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!
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.
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I’d add that for UK writers, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) Directory is the best place to search for editorial professionals. Each editor has been vetted for professional competence through the Society (you have to be assessed to become a Professional Member or Advanced Professional Member), so it’s a pretty trustworthy source: http://www.sfep.org.uk/directory/directory.asp
I usually ask for a 10-20 page sample – one page is a bit scant for a really accurate estimate. I’ll do an editing sample, too, but how long I’m willing to make it depends on the proposed length of the piece I’ll be editing. As for the “hidden message” strategy, if I saw something like that, I’d suspect the prospective client was fearful and suspicious and I’d probably run the other way. I willingly provide testimonials, references, and links to published work, so tricks aren’t necessary. It’s important to me to build a professional relationship of mutual trust with my clients, backed up, of course, by a contract that protects us both. I don’t think I’d like to work with a client who plays “gotcha!” Lots of good suggestions in this article, though.
Use the media press kit on an editor’s or publisher’s website. A media press kit is a prepackaged group of marketing materials that provides commonly-sought information to reporters, other writers, and members of the general public. Look on a publisher or editor’s website for a tab that says “media” or “press” and review their press kit for information on how to contact an editor.
Attention to detail is a critical skill for editors. So how do you screen out editors who might not wield a virtual red pen with the chops to catch every typo, grammar problem, style issue, and the like? You could post a job ad for an editor and subtly screen out applicants that aren’t as detail-oriented by including some fine print in the description.
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.
Having your manuscript reviewed by a professional book editor is a rewarding experience. In addition to the improvements to your manuscript, you will also benefit from the feedback on your writing that only a finely tuned professional editor can provide. Writers often comment on the lifelong benefits enjoyed from their very first editing experience. If a writer wants to ensure they are creating an impactful and enjoyable reading experience for their readers, then editing is a no-brainer. Remember nothing is more damaging to your author brand that publishing a book with embarrassing typos and grammatical errors. Read more.
Call or write to the publishing company the editor works for to see if you can talk to them. You may be able to reach an editor directly by asking to speak with them at work. Send a formal letter or place a friendly call asking to speak with the editor. Ensure that you’re able to articulate why you want to speak with them ahead of time by practicing the conversation.
If however the editor is going to disassemble the book act by act, scene by scene, beat by beat, and show technically in story structure terms what needs to be changed, then the editor is spending far more time in analysis and constructing the demonstration of such to the client. Of course, this really depends on what service a client wants as well.
Recently a client asked me to do a sample edit and quote to copyedit his MS, which is a biography of his late grandfather’s career (and exploits) as a senior police officer early last century. When I did a short sample edit (4 pages), I realised there were some pretty major issues with his writing and the structure. So I sent it back with my comments and we discussed doing an MA, which I did. Now he’s working on sections of his MS and then sending them to me (he has poor health so we are doing it in stages). It’s a collaborative effort and we’re enjoying working on it together. If you have a client who is open to working with their editor, their book can become something they are really proud of, and it’s equally satisfying for the 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
I’m sorry you feel that way about my participation in the discussion and defending editors of similar background to myself from what I considered unwarranted disparagement. Perhaps the only approach that would have 100% proof against accusations of “trolling” would have been to allow the claims to stand unchallenged, but that did not seem fair to people who come here to get useful information.
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.
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Blake, that’s wonderful info. Thank you. I completely understand the response about guaranteeing the work. That was just something that popped in my head as I read a book written by a screenplay consultant I hired years ago and he wanted a review so I read it to help him out but found maybe 5 or 6 error’s myself in the 200 page book. I felt like it was unprofessional but didn’t have the heart to tell him. But the errors stuck out like a sore thumb so I was curious if that is normal or not.