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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.'
The romantic myth of an author sitting alone in their room and emerging with a finished book is just that: a myth. Writing is a tough skill to master. Good books are the product of talent, craft, revision and more revision. Like all creative arts, writing requires critique from knowledgeable professionals who can make suggestions and provide direction from a perspective most writers can’t obtain on their own. From developmental editing — with advice on story and structure — to copy editing and proofreading, working with a range of book editors is absolutely crucial when writing a book. But where can you find the professionals with the right experience in your genre to take your story to the next level?
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.
Are you writing a picture book? A chapter book or easy reader? Is your book for middle grade readers or young adults? You may not know for sure! What age groups will be reading your book? How many words should your book have to be age appropriate? What themes or topics are typically relevant? These are some of the more generalized questions your editor can answer for you.
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.

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.
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.
Regarding your last question, I know of no editor who gives a money-back guarantee for occasional errors that happen to slip through or for a different opinion by a later editor. I’m afraid such things are just the nature of the publishing beast. But by having a shorter portion edited first, you will get a decent feel for whether someone is the right editor for you, and will be able to be confident in his or her work on your entire book.
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