If you’re new to the possibilities that hiring an academic editor can provide for your writing, let me be the first to say “Welcome!” If you’re a scholar in the arts or humanities, you’ve come to the right place.
Like correcting any habit, the first step is recognizing there’s a problem that can be solved. We are here to help.
Do you even need an editor?
Many academics don’t recognize that there’s a problem in the first place—perhaps you’ve been sent here by an advisor, journal editor, or publisher. I’ll be the first to tell you that writing can be an innate talent, but for most of us—even those with talent—it takes work to perfect. A lot of work.
You may be stellar at some aspects of the process—expressing your authorial voice, handling difficult interview subjects, or navigating complex research problems—but the world of writing has many thorns. Just because you’re good at one thing doesn’t mean you don’t need some assistance with the rest. We all can’t be good at everything.
All writers, myself included, can use a good sounding board and a second pair of eyes. Going to colleagues for this can be tricky: you might be afraid of having your ideas stolen (it’s happened to me!), you might not want them to know what your weaknesses are, and, like everything in life, you get what you pay for. Unless your colleagues can expect something from you in return for reviewing your drafts, you might get unhelpful comments and revisions. In short, they might do a crappy job.
While hiring an editor is an additional cost, it can (likely) be written off as a tax-deductible expense related to your job. Of course, you should check with your tax professional if you’re not sure, especially if you’re based outside of the US.
The Reader’s Advocate
However, the single most important reason that you should hire an outside editor for your project can be summed up in the definition of the role of an editor: we are here to serve as the reader’s advocate. With every project that I approach in my professional capacity, I must consider what the reader will see, how the text will be read and understood, both at the sentence and the manuscript levels.
The best way that I can illustrate this for you is through punctuation. Many writers (including myself before I became an editor!) use punctuation aurally. When you read the sentence to yourself, either out loud or, more often, in your head, you place punctuation marks where pauses appear in speech. “I paused here, so that must mean I should add a comma.” Still other authors use punctuation visually, placing the marks so that they look appropriate on the page. I have a feeling that many of us artistically inclined folks fit into this camp.
Hire an Advisor
Editors, on the other hand, are highly trained in grammar and mechanics, instead breaking sentences into their syntactical parts and thereby neither privileging an auditory or visual responding reader. We place commas where they are grammatically necessary. While many authors find this to be quite “by the book,” at least in my eyes, this method opens the writing to a much broader audience, thereby making your writing much more accessible.
Editors can also serve as trusted advisors, providing you with a review that’s much more detailed and outcome driven than an academic colleague. Unlike peer reviewers, freelancers are working for you, and not at the behest of the publisher. We do not pressure you to incorporate our own publications into your cited sources, nor do we attempt to influence your writing based on our own political positions vis-à-vis the academy (or otherwise).
We want you to succeed. We want you to publish more. We want to help you craft the strongest argument possible and get your ideas seen.
As someone who has recently reviewed the work of many would-be editors, I can also attest that there is a wide range of quality in terms of editorial professionals out there. Just because someone has edited a few dissertations or graded thousands of student papers does not make one qualified to be a copyeditor. Believe me. I have seen the proof firsthand in editing samples.
When choosing your editor, consider the following:
1. Does this person have subject matter expertise—Will they understand the language you’re using to express your ideas and be able to empathize with your intended audience?
2. Can this person work on the type of manuscript you have?
3. What kind of product can you expect to receive from this person, based on their education and training?
4. Is this person professional and can you expect them to perform the service they’ve been asked to do in the timeframe you need it done?
5. Does this person have a track record of happy clients?
I’ll be the first to admit that the more affirmative responses to these questions you have, the higher the cost is probably going to be. However, that said, you can rest assured in the quality of the editing, professionalism of the editor, and their ability to help you attain your goals, which, at least in my humble opinion, is the entire reason you’re considering hiring an editor in the first place.
How to Choose an Editor
You may be asking yourself whether you should also consider your editor’s own publication history when making your decision. Yes and no. It really depends on what you’re hiring them for. More publications will certainly help a book coach to better advise you on the process or a developmental editor to help you craft an argument to get your article accepted by a journal.
However, copyediting and proofreading are not necessary skills for published authors or even those who deposit their own dissertations. Usually these tasks are performed by publishers, outsourced to inexperienced “editors,” or not performed at all. Writing a text and editing a text are two different faculties; one can be a great editor—the best—and not necessarily be the most evocative writer.
So, if you want it done right the first time, my advice is to hire someone with professional qualifications, a loaded track record of successful projects, as well as intimate knowledge of your subject area.
For arts and humanities writers, you’ve got an excellent selection right here.
About the author
Cara Jordan is chief editor and president at Flatpage. She has spent her career editing academic and artists' writings, primarily as a developmental editor and copyeditor. She received her PhD in art history from the Graduate Center, CUNY.