best way I can describe this is so everyone can understand it is chefs vs people. A chef (A/Ps) know the correct way to get the best out of a food (MS). Everyone eats, but does that mean everyone would be a good beta for a chef? No. The same goes for stories. Someone can be an avid reader of a genre and still lack the skills you need for a good beta.
If you decide to hire an editor, check out these posts—