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.
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.
Fiction writers may want to join a writers group or workshop to benefit from the help of others who have experience with your genre and can help you develop your craft, challenge flaws in your narrative or character development, and help you improve the overall quality of your story. A flawed plot or character is much harder to revise after you finish writing your book, so it’s important to catch such problematic aspects of your book early on.
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.
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.
#1. ACCOUNTABILITY: Anybody can call themselves an editor these days, but even if they have the right skills, it doesn’t mean they’ll do a good job. I’ve heard too many horror stories of editors who ghosted clients or provided shoddy work, leaving writers out of pocket with no recourse for a refund. We have one of the best refund policies in the industry and take personal responsibility for every project, which means – if clients aren’t happy with the work, we’ll do everything in our power to fix it.
Obviously there is a big difference. I actually started with screenplays (with some mild success) partly due to hearing that as long as you have a good story, the grammatical errors won’t be a big deal. Well, that was not true. Maybe if a producer liked the story or I was already established but every contest I entered always came back with feedback about the grammatical errors. Even if I won or placed as a finalist, I always received critique on that. Very little is spelling error, it was more about structure, etc.