Reach out through an editor’s professional website. Many professional editors offer their services on a freelance basis or use their website to advertise their press’s opportunities. Perform a simple search online using the editor’s name and look for a professional or personal webpage. There will be information about contacting an editor on their website.[9]
Karen, when you decide to hire an editor please make sure you’ve done all you could to make your book the best it can be, don’t take shortcuts. Select your editor with care. I suggest you make arrangements to call several editors, interviewing each one carefully. Have your questions written out, don’t wing it or you’ll forget something crucial. After all, you’ll want to click with your future editor, he or she MUST be a good fit. I believe you cannot separate editing from writing. They go hand-in-hand. That means you have to form a writing team (there is no I in team). Frequent communication is a must. Wishing you all the best… Dennis
If “the greatest benefit of an editor is that he is she is not the author—the editor is someone else,” then an editor is no more than a beta reader, and all authors would need is friends to read their novel and give feedback. I recommend beta reads before a book is sent to me for editing, because casual readers, approaching the story fresh, can indeed find flaws in the book the author is too close to the story to see. But it’s after the beta reads that a professional editor steps in to do her magic. A skilled fiction… Read more »

I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.
“Build my house, but don’t waste time making sure anything you do is done in the normal way things are automatically done (up to code). I don’t need any of that.” Doing things the way they are automatically done does not cost more, and it doesn’t take more time. On the contrary, trying to do it in some other fashion—making up a new way to do it—would take more time. Furthermore, the results would probably be a disaster.

I have heard so many horror stories about editors and experienced a few myself. If an author is uncertain about an editor, most editors will do one sample chapter or 10 pages (whichever comes first) for free to give the author an idea of their style. Edits can be very intense and I would encourage authors to listen if they keep hearing the same things about their work from different sources. That said, they also don’t need an editor who is so brutal they never want to pick up a pen again.
Inspect the spine of the book and look for a smaller name under the author. Turn the book over and look at the spine—the thin side of the book where the pages are bound to the cover. If there are multiple names on the spine of the book, they are always ordered with the author’s name first, and the editor’s name after it. On most books, the editor’s name will be smaller so that a passerby can quickly tell who the author is.[5]
Whether you’re just starting out, or you’ve been writing for some time, it’s no secret that the most successful writers specialize in a niche. Why? Focusing on a niche helps you become an expert in that area, write better content, ask better questions, and know where to find sources and research. The best editors typically specialize in one or a few niches for similar reasons.
Call or write to the publishing company the editor works for to see if you can talk to them. You may be able to reach an editor directly by asking to speak with them at work. Send a formal letter or place a friendly call asking to speak with the editor. Ensure that you’re able to articulate why you want to speak with them ahead of time by practicing the conversation.[10]

I say “most of your desired criteria” because it’s rare to find an editor who will meet all your criteria. For instance, you may have to pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars more for your top pick. Or, you may find someone at your precise price point, but their experience isn’t quite what you’d like it to be. You must be the one to assess what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

