The greatest benefit of an editor is that he or she is not the author. An editor is someone else. Some editors are professional writers, but every single one of them is a professional reader. As a writer, you’re probably a voracious reader, but you can never be a true reader for your book. By bringing forth a book into the world, you’re asking other people to read something you’ve never read. If you sincerely want the book to be the very best that it can be, then you must ask someone else to read it first. You owe it to your book, to yourself, and to your readers.

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.
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.
I am late to this discussion. But I would like to speak for all those authors starting out…editing, although a necessary evil, is very expensive. Let’s face it, writing a novel is not a paid venture. If you sell your book to traditional publisher, or self publish, you will rarely make this expense up. To spend $5.0-$10.0 on your novel is just out of reach for most. I realize that editors “work hard” and “put a lot of time” into their work. But there seems a disconnect in the market place. Writers are writing for free, and shelling out all the money for little return. And yet it seems the only ones profiting is the “market place” on services. It is more an “industry” for publishing, than a means for a writer to get published, or make a living. I wish there was a middle ground for writers: an editing service that prepares your novel for submission to agents and editors at publishers, but doesn’t cost your first child! There is a need, and is truly an untapped market. But what you have are editors, at all levels, “demanding” the market price, whether they are experienced, starting out, or good. There seems to be no heirarchy with an equal level of professionalism for new writers vs experienced who might have a bigger budget for editing. I liken it to buying cars. You can buy a car at $15.0 and still get a good, safe car that looks nice and is drivable.. Or, you can buy a car at $50.0 if you want more prestige, quality service, personal attention, more features. Both are acceptable and worthy, just at different levels of affordability. Although editors are arguably at different prices, as the comments have indicated, the less you pay is for limited services, not a varying level of editing. It’s like getting a car with three wheels. But new writers do need a full service of editing…at an affordable price. I am not sure how to get there, or the value to editors, but there does seem to be a gap that needs to be filled- reliable editors, who can help bring a novel to a professional level for submission, and it be worth their time in doing so, at a rate that is more manageable for a writer’s pocketbook.
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.
Thank you for this most timely article. I’m a newbie writer that is writing a history book on a small WWII town. It is a little unique in that it will have many newspaper clippings and historic construction photos. The narrative will only be there as a clarification to these items. I want to be sure that this narrative is smooth flowing and comprehensive. I’m not certain to what degree editing will be involved. You article certainly helped bring to light things I should consider.
Preparing a manuscript for publication or for your dissertation committee is a challenge that all academics must face. But who really wants to spend hours aligning page numbers or putting a reference list in the correct style? Make life easier with formatting services from an experienced scientist that understands the challenges of academic writing!
The Vietnam war is on and our protagonist (me) joins the Navy to avoid being drafted. Ordered overseas, he loses his respect for the cultural norms of his parents’ generation regarding sex, marriage, and the war. Tom is on a great adventure. He also loses his virginity at the age of 19 while stationed in Korea. The narrative is full of shocking revelations about the conduct of that war along with sweet and very personal vignettes concerning Tom’s personal life (nothing salacious, no titillating descriptions of the passionate and torrid sex which occurred). Stories and pictures relating to women in three countries who competed for Tom’s affection. The epilogue reveals that Tom is still married to the woman that won him 41 years ago. They have four grandchildren today. Tom (me) has a positive outlook throughout, enjoys all the challenges and relationships, and is still convinced he has achieved his life’s goal of being a dependable husband, father and grandfather.

Thanks Derek and Jane! To add one more thought, I think where we all agree is that the writer can’t get up from the operating table (this analogy is getting gruesome…), thank the doctor and walk away. The perfect recipe would include: an incisive (pun intended) editor, and a resilient, driven writer. By the way, Derek, I’m thrilled to have this conversation, as I’ve enjoyed your writing for quite some time (recently I loved your piece on Tomorrowland). Cheers, Teymour Shahabi For 3 weird self-editing tips, check out my new episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mmLEuH9x28
We may be talking about different services. I’m referring to a full read that usually creates a 5-10 page edit letter–no in-line editing. Or, perhaps we’re just working in different corners of the market. I’m around those who are freelance editing pre-query for writers hoping to traditionally publish their genre fiction, not the kind of rigorous editing a self publishing author would need, which should rightfully be much more expensive! It’s true that most people doing freelance editing at the lower rate/rigor aren’t doing it full time. It’s an optional step for those traditionally publishing, and the prices reflect maintaining access for those writers, I believe.
Even if a book is well-written, and even if it’s been edited professionally, success isn’t guaranteed. Publishing success is partly about branding and design, partly about getting in front of readers so they can start reading, and mainly about whether you satisfy their expectations and over-deliver on genre conventions. We want to do more than simply editing or proofreading your book. We want to help you make sure readers love it. But the sad truth is, most submissions we receive are nowhere near ready to publish, and are suffering from common but easily avoidable first-time author mistakes. How does YOUR book measure up?
This is great advice, Val! Thank you for sharing. I’m a freelance editor as well. I agree with the advice about giving a newbie a shot because I was a newbie freelancer four years ago, with newbie rates because of being a newbie. But I had already been editing for five years in-house and at professional competence level, so my early clients got a bit of a bargain from me!
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.

Absolutely, Tom. Encrusted oldie, I like that one. Thanks for your thoughtful and positive comment. I think the heavier the editing, the more important confidence with a genre or niche is. For a developmental edit, I’d want someone with specialty experience in my genre, whereas with a proofread, I’d be comfortable with pretty much any competent editor.
One thing is becoming clear to me. Authors and editors have been mistakenly pitted against each other by a self-publishing system that is not currently working. Remember in the scheme of things that self-pub is very new, only a few years old. Twenty years ago, publishers put out a selection of the best and most marketable books. Editors were well-educated and got paid a fair wage. Authors received advances and royalties.
While you may (or may not) be correct in your assumptions, your tone in general is rude, and disrespectful. If you are indeed a true editor of distinct taste and experience, you should not feel the need to bad mouth others for their thoughts and opinions. Show a little decency, and realize that you are indeed speaking to a human being, who probably has thoughts and feelings, and is in my opinion, a much more intelligent human for having the intellect to not attack someone verbally for their thoughts. No one needs you to be rude, or asked you for that matter.
Inspect the spine of the book and look for a smaller name under the author. Turn the book over and look at the spine—the thin side of the book where the pages are bound to the cover. If there are multiple names on the spine of the book, they are always ordered with the author’s name first, and the editor’s name after it. On most books, the editor’s name will be smaller so that a passerby can quickly tell who the author is.[5]
It’s always sensible to follow due diligence in submitting your first draft of your book to an editor by making as fool-proof a copy as possible for you because first, it is your own creation, and secondly, a horrid draft sent your editor can end up frustrating both you and him or her. Make your own corrections to the extent you can, so that will make the job of your editor that much lighter and the end result would be a lot more effective.
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