How To Choose An Editor

Choosing an editor is an important part of the writing process but it can be daunting. How do you know which one will give you the best feedback on your book? Looking for the super cheap one is certainly tempting but there are other factors that you definitely need to take into consideration.

Friends and Family? Maybe not.

Your English teaching friend might not be your best choice.  Friends and family may not have the courage to tell you exactly what they think of your “baby” or the errors that may be lurking within. They will often tone it down to preserve the relationship. You need more feedback than “yes, I liked it.”

This is different than asking your family, friends, or even your writer friends for their feedback. A good editor knows that you have to put out your best work and will go over it with a fine-tooth comb multiple times to find errors.  Ask yourself, would I rather hear it from a professional who is committed to delivering back a clean manuscript or from my Aunt Jane who teaches English but just tells me grammar and punctuation to fix (but not plot holes!) and leaves me wondering if it’s really going to withstand the publishing process and the reviews of my readers and critics? Some of those critics will leave snarky reviews and you want someone on your side equally tough to leave as little as possible for them.

Ask For Recommendations

Do your research.  Talk to fellow authors. Ask in social media communities. Most editors have their own websites detailing their credentials, policies, rates, and reviews.

Match Your Genre

Find an editor who edits in the genre you write in. If you find one that does academic textbook editing, they’re probably not going to be a good fit for your science fiction romance novel. 

Compare not only rates but also services and time

What this is going to cost you is always a key consideration but don’t forget to take into account what you’re getting in return.  Compare not only rates but services too.  Copyediting rates are different than developmental editing and proofreading rates. (Copyediting is sometimes referred to as Line editing.) Editors may have minor variances in what specific things fall into which category but on the whole, they are three separate categories occurring at distinct times in the writing process so make sure you’re comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Also, be sure to look at turn around times.

What To Look For In A Good Editor or Proofreader

  • Keeps communication open and responsive- they let you know they received your work (you shouldn’t be wondering if it went through) and did not have any trouble opening or saving it. 
  • Responds in a timely manner to emails- some editors (myself included) do not necessarily interrupt their work every time to respond to email. Editors get into “the zone” where things are just flowing effortlessly too! I have set times during the day that I will check and respond to email. However, no answer at all or taking days to respond is not acceptable.
  • Dependable- deadlines are taken very seriously in this line of work.  Sometimes an editor’s schedule is very full and tight and with 2-3 jobs (or more) in various stages going at once so if they’re not going to make a deadline, they should communicate that to you ahead of time. 
  • Doesn’t sit on work- You may not see work done right away, depending on the editor’s workload but a good developmental edit does not happen all at once in week four. I prefer to work in Google Docs because that allows for real-time editing with the author.  They can accept or reject my suggestions right away and we can chat about different issues that come up.  I can see the author writing instantly and offer suggestions/corrections right away.  It’s as close to sitting in the same room huddled over the computer and discussing all the details as you can get.  
  • Knows their area of expertise and uses appropriate references- Merriam-Websters, Chicago Manual of Style, Gregg Reference Manual.  There are many good reference manuals out there.  Some will even conflict or directly contradict each other.  A good editor will have some of these and be very familiar with them. They will also be good researchers (although not necessarily part of their services).  I’ve had manuscripts with Old English, Sioux, and children’s book characters sprinkled throughout. A good editor will be flexible and do some research, if necessary, to do your novel justice. Your editor shouldn’t be expected to learn Sioux but your stylesheet will help them greatly in checking that phrases and words are used consistently. 

Tips for Success in Working with an Editor or Proofreader

writers arm resting on the desk with a laptop in front of them and a notepad and pencil next to it
  • Make sure you’re sending your best draft.  You may still be in the developmental stage and need help with what’s there already but neaten it up as much as you can. You may not be great with spelling and grammar.  I completely understand that but do your best to hand me the neatest draft you can.
  • Create a style sheet. An editorial stylesheet helps ensure consistency in your manuscript.  It includes unique spellings, colloquialisms unique to your locale or culture, place names, character names, and anything else. Develop one as you write to ensure consistency as you go along. That gives your editor (and everyone else in the publishing process) a headstart on figuring out who, what, where, when, and why.
  • Be sure you understand their policies and processes. For instance on document type, some editors only do .docx while others do .docx and .gdocs.  On payment, some require half up front and half when done. Others require 10% up front or the whole payment at the end.  Some editors will take 4 weeks on a developmental edit and others can do it in 3 but it costs more.  Just make sure you know what’s expected on your end of things.

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