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
Are you writing a picture book? A chapter book or easy reader? Is your book for middle grade readers or young adults? You may not know for sure! What age groups will be reading your book? How many words should your book have to be age appropriate? What themes or topics are typically relevant? These are some of the more generalized questions your editor can answer for you.

The Vietnam war is on and our protagonist (me) joins the Navy to avoid being drafted. Ordered overseas, he loses his respect for the cultural norms of his parents’ generation regarding sex, marriage, and the war. Tom is on a great adventure. He also loses his virginity at the age of 19 while stationed in Korea. The narrative is full of shocking revelations about the conduct of that war along with sweet and very personal vignettes concerning Tom’s personal life (nothing salacious, no titillating descriptions of the passionate and torrid sex which occurred). Stories and pictures relating to women in three countries who competed for Tom’s affection. The epilogue reveals that Tom is still married to the woman that won him 41 years ago. They have four grandchildren today. Tom (me) has a positive outlook throughout, enjoys all the challenges and relationships, and is still convinced he has achieved his life’s goal of being a dependable husband, father and grandfather.


I cannot speak for all editors, of course, but I know I and many of us would be open to editing just part of your book at first, say, a particular chapter or two that you sense needs a lot of work. That is often enough to show you mechanical errors that you tend to make repeatedly. You can then go through the entire manuscript yourself looking for as many of the same kind of errors as possible. You will sharpen your basic writing skills in the process, and it will pay off in all future projects.

A very helpful article, thanks! I’ve been trialing editors for my current romance WIP, including industry stalwarts from The Big Four, to freelancers and hobbyists, *budget* options and the gurus who cost a pretty penny. From 9 to 5 I’m an editor myself, so it’s been great experiencing the process from a writer’s perspective. I’ve documented some tips below on what to look for in an editor (and what should send you running) , which you might find interesting.
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.
I keep second guessing myself on things like where a space should go when someone is talking and if I have to keep saying “He said” “She said” etc., over and over. Or Mom vs mom. It goes on and on so I am thrilled to read Trish’s response about hiring an editor for a chapter or two. I would love to do that when I finish before I do a complete rewrite myself. I think that would help save so much time.
There may be provision to have a call to discuss the work, or it may purely be the delivery of a structural report or a line edit or proofread manuscript. I've worked with professional editors for the last ten years and have never had a call to discuss, but if you're the type of person who wants that, then make sure you put that into the contract upfront along with anything else you are concerned about.
Technology may have changed the way books are produced and distributed, but ultimately the connection between reader and writer is one of the most enduringly personal in history. You need to pay close attention to an editor’s manner and decide if the relationship is likely to be pleasant, professional, and productive. Is the editor overly curt or slow to respond to your emails? If the comments in the sample edit are too harsh, how will you make it through hundreds of pages of red-inked barbs? Beyond the financial expense, editing can be an intensely emotional journey; make sure that your editor will be a good travel companion.
When you’ve found someone who seems like a decent candidate so far, make first contact. (The contact form on the website is fine as a first step.) Introduce yourself and state what you are looking for (a developmental critique, copyediting, etc.). Give a very brief description of your project, including its genre and approximate length. Give an idea of your planned next step and any deadlines (even if only approximate ones). For example, have you already signed a contract with a subsidy press for publication next fall? Are you planning to submit the manuscript to publishers and/or literary agents after editing?
One thing is becoming clear to me. Authors and editors have been mistakenly pitted against each other by a self-publishing system that is not currently working. Remember in the scheme of things that self-pub is very new, only a few years old. Twenty years ago, publishers put out a selection of the best and most marketable books. Editors were well-educated and got paid a fair wage. Authors received advances and royalties.
For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
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.
2. Copyeditors aren’t the last line of defense when it comes to a book’s mistakes. Formatting, which is done after an editor has done their job, can lead to unintended errors being introduced into the text. That’s why it’s important to hire proofreaders to comb through edited text *after* the book has been formatted for print or digital. Proofreaders are your last line of defense—but they’re human too.
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