I’ve posted several questions here recently asking for advice on how to write better. The responses I’ve gotten have been invaluable to me, and I’m becoming re-invigorated about the idea of writing. However, due to the nature of this site, it’s incumbent upon me to figure out what questions to ask (e.g. where the problems are in my writing) and post them here to get feedback. In many cases, however, I don’t even see the problems that are obvious to others, so don’t know that there’s even a question to ask, let alone how to ask it.

I’ve read some about hiring an editor, the different types of editors, and what each might do for you and your work. As is appropriate for professionals with a particular skill set, editors don’t come cheap. My understanding is that, for a novel-sized work, I can expect to throw down a couple thousand dollars to get the help I need. As an amateur author, I can’t afford this. Even if I could afford to invest the money into the work, and presuming that I ended up with something people wanted to read, the chances of my self-published work getting enough traction in the market to overcome the editorial investment seems slim.

So, beyond relying on well-intentioned friends to provide feedback on your writing, what free or inexpensive editorial resources are there that are of decent quality and provide feedback on a whole body of work rather than author-provided snippets? Am I asking for a unicorn, something inexpensive that’s of a certain quality level? I’m familiar with the aphorism that there are three qualities of something available: fast, cheap, and reliable, and you get to pick two of them.

The tips I’ve picked up from other questions I’ve asked will keep me re-writing my partially-finished novel for months, but sooner or later I’m going to need to look for whole-work feedback.

  • 2
    These existing posts might be helpful to you: Where to find Beta Readers, and Where to post work for feedback. Personally, I've always been fond of Critters...
    – Standback
    Oct 14, 2018 at 5:49
  • I joined Critters some years back, then got sidelined because I wasn’t producing enough (or something; I don’t remember the rules precisely). I’m still on their mailing list. I should re-address the resource and see if I qualify to join the main fray again.
    – J.D. Ray
    Oct 14, 2018 at 15:35

2 Answers 2


Join a writing group.

This is much better than using friends because everyone commits to reading what you wrote and commenting on it, because you're doing the same for them. It also makes you actually sit down and write. My group meets about once a month and 3 of us present one month and 3 of us the next month (so we each present every other month).

It may take a while to get a groove with the people in the group but it can help a lot with seeing large structural problems, chapter issues, character issues, etc.

Hiring an editor is also useful (my husband used one for his first large work) because they can help you figure out the market and how to approach things for that (but is less useful if you're not in a specialized market). He found one that only charged in the neighborhood of $300 for hours of work. But she was not his first attempt at hiring one.

But for a novel that isn't in a rare genre, I'd go with the free option: the group. I found mine when someone posted about it on Nextdoor (which is a free online posting place all over the US and maybe in some other countries too).


A professional editor for your entire novel will run you in the range of 500-2000 dollars. There are levels of editorial assistance from developmental to line/grammar. I'm not aware of any free editing services as you describe because it takes hours to get through another person's manuscript.

(However, some editors will give a ten page sample edit for free, if you are looking around to hire an editor (as I am.) These sample edits pick up on blind spots that may not have come to your attention through amateur feedback. One such piece of feedback that I received was that my setting details were only pulled in when they were convenient to the characters, but that such details would also be inconvenient to the characters. I had been so busy focusing on the characters and their goals that I lost sight of the settings and 'actions' around them that would impact their arcs (except when it was convenient!))

You will want to leave hiring an editor (if you choose to) for the final step before publishing in the case of self publishing. You will not likely recoup your costs (i.e. most self published books do not sell well enough to cover that cost).

In the case of trade publishing, an editor is usually provided by the publisher. But, very few written novels are picked up to publish traditionally. So few, in fact, that hiring an editor before finding an agent/publisher may increase the odds of finding an agent/publisher. I don't know. A good number of trade published novels don't earn out their advance.

The numbers are not great.

But you asked about free editorial services on a full length novel:

Reviewing another person's novel (swapping novels with them) is a good way to learn. They give feedback, and you read theirs and see first hand what sorts of problems exist in amateur writing. I've only read about five such unpublished novels and each has its own strengths and weaknesses--but there are common issues. One can then extrapolate, for example, that such an issue might be present in one's own work and look for those problems.

Reading published novels in your genre and outside of it as a writer is a good way to begin to see how common problems are handled.

Several non-fiction books on How-To write novels are fantastic.

Tons of blogs online for any given topic on writing.

These options are free--find a beta partner and/or go to the library and/or surf through the blogs.

There are multiple critique sites online, some with beta swapping functions.

Write, read, write, read. The 'how to' books are actually more helpful than I expected and you can drown yourself in blogs.

  • 1
    My concern with swapping is that if my writing is poor, what do I have to bring to the table as an editorial reader? But thank you for all the suggestions, I’ll consider them all.
    – J.D. Ray
    Oct 14, 2018 at 15:40
  • 1
    I've found that despite being a beginner writer at the time I first started doing critiques, not only could I still provide useful feedback, I actually learned more about the faults in my own writing by seeing those same faults in somebody else's writing than i did by receiving feedback on my own work. Don't worry about experience - everyone has something to offer, and its easy to find writers who'll be interested in what you have to say.
    – Jules
    Oct 14, 2018 at 16:17
  • @J.D.Ray you can start on an online group that critiques excerpts. You can read through a bunch, respond to one or two, look at what other people say, decide if you agree or disagree, and start with a critique that says what you like about an excerpt. Your views may or may not agree with others but that isn't the point. I often have views that are different from others (look how differently Amadeus and I edited your passage.) The point is to learn, which you will, and the more you take on through various approaches, the more you find a rhythm that works for you.
    – SFWriter
    Oct 14, 2018 at 16:25
  • 1
    I hang out on a writing forum with a "workshop" sub-forum that has writers ranging from those who are still fuzzy on the mechanics, to those that are working on deeper issues. The general idea is that everyone has something to contribute, even if it's just their reaction as a reader rather than a writer. Judging from your writing samples in your various posts, your writing is good enough to make you a useful commenter on both the reader and writer levels. Oct 14, 2018 at 18:40
  • 1
    @J.D.Ray It occurs to me that I'm hesitating because one place where I hang out discourages links, but I've never seen that policy here and it's not my site. So, it's Writing Forums, the 'org' one rather than the 'com' one. There's a number-of-days and number-of-posts requirement before you can post for critique, but they're not too bad. Oct 15, 2018 at 17:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.