Lots of authors I know have a hard time finding an editor because they feel that they want to “know” their editor. This is understandable when you’re entering into a developmental relationship, but copyediting and proofreading are much more technical skills. The best copyeditors and proofreaders I know are freelancers who are hard to find because they’re working for publishing houses, and the only people who have access to them are companies and/or individuals with stables of editors they’ve cultivated over years in the industry. If you find a service (or individual) you trust with access to a stable of editors, be open to being assigned to one. Ask about the individual’s qualifications, and what other books they’ve edited, but let the trial edit be the deciding factor rather than any connection you hoped to have between yourself and your editor.
Additionally, I think that many GREAT, very reputable editors absolutely will not complete a sample edit for free. They can point you to their work, their testimonials, and their references, though, free of charge. And if you’re curious why editors I know do not offer a free sample edit, check out this video to illustrate the point. https://youtu.be/essNmNOrQto
It’s difficult to answer this question without first addressing what an editor actually does. Editors can review the content of your writing (characterization, pacing, plot, etc.), which is often referred to as content editing; the form of your writing (the grammar, the punctuation, etc.), which is often referred to as copyediting; or both. (By the way, proofreading is indispensable, but it’s the final step of checking for typos and other glitches once the book is ready for print—any writer who thinks that proofreading is editing is in grave danger of getting ripped off.)
Good article. I especially like to see mention of the different types of editing. I find that a lot of new writers don’t know this; they get a copy edit and think everything is nicely edited only to discover once they’ve published that people are saying the book needs a good edit. That’s because it needed developmental and line editing as well. I often find that indie books could do with a line edit. I think it’s the most neglected area of editing.
As one person who “woke up and decided since I’m published and an English major, I should be an editor,” I can see your point of being only one type of editor. I’m not a good copyeditor at all and don’t offer my services for that situation. It’s funny that you would say a traditionally published type editor would be better than the independently published editor. I found this to be totally untrue since I have worked with both. My traditional editors from St. Martins Press and Bantam books working a total of 35 years in the industry, was the worst editor of all. My independently published editor/book coach, is the most knowledgeable. So there is a bit of a disparage. It’s not an absolute science, editing.
If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.
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.
Freelance editors normally do not double as literary agents. Not only is it not our area of expertise, but it can actually lead to ethical quandaries. There have, unfortunately, been cases of literary agents saying that potential clients’ work “has potential” but needs to be edited (by them or their employee), for an exorbidant fee. It would also be possible for editors to give the impression that they are guaranteeing publication of a project, when that is something no one but a publisher can do. Many professional organizations forbid their members to combine these two roles, to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
Rates – Most online book editors are freelance editors, which means they set their own rates. Editors may charge per word, hour, or project. Editing is a valuable investment in your book as a good editor can turn your story from meh to amazing! But the highest rates don’t necessarily mean the best editor, and the lowest rates could be wasted money. Definitely take rates into consideration, but don’t select an editor solely on price.

At first, I didn't want to add Fiverr to this list because there are a LOT of editors on Fiverr that aren't exactly a good investment.  But, that doesn't mean there aren't amazing opportunities out there.  Editors like Kerrie McLoughlin, have done an amazing job with their Editor Fiver gigs.  However, if you do decide to go through Fiverr, then ABSOLUTELY use my test to ensure you aren't hiring someone who isn't qualified.
If you know you are sensitive to changes, or that you only want edits that correct what’s wrong (and not subjective edits beyond that), tell the editor so. This kind of information is invaluable, and will prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. That said, don’t suggest this if you’re open to your work being better. Editors will bring your work to a whole other level if you’re able to loosen your grip on any notion that your creative expression is under attack when an editor makes changes to your work. The most successful authors are edited multiple times over.
As for multitasking, believe it or not, I try to schedule so that I am only working actively on one book at a time. Research keeps showing that “multitasking” is actually less efficient, because of the time lost to leaving behind one task to restart another. (Think of it this way: If you take on two clients at once for work that would take one week each with your full attention, either you can tell both clients the work will be done in three weeks because you’ll be alternating between them, or tell one client it will be done in one week and one that it will be done in two weeks, because you’ll complete one before you start on the other. Which of those makes more sense?) Obviously, with back-and-forth communications, sometimes complete “monotasking” is impossible, but I think it should be considered the ideal.
We’ve set up a unique “first chapter critique” service which includes up to 5,000 words (which should actually include 2~3 chapters… or a prologue, preface or intro). This will be an deconstructive developmental edit, pointing out exactly where your weaknesses lie and what you can do to make them better, but will not include a full edit or proofread. We will, however, edit your blurb, bio or query, as long as they fit within the 5K word limit.
Qat Wanders is an author, editor, speaker, and writing coach. She has edited more than 4,000 books and ghostwritten over 100, including New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. After receiving a Master’s degree in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing as well as a Certified Professional Editor certificate, Qat created the Wandering Wordsmith Academy where she trains authors and editors in an online platform. When she’s not busy speaking, writing, or wandering, Qat loves spending time with her daughter, Ora—a published author at ten years of age—and helping others realize their dreams of sharing their messages with the world. To find out more about Qat, her writings, her programs, and her services, please visit WanderingWordsMedia.com.
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.
An edit requires a substantial investment, many times greater than the cost of a book. Editors who spent years as assistants, learning the craft of editing and acquiring the knowledge of how to guide authors, are a safer choice. Their track record speaks for itself; editors at this level have bestsellers and award winners in both the traditional and the self-publishing space.
I am not without sympathy when some new authors get “sticker shock” upon hearing an estimate for my editorial services, and I am actually relatively affordable. (Most reasonably well-written novels would not cost even close to $3000 for me to edit, let alone $5000.) I also offer generous installment plans and discounts for bundled services. But there is a limit to how low I can go.

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.
I hope this helps! Please don’t be discouraged by editor’s rates. Many of them do this full time or to supplement their other income with their business. The quality of service is not necessarily tied to project cost, but hiring anyone who is a contractor or freelancer often means you’re getting one-on-one personalized attention you might not get if you worked with, say, just the editor of a publisher who could see your book as a quota to fill. Just my two cents!
It can take some time to find the right editor, so you may want to start asking around even before you have a text that is ready to send. If you know a fellow author who can recommend someone, that’s wonderful, but if not, it’s fine to poke around the websites of some editors and see who appeals to you (and seems to work within your genre). Then contact them by whatever method they request (often a contact form on their site).
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