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.
Val, thank you, lots of good stuff here, and it’s great to suggest giving a credible newbie a try. As an encrusted oldie, I can say that it’s sensible to deal with a niche/specialist editor, but sometimes editors have broad experience in both fiction and nonfiction writing (I’ve written and edited a good deal of both), and thus can edit with confidence across styles and genres. Thanks for a sound, thoughtful post.
Before we explore what you ought to be looking and asking for when you hire an editor, let’s talk about you, the author of the work, for a moment. On the one side are authors who, in response to an editorial query questioning the reason a particular scene was included, immediately suggest ditching the whole thing. On the other side are authors who will fight editors to retain even the slightest word changes. Before you embark on an editorial journey, ask yourself which side you fall on, and then own this truth and be willing to share it with the person you hire.

There’s a big difference between editors who point out your weaknesses and come up with solutions, versus those who give general advice that doesn’t go anywhere. One author who kept getting generic feedback from editors that amounted to, “It’s good, keep writing,” ended up with a 215,000-word tome. The weary man finally found an editor who was able to show him how to cut the manuscript in half and tighten the plot.
All points well taken, Derek. (To be fair, Teymour does address the different levels of editing.) I’d add that, as far as the surgeon analogy, even the best editor can’t fix a mediocre story. Some stories are dead on arrival and no amount of resuscitation is going to help. Also, an editor might be able to fix some things, but the “patient” also has a lot of work to do after the operation is done.
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.
In Frank’s situation, I would lean toward the first option of getting a written “developmental critique” or “manuscript assessment.” While a sample edit would be helpful in determining whether this person would eventually be a good choice as an editor, I believe the critique on everything written so far would, for most authors, be the most useful for making course corrections before completing the manuscript.
Developmental Editing helps you fine tune the sequence and the order of your book. Have you presented the information in a format that makes sense to the reader; does each piece of information build upon previous material? If you’ve had a few people read drafts of your book and they’re confused, you need developmental editing. A developmental editor may even be able to help you uncover features in your work that will create a powerful experience for your readers.

Hi Jay. Ironically, most editors lament our meagre earnings in comparison to the skills, qualifications, ongoing professional development and expertise required to do our job well. Most of us earn a lot less than tradies! We also tend to hesitate when providing a quote, knocking the price down as we fear the prospective client will think it’s too expensive. I advise writers to start putting money aside well before they are ready to hire an editor, and to hire the best editor they can afford. If cashflow is a problem, I allow clients to pay by instalment rather than in lump sums. I also give discounts to students and NFPs. Try to hire the best editor you can afford – hiring a cheap, inexperienced editor whose first language might not even be English is basically money down the drain. There are plenty of editors out there, so make sure you select carefully. You want someone who will make your writing shine, and help you to become a better writer – which should pay dividends in the long run.
There are different levels of editing—developmental, copyediting, and proofreading. I’ve found that authors are often willing to pay good money for a developmental editor, someone who walks by their side and helps to shape the book, but when it comes to copyediting and proofreading, especially if and when an author has had a developmental editor, suspicion arises as to the value or merit of these more drilled-down types of edits. Don’t let this be a blind spot; they’re important—on par with a developmental edit for sure.
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?
I’d add that for UK writers, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Directory is the best place to search for editorial professionals. Each editor has been vetted for professional competence through the Society (you have to be assessed to become a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member), so it’s a pretty trustworthy source: http://www.sfep.org.uk/directory/directory.asp
I used Ebook Launch to format my first book, a novella entitled His or Her Betrayal for both ebook and print, and I was happy with my results. They are very professional and get the work done in the amount of time that they tell you. I just submitted my second book Love, Lies and Heartbreak, which is a collection of short-stories for them to format for print and ebook as well. I'm sure I won't be disappointed in their work. They are my permanent source for formatting my books. Thanks so much for your great work guys!!
The job board is NOT a big reason to join the Den, especially if you’re a new writer. It’s a higher-end board that doesn’t post any low-priced gigs, and is a good resource for mid-career writers. But in general, the board is a real sidelight to the point of joining the Den, which is to access 300 hours of training+, 24/7 forums for support, live events where you can ask questions of experts, and more.
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.
Perhaps there is some misunderstanding of the phrase ‘developmental editing’ used in this article. Given the number of hours necessary to process, dissect, and reconstruct a text of that size, it sounds like anyone who charged that lowly is doing the job for fun and has a spouse to provide for them–all the while devaluing the work of people who do this for a living. It’s really not ethical.
– Many self-publishers need less specialization. I sought an editor — mostly a copy editor, but also this is the only person who could tell me if I ramble in a particular chapter. I couldn’t afford a full dev edit, but I think I’m typical in wanting an editor who will tell me what my friends wouldn’t, and maybe switch hats for small sections where it’s needed.
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.
Thanks, Jessi. Everything you say is true, but for anyone reading this and feeling anxious about the EFA, I’d like to put in a good word for the organization. Established in 1970, they’ve been around for much longer than the current self-pub/e-book revolution (so: not a fly-by-night company), plus they exhibit at major events (BEA, AWP, etc), where you can meet some of the editors in person. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with their members and recommend them on my resources page.
Genre – If you’re a nonfiction author, your best bet is to choose editors who understand the structure of good nonfiction books; they know what works and will keep readers happy. If you’re a fiction author, select a fiction editor who is passionate about those stories and knows what readers of your genre are looking for. Choosing an editor within your genre is especially important for developmental editing.
OUR EDITORS are confident, calculated, experienced and ruthless. We tend to look for people with at least an MA in Literature and 2 years of full-time book editing experience, but will also give editors a chance if they’ve edited at least 10 books and can provide references from happy clients; or if they’re successful authors themselves who have published several books.
Developmental Editing helps you fine tune the sequence and the order of your book. Have you presented the information in a format that makes sense to the reader; does each piece of information build upon previous material? If you’ve had a few people read drafts of your book and they’re confused, you need developmental editing. A developmental editor may even be able to help you uncover features in your work that will create a powerful experience for your readers.
Contact the publisher directly by phone or email. The publisher’s website and contact information will likely be printed at the top or bottom of the copyright page. If it isn’t, you can look it up online. Contact the publisher by calling or emailing them to ask about a book’s editor. Publishers keep detailed records on each of their texts, so if anyone would be able to find a book’s editor, it would be them.[6]
I held the role of blogger and web content writer for a multimedia entertainment company before transitioning to freelance work. I have assisted many clients on projects ranging from product descriptions, to blog articles, to content editing. My areas of expertise are in science, fashion, travel, and yoga. I have also edited over 50 eBooks and can provide professional book descriptions.

Unlike most other basic “proofreading” packages, ours includes copy-editing where needed, light revision, rewriting and improved word choice, as well as a one page summary of some big picture issues that can be improved. If we see something that looks bad, we’ll fix it – but we won’t wrack our brains trying to solve bigger issues like plotting, character motivation, story architecture, etc.
Regarding your last question, I know of no editor who gives a money-back guarantee for occasional errors that happen to slip through or for a different opinion by a later editor. I’m afraid such things are just the nature of the publishing beast. But by having a shorter portion edited first, you will get a decent feel for whether someone is the right editor for you, and will be able to be confident in his or her work on your entire book.
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