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.

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.'
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.

When you’ve found someone who seems like a decent candidate so far, make first contact. (The contact form on the website is fine as a first step.) Introduce yourself and state what you are looking for (a developmental critique, copyediting, etc.). Give a very brief description of your project, including its genre and approximate length. Give an idea of your planned next step and any deadlines (even if only approximate ones). For example, have you already signed a contract with a subsidy press for publication next fall? Are you planning to submit the manuscript to publishers and/or literary agents after editing?


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.
I was recently directed to your excellent article from almost a year ago by a colleague at SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a freelance literary editor of memoir, poetry, and novels, I offer authors guidance and support similar what you describe, but of course I cannot handle editing every genre. I was gratified to know that I’m doing the right thing by sticking to my specialties. By coincidence, someone who reached out to me last week on LinkedIn was looking for a children’s book editor and one of your readers in this conversation recommended one. That reminds me… Read more »

That said, I don’t recommend going to publication, particularly if your book is intended as a revenue-generating venture or as a vehicle of professional promotion, without making sure that someone with an eye for detail has gone through the entire manuscript and ruthlessly noted every typo, every spelling error, every misplaced comma, and every ambiguous sentence.
Well, hopefully, now self published authors can now see that there are a lot of AMAZING editors who can do outstanding work for a LOT cheaper than that list. As for the free editing sample, yeah – so long as the editor has solid proof that they are a legit editor with great credentials, that’s all you need. But if they don’t have that and won’t provide a free sample edit, then there are a lot of fish in the sea and it’s best to move on.
I’m sorry you had a bad experience on Fiverr. I feel like their cheerleader right now but I know there are some terrible sellers there … always have been. You can’t even always tell by the gig description because some sellers simply copy the description of someone else. But reviews do not lie. Hire someone with no fewer than 500 reviews, I would say, and all positive.
I have taught college preparatory English, writing, and grammar, for the last 18 years. My experience as a teacher makes me uniquely qualified to edit works for fluidity of thought and content, accuracy of grammar, and clarity. As a teacher, I have become a master communicator. Paying attention to detail is a requirement in the English field and something I have mastered.
I’m not sure why you said “ha” after Fiverr. I’ve been a proofreader (more like a line editor/copy editor, really) for 3.5 years and have worked on many book projects there and outside of Fiverr. (writerkerrie) … Yes, some editors on there are crap and I agree, but many of us ROCK! I only charge $5 for 1,500 words of text (I only receive $4) because I LOVE WHAT I DO and I love working from home and being able to homeschool my kids. I am also an author myself and want to help other authors by not overcharging them. I have received MANY book projects from authors who paid the rates you describe above and I ended up finding DOZENS more mistakes and GLARING errors that for $70/hour … well, they should have been caught. Please don’t write off Fiverr. Some of us care about what we do and we do it well and you can tell from my almost-1,600 great reviews that this is true. Don’t hire someone if their gig is written poorly and they barely have any reviews!
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]
Qat Wanders is an author, editor, speaker, and writing coach. She has edited more than 4,000 books and ghostwritten over 100, including New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. After receiving a Master’s degree in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing as well as a Certified Professional Editor certificate, Qat created the Wandering Wordsmith Academy where she trains authors and editors in an online platform. When she’s not busy speaking, writing, or wandering, Qat loves spending time with her daughter, Ora—a published author at ten years of age—and helping others realize their dreams of sharing their messages with the world. To find out more about Qat, her writings, her programs, and her services, please visit WanderingWordsMedia.com.
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.
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.

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.
Experience: Experience, including internships at publishing houses and work in other media—such as newspaper or magazine editing—also is important for prospective book editors. Moreover, connections in the publishing world, whether to another editor or successful writer, also can help your chances of landing a job as a book editor. If you are interested in editing books that deal with a specific subject, such as fashion or food, you should have formal training or work experience in that area to increase your chances of getting hired. To grow your network, you can join professional organizations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).
If “the greatest benefit of an editor is that he is she is not the author—the editor is someone else,” then an editor is no more than a beta reader, and all authors would need is friends to read their novel and give feedback. I recommend beta reads before a book is sent to me for editing, because casual readers, approaching the story fresh, can indeed find flaws in the book the author is too close to the story to see. But it’s after the beta reads that a professional editor steps in to do her magic. A skilled fiction… Read more »
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.
There’s a big difference between editors who point out your weaknesses and come up with solutions, versus those who give general advice that doesn’t go anywhere. One author who kept getting generic feedback from editors that amounted to, “It’s good, keep writing,” ended up with a 215,000-word tome. The weary man finally found an editor who was able to show him how to cut the manuscript in half and tighten the plot.
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.

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