After doing your homework to find the perfect editor, you might discover that the person with the most experience and rave reviews also charges the most for their services. If you don’t have piles of cash to pay a top-ranked editor for your first book, consider giving a newbie a chance. You can find affordable editors on the Freelance Writer’s Den job board, social media groups for self-publishers, and online platforms like Upwork, or Reedsy.
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I do developmental editing mostly, so I charge a flat rate to read once and build an action plan, half before and half afterwards. Then we contract to work through the plan, where the bulk of the editing takes place and for this I charge 25% up front, 50% after the developmental edit, and 25% on completion of the final proof. I find that authors appreciate the spread payments and the transparency this brings.
It’s best, if you decide to hire a freelancer, to figure out what the going rate is for the service you need, and expect to pay that amount. Otherwise it may turn out to be a waste of money, because the quality of the service will suffer. Sometimes there are payment plans to help with high costs! But it’s really a good investment to pay industry standard for editorial services; I agree with Shayla.
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.
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.
For editors who are charging pennies for what should be hours and hours and hours worth of work: I am saddened that you would ruin the market for those who have the expertise and ability to charge what it’s worth. You see, an author whose book needs a whole lot of help will see your rock-bottom prices and think that’s the norm. But the reality? That’s not normal. It’s not normal to charge sweat shop rates for something that requires top-notch quality.
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.
Thank you, Blake. I am past the point of undercooked. I’ve had beta readers, I’ve rewritten dozens of times, had an editor look over my MS twice, and believe I’m ready to take that leap. Unfortunately, and this wasn’t mentioned, most writers will never be satisfied with their work ‘as is’. I tinker and add. It’s difficult to find the balance between making it better, and messing with the core integrity. Even JK Rowlings is known to do this in her head when she’s reading one of her novels in front of an audience. This fear has held me back for years, despite my three years experience as a freelance writer for a local magazine. I’m scared I’ll miss a comma and it’ll be thrown in the slush pile.
If you’re a first-time author and have never hired an editor before, I would not recommend hiring an editor without first getting a sample edit. An editor can have a great resume and speak eloquently on the phone, but the real test of their skills is how they edit your book, and the sample edit is a quick, free way to find out. It’s standard for a freelance editor to offer a free sample edit unless they are exceptionally well-known.
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.)
A copy editor or line editor focuses on improving sentences and grammar, as well as suggesting other ways of rephrasing ideas, and providing comment on anything else they pick up. Non-fiction books often use multiple styles, for example, chapter headings, sub-headings, action points, bullet points, call-outs and examples, so these will be examined at this phase.
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.
After writing some of the book or a first draft of a book, some authors decide that they need more than an editor; they need a writer to take their writing to the next level, in order to get published or reach the level of sales they aim for. I can refer aspiring authors to excellent, experienced co-writers, book doctors and ghostwriters, some of whom have worked on New York Times Bestsellers and other award-winning books. Find out more about ghostwriting services.
I cannot speak for all editors, of course, but I know I and many of us would be open to editing just part of your book at first, say, a particular chapter or two that you sense needs a lot of work. That is often enough to show you mechanical errors that you tend to make repeatedly. You can then go through the entire manuscript yourself looking for as many of the same kind of errors as possible. You will sharpen your basic writing skills in the process, and it will pay off in all future projects.