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.
I've done four covers through Ebook Launch for two different series, and they've knocked it out of the park every time. In one case they were creating brand new covers based on a high-concept mashup idea. In another, they were following in the footsteps of a different designer, who'd already established the look for an existing series. Both times -- whether coming up with something totally new or sticking to an established style -- they did fantastic work. I love my Ebook Launch covers!
Good article. I especially like to see mention of the different types of editing. I find that a lot of new writers don’t know this; they get a copy edit and think everything is nicely edited only to discover once they’ve published that people are saying the book needs a good edit. That’s because it needed developmental and line editing as well. I often find that indie books could do with a line edit. I think it’s the most neglected area of editing.
#2. YOUR BEST BOOK: nearly every other copy editor or editing service focuses on the writing and the mistakes. They will improve the flow of the words and sentences, and they will make it better, but they won’t fix the major problems with content. Our editors have been trained in the Write Good BooksTM method to make sure your book is commercially sound and will resonate with your audience on a deeper level. For nonfiction we focus on branding, credibility, trust, so your readers will take action and see results. For fiction, we focus on universal story telling principles, plot structure, dramatic tension and suspense, and world-building. Because a clean book isn’t always a good book.

Amazing post, Dave, and definitely an important topic. My first book I used one of the larger “editorial agencies” you mentioned. The quality wasn’t bad but there was no direct contact with the editor. Just ship it to them and they ship it back. I’ve tried out several editors now and found a very good one who did a great job on my list book. Once you find a good editor, stick with him/her and build a relationship if you can. Thanks for the list provided and this editors test is a great addition.
A good editor is invaluable when starting out. Later on it perhaps depends on how complex the story or writing is. Editors can be looking for similarity not originality. The final script a poor representation of the original story or article. An article of mine, which was picked up by Wikipedia for its originality and informative ideas was given forty edits from around the world! It was like a mechanical invention rather than an interesting article in the end!
You draw distinctions that use idiosyncratic definitions of some fairly standard terms. For example, Chicago defines the terms “manuscript editing,” “line editing,” and “copyediting” as synonymous with each other, and none of them as synonymous with “mechanical editing,” although that is one element of them. Certainly, I agree that an author has a right to expect more than merely mechanical editing unless that is specifically what they have requested. However, I cannot agree that the only route into competent and appropriate freelance editing is internal employment within a publishing house, and that the only clients who should be counted as a relevant part of a freelance editor’s curriculum vitae are those who are traditionally published.
I just published my fourth ebook novel recently and I've used Ebook Launch every time with very satisfactory results. They always promptly turn around the cover and manuscript formatting - and as an added bonus, they always promptly and happily answer even the stupidest questions I come up with. Adrian is very easy to work with and Dane has repeatedly come up with cover ideas when I was fairly sure that it couldn't be done.
Lots of authors I know have a hard time finding an editor because they feel that they want to “know” their editor. This is understandable when you’re entering into a developmental relationship, but copyediting and proofreading are much more technical skills. The best copyeditors and proofreaders I know are freelancers who are hard to find because they’re working for publishing houses, and the only people who have access to them are companies and/or individuals with stables of editors they’ve cultivated over years in the industry. If you find a service (or individual) you trust with access to a stable of editors, be open to being assigned to one. Ask about the individual’s qualifications, and what other books they’ve edited, but let the trial edit be the deciding factor rather than any connection you hoped to have between yourself and your editor.
I would add the suggestion to be prepared for the editor to request a look at the manuscript (not just a short sample) to prepare an accurate estimate. This has been my practice for some time, and it allows me to provide a flat fee for the entire project. This makes budgeting much less complicated for the author, although of course I am willing to bill by the hour if preferred.
Editing is one of those skillsets that many people claim to do well but which few actually do. And while it’s probably the most important service an author can solicit (second only to book cover design), it’s often undervalued. Furthermore, most authors have no idea how to assess an editor’s work, and the result can be catastrophic, ranging from an editor who introduces new errors to an editor who changes the intention of your writing.
I have taught college preparatory English, writing, and grammar, for the last 18 years. My experience as a teacher makes me uniquely qualified to edit works for fluidity of thought and content, accuracy of grammar, and clarity. As a teacher, I have become a master communicator. Paying attention to detail is a requirement in the English field and something I have mastered.
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.
There seems to be something half-way between beta-reading and development editing. I think it’s right for many new writers — I’m just finishing my first book, and was not about to pay a real development editor, but beta readers weren’t engaged enough (especially friends unwilling to point out the negatives). But it this kind of editing doesn’t really have a clear name.
An edit is a business transaction. This means that money will exchange hands. Therefore, you need to approach the edit as both a writer and a businessperson (an increasingly common role in the age of self-publishing). Compare the deals you’re offered. Editors with brand-name backgrounds might offer less user-friendly terms (such as hourly rates, which are less predictable than fixed contracts), while less established professionals might offer discounts and extras (such as book formatting and publishing consulting). Don’t be afraid to ask. Hiring an editor is a professional investment. A sample edit will allow you to estimate the value of the service, but never forget about the price.
That said, I don’t recommend going to publication, particularly if your book is intended as a revenue-generating venture or as a vehicle of professional promotion, without making sure that someone with an eye for detail has gone through the entire manuscript and ruthlessly noted every typo, every spelling error, every misplaced comma, and every ambiguous sentence.
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