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.'
Not that I’m not looking forward to seeing the author’s work. I am. Seriously, I am! Book editing, despite the sticker shock first-time authors often get when they hear the estimate, is not a profession anyone enters in hopes of getting rich. I truly love helping a writer make his or her work the best it can be, and I’m always eager to get started. But I realize the task of writing takes time, usually more time than the author (even many an experienced author) expects.
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.
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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.
Developmental editing (may also be called structural or content) – looks at the book’s big picture and overall structure in nonfiction or plot and characters in fiction. Developmental editors may assess a book idea, outline, or early draft to tell authors what works and what could be better. The big picture questions need to be answered first before an editor ensures your words are polished and used correctly.
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.
Editors work in a highly collaborative way that brings out the best version of any project, large or small. It is important to note that editors are not only skilled in technical grammar rules but are also often well-versed and experienced with a wide variety of writing styles that can often bring valuable feedback and new perspectives to a written piece, enhancing its structural or creative clarity. Many editors in the modern work environment are also by nature talented communicators and can reshape any message into one that grabs readers’ attention and draws them into the content. Explore the multitude of freelance editors available on Upwork and find one that best fits your next project.
Moreover, the casual distinction between a (developmental) “editor” and a “copyeditor” can be a bit simplistic, particularly in a self-publication or even vanity-publishing context. A self-published author may barely have the budget to hire one editor, so that editor needs to be able and willing to blur the lines between developmental editing and copyediting. The editor must also be accustomed to working with authors of a variety of strengths and weaknesses, including many whose work would not, in fact, have been accepted by a commercial publishing house in its current form. I have come to take great satisfaction in taking a new or newish author by the hand and helping them find ways of making their work the best it can be. Of necessity, this must include line-by-line correction of grammar and style (often a surprisingly great amount of such correction), but can rarely be limited to that.
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.
Another online editing service is Scribendi, which has over 300 experienced and educated editors. They've been around a long time. With this service, you decide how fast you want the book edited and how extensive the edit should be, then they match you with an editor. You don't ever actually meet the editor, but rather work through their customer service team. Their prices depend on your requested turnaround time and word count. You can get a free quote here.
A place you can post your job and hire freelance editors. With nearly 60,000 editors on the site, however, it can be a daunting project to find the right editor. To narrow down the candidates, you could make a detailed project description with required skills, language competency, and portfolio requirements. This should help eliminate unqualified editors. You can also include a random requirement like “Respond with ‘Hey, Jedi!’” in to find those detail-oriented editors who actually read your entire post and follow directions.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
After researching a lot of different designers, I went with Ebook Launch for my debut novel because there wasn't a single cover in their portfolio I didn't like. I didn't know exactly what I wanted, but I knew what I liked and what I didn't like, and they took my mishmash of half-formed ideas and turned it into a beautiful, eye-catching, genre-appropriate design! Not only that, but they were speedy, responsive, and accessible. A real pleasure to work with. I will definitely be coming back to them for the rest of the covers in the series.
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?
Hi Kerrie. Thanks for pointing that out. You’re right, there are some good ones on Fiverr. Me personally, I haven’t had good luck with it – actually quite rotten luck with it. However, in a hope to not deter people from Fiverr, but make sure they understand that “anyone” can just sign up to do it, they should be weary of it – but definitely not discard it. So, I’ve made some edits above 😉
In addition to the individual editors listed above, the Reedsy marketplace is full of vetted professional editors for every editing level and genre. They screen their editors and only allow the best of the best to be listed on their website. I'm a BIG fan of them because they have made the process easy for me to find the best book editors, book cover designers, and even writers to help me with my projects. Talk about awesome!
Awesome book designers with a superb professional conduct. I've worked in marketing and advertising for over 20 years. I'm used to working with awarded creatives. When it came to designing my book cover, I wanted to make sure I worked with someone that had a knack for editorial design. Designing a book cover and the interior of a book might feel easy but, believe me, it's an art in itself. Since I started sharing my book cover, the only reaction I got where those full of awe. The quality of design and service was amazing. If you don't hire these guys you are either not publishing a book or you live on another planet.
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.
Note: On the spreadsheet, the editor’s total cost will be automatically calculated once you insert your total word count and the editor’s per-word rate. If you’re given a per-page rate, you can calculate a per-word rate by assuming the industry standard of 250 words per page, e.g., $3 per page equals $3 per 250 words. Dividing 3 by 250 equals $.012.
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.
First, decide whether your time or your money is worth more to you right now. You can greatly reduce the amount of money your project will cost by investing more time, and vice versa. If time is no object, you may want to spend some hours in the library reading style manuals and going through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb so that when you do hire an editor, (s)he will be able to zip through it quickly. If you end up deciding that’s more effort than you want to invest, then you will at least find the monetary cost of hiring someone to do it for you a less bitter pill to swallow.
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?
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Trish – I agree with your replies to this article and Carol, I agree with your comments too. And while I disagree with some of Natasa’s points, a sample edit is definitely good advice, not only for the writer, but also for the editor to ascertain what type of editing is needed. Many new, inexperienced writers still ask for a ‘proofread’, only to discover what they actually need is a developmental edit. I also agree with Natasa’s point that a good rapport is crucial. As to the suggestion that an editor shouldn’t be working on seven to 10 books per month, well, I never work on more than two (although I do fit in other small projects for regular business clients – they break up the working day and help me to refocus). I don’t know how anyone could work on such a large volume of books effectively — or at all — unless they were very short books!
After doing your homework to find the perfect editor, you might discover that the person with the most experience and rave reviews also charges the most for their services. If you don’t have piles of cash to pay a top-ranked editor for your first book, consider giving a newbie a chance. You can find affordable editors on the Freelance Writer’s Den job board, social media groups for self-publishers, and online platforms like Upwork, or Reedsy.
It is not the best option. A program will never beat a good editor. The only thing I suggest is that a writer uses a program to help as they work or write. This helps make your book cleaner and causes less effort on the editor – making them happy and if done well enough, could cause your rates with the editor to stay lower or low. If you have too many issues, an editor may demand more.But if you just cannot afford an editor, then the best way is to use a program, and have you do a full read through, and have someone else (friend) do a full read through…and the more the merrier.
Ebooklaunch rocks! I have published with HarperCollins and Chronicle Books and I am such a fan of Ebooklaunch. Anyone looking to create a stand-out book cover and a beautifully formatted book should stop right here. They are so creative, responsive, and supportive, and they make the whole scary prospect of self-publishing completely doable. The response to my cover has been fantastic. I can't recommend this company more highly.
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.