You might hire someone for a proofread, but let the editor know that you’re open to hearing from him or her if the work needs a heavier edit. The editor would need to present you with evidence in the form of sample pages that showcase what’s needed—and your job is to make sure you agree. You want to feel like an editor’s edits are polishing your work and making it shine. If you feel dread or anger, or even if you feel misunderstood, it’s likely not a good fit. At the very least you want to share your reactions with the editor so they can respond or change course.
Really great advice. I just wish editors and proofreaders were more affordable. I find that the cost often dissuades writers from hiring help, even though it’s a really important investment. I like PaperBlazer (https://www.paperblazer.com/hire-a-proofreader-or-editor-for-your-novel/) since it’s more affordable than a lot of other editors. The other comments here are very helpful as well.
I implemented this way of working years ago and see how empowering it is for authors, and helpful for editors to boot. This doesn’t mean you’re asking your editor to do a free sample edit. (I discourage editors from doing this and caution authors who push for it as asking editors to work for free before you hire them may result in resentment.) Paying an editor for a few hours of their time to ascertain whether they’re a good fit for you is a great way to put your toe in the pond before submerging yourself. You can then see for yourself if the editor’s suggestions and comments resonate before moving forward with the whole project.

Well, hopefully, now self published authors can now see that there are a lot of AMAZING editors who can do outstanding work for a LOT cheaper than that list. As for the free editing sample, yeah – so long as the editor has solid proof that they are a legit editor with great credentials, that’s all you need. But if they don’t have that and won’t provide a free sample edit, then there are a lot of fish in the sea and it’s best to move on.
Thanks Sangeeta! I’m glad you enjoy the videos! (New episode, with 3 weird tips on self-editing, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28) Book doctors are such an interesting phenomenon… As are ghost writers, come to think of it. On one hand, self-publishing gives an indie author a chance to share his or her vision with little to no outside interference, but on the other, we’re seeing more and more books written “by committee!” What’s tricky is finding the right balance, which is why the search for the right editor matters so much. Cheers, Teymour For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode:… Read more »

An extensive critique of my first novel led to major changes in the format. I was very fortunate to have an experienced novel writer to give a detailed analysis, with corrections. I did not fully appreciate, at the time how valuable this process was, but do now. You need to acknowledge that there are likely to be inconsistencies leading up to the final manuscript and be prepared to make drastic changes. An editor is attuned to picking up on these, where you have accepted the script , even after numerous re-writes!


That’s a great point about other disciplines. Why should writing require some outside arbiter? Is it because these other disciplines consist in crafts that require significant training, whereas anyone who’s literate can start writing a book at any time (and therefore, the threshold for entering the medium is much lower)? I do hope you’re right about learning self-editing skills. I actually just made a YouTube video about how to self-edit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28
I usually ask for a 10-20 page sample – one page is a bit scant for a really accurate estimate. I’ll do an editing sample, too, but how long I’m willing to make it depends on the proposed length of the piece I’ll be editing. As for the “hidden message” strategy, if I saw something like that, I’d suspect the prospective client was fearful and suspicious and I’d probably run the other way. I willingly provide testimonials, references, and links to published work, so tricks aren’t necessary. It’s important to me to build a professional relationship of mutual trust with my clients, backed up, of course, by a contract that protects us both. I don’t think I’d like to work with a client who plays “gotcha!” Lots of good suggestions in this article, though.
Stephen, you’re right, and I think much of the confusion about editing and its pricing stems from the fact that editors offer a range of services (in addition to a range of experience). It might be best to view editing on a spectrum from broad (developmental) to detailed (copyediting and proofreading). And it’s always best to have as clear an idea as you can about the kind of editing you believe you need.
Due to popular demand, we’re adding a low-cost manuscript review + passive developmental edit to help you find and fix the “cause of death” before you invest in editing or proofreading. You’ll get expert eyes on your manuscript, and while we won’t focus on or fix every little issue, we’ll help you identify the big red flags that are killing your book slowly. These are the places readers will give up and agents will ditch your manuscript into the slush pile. In-depth comments and suggestions will be provided to help you clarify and restructure your book, but this feedback is “hands-off”: we won’t go in and actually make changes, though we will point out signs of weak writing, repetition, and provide tips on how to improve as a writer. If you think your manuscript might be a mess, or you want to focus on the large, important stuff that matters most, this is for you.
When you get that email, particularly if it's your first book, make sure you are well-rested and in a positive frame of mind before you open it. If it’s your first book, the editing process will be hard on your ego, but remember, the editor’s job is to make your book better and help you learn the craft. You are paying for them to give you critical feedback, not to pat you on the back and say ‘good job.'
If neither Sally nor myself feels quite right for you, then I suggest you browse the bookstore or even the public library for books published in the last few years that remind you in some way of yours. Check the Acknowledgments page to see if they thank an editor. If not, see if there is any information to contact the author and ask if they used a freelance editor and if so, would they recommend them.
You also said it’s not fair for self-publishing authors to apply those standards to editors when they don’t work with publishers themselves. It’s one thing for authors to have the right to publish their work and make it available for readers to judge its merits, and quite another for someone to ask those authors to invest in them for their expertise.

Work in house first. That’s the best way to learn all you can about editing and proofreading and make good connections. I have met several people I’ve worked with from hanging out in Twitter and responding to tweets asking for an editor or proofreader, but I have had the most success from business connections I made while working in in house. Other things – a web site, professional associations such as the SFEP and the EFA (though I can’t say much more on these as I am not a member of either yet!), social media.
“I am the self-published author of four novels: both ebooks and paperback. I have used the formatting and book cover design services of the amazing team at Ebook Launch for two of these titles. I’ve found all at Ebook Launch to be patient, incredibly helpful, super quick in delivering, but above all, very professional – and reasonably priced to boot! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Ebook Launch for your next project; these are, without doubt, the go-to-guys for the self-published.”
I have a question… how do software programmes rate in comparison to using an editing service. I ask simply from the point of view as someone with a limited income, who is thinking outside the box for solutions to produce the best polished product I can with the means I have.Will software do a large percentage of the ‘work’ that will then allow an author to use a proof reader or line editor to just do a final check?
Freelance editors normally do not double as literary agents. Not only is it not our area of expertise, but it can actually lead to ethical quandaries. There have, unfortunately, been cases of literary agents saying that potential clients’ work “has potential” but needs to be edited (by them or their employee), for an exorbidant fee. It would also be possible for editors to give the impression that they are guaranteeing publication of a project, when that is something no one but a publisher can do. Many professional organizations forbid their members to combine these two roles, to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
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