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.
Software and Systems – Some of us writers like using certain types of writing tools or software. I personally love to write my books using Scrivener, and will then switch to Google docs for better tracking systems. However, I've run into editors who only use Word document. That's no bueno for me. So, make sure they are good with whatever writing programs you want to use.
This is basically like the “Quick Kill” service – or proofreading on steroids, and again we’ll hack, slash, rewrite, fix, tweak and improve anything we can, but this time we won’t comment on the bigger picture, and we’ll really hone down on the little details, eliminate repetition, trim the writing, and make sure everything is as good as it can be.
We may be talking about different services. I’m referring to a full read that usually creates a 5-10 page edit letter–no in-line editing. Or, perhaps we’re just working in different corners of the market. I’m around those who are freelance editing pre-query for writers hoping to traditionally publish their genre fiction, not the kind of rigorous editing a self publishing author would need, which should rightfully be much more expensive! It’s true that most people doing freelance editing at the lower rate/rigor aren’t doing it full time. It’s an optional step for those traditionally publishing, and the prices reflect maintaining access for those writers, I believe.
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.
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!
The other thing I really like is your breakdown of the types of editing available. That’s what I find needs to be explained the most. Especially in business editing, you get scenarios when someone thinks a document needs “a proofread”, when it really needs a copy edit or even a heavy line edit, and you have to justify the cost or the time it takes to complete it.
I do developmental editing mostly, so I charge a flat rate to read once and build an action plan, half before and half afterwards. Then we contract to work through the plan, where the bulk of the editing takes place and for this I charge 25% up front, 50% after the developmental edit, and 25% on completion of the final proof. I find that authors appreciate the spread payments and the transparency this brings.
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.
Even if a book is well-written, and even if it’s been edited professionally, success isn’t guaranteed. Publishing success is partly about branding and design, partly about getting in front of readers so they can start reading, and mainly about whether you satisfy their expectations and over-deliver on genre conventions. We want to do more than simply editing or proofreading your book. We want to help you make sure readers love it. But the sad truth is, most submissions we receive are nowhere near ready to publish, and are suffering from common but easily avoidable first-time author mistakes. How does YOUR book measure up?
Work in house first. That’s the best way to learn all you can about editing and proofreading and make good connections. I have met several people I’ve worked with from hanging out in Twitter and responding to tweets asking for an editor or proofreader, but I have had the most success from business connections I made while working in in house. Other things – a web site, professional associations such as the SFEP and the EFA (though I can’t say much more on these as I am not a member of either yet!), social media.
The single most decisive factor should be the quality of the edit itself: Will this editor help improve your book? In order to assess this, nothing beats a sample edit (even if you have to pay for it). Testimonials and credentials (such as experience at a major NY publisher) can help you narrow your list, but you should submit the same sample to a variety of editors and compare their work side by side. Some editors will push too hard, and some won’t push hard enough; some will simply “get” your writing, while others will seem to speak another language entirely. In my experience, the editor’s résumé is far less revealing than the quality of the sample edit. In fact, the higher an editor’s pedigree, the more reluctant the editor might be to provide a sample edit. Don’t be afraid to insist: no one should expect you to invest in a car without a test drive!
Preparing a manuscript for publication or for your dissertation committee is a challenge that all academics must face. But who really wants to spend hours aligning page numbers or putting a reference list in the correct style? Make life easier with formatting services from an experienced scientist that understands the challenges of academic writing!
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.
Look at the front and back of the next page for acknowledgements. If an author worked closely with an editor throughout the writing process, they may choose to include their name in the acknowledgements page. The acknowledgements page is usually a few lines of text centered on a blank page after the copyright information. Read it to see if the editor is mentioned.
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.
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.
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Send a letter or email to the author of a text and ask them. If a book is self-published or printed by a smaller press, finding the editor can be tricky. The author of a book will be sure to know who edited their work though! Perform an internet search and look for an author’s website or personal information. Most author websites have a contact tab with information on where to send a letter or email.
Anyone wishing to pay someone 500 bucks to read their book just so they can be given a short and unhelpful overview is arguably getting what they paid for. Naturally, self publishers and the like can’t really justify the amount they’d have to spend on a real editor of story structure, but it still baffles me that these so called developmental editors exist. That is, unless they have a follow up service after the fact that is actually worth it.
This is great advice, Val! Thank you for sharing. I’m a freelance editor as well. I agree with the advice about giving a newbie a shot because I was a newbie freelancer four years ago, with newbie rates because of being a newbie. But I had already been editing for five years in-house and at professional competence level, so my early clients got a bit of a bargain from me!
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!
Thank you, Blake. I am past the point of undercooked. I’ve had beta readers, I’ve rewritten dozens of times, had an editor look over my MS twice, and believe I’m ready to take that leap. Unfortunately, and this wasn’t mentioned, most writers will never be satisfied with their work ‘as is’. I tinker and add. It’s difficult to find the balance between making it better, and messing with the core integrity. Even JK Rowlings is known to do this in her head when she’s reading one of her novels in front of an audience. This fear has held me back for years, despite my three years experience as a freelance writer for a local magazine. I’m scared I’ll miss a comma and it’ll be thrown in the slush pile.