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.
Definitely not unreasonable, Frank. However, you have a couple of options. Rather than pay for a full developmental edit on what you have written so far, you can ask the editor to do a manuscript assessment – which includes a detailed written report. An MA is usually done for a fixed price based on the word count. Alternatively, you could ask the editor to do a sample/developmental edit on one chapter only. Using track changes, they can go through and make edits and comments. It’s good that you are already thinking of hiring an editor before you complete the MS. It will help guide you with the other 40% and revisit what you’ve written so far, so that once you are finished, the MS will be in much better shape for the next stage of editing.
I have heard so many horror stories about editors and experienced a few myself. If an author is uncertain about an editor, most editors will do one sample chapter or 10 pages (whichever comes first) for free to give the author an idea of their style. Edits can be very intense and I would encourage authors to listen if they keep hearing the same things about their work from different sources. That said, they also don’t need an editor who is so brutal they never want to pick up a pen again.
An extensive critique of my first novel led to major changes in the format. I was very fortunate to have an experienced novel writer to give a detailed analysis, with corrections. I did not fully appreciate, at the time how valuable this process was, but do now. You need to acknowledge that there are likely to be inconsistencies leading up to the final manuscript and be prepared to make drastic changes. An editor is attuned to picking up on these, where you have accepted the script , even after numerous re-writes!
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.
It’s time to choose your children’s book editor! Go with your gut here. You have already learned how to find a qualified children’s book editor, and narrowed down your choices using the tips in this article. The last step is to choose the editor that seems to have the best grasp of your personal needs. At this point, feel confident in making choosing your editor. You’re ready to move onto the next step of realizing your dreams and finishing your children’s book.
Great article, Blake. I often receive ‘undercooked’ manuscripts from writers. Two other points come to mind: 1) Budgeting for an editor is important. You should start putting some money aside for editing fees whilst you’re still writing your first draft (preferably tuck it into an interest-earning account!). 2) Don’t leave it too late, either. Often writers don’t realise that editors are booked up several months in advance. Start contacting editors whilst you’re still at the self-editing stage or have your MS with beta-readers, to find out what their availability is.
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.
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As a book editor (PhD in Literature) who’s now writing fiction, I thought I’d add my comments, which are these: 1. You need an editor who is going to fix the story; the writing doesn’t matter all that much, the story dictates whether or not readers will be satisfied and ultimately how successful the book is going to be. For that reason, sample edits aren’t all that helpful – they tell you how editors can improve the line-by-line. Does the editor know how to plot a novel? Satisfy reader expectations, which differ for each genre? Read “StoryGrid” to better understand… Read more »
Of course, my c.v. does include traditionally published books, but in those cases, I was hired (yes, on a freelance basis, which you would not “count”) by the publisher rather than by the author. The reason my marketing to authors instead emphasizes my experience with self-published and even vanity press authors is because working with a publisher is different from working directly with an author, particularly with an author who has made a conscious choice not to be traditionally published. Some might even say that working within a publishing house provides less preparation for working with self-published authors than does working with other self-published authors. I, however, would not go so far as to say that, because I really do believe we can come to our profession by different paths, just as people can come to writing by different paths.
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.

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

Editors are an integral part of content generation at any level. A quality editor is responsible for the final, polished look and feel of any written content produced by a client. Freelance editors provide a flexible and talent-driven way to manage multiple products in a professional way. They can be used for a wide variety of projects, from editing for syntax and grammar on regular blog posts to providing structure, pacing, and style feedback for nearly finished novels.
The quotes I posted are for a specialized genre – romance. These books are shorter than many other types of fiction and yes the editors are professional. Many do this as a favor to authors they love and work with in publishing houses…so they lower their rates for private work. Over time of course, their rates increase but the prices I quoted for my industry only.
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 totally agree that you need an editor. I disagree that it has to be someone else. Editing is an entirely different skill than say writing, but it can be learnt (editing covers more than writing, at least in terms of publishing). Editing your own work is harder than editing someone else’s, but it can be done. Also, learning to edit is hard and takes some time, regardless if you are editing for others or yourself. And it is interesting that this apparent need for an editor happens within writing. Other creative disciplines, music, painting, photography, theater, etc, the idea… Read more »
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If you instead decide that self-publication really is the right option for you and your book, this means that you have chosen to serve as both the author and the publisher. That means that you will have to (A) perform yourself, (B) find friends who will perform for free, or (C) hire professionals to perform all the tasks of a traditional publisher, from editing to marketing to distribution, all on top of performing the tasks of the author.
I’m a first time writer. Today I’m about 60% done with a “novel” (a thinly disguised autobiographical account of finding romance and starting a family during the Viet Nam war). I believe that hiring a developmental editor at this time would help me complete the work in a better ‘voice’, ultimately saving time and money. The alternative would be to finish the work as this column advises before submitting for edit.
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.
I would absolutely encourage authors to find someone who fits their budget, offers payment plans and will work with them to get the services they can afford (some authors might be able to get away with just a manuscript evaluation, for example) I have to agree with the previous comments. Someone who is working for two bucks an hour can’t possibly be a professional, no matter how fair their prices, and that does not bode well for your end product.
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.
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.

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.


So because of this and because I don’t live in NYC or LA, I decided I may have better luck writing a book, which I have been doing for several months now and enjoy; however, I know it needs work and I can’t go back to the 5th grade and pay better attention to the simple “put your period here and comma there” lessons so I was hoping to learn as I go with reading, writing and seeing my finished product after hiring an editor.
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