If you’re a first-time author and have never hired an editor before, I would not recommend hiring an editor without first getting a sample edit. An editor can have a great resume and speak eloquently on the phone, but the real test of their skills is how they edit your book, and the sample edit is a quick, free way to find out. It’s standard for a freelance editor to offer a free sample edit unless they are exceptionally well-known.
Hm, I’m a longtime freelance book editor and have a few thoughts to share. I think one page of editing is not enough to gauge much, and that you should be able to get a sample edit of 10 (double-spaced 12-point) pages from a potential editor. You’ll have a better idea after a complete chapter has been edited, and you should have a contract that allows either you or the editor to opt out cleanly at various stages. Another thought: sometimes authors don’t know what level of edit they need, and a good editor can assess this based on reading a few pages of your ms. and spot-checking the remainder. Also: a lot of book editors (like me) work primarily for publishers rather than for individuals. It’s just easier. I know I’ll get paid, I don’t need to educate publisher clients about the process itself, and they send me regular work, so we get to know each other’s needs and preferences. Lastly, I wouldn’t really expect a newcomer editor to be able to handle a booklength manuscript very well (I was that person once — eek). If it’s someone really new, they should have had good training somewhere imo. Book editing is a technical undertaking. It’s also about knowing what to leave alone. Inexperienced people often tamper with authors’ work unnecessarily. Anyhow, I’d be happy to answer any questions.
I immediately noticed upgrades to certain passages that had hung me up. There are quite a few spots that I had rewritten over and over again but felt they were just not quite right and you seemed to find them all and make them flow perfectly in no time! I am very excited with the new work that you have placed before me. Again, excellent work and thanks. Looking forward to continuing to work with you!
As a book editor (PhD in Literature) who’s now writing fiction, I thought I’d add my comments, which are these: 1. You need an editor who is going to fix the story; the writing doesn’t matter all that much, the story dictates whether or not readers will be satisfied and ultimately how successful the book is going to be. For that reason, sample edits aren’t all that helpful – they tell you how editors can improve the line-by-line. Does the editor know how to plot a novel? Satisfy reader expectations, which differ for each genre? Read “StoryGrid” to better understand… Read more »
A good editor is worth their weight in gold. Myself, I’m a frugal person, so I do my own ferocious self editing. I once belonged to a writers group, and the material the members submitted for critique made me cringe. Their story ideas were good, but were full of unnecessary adjectives, numerous misspelled words, run on sentences, and they had their characters grunting, snorting, huffing and puffing. I would spend time editing and when I gave back the material, the people were offended. I figured these people were looking for praise and not the truth.

Stephen, I’m not sure what you mean by “time wasted matching a style guide.” Any professional editor of trade books knows the Chicago Manual of Style well and as a matter of course automatically makes changes that are in line with it. What you said is akin to “They waste time correcting spelling errors.” They’re not wasting any time; they’re doing their job and it’s a basic and automatic part of that job.


Thanks Derek and Jane! To add one more thought, I think where we all agree is that the writer can’t get up from the operating table (this analogy is getting gruesome…), thank the doctor and walk away. The perfect recipe would include: an incisive (pun intended) editor, and a resilient, driven writer. By the way, Derek, I’m thrilled to have this conversation, as I’ve enjoyed your writing for quite some time (recently I loved your piece on Tomorrowland). Cheers, Teymour Shahabi For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28
A professional editor will not only help improve your manuscript, but they should be able to provide guidance for you as a writer to help you improve your writing skills. A great editor will tell you what areas you should be focusing on to improve—things like using the right point of view (POV), avoiding filler words, writing dialogue properly, character development, and more.
Of course, my c.v. does include traditionally published books, but in those cases, I was hired (yes, on a freelance basis, which you would not “count”) by the publisher rather than by the author. The reason my marketing to authors instead emphasizes my experience with self-published and even vanity press authors is because working with a publisher is different from working directly with an author, particularly with an author who has made a conscious choice not to be traditionally published. Some might even say that working within a publishing house provides less preparation for working with self-published authors than does working with other self-published authors. I, however, would not go so far as to say that, because I really do believe we can come to our profession by different paths, just as people can come to writing by different paths.
Although many writers talk about having friends, family, and old college professors help them edit their work, that’s really not the ideal way to go about the editing process for a book or short story that you plan to publish. A professional editor with years of experience and training in your market or genre can provide valuable feedback and advice that goes far beyond simply correcting spelling errors, typos, grammatical errors and usage errors.
I was recently directed to your excellent article from almost a year ago by a colleague at SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a freelance literary editor of memoir, poetry, and novels, I offer authors guidance and support similar what you describe, but of course I cannot handle editing every genre. I was gratified to know that I’m doing the right thing by sticking to my specialties. By coincidence, someone who reached out to me last week on LinkedIn was looking for a children’s book editor and one of your readers in this conversation recommended one. That reminds me… Read more »
And a word of warning. The Editorial Freelancers Association, mentioned in this article as a potential source for finding an editor, does not vet its applicants. Anyone, including “self-proclaimed” editors, can join. As stated in the membership guidelines: “Any full- or part-time freelancer may join EFA.” It is basically a listing of freelancers offering services online, and for a fee, members can have access to a job board. While some legitimate editors list themselves on the EFA, so do a lot of other people. Membership is by no means evidence of professional qualifications.
In fact, Pressfield writes, “Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
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