Choosing an editor tends to be a stressful and time-consuming task and for good reason. If submitting a manuscript to traditional publishers, you know how important it is to put your best writing forward in this day and age when publishing houses continue to cut back on editing budgets. On the other hand, if you intend to self-publish, choosing an editor is as equally important, if not more so, since you are going it alone. As I’ve noted in previous posts, it’s best to undergo a content as well as a copy edit.

This year, I will be covering types of editing, understanding editing fees, self-editing for content, the value of beta readers, as well as self-editing for language. Feel free to explore Word Bank’s archive of editing posts. In particular, you may find Developing Your Responding Styles of interest.

Choosing an Editor

The best place to start when it comes to choosing an editor would be to ask for personal referrals from those you know and trust, whether it be writer friends, business owners, or co-members of online groups. Also keep in mind the level of experience of any author you seek a referral from. A case of the blind leading the blind could very well end up in choosing an equally blind editor, and that simply won’t do!

Another option is to go through respected editing organizations that offer services from their members such as the Editorial Freelancers Association or New York Book Editors. Companies offering author services can vary greatly in the amount of personal contact that takes place between the editor and author, so beware. Chances are, a professional and personable approach is what you most desire. If you lack sources for personal referrals, another route is to conduct a thorough search online. The twenty-first century is an exciting time to be a freelance editing professional, and the number of choices can seem overwhelming at times.

Establish Criteria

Budget is always a driving factor, but there’s truth in the saying you get what you pay for. Beyond budget, experience comes into play as well. If you desire an editor with ties to the Big 5 publishing houses, it’s going to cost you. Plus, be prepared to get on a long waiting list. Plenty of moderately priced editors are available and will cross the gamut in levels and types of experience. If seeking an editorial report, it may behoove you to seek an editor with demonstrable familiarity with your genre. For copyedits, seek an editor who enhances rather than detracts from your writing style. Work ethic and personality also come into play, as does the quality and frequency of an editor’s blog posts.

Research the Editor’s Qualifications

The best starting point in exploring qualifications is the editor’s website. While it’s possible to find a referral to an editor who does booming business but has yet to set up a website, be extremely cautious of a highly-recommended editor who doesn’t at least have a thoroughly filled out LinkedIn profile set up. How does the editor describe themselves in their personal bio? What professional editing and writing organizations do they belong to? What is their educational background and level of experience? Have they posted client testimonials? Is a project portfolio available?

Preview the Editor’s Published Projects

When choosing an editor, be wary if they do not post a portfolio of published projects. This could be a portfolio of selected projects or a portfolio of every published project they’ve worked on. Personally, I keep a representative portfolio on this website. A full list of projects can be found on Word Bank’s Facebook page. Does the editor notes the type of editing each project required? Keep in mind also if an editor indicates they performed a critique on a manuscript it may not have undergone a copyedit and vice versa. What genres do they seem most well-versed in?

Read the Editor’s Recommendations and Testimonials

A professional editor will have taken the time to add recommendations and testimonials to their LinkedIn profile and website. These will of course be positive, but what does each client specifically point out about the editor’s efforts? Can you tell what makes the editor unique? Don’t hesitate either to ask for the phone numbers or email addresses of a few clients if you would like to pose specific questions. This is a big investment, so choose wisely. It can also be enlightening to ask an editor to tell you about a time they did something that displeased a client and how they remedied the situation.

Make First Contact

Once you’ve decided on a handful of editors to approach, it’s time to make first contact. This usually takes place via a contact form, though some editors will simply list their email address on their website. Another approach is to use scheduling software where you can pick a time for a complimentary phone or video consultation. At the bare minimum, be sure to include your book’s title, word count, and genre, as well as the type of editing sought. It’s also advisable to briefly summarize the plot, mention any significant editing steps already undertaken, as well as offer a few comparable titles already on the market. Consider sending along your author bio as well with a link to your website.

picture of vintage typewriter keyboard from istock

Narrow Your Choices

Allow for a twenty-four hour turnaround time in allowing potential editors to get back to you on a weekday, and look for a Monday response if contact was made on the weekend. If an editor takes longer than that to respond to an inquiry, it’s generally best to simply move on and stick with the ones who come across as being most on top of things. What sort of vibe do you get from the editor’s reply? Do they ask more about your book or simply dive into possible fees? When would they like to see some sample pages and how many?

Obtain a Free or Low-Cost Sample and Quote

Many editors are prepared to do a free sample edit for potential clients, but a good number will also charge a small fee. Even though a standard certification process for editors doesn’t exist in the United States, do try to be mindful that a sample does indeed take time to complete. In what other fields would you ask for a free sample before committing to a service? If a fee is charged, it should come with the option of being applied to your whole manuscript if a contract for services is signed. At this point too, ask for a quote on the price, turnaround time, and potential starting date.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Editors are generally helpful people, so don’t hesitate to ask for clarification on any matters at hand. Don’t be afraid to negotiate fees either within reason. Based on the sample provided, you might feel the need to ask the editor to not add in so many commas or to be aware that you consistently tend to confuse how to use lay and lie. Some freelance editors will have a style sheet in place for you to review beforehand, and others will follow the standards set forth in a given stylebook, such as The Chicago Manual of Style.

Hold a Consultation

Some editors will want to do a consultation before doing a sample edit. In any case, a phone or video call should be offered. If this is not the case, question why that is. Writers and editors as a whole tend to be an introverted lot, but don’t let that stop you from at least saying hello to the person who will be helping you perfect your creation. A good freelance editor should also take the time to tell you some hard truths upfront regarding their role or about the needs of your manuscript.

Sign a Contract

Don’t ever send any form of payment until a contract for services has been agreed to. A good contract will include a fee and payment breakdown, list of deliverables and due dates, as well as a detailed description of the service being offered. The contract should also clarify what style guide and dictionary is being used. Any contract posed should be tentative with the chance for you to weigh in on anything you’d like changed for areas you need to seek clarification on.

Take your time when choosing an editor. Your book will be so much better off for the effort. While the rush to publish is often strong, don’t be that person who is too impatient or cocky to take the proper measures in ensuring your book is the best it can be. Otherwise, readers will take note of all the wrong things.

What factors or advice would you add when it comes to choosing an editor?  

Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2018. Image Credit: Typewriter Keyboard Vintage.

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