My business coach Jim Newcomer asked me this question last week. He was trying to get me to think of ways to pitch my services to potential clients, which makes total sense. But the truth is, questions like this make me mildly uncomfortable. How can I tell anybody else what the cost is to them?
But what I can do, I realized, is think about this question in relation to my own writing. What does it cost me to not hire an editor?
Because hiring an editor is something I have yet to do. Partly because I'm fortunate enough to have the skills to do a lot of my own editing, and partly because I just plain don't have a lot of money to invest in those services right now.
But, so, yeah. What does it cost me? Here are a few ideas:
1. More errors.
This is probably the first thing most people would think about when they think about editing. I know that by the time I've reached a nearly-final draft of a story, I am reading what I meant rather than what's actually on the page. A copy editor is more likely to be able to see what's actually there and help me fix the typos, wrong words, etc.
And, frankly, missing these kinds of errors may have a bigger impact--people may take my writing less seriously. It may be rejected for publication or, if I'm self-publishing, readers may get fed up with the errors and stop reading.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, in order for me to edit my own writing I need to set it aside for quite a while before I have the distance necessary to be able to see the holes in it and catch some of the errors in mechanics, inconsistencies, typos, etc. If I hired an editor, I could get projects done a lot quicker because this other person's fresh brain would be able to see these things and call my attention to them so I could fix them.
3. Writing that is less rich.
Or is wordier than necessary. Or doesn't exactly hit the right tone. Or that contains cringe-worthy sentences. A good line editor will make suggestions to tighten up the language, make richer word choices (including things like using action verbs), keep a consistent tone and smooth out unclear or awkward phrasing. I can do some of this on my own, but it really does take an outside perspective to help me see how another person might read my work.
4. Writing that potentially has silly gaps or inconsistencies.
I may not notice that my character seems to have magically changed clothes during the scene or that it seems to have taken from sunrise to sunset for my character to eat lunch, but an editor--someone who wasn't in my head during the writing of that scene--certainly will, and s/he will point it out to me, and I will thank him/her.
5. Never really figuring out what my story is about.
This is happening to me with several of my stories. Stories that I really like and really, really want to submit. The problem is that I don't know how to revise them because I can't figure out what they're actually about. I need somebody else to tell me...or at least to make a few insightful observations that point me in the right direction. Only then can I make these stories the best they can be. What I've had to do instead is set these pieces aside until--at some undetermined point in the future--I can either see it for myself or I can finally afford to hire an editor. Hmm.
But probably the biggest cost to me--the thing I most value and most regret--is...
6. Missing out on a learning experience.
Working with an editor isn't just about making a particular piece of writing better. When I work with an editor, I learn new ways of thinking about writing that inform my future writing projects.
The clearest recent example I can think of is actually from my own work editing for a client who writes fiction. One of the things we talked about regarding her first manuscript was the need for clear internal and external conflicts that bounce off of each other. And when she sent me her second manuscript (different project) you know what I noticed? Clearly defined internal and external conflicts! And also that the second manuscript was rooted in scenes and action rather than flashback and internal monologue (something else we'd talked about)! In other words: I noticed that my client had taken what she'd learned from working with me on her first book and applied it to her next project. So cool!
So what's your answer to Jim's question? What's the cost to you of not hiring an editor?