Choosing an editor: 8 things to know
It might seem odd that an editor is writing a post about how you should choose an editor, but it’s really not. I might not be the best editor for you; that’s for you and me to figure out. The cheapest editor on the web might know exactly what your book needs (not likely . . . no guarantees), or the most expensive one you can find might have the perfect vision for your book’s development. Maybe, maybe not. That’s the tough part about choosing an editor—you can’t be objective. You have to consider personal things like your vision for the book, your interaction with the editor, what you think of the editor’s edits, and more that I will discuss.
I’ve already edited my book. Why do I need an editor?
Your editing isn’t good enough. That’s as simple as it gets. You might have wonderful sentence structure, and you might have gone through your book twenty times, but what you know about your book limits what you can identify in your manuscript. It’s easy to overlook something you wrote because you know what it means. It’s easier to miss a plot hole because you know your story so well, you fill in the gaps without realizing it.
You’re too attached to your book, and it’s unfair to you and your book if you deny it another pair of trained eyes. The fresh eyes will notice things you can’t, not because you’re incompetent but because you lack the ignorant perspective.
I’ve written about the revision stage, part one of which can be found here. If you’ve gone through all seven parts, you might think your writing has been thoroughly revised. You might be right, but that series doesn’t cover everything, and again, you don’t have that ignorant perspective that would allow you to find things a reader wouldn’t understand, know, or care about.
I’m an editor, and I wouldn’t dare publish a book without hiring an editor. All editors should have that mindset because it’s true. We’re at fault with our own writing and aren’t able to identify things an ignorant perspective can.
So, now that we’ve covered that, how do we get on with this editor search?
1. It’s all about you
Before even typing “editor” in a search engine, you need to know what you want for your book. If you don’t and you want an editor’s help, keep reading. But for those who have a completed manuscript, the first thing you need to know is what you want readers to take from your piece.
Consider the following:
- Why did you write your book?
- What do you want readers to take from it?
- What vision do you have for your story? Your characters?
- What genre is your story? Does it fit your editor’s interests?
- What type of editing do you need?
- What POV are you writing in? Third person omniscient? Limited? First person? If you don’t know, click the link to visit the respective articles.
I’ll be honest and say my vision might not match yours, but then it might. This is why you need to be able to answer those questions and more before contacting an editor. If you can’t answer these questions, you’re handing your editor a blindfold and asking them to put it on you and walk you through the woods to the best hiding place they can find. I might like the mossy cave, but you might hope I take you to the cave behind the waterfall. Think before you act.
2. Searching for an editor
This is important. If you make a lot of money and don’t care about the big numbers, this might not apply to you. But, if you aren’t specific about what you look up, you’ll receive editing sites that will charge a big bill because just typing the word in a search engine brings up ads and sites that have thousands of daily customers. That means long waiting times, high demand (which means high prices), and all that fun stuff.
My favorite suggestion is word of mouth. Otherwise, look at specific sites: KBoards, Indeed, Reedsy, Goodreads, Editorial Freelance Association, etc.
You’ll find one. I promise. But, ask fellow authors, too!
Look up multiple editors. It’s perfectly okay to decline services if you don’t think the editor is right for you. Don’t accept a proposal then say this, but when you start your search, receive a few sample edits from multiple editors.
You’ll also want to consider credibility. I’m not going to go into detail with this one because there isn’t a specific, mandatory certification needed. Some writers might want an editor with a master’s degree or a copyediting certificate. I personally think credibility requires quality first and credentials to back it up, but I’m not unrealistic.
3. Editors should have reviews!
Yes, this is mandatory. If your editor’s website doesn’t have reviews, ask for a previous client who is willing to talk to you about them. Personally, I think reviews should be on the website, but I’m not saying you should run away if they don’t have them there.
Reviews also allow you to see what kind of editing they have done for previous clients, what clients like best, what they might not have liked, etc., so you can address anything you might want specific help with when you contact them.
4. What is your budget?
Here’s the monetary side. I won’t lie and say editing is affordable. I know I said up top that the cheapest editor could be “the one” for your story, but the cheapest editor is free, and I will deny it if you try to blame me. Don’t choose that to acknowledge out of everything I say.
That said, pick a number. Be realistic. Figure out how much you can invest in your book and talk to the editor. If they have their prices on their site, and if they charge per word, do the math yourself. That will be an approximate price. Some editors charge a little more than the per-word amount if the manuscript needs more hours put into it than their price estimates, some only charge by the hour, some by the page, etc. Look at the prices, ask questions, and don’t hold back any questions you might have. You want to know what you’re getting into.
5. Look/ask about their process
For example, I request ten pages for a sample edit for books (not novellas or anything smaller). I edit them and return them with my notes and edits almost as I would if the client had accepted a developmental editing proposal. In my notes, the specific service used is identified and all edits are tracked (as they should be) so the author can determine what route they want to take.
All editors have a similar protocol. Ask about it or read about it on their site. If you know how they do things, you’ll know what to expect. My advice: MAKE SURE THEY OFFER SAMPLE EDITS.
I’d say you wouldn’t want to buy a cake without knowing what it tastes like, but you would and cake is a lot cheaper than an editor. However, if one cake brand offered samples because a representative offered it, would you rather buy the yummy one you just tasted or the new one still in a box that you only know about because of the picture on the box?
6. Respect them, and respect yourself
Understand this: Your editor is not your employee, you are not their month’s rent, and neither of you are just names and faces. This is a partnership. Editors are people. Respect your editor. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t look for one, for their sake. I’ve written a little about respecting your editor, though that article talks about editing for yourself. 🙂 That’s a good one to read before sending your stuff to any prospective editor.
7. Revision is not a fast process
This should be under the subhead “Respect them, and respect yourself,” but you should understand this. If anyone says they’ll get your manuscript edited in twenty-four hours or even a few days, inquire. Be skeptical. Ask questions. Or don’t do it. I’m not saying this is a trap. I’m saying you need to ask so you don’t fall into a trap. I have yet to hear about editing traps, but I don’t ask around, either.
The editing process is not fast, and keep in mind your editor doesn’t work on your manuscript for fourteen hours every day. They have their own schedules and such. If they don’t mention milestones or updates, ask them about it. If you want something, always ask. Let your partnership include open communication. But don’t expect to receive your manuscript sixty hours from the moment you send it if the proposal said it would take that long to edit. It’s not going to happen. Not without an insane amount of caffeine and an oddly sane mind. Or insane. Who knows what that requires?
If you have a time frame, tell your editor.
8. In the end, the decision is yours
Remember that editors (usually) track changes. When you receive your manuscript, you choose what you keep and what you don’t. It’s your job to realize you will most likely see a ton of red and a bunch of notes. Expect it. Apply what you agree with, ask questions about things you don’t, but know that it’s your decision in the end because it’s your book. Don’t you dare hit that “accept all” button because you might lose something you needed. An editor might have a vision for your story that seems to match yours, but you still know your book better than they do. You did write it, after all.